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2008-11-05

Obama Should Never Forget "The White House Was Built by Black Slaves"–Uruguayan Writer Eduardo Galeano

Guests

Eduardo Galeano, one of the most celebrated writers from Latin America. He was born in Uruguay in 1940. He was imprisoned and forced to leave the country following the 1973 military coup. He is the author of many books, including The Open Veins of Latin America and Memory of Fire.

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We go to Montevideo to speak with Eduardo Galeano, one of the most celebrated writers from Latin America. Galeano discusses the significance of an African American being elected president of the United States. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

I want to talk about this global election. I want to you stay on with us, Professor Lacewell, as we move south. We’re joined right now by Eduardo Galeano, one of the most celebrated writers of Latin America.

We’re talking about a global figure here. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, raised in his childhood years in Indonesia, then sent back to Hawaii and raised by his white grandparents. His grandmother just died on the eve of this election. He then heads off to California for college and then to Columbia, then on to Chicago to community organize, then to Harvard Law School, then back to Chicago, runs for state senate, then becomes senator. He’s just a first-term senator when he announces his intention to run for president of the United States. Last night, elected, the first African American president of the United States of America.

Eduardo Galeano, you were born in Uruguay in 1940, imprisoned, forced to leave the country following the 1973 military coup. Among your many, many books, Memory of Fire and The Open Veins of Latin America. Have you been watching this election? And what is your response?

EDUARDO GALEANO:

Well, Amy — you are Amy, right?

AMY GOODMAN:

I am.

EDUARDO GALEANO:

Hello.

AMY GOODMAN:

Hi.

EDUARDO GALEANO:

Amy for president. Congratulations for your prize. I have just received the news, the good news. You have received a prize, Nobel alternative prize, it’s true?

AMY GOODMAN:

The Right Livelihood Award, yes.

EDUARDO GALEANO:

Well, it’s just something like proof that justice exists, so I’m happy about it. And about your question, how was it? How do I see this?

AMY GOODMAN:

Your response to the election of Barack Obama as president.

EDUARDO GALEANO:

Yes, yes. Well, as almost everybody else, I’m happy about it. I mean, I received it as a victory in the long, difficult struggle against racism. And it doesn’t imply that Obama may be better because he’s half-black. It’s like you, like women. I am always writing about the rights of women, black, Indians, too, equality of rights, but it doesn’t imply that I believe in your superiority. We are all half-gold and half-rubbish. It doesn’t depend on the gender or the color of the skin.

AMY GOODMAN:

What is the response in Uruguay to Barack Obama? I mean, it is a first, but also, his views of Latin America, when it comes, for example, to President Chavez of Venezuela, he has been as harsh as the Republicans, though he does say that leaders should talk to each other without precondition.

EDUARDO GALEANO:

Yes, yes. I’m worried about the repetition of this dangerous, toxic word, “leadership.” I have heard this word said by Obama and also by McCain, and I usually hear it with a dangerous frequency in all the — in almost all the politicians in the United States, and about Latin America, it’s usual to say, “We should recover our leadership in Latin America.” We don’t need any foreign leadership. Let it be. Let reality be as it wants to be, with no ruling state deciding the destiny of other countries. Please, no more. Stop with this tradition of the messianic mission of, you know, saving the world. No, it has been terrible during so many years, even centuries. No. Perhaps this crisis, this present crisis, so strong and terrible, may give something like a violent shower of realism and humility to this new government, who is beginning now — which is beginning now.

AMY GOODMAN:

What would you most like to see, from your perspective in Montevideo in Uruguay? What would you most like to see the United States of America represent, Eduardo Galeano?

EDUARDO GALEANO:

What I would most like to see? Well, I would like that Obama, who has now tremendous, historic opportunity, that he never forgets that he’s now going inside the White House. The White House will be his house in the time coming, but this White House was built by black slaves. And I’d like, I hope, that he never, never forgets this.

AMY GOODMAN:

Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, do you think he will?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

No. And part of what I think is exciting about the Obama family moving into the White House is that there’s a family moving into the White House, that there are two African American girls, little girl children, who are going to grow up with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as their home address. That’s an astonishing difference for our country. It does not mean the end of racial inequality. It does not mean that most little black girls growing up with their residence on the South Side of Chicago or in Harlem, or Latino boys and girls growing up at their addresses, that the world is all better for them. But it does mean that there is something possible here.

And, you know, we took a moment to dream about the possibility of an Obama presidency, and in the hard work that we did on the ground, we made it possible. So if we could take a moment to pause here about what an Obama administration would look like — I love this question — well, what do you want? What do you want it to look like? So that we can start thinking about crafting a vision for, in four years, in eight years, how do we want our country to be? Barack invited that last night. He said, if my children live to be a hundred years old, how should the world be different? And he asked us to project forward.

