EDUARDO GALEANO (1940-2015) and the uncertain future of the public intellectual in Uruguay

Eduardo Galeano died at the age of 74 today. The coverage of his passing is currently dominating Uruguayan media. In national daily newspaper El País, there are mentions of his interactions with world leaders, reminders of his commentary on football, an announcement that his body will be on display in parliament tomorrow, and galleries of how media outlets across the world are remembering him. The New York Times headline reads “Uruguayan Anti-Capitalist Writer Eduardo Galeano Dies”. The Guardian headline reads “Eduardo Galeano, leading voice of Latin American left, dies aged 74”. Ok, these statements are true. But it shows how English-language media need to bracket things in some kind of context, and assign people labels to attract readers. All of the headlines shown from Spain, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brasil simply mention him by name and or nationality. This is also indicative of the fact that he is more of a household name in these countries.

But what this also brings to mind is the role of the public intellectual in society. At the time of his death, Galeano was arguably Uruguay’s foremost intellectual. Not only outstanding in his field, his name ID would probably rank among the highest of any Uruguayan regardless of profession. Regardless of what you think of the man, what’s important is that Uruguay cares about his death enough to go far beyond a couple of extra-long obituaries. Galeano was a writer and a thinker. He was not a politician, an entertainer, or an athlete. It’s the death of an intellectual that leaves a gaping hole in Uruguayan public life, and raises a number of questions for Uruguayans to ponder about their future.

Will there ever be another Uruguayan intellectual whose death is this widely cared about? Who is Uruguay’s next Galeano? Is Uruguay’s education system set up to produce thinkers as intent as eclectic and as productive as Galeano was? Is his work the product of a bygone age? Are there kids today that even dream of being intellectuals? Does the world need more Galeanos? His passing marks a crossroads in Uruguayan history, and brings up a discussion about these questions. Uruguayans would do well to see this as a time to look forward rather than back to their past, as the tendency so often is.

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