For Eduardo Galeano


The Church says: the body is a sin.
Science says: the body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The Body says: I am a fiesta.

Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words

She is on the horizon.
I walk two steps, she moves two steps away.
I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further.
As much as I walk, I will never reach her.
For what does utopia serve? It serves for this, to walk.

Eduardo Galeano, Window on Utopia

In the mountain silence broken by wind, words were carried with news of another silence, of a silencing in a distant land separated by an ocean deep.  A voice had ceased to be, a voice of simple truths that spoke of the forgotten, of the humiliated, of the violated, of those silenced before him; a voice that also spoke of beauty, of enchantment, of enthusiasm, like a child, always in wonder.  This evening, I learn of Eduardo Galeano’s death, and I know that one of the story tellers who weaves the fabric of our world has ceased to be.  A thread lies torn, to be taken up perhaps one day by others, by other pagan child-poets for whom freedom lies in the magic of rebellious life.

Eduardo Galeano, factory worker, painter, bank employee, journalist, essayist, poet, political activist, but above all, a child of Montevideo’s café story tellers, died on Monday, April 13.

Words by Galeano …

The Right to Dream

Who knows how the world will be in 2025! But one thing is certain: if we are still around, all of us will be people of the last century.

However, although we cannot divine the world that will be, we can well imagine the one we would like there to be. The right to dream does not figure in the 30 human rights which the United Nations proclaimed at the end of 1948. But if it were not for this, or for the waters it gives us to drink, the other rights would die of thirst.

Allow me, readers, the madness of inventing the future. The world that is upside down dreams that it lands on its feet:

In the streets, cars will be run-over by dogs.

The air will be free of all the poisons of machines, and there will be no other contamination than that which issues from human fear and human passions.

The television set will stop being the most important member of the family and will be treated like the ironing board or the washing machine.

The boys who don’t want to do military service will not be arrested – those who do will.

People will work to live, not live to work.

No illness will be called mortal, because life itself is mortal.

Economists will not confuse the standard of living with the level of consumption, nor the quality of life with the quantity of things.

Historians will not believe that countries enjoy being invaded.

Politicians will not believe that the poor enjoy eating shit.

Cooks will not believe that lobsters delight in being boiled alive.

Street kids won’t be treated like rubbish, because there won’t be street kids.

Rich kids will not be treated like money, because there won’t be rich kids.

Education will not be the privilege of those who can pay for it.

Police repression will not be the curse of those who cannot buy it.

There will be no ‘legitimate’ offspring and ‘natural’ offspring, because we are all natural.

A black woman will be President of Brazil and another black woman will be President of the United States of America. An Indian woman will govern Guatemala; another will govern Peru.

In Argentina, the crazy women of the Plaza de Mayo will be exemplars of mental health , because they refused to forget in times of amnesia.

The Holy Mother Church will correct a few of the Lord’s mistakes. The sixth commandment, which prohibits the pleasures of sex, will demand: ‘Celebrate the body’. The ninth, which mistrusts desire, will declare it sacred.

The Church will also dictate an eleventh commandment, which God forgot: ‘You will love Nature, to which you belong’.

The ardent man will not be a champion, and the ardent woman will not be a whore, for no-one in the world will be turned off.

The Nobodies

Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping
poverty: that one magical day good luck will suddenly rain down on
them—will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down
yesterday, today, tomorrow, or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a
fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their
left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right
foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.

The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the
no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life,
screwed every which way.

Who are not, but could be.
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police
blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.

Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent

A World Gone Mad

Fear of losing your job and terror at the prospect of never finding one can’t be separated from a ridiculous statistic that could only seem normal in a world gone mad: over the past thirty years, formal working hours, which tend to be less than real hours worked, have gone up in the United States, Canada, and Japan and diminished only slightly in a few European countries. This trend constitutes a treacherous attack on common sense by the upside-down world: the astonishing increase in productivity wrought by the technological revolution not only fails to raise wages but doesn’t even diminish working hours in countries with state-of-the-art machines. In the United States, frequent polls indicate that work, far more than divorce or the fear of death, is the principal source of stress, and in Japan, karoshi, overwork, kills 10,000 people a year.

