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2013-05-08

Eduardo Galeano, Chronicler of Latin America’s "Open Veins," on His New Book "Children of the Days"

Guests

Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers. He is the author of the three-volume Memory of Fire, Open Veins of Latin America, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Upside Down, The Book of Embraces, We Say No, Voices of Time and Mirrors, among others. His most recent book is called Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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One of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers, Eduardo Galeano is out with the new book, "Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History." Galeano’s classic "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" made headlines when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave President Obama a copy at the Summit of the Americas in 2009. Since its publication in 1971, "Open Veins" has sold over a million copies worldwide despite being banned by the military governments in Chile, Argentina and his native country of Uruguay. While in exile after the Uruguayan military junta seized power in a 1973 coup, Galeano began work on his classic trilogy, "Memory of Fire," which rewrites five centuries of North and South American history. Watch part 2 of this interview.

Transcript

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We spend the rest of the hour with one of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers, Eduardo Galeano. He is the author of the best-selling book, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, which made headlines when then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave President Obama a copy at the Summit of the Americas in 2009. Since its publication in 1971, the Open Veins of Latin America has sold over a million copies worldwide, despite being banned in the 1970s by the military governments in Chile, Argentina and in his native country of Uruguay.

In June 1973, 40 years ago next month, a military junta seized power in a coup in Uruguay. Eduardo Galeano was briefly jailed, then went into exile. He lived in Argentina and then Spain until 1985, when he returned to Uruguay. While in exile, he began writing his classic trilogy, Memory of Fire, which rewrites five centuries of North and South American history.

AMY GOODMAN: The writer John Berger said of Eduardo Galeano, "To publish Eduardo Galeano is to publish the enemy: the enemy of lies, indifference, above all of forgetfulness. Thanks to him, our crimes will be remembered. His tenderness is devastating, his truthfulness furious," said Berger.

Well, Eduardo Galeano is just out with a new book; it’s called Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. He’s on a rare trip to the United States and joins us here in our New York studio.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Eduardo.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s an honor to have you with us. Let’s start with where you started, the title of your book, though you might have chosen that after you wrote this, but Children of the Days. Why?

EDUARDO GALEANO: It comes from something I heard years ago in a Mayan community in Guatemala. Somebody said, "We are children of the days. We are sons and daughters of time." And this began working inside me, and it finally resulted in this book. Each day has a story to—deserves to be told, because we are made of stories. I mean, scientists say that human beings are made of atoms, but a little bird told me that we are also made of stories. And so, each one has something to tell that deserves to be heard. And the structure of the book is the structure of a calendar: each day, one story, one story for each day.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Eduardo Galeano, how did you choose the stories that you would tell for each day?

EDUARDO GALEANO: They chose me. You know, they touched my shoulder or my back, saying, "Tell me. I am a wonderful story and deserve to be diffused by you, written by you. So, please, write me." And I said, "Well, I’m so busy. No." "No, that’s an alibi. You must write me," the story said. And so I began—I ended writing the stories, and later have a very hard process of selection, trying to say more with less. And after this process, the only surviving texts or stories are the ones I feel that are better than silence. It’s a difficult competition against silence, because silence is a perfect language, the only language which says with no words.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you share some of your—

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes, I brought some.

AMY GOODMAN: —dates with us?

EDUARDO GALEANO: No, not too much, just four or five only, because this is a problem I—I liked a lot. We have been—I have been with you another years, times, always—I’m—always felt that it was really a way open to get a real democracy in a world which is not democratic at all. It’s managed by five, six countries, big corporations and so-called international institutions, which are not at all international. The World Bank is not worldly, and the International Monetary Fund and so on and the big corporations. So, it’s like—like war. Most of wars or military coups or invasions are done in the name of democracy against democracy.

I was remembering these days, 1964. I was in Brazil at that time. And then a military coup destroyed a democracy government—democratic government, elected by people freely. And João Goulart, the president, was condemned to exile. And I was there, and I remember once and again and once again a graffiti I saw in a wall in the days of the military coup, saying, "No more intermediaries, Lincoln Gordon, president." Lincoln Gordon was the ambassador of the United States. And it was a perfect portrait about what was happening. So, some of the texts I’ve chosen, and today I chose to read, have something to—some connections with this sort of things.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Eduardo Galeano reading from Children of the Days.

EDUARDO GALEANO: March 9, The Day Mexico Invaded the United States:

“On this early morning in 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the border with his horsemen, set fire to the city of Columbus, killed several soldiers, nabbed a few horses and guns, and the following day was back in Mexico to tell the tale.

"This lightning incursion is the only invasion the United States has suffered since its wars to break free from England." There was an English invasion in 1812, I think, but it was not a real invasion, just a chapter of a long history of fighting for independence. But this one was real last one, the Pancho Villa invasion. So, this was the only—the only invasion.

