Uruguay writer Mario Benedetti dies

Mon May 18, 2009 12:00am EDT
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By Fiona Ortiz

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - One of Uruguay's best-known writers, Mario Benedetti, whose poems on love and politics became popular songs and whose muse was the unassuming Uruguayan capital Montevideo, died on Sunday, his brother said. He was 88.

Benedetti lived in exile from 1973-1983 during Uruguay's military regime and dubbed his return to the South American country the "unexile."

The injustices of the dictatorship and his re-adaptation to Uruguay -- which he said had become petty and materialistic -- were major themes in his prolific six-decade body of novels, short stories, poems, essays and articles.

In the short stories that launched his fame in the 1950s and 1960s, Benedetti wrote affectionate descriptions of the low-key pleasantness of Montevideo but also despaired of its bureaucratic drabness.

"Montevideo is a city whose climate and lifestyle are almost provincial, where strangers feel comfortable," he said in an interview in the late 1990s.

With his white mustache and friendly round eyes, Benedetti remained beloved in Uruguay into his old age.

Well into his 80s, he performed sold-out readings in Montevideo. He sat in a rocking chair on stage reading from a big book, while his long-time friend and collaborator, singer-songwriter Daniel Viglietti, sang and played guitar.

Spanish romantic pop-star Joan Manuel Serrat turned Benedetti poems into hit songs -- most notably "The South Also Exists," an anti-U.S. polemic.   Continued...

<p>Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti looks on during the presentation of a book in Montevideo in this December 20, 2006, file photo. Benedetti died on May 17, 2009 at the age of 88. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/Files</p>