AMY GOODMAN:

How do you want it to be?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

Well, I certainly would like it to be a world in which we, right away, move toward universal healthcare for all Americans. I think that it continues to be a massive injustice that, from the moment of birth until the moment of death, African Americans are much more likely, Latinos are much more likely, some South Asian communities much more likely, to live with poor health. And that poor health impacts everything: educational opportunities, income, wealth creation. So, I think the first step is healthcare.

I would like to see us move towards technology on our voting, so that we are making choices going into the future, even by the next midterm, in one federal system of voting. I’d like to see us move forward in infrastructure so that in four years, in eight years, we have safer bridges, better roads and higher quality connections between us. If we’re actually going to build bridges for each other, let’s, in fact, build bridges to one another.

AMY GOODMAN:

What about this as an answer to Governor Palin and John McCain mocking this, well, new president, though he wasn’t at the time, being a community organizer? This election, based on two, perhaps counter-movements: one is grassroots, real organizing around the country, but the other is the most massive influx of money in any US presidential campaign.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

Sure. Well, I took some of those slights very personally, because I lived in Hyde Park for seven years. So when they would make fun of the neighborhood, that was my neighborhood. I went to Trinity United Church of Christ for seven years. So when they mocked that minister and that church, that was my minister and my church.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jeremiah Wright.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

Jeremiah Wright. So, I took some of those things very personally and felt aggrieved about the ways in which, sort of, this American experience was considered an un-American experience, that to live in a community of progressive people in a diverse urban neighborhood was considered un-American. So the victory in this moment, for me, is that Americans, in very different kinds of places, in rural places, in Southern places, rejected that idea and rejected the notion that an Obama experience in Hyde Park, an Obama experience in Chicago, in Trinity, was unacceptably American.

So, that tells me that on the balance between that anxiety about income — and, of course, in certain ways, you could say it was the greatest sort of community organizing, because much of that money came from very local contributors, came from people who had never given money before, and they gave money, and they won. So all of a sudden you have people thinking of participation as not only marching and not only writing letters, but, in fact, affecting the outcome with our money.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, it was both the largest amount of people giving small amounts of money, but also massive sums of money —

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

Sure.

AMY GOODMAN:

—- coming in from corporations and -—

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

Sure.

AMY GOODMAN:

— people who expect a return on that investment.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL:

Yes. But let’s look at — I mean, we could look even at the campaign and how much of that money was spent. I was speaking with friends who were working the Obama for Illinois and saying that, you know, for the first time in a long time, they were actually folding up position papers and putting them in mailers and sending them to people. They said, you know, “When was the last time that I worked on a campaign where I had enough money to actually send position papers to voters?” that this was something — this use of funds struck them as an appropriate use of funds.

So, what I’m hoping is that if Barack Obama governs the way that he campaigned, he will certainly govern to the center, because he campaigned to the center, but he also did it with a kind of transparency about where the money was going, and he did it, I think, ultimately, with a sense of wanting to include ordinary people’s concerns and questions into these sort of big global processes.

AMY GOODMAN:

We are joined on the telephone right now by — to talk about another issue. While the media has focused mostly on the election of Barack Obama, voters also cast ballots on 153 ballot initiatives on matters as diverse as clean energy, predatory lending, abortion and gay marriage. In South Dakota, voters rejected a ban on abortions. Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana. Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have defined life as beginning at conception. In Massachusetts, a ballot initiative calling for the decriminalization of marijuana passed.

But the most closely watched initiatives dealt with gay marriage. In California, Prop 8 appears headed for approval. The proposition would amend the California constitution to specify that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Voters also passed gay marriage bans in Arizona and Florida.

We’re joined by Andrea Shorter now, the campaign director of And Marriage for All, a coalition of gay and civil rights groups in California. What is happening at this moment, Andrea Shorter? It looks like Proposition 8 is passing.

ANDREA SHORTER:

Yeah, the votes are coming in. It’s inching — it’s going to be close. It’s going to be very close. And so, I think that there’s something to be said in terms of the race to defeat Proposition 8. We came very — we’re coming very close. We haven’t called it yet, but we’re nearing 100 percent reporting throughout California.

AMY GOODMAN:

So what does this mean?

ANDREA SHORTER:

What this means is that it’s going to be a profoundly painful moment for families in California, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people across the country. And we haven’t given in yet, but certainly we’re prepared to continue to fight.

AMY GOODMAN:

And what exactly does it say? And does it mean the marriages will be invalidated?

ANDREA SHORTER:

Right now, that will be left up to the courts. It would appear as though that would be part of the challenge legally, but certainly our intention is to make sure that those marriages do stay validated.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Andrea Shorter, thanks for being with us. Of course, we will continue to follow Prop 8 in California, as we will ballot initiatives around the country. I also want to thank Eduardo Galeano for joining us from Uruguay, from the capital, from Montevideo. We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, well, Melissa Harris-Lacewell is staying with us, and Ralph Nader will join us next, independent presidential candidate. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

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