History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.'”
— Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)
Spanish original published by La Vaca, translated by Leonidas Oikonomakis.
Whoever listens to the heartbeats coming from below will feel their pains, share their smiles and tears. Whoever makes the effort to understand them without interpreting them, to accept them without judging them, can win a place in the hearts of those below.
Eduardo Galeano traveled the most diverse geographies of Latin America by train, on the back of a mule and on foot, moving around by the same means as those from below. He wasn’t trying to mimic them but rather to do something more than that: to experience, underneath his own skin, the feelings of others — in order to revive them in his texts and help them escape anonymity.
Eduardo was a simple man, committed to the common people, to the nobodies, to the oppressed. His loyalty lay with the people of flesh and bones, with the men and women who live and suffer. It was a loyalty much deeper than ideological attachment, which can always change depending on the interests of the moment. The pains from below, he taught us, cannot be negotiated, nor can they be represented. They cannot even be explained even by the best writer. And the same goes for their hopes.
Among Eduardo’s many lessons, it is necessary to hold on to his meticulous attachment to the truth. He stumbled upon these truths far away from the worldly noise of the media, inside the hungry eyes of the indigenous girl, in the worn feet of the farmer, in the innocent smile of the female street vendor — where the nobodies speak their truths every single day, without witnesses.
He never had a minor doubt about exposing those responsible for the poverty and the hunger, as he did in his chronicles on the crisis of Uruguayan industry as the 20-year-old editor of the weekly Marcha, one of the first and most important exponents of critical and engaged journalism in Uruguay. In those chronicles he would denounce the powerful by name, surname and characteristics. Without taking back his word — because, as he liked to say, “the media prostitute the word.”
But it was his reporting on the struggles and the resistances of those below that left an early, indelible mark. Like his piece entitled “From rebellion and beyond,” in March 1964, which reported on the second march of Uruguay’s sugarcane workers. His gaze stopped at doña Marculina Piñeiro, who was so old that she had forgotten her own age, and to the more than 90 children that had surrounded her with admiration. “They wanted to beat us into submission through hunger. But what would we lose with hunger? We are used to it,” he was told by the wife, mother, and granddaughter of sugarcane workers.
His pen was shaped by the everyday lives of the underprivileged, but it wasn’t enough for Galeano to simply portray their pain. He got engaged in painting — with lively colors — the dignity of their steps, and the anger that was capable of overcoming both the repression and the torment. In each and every one of his articles, the people who embodied the suffering and the torment would be at center stage — perhaps because he was obsessed with the indifference of the rest, which he considered “a lifestyle” whose protective layer we should destroy, perhaps that’s why he wrote his articles.
Among the many homages he received in his life, he had the privilege to see Galeano (his surname) being adopted as a nickname by the teacher of the Escuelita Zapatista José Luis Solís López. It is very probable that the teacher was not referring to the author. In any case, Eduardo and Zapatismo met and got to know each other right away, as if they had been waiting for it their entire lives. He did not leave us a program or a list of demands, but rather an ethics of being — being from below and on the left.
Eduardo Galeano was in La Realidad, Chiapas in August 1996. He participated in one of the roundtables of the Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and against Neoliberalism. He spoke little, was very clear, and said a lot. In those days, and in the days that followed, he planted Galeanos, disseminated Galeanos — so that now there are Galeanos walking around to brandish his dignified and Galeano-like rage. The nobodies of all ages are carrying him in their hearts.