Uruguayan novelist, essayist, and journalist Eduardo Galeano is no longer with us.
I remember as if it were yesterday first reading, in the early-1970s, Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America. It opened for me a continent that had been ripped open for the world by a long line of colonial conquerors and postcolonial swindlers (many of whom were themselves, of course, Latin Americans).
This is how the book [pdf] begins:
The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role. We are no longer in the era of marvels when face surpassed fable and imagination was shamed by the trophies of conquest— the lodes of gold, the mountains of silver. But our region still works as a menial. It continues to exist at the service of others’ needs, as a source and reserve of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries which profit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them. The taxes collected by the buyers are much higher than the prices received by the sellers; and after all, as Alliance for Progress coordinator Covey T. Oliver said in July 1968, to speak of fair prices is a “medieval” concept, for we are in the era of free trade.
The more freedom is extended to business, the more prisons have to be built for those who suffer from that business. Our inquisitor-hang-man systems function not only for the dominating external markets; they also provide gushers of profit from foreign loans and investments in the dominated internal markets.
And then, of course, there’s Galeano’s tribute to the dark tragedies and astonishing beauty of world football, Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Here’s a brief excerpt:
The ball turns, the world turns. People suspect the sun is a burning ball that works all day and spends the night bouncing around the heavens while the moon does its shift, though science is somewhat doubtful. There is absolutely no question, however, that the world turns around a spinning ball: the final of the ’94 World Cup was watched by more than two billion people, the largest crowd ever of the many that have assembled in this planet’s history. It is the passion most widely shared: many admirers of the ball play with her on fields and pastures, and many more have box seats in front of the TV and bite their nails as 22 men in shorts chase a ball and kick her to prove their love. . .
Professional soccer does everything to castrate that energy of happiness, but it survives in spite of all the spites. And maybe that’s why soccer never stops being astonishing. As my friend Ángel Ruocco says, that’s the best thing about it—its stubborn capacity for surprise. The more the technocrats program it down to the smallest detail, the more the powerful manipulate it, soccer continues to be the art of the unforeseeable. When you least expect it, the impossible occurs, the dwarf teaches the giant a lesson, and a runty, bowlegged black man makes an athlete sculpted in Greece look ridiculous.