Memory of Fire III
Distinguished Uruguayan historian and writer Eduardo Galeano’s Century of the Wind (volume 3 of Memory of Fire) is an ambitious undertaking meant to teach his fellow residents of the Western Hemisphere about their own history as well as to educate readers outside the hemisphere regarding the turbulent, often-chaotic events that formed twentieth century Latin America. Century of the Wind is the third volume of a trilogy whose other volumes are Génesis (1982; English translation, 1985) and Las caras y las máscaras (1984; Faces and Masks, 1987).
What sets these works apart from other histories dealing with events of the Western Hemisphere is the novel and unorthodox way Galeano creates history. Rather than relying upon the linear, narrative approach so often used in histories, Galeano uses a series of arrestingly original vignettes about places, people, and events; taken together, these vignettes constitute a pattern of violence, revolution, deceit, intrigue, and death. Like a composer, Galeano introduces powerful themes which are strongly sounded, then are allowed to fade, only to reappear again with greater insistence. The greatest of all of his themes is that of the inevitability of revolution in the Americas, despite the best efforts of military dictatorships and American capitalists to thwart it.
Century of the Wind is mainly concerned with Latin America, though culturally significant North Americans, representing the best and worst aspects of American and Canadian society, are given attention. The West Indies is discussed from time to time, but only as it relates to the larger struggle between the United States and its Latin neighbors. (Though Mexico is technically a North American nation, it is included with nations of Central and South America because of its close cultural and political ties with them.) Galeano shows how the terrors of the past resurface in twentieth century Latin America. Here is a lurid, even nightmarish landscape wherein sadistic generalissimos and rich, land-holding grandees indiscriminately destroy the dreams and lives of the repressed poor, a landscape in which nature is abused by capitalist exploiters from within and without the region and in which voices of discontent are silenced by brutality and bullets. Political revolutions and unsuccessful revolts are chronicled with imaginative flair, as are the successful attacks on the existing order made by such revolutionaries as Nicaragua’s Augusto Sandino, Mexico’s Pancho Villa, Argentina’s Juan and Eva (or “Evita”) Perón, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Just as important as the deeds of the winners are those of losers such as Salvador Allende of Chile and Cuba’s guerrilla leader, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
A second major theme of Galeano’s work is the United States’ alternating scorn for and indifference to the Latin nations which form such an important part of the Western Hemisphere. Galeano determines that the majority of popular revolts staged by the poor and disfranchised during the twentieth century have met with either distrust or outright hostility from Americans. The United States, in Galeano’s mind, has all too freely given its support to the most vile and malevolent dictatorships to be found anywhere in the world, to brutal, corrupt officials who have denied citizens of their countries the very rights and freedoms that Americans have always claimed to prize. When the United States is indifferent to outrages occurring in neighboring nations, dictators of all stripes are allowed the freedom to imprison, torture, and murder those members of the opposition whose “Communist” ideas make them enemies. On the other hand, when the United States government is hostile to those who would overthrow fascistic regimes, it is known to resort to marines first and negotiation later, if at all.
Nevertheless, Galeano is well aware that American values and cultural icons, inventors and artists have always had a considerable impact on neighboring countries. Even cult figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Rita Hayworth have had an influence on people outside the United States. On the other hand, Latin icons such as Carmen Miranda (the Mexican actress known for her flamboyant head apparel), soccer player Pelé of Brazil, and the Mexican comedian Cantinflas have had minimal impact on North Americans.
Unfortunately for the United States, Galeano believes, its political crimes against its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere have soured some Latins on its calls for freedom and justice in the Third World and its strident attacks on world communism. Many Latin Americans perceive that their powerful northern neighbor, in the name of anti-Communist counterinsurgency, has systematically quashed legitimate peasant rebellions against their oppressors. For example, the powerful and corrupt Somoza family of Nicaragua,...
(The entire section is 2009 words.)