“In contrast, the United States has invaded practically every country in the entire world.

“Since 1947 its Department of War [changed the name,] has being called the Department of Defense, and its war budget [is now called] the defense budget.

"The names are an enigma as comparable with the Holy Trinity."

Something about A Defeat for Civilization, terrible day. It’s terrible, traumatic. And my advice for people with problems, cardíacos, cardiologic and so on, because it is moving and very, very tragic.

“In the year 2002, eight McDonald’s restaurants closed their doors in Bolivia.

“Barely five years had this civilizing mission lasted.

“No one forced McDonald’s out. Bolivians simply turned their backs, or better put, McDonald’s turned their stomachs. The most successful company on the planet had generously graced the country with its presence, and these ingrates refused to acknowledge a noble gesture.

“A distaste for progress dissuaded Bolivia from embracing either junk food or the dizzying pace of contemporary life.

“Homemade empanadas derailed development. Bolivians, stubbornly attached to the ancient flavors of the family hearth, continue eating without haste in long, slow ceremonies.

"Gone forever is the company"—forever gone, the company—"that everywhere else makes children happy, fires for workers who try to unionize and jacks up the rate of obesity."

Something about—a couple of texts about terrorism. July 1st, One Terrorist Fewer. This is almost unknown here. For me, it was surprising, because it’s important, really important, what happened.

"In the year 2008, the government of the United States decided to erase Nelson Mandela’s name from its list of dangerous terrorists." Nelson Mandela was a dangerous terrorist, terrorist dangerous for the national security of the United States during 60 years.

"The most revered African in the world had featured on that sinister roll for sixty years."

So, I would—I would like to celebrate September 11 as A Day Against Terrorism. That’s the name of the day, for obvious reasons: September 11, A Day Against Terrorism. And I would like to celebrate the day, you know, pasting posters against terrorism all around the world, posters saying:

“Wanted: for kidnapping countries.

“Wanted: for strangling wages and slashing jobs.

“Wanted: for raping the land, poisoning the water and stealing the air.

"Wanted: for trafficking in fear."

And the last one, a homage to my idol, Rosa Luxemburg. She was a woman, and this was un defecto grave, a sin, being a woman. So, she’s not very, very, very well known. But for me, in my formation, when I was very, very young, I understood—I could understand, for the first time, through the life and in the words of Rosa Luxemburg, what socialism could be—was not, but could be.

“In 1919, Rosa Luxemburg, the revolutionary, was murdered in Berlin.

“Her killers bludgeoned her with rifle blows and tossed her into the waters of a canal.

“Along the way, she lost a shoe.

“Someone picked it up, that shoe dropped in the mud.

“Rosa longed for a world where justice would not be sacrificed in the name of freedom, and freedom would not be sacrificed in the name of justice.

“Every day, some hand picks up that banner.

"Dropped in the mud, like the shoe."

AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo Galeano, reading some of his entries in his latest book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. We’re going to break and then come back to our conversation with the great Latin American writer. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is the great writer Eduardo Galeano, famous for Open Veins of Latin America and many other books, his trilogy, Memory of Fire, also wrote Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Upside Down, The Book of Embraces, We Say No, Voices of Time and Mirrors and other books. His latest book is Children of the Days. And you have another piece—

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —that you’d like to read, Eduardo.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes, about migrants. Immigration is a subject always—

AMY GOODMAN: About migrants.

EDUARDO GALEANO: —always present in daily life here in the United States and in many other countries also. So this is something about—December 18, The First Exiles:

“Today, International Migrants Day, is not a bad moment to recall that the first ones in human history obliged to emigrate Adam and Eve.

“According to the official version, Eve tempted Adam: she offered him the forbidden fruit and it was her fault that both of them were banished from Paradise.

"But"—but, but but—"is that what really happened? Hmm. Or did Adam do what he did of his own accord?" Hizo lo que hizo porque quiso.

“Maybe Eve offered him nothing and asked [him nothing,] nothing of him.

“Maybe Adam chose to bite the forbidden fruit when he learned that Eve had already done so.

“Maybe she had already lost the privilege of immortality and Adam opted to share her damnation.

"And so he became mortal. But not alone."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s wonderful, Eduardo Galeano. Could you talk about that particular last entry that you’ve read and the question of immigration as an issue here in the United States?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes. Yes, I hope things can change. And I really cannot—Christopher Columbus could not discover or the so-called discover America, because he had no visa, no passport. Álvares Cabral could not discover Brazil, because he had no—how is it? A police—a police document establishing that he was honest. And he was dangerous because he could introduce some unknown enfermedades. How is it? Enfermedades?

AMY GOODMAN: Diseases.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Diseases.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Eh?