When the French government decided in May 1998 to reduce the workweek from thirty-nine to thirty-five hours, offering a basic lesson in common sense, the measure set off cries of protest from businessmen, politicians, and technocrats. In Switzerland, where unemployment is not a problem, I witnessed an event some time ago that left me dumbfounded. A referendum was held on reducing working hours with no reduction of pay, and the Swiss voted the proposal down. I recall that I could not comprehend the result at the time. I confess I still don’t. Work has been a universal obligation ever since God sentenced Adam to earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow, but we don’t have to take God’s will so literally. I suspect that this urge to work has something to do with fear of unemployment-though in Switzerland unemployment is an abstract threat-and with fear of free time. To be is to be useful; to be you have to be salable. Time that isn’t money, free time lived for the pleasure of living and not dutifully in order to produce, provokes fear. There’s nothing new about that. Along with greed, fear has always been the most active engine of the system that used to be called capitalism.

Fear of unemployment allows a mockery to be made of labor rights. The eight-hour day no longer belongs to the realm of law but to literature, where it shines among other works of surrealist poetry. And such things as employer contributions to pensions, medical benefits, workers’ compensation, vacation pay, Christmas bonuses, and dependents’ allowances are relics that belong in an archaeological museum. Legally consecrated universal labor rights came about in other times, born of other fears: the fear of strikes and of the social revolution that seemed so close at hand. The powerful who trembled in fear yesterday are the powerful who strike fear today, and thus the fruits of two centuries of labor struggle get raffled off before you can say good-bye.

Fear, father of a large family, also begets hatred. In the countries of the North, it tends to cause hatred of foreigners who offer their labor at desperate prices. It’s the invasion of the invaded. They come from lands where conquering colonial troops and punishing military expeditions have disembarked 1,001 times. Now this voyage in reverse isn’t made by soldiers obliged to kill but by workers obliged to sell themselves in Europe or North America at whatever price they get. They come from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and, since the burial of bureaucratic power, from Eastern Europe as well.

In the years of the great European and North American economic expansion, growing prosperity required more and more labor, and it didn’t matter that those hands were foreign, as long as they worked hard and charged little. In years of stagnation or weak growth, they become undesirable interlopers: they smell bad, they make a lot of noise, they take away jobs. Scapegoats of unemployment and every other misfortune, they are condemned to live with several swords hanging over their heads: the always imminent threat of deportation back to the grueling life they’ve fled and the always possible explosion of racism with its bloody warnings, its punishments: Turks set on fire, Arabs stabbed, Africans shot, Mexicans beaten. Poor immigrants do the hardest, poorest paid work in the fields and on the streets. After work comes the danger. No magic ink can make them invisible.

Paradoxically, while workers from the South migrate North, or at least risk the attempt against all odds, many factories from the North migrate South. Money and people pass each other in the night. Money from rich countries travels to poor countries attracted by dollar-a-day wages and twenty-five-hour days, and workers from poor countries travel, or try to travel, to rich countries, attracted by images of happiness served up by advertising or invented by hope. Wherever money travels, it’s greeted with kisses and flowers and fanfare. Workers, in contrast, set off on an odyssey that sometimes ends in the depths of the Mediterranean or the Caribbean or on the stony shores of the Rio Grande.

In another epoch, when Rome took over the entire Mediterranean and more, its armies returned home dragging caravans filled with enslaved prisoners of war. The hunt for slaves impoverished free workers. The more slaves there were in Rome, the more wages fell and the more difficult it was to find work. Two thousand years later, Argentine businessman Enrique Pescarmona praised globalization: “Asians work twenty hours a day,” he declared, “for $80 a month. If I want to compete, I have to turn to them. It’s a globalized world. The Filipino girls in our offices in Hong Kong are always willing. There are no Saturdays or Sundays. If they have to work several days straight without sleeping, they do it, and they don’t get overtime and don’t ask for a thing.”

A few months before Pescarmona voiced this elegy, a doll factory caught fire in Bangkok. The workers, women who earned less than a dollar a day and slept in the factory, were burned alive. The factory was locked from the outside, like the slave quarters of old.

Many industries emigrate to poor countries in search of cheap labor, and there’s plenty to be had. Governments welcome them as messiahs of progress bringing jobs on a silver tray. But the conditions of the new industrial proletariat bring to mind the word they used for work during the Renaissance, tripalium, which also was an instrument of torture. The price of a Disney T-shirt bearing a picture of Pocahontas is equivalent to a week’s wages for the worker in Haiti who sewed it at a rate of 375 shirts an hour. Haiti was the first country in the world to abolish slavery. Two centuries after that feat, which cost many lives, the country suffers wage slavery. McDonald’s gives its young customers toys made in Vietnamese sweatshops by women who earn eighty cents for a ten-hour shift with no breaks. Vietnam defeated a U.S. military invasion. A quarter of a century after that feat, which cost many lives, the country suffers globalized humiliation.

