Mario Benedetti, a Latin American voice

· Culture, Latin America, Politic, Society
"When we have the answers, they changed the questions." Art by Haro.

"When we have the answers, they changed the questions." Art by Haro.

The name of Mario Benedetti is very familiar in all the Hispanic world, even for those who are not interested in poetry or literature. However, the Uruguayan poet was not a name linked only to literature, but he was a man able to represent the Latin American identity and the fights for freedom of expression during the most difficult times of dictators in the region.

The month of May saw the departure of this other great writer, who influenced generations with his books and verses and became a symbol of freedom.

After months of a serious illness, the 88 years-old author succumbed last 6 of May. 12 days before he was sent home from the hospital because, according to the medical report, he was reacting well to the treatment.

His remains received honors in the Pasos Perdidos Hall of the Parliament in Montevideo, while the government decreed a national homage to one of the most important modern representative of the Spanish literature.

His secretary, Ariel Silva, said:

“Falleció mientras dormía en su domicilio y en profunda paz. De a poquito dejó de respirar”

He passed away while he was sleeping at his home in a deep peace. Little by little he stop to breath

The man

Benedetti of America. Art by Haro.

Benedetti of America. Art by Haro.

His full name was Mario Orlando Hardy Hamlet Brenno Benedetti Farrugia, but he was known only as “Mario Benedetti” or just “Benedetti”, an Italian surname that reveals the far origin of his family. He was born on 14th of September 1920 in Paso de los Toros. His parents were the Italian Brenno Benedetti and Matilde Farrugia (his five names follow an Italian tradition.)

When Mario was four, the family moved to Montevideo. He studied, but also work in the Will L. Smith, S.A., a company of parts for cars.

His first experiences in literature began in 1945 when he joined the team of redaction of the weekly Marcha (March). The publication was closed by the government of Juan María Bordaberry in 1974 and Benedetti worked in it until that time in which he became director of literature.

Benedetti married in 1946 Luz López Alegre and two years after he became the director of Marginalia, a magazine on literature. His first publication was Peripecia, a volume of a novel and some essays. In 1949 he is the member of the council of redaction of Números, another magazine on literature that was very prestigious at the time. He obtained also an aware of the Ministry of Public Instruction for his works and other prizes would come until 1958 when he was in disagreement in some conditions of the contest.

Mario Benedetti showed from his young age that he was also concern with politics and the defense of human rights. He opposed a military agreement between Uruguay and US in the 1940s.

In the 1960s Benedetti would enter into the world of stage as critic and became co-director of Al pie de las letras (Besides the letters), a weekly magazine on literature. In Cuba he participated as juror in the renowned contest Casa de las Américas and participated in the Second Congress of Latin American writers in Mexico. In Casa de las Américas Benedetti would participate even in the board of trustees for a long time.

In the 1970s, Mario Benedetti became an activist in the National Liberation Movement “Tupamaros” and founded the Independents Movement on 26th of March of 1971 that would enter inside the leftist coalition Frente Amplio. At the same time, he was nominated director of the Department of Hispanic-American Literature of the Faculty of Humanities of the University of the Republic in Montevideo.

The political Benedetti of the 1970s can be traced in a compilation of his editorials in the weekly Marcha and published as Crónica. Of course, the time of dictators would not tolerate a thinker like Benedetti and he lived his own experience of exile.

The coup d’etat

On 27th June 1973 Benedetti resigned from the university, even if he was elected to the supreme council of the educational institute. He decided to abandon Uruguay that was already under a dictatorship.

The first country of his exile was Argentina, followed by Peru and lastly in Cuba in 1976. In Peru he was arrested by the police, but he got exonerated. He was also in Spain. The exile lasted for ten years, while his family stayed in Uruguay.

During that time, Benedetti continued his participation in literature and films and became active in Casa de las Américas. He was a writer of the Spaniard newspaper El País and got the Felix Varela Order of the government of Cuba.

In March 1983 Mario Benedetti returned to his Uruguay and declared his period of des-exile, a time that would be very prolific in his writings. He retook some of the former works like being a part of the editorial team of Brecha Magazine and Marcha.