AMY GOODMAN: Diseases.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yeah, diseases, unknown in Brazil. As it happened, Europe had be so gentle to colonize Brazil—invaded and conquered Brazil. And then, a lot of unknown diseases entered there and devastated the country. So he couldn’t—or he could not be allowed to enter, because he was quite dangerous. And so on, with different—different situations all along history, the impunity of the North and the impotence of the South.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel that times have changed in a positive way in Latin America? I mean—

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —what you have experienced from Uruguay, you had to go into exile. You were imprisoned briefly, then went to Argentina. You fled Argentina. You went to Spain.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Coup after coup. And yet, what about today?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Well, today, I think that some doors are being opened, and we are living in stimulating times, you know, liberating some energy, energy which is a good energy, energy of change, energy of creation—with some limitations that I see in these progressive governments we have in several countries now, mainly the divorce between human rights and the rights of nature. I mean, from the viewpoint of the defense of natural resources, I’m not so sure that they are doing well. On other fields, yes, certainly yes. Poverty is diminishing, diminishing. And there is a strong effort in several countries, done in the name of the poor people and the unknown, the anonymous people. But about the protection of natural resources, it doesn’t work. I hope it will, but we—in South America, there is not a broad conscience about the fact that natural resources are maybe bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. Five centuries, or more than five centuries, prove it, that natural—our natural richness can say—can go away and not even say, "Goodbye. It was a pleasure," or, no, nothing, just go away, and will never come back. I mean, these—most of these resources are lost forever. And we don’t have still a clear conscience of this.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Eduardo Galeano, you’ve written a great deal about the position of indigenous peoples in Latin America.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes, yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Do you think their position has changed, particularly since the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you talk a little about that?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes, it’s a good news, you know, the fact that for the first time we have a constitution—the first one was in Ecuador, Bolivia also—recognizing the rights of nature. It was the first time in all the history of humanity. No other constitution before had recognized nature as a source of justice. And there were so many people astonished by it, saying, "But how nature can have rights if nature is not a person?" Well, the answer is here in the United States. In the middle of 19th century, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized human rights for corporations. And it’s still alive, this decision of the Supreme Court. I mean, still here in the United States, corporations has human rights. And then why not—why not nature also, if corporations can defend themselves, saying, "We have human rights"? Well, let’s admit that nature also should be protected.

AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo Galeano, your—the title of your book comes from Guatemala.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Children of the Days. Now, in Guatemala, there is an unprecedented trial going on. Whether it will conclude—

EDUARDO GALEANO: .

AMY GOODMAN: —we’re not sure right now, but that is of Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide, for crimes against humanity, the dictator who was responsible for the deaths of so many.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes, he killed—he killed thousands and thousands of people, and he destroyed several communities and villages, killing the babies. The order was: It’s a war against the seeds, contra las semillas, the seeds of people. Satan was present in each Indian baby being born, so they killed a lot of babies and children. And it was good news to know that he was on a trial. But—

AMY GOODMAN: And it may implicate the current president, Pérez Molina, who was a—

EDUARDO GALEANO: Also, yes, but especially the main—

AMY GOODMAN: —worked with Ríos Montt.

EDUARDO GALEANO: The main murderer was the other one.

AMY GOODMAN: Ríos Montt. And—

EDUARDO GALEANO: Which he has a—his brother is a bishop and is a good person, but he, he was terrible. He was really the man responsible for this massacre, massive extermination of Indian population. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Was also quite—

EDUARDO GALEANO: At the beginning—at the beginning, it was good news. First time in Guatemala and one of the first times in all of Latin America that something like this was happening. But a nowadays, it seems that impunity will win again. He has a broad army of lawyers. And the last news I received from Guatemala were not good, and perhaps impunity will win again. I hope not, but—

AMY GOODMAN: President Hugo Chávez gave your book, gave Open Veins of Latin America, to President Obama.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: President Chávez has died. Your thoughts on his significance?

EDUARDO GALEANO: It was a symbolic act indeed, no? Because he gave—he gave Obama the Spanish edition, and Obama doesn’t read Spanish. And there are a lot of English editions, something like 30 or 40. So it was clearly symbolic. It was just a way of saying, "Look, president, president of the planet, just a second. Have a look in it. There are other worlds in this world."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do you think the legacy of President Hugo Chávez is in Latin America?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Well, I was a delegate of the independent observers when the referendum took place, the president asking for first time in history, asking people, "Do you want that I stay here, or do you prefer that I go away?" asking people. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, we have 10 seconds.

EDUARDO GALEANO: I was elected by more than 200 observers to represent all of them in that referendum. And it was a trilogy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to save the punch line.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Carter, the former president of the United States, was there for the foundation—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to save the punch line and post it at our website at democracynow.org. Our guest, Eduardo Galeano; his latest book, Children of the Days.

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