The hunt for cheap labor no longer requires armies as it did during colonial times. That’s all taken care of by the misery that most of the planet suffers. What we have is the end of geography: capital crosses borders at the speed of light, thanks to new communication and transportation technologies that make time and distance disappear. And when an economy anywhere on the planet catches a cold, economies around the world sneeze. At the end of 1997, a currency devaluation in Malaysia killed thousands of jobs in the shoe industry in southern Brazil.

Poor countries have put their hearts, souls, and sombreros into a global good-behavior contest to see who can offer the barest of bare bones wages and the most freedom to poison the environment. Countries compete furiously to seduce the big multinational companies. What’s best for companies is what’s worst for wage levels, working conditions, and the well-being of people and of nature. Throughout the world, workers’ rights are in a race to the bottom, while the pool of available labor grows as never before, even in the worst of times.

Globalization has winners and losers, warns a United Nations report. “A rising tide of wealth is supposed to lift all boats, but some are more seaworthy than others. The yachts and ocean liners are rising in response to new opportunities, but many rafts and rowboats are taking on water-and some are sinking.”

Countries tremble at the thought that money will not come or that it will flee. Shipwreck, or the threat of it, causes widespread panic. If you don’t behave yourselves, say the companies, we’re going to the Philippines or Thailand or Indonesia or China or Mars. To behave badly means to defend nature or whatever’s left of it, to recognize the right to form unions, to demand respect for international norms and local laws, to raise the minimum wage.

In 1995, the Gap sold shirts “made in El Salvador.” For every twenty-dollar shirt, the Salvadoran workers got eighteen cents. The workers, most of them women and girls, spent fourteen hours a day breaking their backs in sweatshop hell. They organized a union. The contracting company fired 350 of them; the rest went on strike. There were police beatings, kidnappings, jailings. At the end of that year, the Gap announced that it was moving to Asia.

Crimes against people, crimes against nature: the impunity enjoyed by the masters of war is shared by their twins, the voracious masters of industry, who eat nature and, in the heavens, swallow the ozone layer. The most successful companies in the world are the ones that do the most to murder it; the countries that decide the planet’s fate are the same ones that do their best to annihilate it.

Effluence, affluence: inundating the world and the air it breathes are floods of crud and torrents of words-expert reports, speeches, government declarations, solemn international accords that no one observes, and other expressions of official concern for the environment. The language of power diverts blame from consumer society and from those who impose consumerism in the name of development. The large corporations which, in the name of freedom, make the planet sick and then sell it medicine and consolation can do what they please, while environmental experts, who reproduce like rabbits, wrap all problems in the bubble wrap of ambiguity. The state of the world’s health is disgusting, and official rhetoric extrapolates in order to absolve: “We are all responsible,” is the lie technocrats offer and politicians repeat, meaning no one is responsible. Official palaver exhorts “the sacrifice of all,” meaning, screw those who always get screwed.

All of humanity pays the price for the ruin of the Earth, the befouling of the air, the poisoning of the waters, the disruption of the climate, and the degradation of the Earthly goods that nature bestows. But hidden underneath the cosmetic words, statistics confess and little numbers betray the truth: One-quarter of humanity commits three-quarters of the crimes against nature. Each inhabitant of the North consumes ten times as much energy, nineteen times as much aluminum, fourteen times as much paper, and thirteen times as much iron and steel as someone from the South. The average North American puts twenty-two times as much carbon into the air as an Indian and thirteen times as much as a Brazilian. It may be called “global suicide,” but this daily act of murder is being perpetrated by the most prosperous members of the human species, who live in rich countries or imagine they do, members of countries and social classes who find their identity in ostentation and waste.

The twentieth century, a weary artist, ended its days painting still lifes. The extermination of the planet spares no one, not even the triumphal North that contributes the most to the catastrophe and, at the hour of truth, whistles and looks the other way. At the rate we’re going, it won’t be long before we’ll have to put up new signs in maternity wards in the United States: Attention, babies: You are hereby warned that your chance of getting cancer is twice that of your grandparents. The Japanese company Daido Hokusan already sells air in cans, two minutes of oxygen for ten dollars. The label assures us: This is the electric generator that recharges human beings.

