On Galeano's Supposed Disavowal

Eduardo Galeano died on Monday. Some obituaries, including ones published by the New York Times and NPR, repeated a claim that the Uruguayan author had “disavowed” his best known work, Open Veins of Latin America.

This claim originated last year with comments Galeano made at the Bienal do Livro e Leitura de Brasília, a book festival at which Galeano was a guest of honor. At a press conference, he was asked the following question: “Forty years ago you wrote Open Veins of Latin America. What are the open veins nowadays?”

Here is his full reply, as recorded by Cynara Menezes (cached version).

Seria para mim impossível responder a uma pergunta assim, especialmente porque, depois de tantos anos, não me sinto tão ligado a esse livro como quando o escrevi. O tempo passou, comecei a tentar outras coisas, a me aproximar mais à realidade humana em geral e em especial à economia política – porque As Veias Abertas tentou ser um livro de economia política, só que eu ainda não tinha a formação necessária. Não estou arrependido de tê-lo escrito, mas é uma etapa superada. Eu não seria capaz de ler de novo esse livro, cairia desmaiado. Para mim essa prosa de esquerda tradicional é chatíssima. O meu físico não aguentaria. Seria internado no pronto-socorro… ‘Tem alguma cama livre?’, perguntaria.

[ It would be impossible for me to respond to such a question, especially because, after so many years, I don't feel as connected to that book as when I wrote it. Time passed and I began to try other things, to get closer to human reality in general and especially to political economy—because Open Veins tried to be a book on political economy, yet I still didn't have the necessary education. I don't regret having written it, but it's a stage that I have surpassed. I wouldn't be able to read it again, I would collapse. For me, that traditional leftist prose is so very dull. My body wouldn't hold up. I'd be placed in urgent care… 'Do you have a free bed,' I'd ask. ]

Galeano is describing his personal evolution as a writer, which included his move away from the “traditional left” of labor movements and state-developmentalist paradigms towards a multi-faceted leftism that takes seriously community-based politics around a variety of intertwined problems like racism, misogyny, ageism, indigenous rights and, yes, labor struggles.

Notably, he does not say he disavows, renounces, or regrets Open Veins. On the contrary, he states “Não estou arrependido de tê-lo escrito.” He is not saying that the book was wrong, just that he had moved on.

This is consistent with his statements in a previous interview with Televisa, in which he characterized Open Veins as a “port of departure.”

Early accounts, on Menezes’ blog and EBC, reported more or less what Galeano had said, but when Larry Rohter of the New York Times got wind of the statements, he spun them into propaganda gold. Subsequent reports have parroted the NYT’s claim of “disavowal,” even though Monthly Review published an English translation of Menezes’ report.

Rohter has a history of hostility to left politics. He is perhaps best known for his his tenure as Washington’s man in Rio, where Lula’s government temporarily revoked his visa for what they called “lying and offensive” reporting. Rohter’s claims about the Oliver Stone film South of the Border have been discredited and he has also made an attempt to disparage Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño.

In addition to distorting Galeano’s remarks as a disavowal, Rohter includes quotes of him saying that the left “commits grave errors,” but omits the context, in which Galeano also says this:

It is not true that the left has failed.  The left has succeeded and has many times been destroyed for having succeeded, for having gotten it right, because what the left preached, at one point in Latin America, proved to be true, so the left was punished.

If Open Veins is irrelevant and poorly written, one wonders why the book was banned in several countries, why it has been republished and translated countless times, why, twenty-six years after its publication, free-market “liberal” apparatchiks produced an attempt to parody it, and why regime journalists like Rohter go to such lengths to make us forget it.

Galeano is dead. His work will live on.