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Uruguayan wordsmith dies, aged 88

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 1973-83 during Uruguay's military regime and dubbed his return to the South American country the "unexile."

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.

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-American polemic.

Benedetti often quipped that his pessimism was merely "informed optimism" and said that youth was his hope for the future.

Adolescents in South America still share his love poems with each other, reading his work in home videos posted on YouTube - especially "Don't Hold Back," which urges people to take risks.


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