The poems of Benedetti were used by the famous Spaniard singer, Joan Manuel Serrat in his album “El sur también existe” (The South Also Exists, 1985). The project of Serrat counted with the active participation of the Uruguayan writer.


Benedetti was certainly a man of recognition not only in Latin America but also in Europe. In 1986 he received the Jristo Botev Prize from Bulgaria for his poetry and essays. In 1987 he got the Fire of Gold Prize conceded in Brussels by International Amnesty for his novel “Primavera con una esquina rota” (Spring with a broken corner.) In 1989 he received the Haydeé Santamaría Medal of the council of state of Cuba.

Other awards:

  • Silver Morosoli Prize of Literature, Lolita Rubial Foundation, Uruguay, 1996.
  • Gabriela Mistral Teaching Merit and Culture Order, Chile.
  • Honoris Causa, University of Alicante, Spain, 1997.
  • Honoris Causa, University of Valladolid, Spain, 1997.
  • León Felipe Prize, Spain, 1997.
  • Honoris Causa in Philological Sciences, University of La Habana, Cuba.
  • 8th Queen Sofía of Poetry Prize, Spain, 1999.
  • 1rst Ibero-American Prize by José Marí Cultural and Science Foundation, 1999, Cuba.
  • Illustrious Citizen by the Montevideo municipality in 2002.
  • Etnosur Prize, 2004.
  • Documentary “Mario Benedetti and other surprises” by Alessandra Mosca, Italy, 2004.
  • 19th Menéndez Pelayo International Prize, 2005, Uruguay.
  • Gold Morosoli Prize, Loliya Rubial Foundation, 2005, Uruguay.

The last recognitions of the Latin American writer, during his already long sickness, was given by the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, in the Paraninfo of the University of the Republic in Montevideo where the public acclaimed the aged writer. The Venezuelan medal is known as Francisco de Miranda Aware and it is one of the most illustrious of that South American nation. The other was given that same year by El Salvador as the Saurí Order.

Defending the autonomy of the university

Ceremony Honoris Causa, University of Alicante, May 1997. Photo University of Alicante.

Ceremony Honoris Causa, University of Alicante, May 1997. Photo University of Alicante.

But Benedetti was also a professor. His figure went through university campus in Latin America and Europe as it was his natural space for the development of his thought. If we have to talk about a Hispanic-American philosophy, certainly it must be looked on its poets, writers, film creators and critics. Then in Benedetti we find not only a moving verse-creator of fabulous chains of words, phrases and lightning ideas, but a thinker. He thought also the university as the space of science, thinking, art and democracy and he defended it from the chains of oppression and its right of freedom, as he expressed in the University of Alicante on 16th May 1997 when that Spaniard university gave him the Honoris Causa:

“Me parece adecuado recordar en este ámbito que la autonomía universitaria es una trascendental conquista que, en América Latina y concretamente en mi país, ha significado un sustancial aporte al desarrollo de nuestras respectivas comunidades”

It is good to remind that in the matter of the autonomy of the university, it has been a transcendental conquer that, in Latin America, and concretely in my country, has meant a substantial contribution to the development of our respective communities.

“Es precisamente debido a esa autonomía (consagrada a partir de la Ley Orgánica de 1958) que en Uruguay la Universidad de la República ha podido desarrollar (con la sola excepción de los doce años de dictadura) tres postulados esenciales: expandir la cultura, defender las libertades, procurar la justicia y el bienestar social”

It is precisely due to this autonomy (consecrated in the Organic Law of 1958) that in Uruguay the University of The Republic has been able to develop (with the only exception of the 12 years of the dictatorship), three essential postulates: expanding the culture, defending the freedom and procuring justice and social good.

“De ahí que, en mi compromiso a defender la Universidad en la que se me propone como Doctor, no podré olvidar la defensa de la autonomía universitaria que la misma resguarda y mantiene con firmeza y responsabilidad ejemplares”

From this, in my commitment to defend the University in which I have been proposed as Doctor, I can not forget the defense of the autonomy of the university that it keeps and hold with firmness and exemplar responsability

1 Comment

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  1. Catherine Grant

    Thanks for this excellent tribute to a great writer, the most detailed about his life in Uruguay of all that I have read.

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