At 73 years old and suffering from lung cancer, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) acknowledged the density of his most famous and successful book, “Open Veins of Latin America” (Las venas abiertas de América Latina), claiming that he “would not be able to read it again. [He] would collapse”.
Jorge Petinaud Martínez
“My body wouldn’t be able to stand it. I would be admitted to hospital”, he said about the award-winning title in the early 1970s, which received a special mention at the Casa de las Américas Prize in Cuba and was banned in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay during the military dictatorships backed by the United States government.
The text that, according to the author, was intended as a study of the political economy, became a compelling analysis of Latin American and Caribbean history thanks to Galeano’s prose. With hard facts, the work is an in-depth study that covers everything from European colonisation to the most underhanded and cruel neo-colonial domination imposed by North American oligarchies, including the tyrannies supported by Washington during the 20th century in several countries of the region.
That is why, almost four decades later, Galeano repudiated “that left-wing prose”, which he considered very dense.
However, the recent good reception from hundreds of secondary school and pre-university students from the city of El Alto, just outside of La Paz, of the stage version by the Bolivian group Albor, directed by Willy Flores, contradicts the view of the author, who also wrote Days and Nights of Love and War (Días y noches de amor y de guerra) that received the Casa de las Américas Prize in 1978.
Flores expressed his happiness following the standing ovation they received from a generation bombarded by reggaeton, video clips and artificial messages on social media.
“We are native to this city that is located more than four thousand metres above sea level. We have been working for 22 years and we are very happy with the reception from these secondary school and pre-university students of this production staged on the 34th anniversary of our city”, he said in an interview with Prensa Latina.
Flores remembers that when they proposed a production based on the in-depth essay, many people called them crazy because it is a dense study of political economy and history.
“Some people even attacked us via email and called us ‘perfect idiots’, paraphrasing the conservative writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who published the “Guide to the Perfect Idiot” (Manual del perfecto idiota), the exact opposite of Eduardo Galeano and this play, a classic of revolutionary literature.
The director notes that every time they see that reaction from the audience, they are prouder to be “idiotic, anti-establishment and rule-breaking”.
“We come from a grass-roots movement”, the director explains. “Our parents are migrant farmers and miners, and we have experienced injustice, pillaging, exploitation and marginalisation first hand”.
According to him, that is why they wanted to stage “Open Veins of Latin America”, which, although written by Galeano in the 1970s, is still relevant.
So, in 2007, they premièred after two years of staging and looking for support, not only in terms of logistics, but also consultations with people that gave them theoretical guidance.
“Our group was not recognised by the elite because we are from El Alto, a marginalised city where talking about theatre was a rare thing”, he recalls.
However, after they wrote the story and put it on stage, it was such a success that it is currently the highest-grossing play in the Andean-Amazonian country, with more than one thousand performances in a decade, a record in the Bolivian theatre scene.
“We have acted in churches, parks, fields, and what was thought to be only for theatre, made its way into different settings, where many people have fallen in love with the play”, he highlights.
Flores praises all aspects of the Uruguayan writer, but made it clear that he owed a lot to “Open Veins of Latin America”, his most famous text.
“Our president, Evo Morales, publicly said that it is one of the four fundamental works that Bolivians must read”.
When referring to the technique used to communicate with different audiences, he explains that they took the most useful methods from various genres, such as contemporary theatre, dance and clowning, and combined them all.
Albor has performed on stage in eight of the nine Bolivian departments, with Beni the only place left to perform. Internationally, since 2009, Albor has crossed national borders and taken its art to Chile, Sweden and Denmark.
Recently, the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, suggested that, among other texts such as that by the Cuban historian Hassán Pérez, El Dedo en la Llaga (Salt in the Wound), “Open Veins of Latin America” should feature as part of compulsory reading in military academies to stimulate the development of a nationalist, pro-independence and sovereign doctrine “founded on our identity”. (PL)
(Translated by Rachel Hatt – Email: email@example.com) – Photos: Prensa Latina