Eduardo Galeano in The Progressive Magazine

“words that must be said”

As for writers, they must be honest individuals who don’t use literature as a commercial tool, but rather as a way of expressing the words that must be said. That, for me, is fundamental. The words that deserve to be said are the ones that are born of the need to say them. That’s all I ask of people who write; the rest is less important. Lots of left-wing writers with the best intentions tell me nothing deep about humankind. Lots of political writing is atrocious, frightful. Many political writers don’t seem to understand that everything is possible as a subject: a fly buzzing in the air, a lighter, a window, the sound of footsteps. The most important thing is a point of view: Where are you placed? From which point of view are your eyes seeing? From which point of view will you tell us what you are feeling, or what you think? In some ways, Upside Down is a political book; in other ways, it’s not. But one must be careful when discussing these matters. It’s easy to disqualify a writer or an artist, by saying, “Oh, but he’s political.” It’s like saying it’s shit.

Eduardo Galeano, Interview – The Atlantic

“The time between the repetition of injustice is ever shorter”

In these times of globalization things have become more difficult; not for butterflies and flamingos, or salmon, because they remain free, not for the animals, for the birds, for the paths of the air or the sea, but for the people, for the thousands or millions of pilgrims who roam the world knocking on doors and seeking houses. The borders that open magically at the passage of money close without any magic when it is human beings who want to enter.

I have no claim to teach anybody anything. The only thing I want is to collect stories that I think are worth telling others and infecting them, so that in others, they multiply. Without any pedagogical intent. I do not pretend to point to any path, nor to sell a recipe for happiness to anyone. And, besides, I am inspired at least as much by suspicion when I see that people put up for sale recipes, magic solutions. It is very difficult to find paths in this confused, troubled, turbulent world; these paths depend on every moment and on every place.

Reality is very surprising and quite mysterious, so we must be careful when interpreting it, you must be very careful not to lock her into schemas and to let her talk, that it express itself before coming up with any interpretation. It is the frequent temptation among intellectuals, even among many intellectual friends, leftist intellectuals, the temptation to lock reality into a formula, to stick a label on it, reducing it to a schema that knows everything, that can do everything, that can interpret everything, that can sense everything, that can announce everything. And when reality behaves badly and does not obey the schema, well, it’s just proof that you have to change the reality, not the schema. Intellectuals cling to the schema with a passion worthy of a better cause. And I want to be forever free from the temptation.

At heart I am optimistic, but not full time, that is, I am sometimes optimistic throughout the day, pessimistic other times, and I do not think much of full time optimists, smiling from ear to ear no matter what, that they are invulnerable to doubt and never fall off the horse. I fall, I get up, back up, I fall again. I believe that the only certainties that are worthwhile are those feed of doubt. And probably the only joys that really shine on the summit of the heights are the joys that know well that world is a tough place, that you also have to know, that there is no other, we have to be aware, because none can ignore how little life lasts and how much it hurts. But that’s not all, each thing feeds on the other. Philosophers who believed that contradiction is the engine of history were not mistaken.

Sometimes one asks oneself how one can write with pleasure about horrible things because I not only write about the beauties of the world, although I celebrate them continuously, but also of its horrors. How is it possible that this contradiction is life, that after all life is comprised of this, these Siamese twins that are light and shadow, night and day, horror and wonder, how can one transmit this contradiction with pleasure, to write with pleasure. And I have come to the conclusion that to consciousness one must say to it that it remain still, that one will do what one can, but without bothering one too much, that when it gives orders, it is completely orthopedic. This explains, I think, the failure of much of the best-intentioned literature in the world today. Written by people with the best intentions literature wants to invite change and invites the yawn. It is ignored. I think there is something in the background, like an inability to commit the audacity to go to the unconvinced because writing for the convinced it’s easy. But then, and this is the fate of the parish bulletins, of literature aimed at the mirror, talking to oneself, half as masturbatory. I think it is worth addressing others and especially those who do not agree with what you think. And to do that, one has to offer things in the most honest and loyal manner, without imposing anything on anyone, but inviting one to participate in a shared adventure.

Eduardo Galeano, Interview – Periodico CNT, July, 2014

Video of Eduardo Galeano … on the first americans …

… on american identity (with english subtitles) …

… interviewed for Sangue Latino (spanish with portuguese subtitles) …

… a small part of which is available with english subtitles …

… in the acampada of Barcelona, 2011 (with english subtitles) …

… part of an interview with Galeano, for Catalan television …

… a documentary for argentinian television, with english subtitles …

For a full  obituary see, El Pais, the Guardian.

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