A View of the U.S. Elections From Abroad

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As voters head to the polls in the US, outside US borders — from Europe, to Latin America, to Asia, to Africa — millions of people are watching these elections very carefully, aware that their lives will be directly affected by the decisions of the next US president. As activist Evelyn Dow, of Guyana, said on Democracy Now during the Battle in Seattle: “We the poor people of the world should also be allowed to vote in US elections, because the US president makes decisions that will impact our lives.” [includes rush transcript]

Next we hear the opinions of two of Latin America’s greatest artists. They have helped us to look directly into the heart and eyes of the world’s poor, of those who would otherwise remain faceless and nameless. Sebastiao Salgado, who is from Brazil, is one of the world’s premier photo-journalists. While many do not know his name, most have seen his photographs. They are heart-wrenching images of women, men and children who have been plucked from their land and whose lives are a permanent exodus. These are the images of those who are on the other side of US foreign policy, of IMF and World Bank programs: Africans, Asians and Latin Americans whose lives remain invisible to most of the world.

Eduardo Galeano, from Uruguay, is one of Latin America’s greatest political authors. He is best known for his book “The Open Veins of Latin America.”


  • Eduardo Galeano, writer from Uruguay, author of many books including “The Open Veins of Latin America.”
  • Sebastiao Salgado, Photographer from Brazil.
  • Jose Ramos Horta, Foreign Minister for East Timor.
  • Dr. Sen Win, Prime Minister of the Burmese government-in-exile.

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

AMY GOODMAN: About 100 million U.S. citizens, half of eligible voters, are expected to stay away from the polls today, marking the lowest turnout in the past 40 years. In fact, U.S. turnout lags behind many other countries, especially low among young and Latino voters.

Meanwhile, outside U.S. borders, from Europe to Latin America to Asia to Africa, millions of people are watching these elections very carefully, aware that their lives will be directly affected by the decisions of the next president. As one activist from Guyana said to us in Seattle at the protest there, Jocelyn Dow, she said, “We, the poor people of the world, should also be allowed to vote in U.S. elections, because the U.S. president makes decisions that impact our lives directly.”

Well, this past weekend, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I had to speak with two of the world’s great artists of Latin America. Yes, I talked to Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. He’s written many books, including Open Veins of Latin America. Also Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, who — well, you may not know his name, but his images are all over the world, heartrending images of women, men and children, who’ve been plucked from their land, whose lives are a permanent exodus. His latest project is called “Migrations.” These are the images of those on the other side of U.S. foreign policy, of IMF and World Bank programs. And I asked them about the U.S. elections. We start with Eduardo Galeano.

EDUARDO GALEANO: Eduardo Galeano.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts about the U.S. election?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Oh, I’m sorry, Amy, but my English is so poor, so poor, that I really cannot understand what’s the important differences between Al Gore and George Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: Sebastião Salgado, your view on the U.S. election?

SEBASTIÃO SALGADO: For me, it’s very difficult to give an opinion about the U.S. elections, a concern with what’s going on inside the United States. But for me, when we elect a president of the United States, in a sense, today we’re electing a kind of a president of the planet, because it’s the most powerful country and the influence is enormous.

The only thing that I want to say to the one or other that will be elected as president is to pay attention what’s going on outside the United States, mostly in Africa, because today we cannot leave back out of any consideration 20% of the world’s population. Africa is completely abandoned, and I believe that the new president of the United States must do something in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m just wondering, in terms of the reception of your work here in the United States versus how it’s received in other countries and tying this into the election, is the way the U.S. public sees the — sees politics in the rest of the world, how do you perceive it as an outsider who brings your work here?

SEBASTIÃO SALGADO: I believe that the United States must pay attention to what’s going out over here. I see, for example, what I read in newspapers that there is not a big, big, big interest what’s going out of here. I see by the number of pages of the foreign politics in the newspapers are very, very few. But I believe that it probably must generate this interest, because all this health that’s concentrated here is coming from many different parts of the globe. It’s not just what is produced in the United States. All of this financial system that was create basically what’s being produced in outside is being transferred to here. And I believe that something must go back. We must pay attention to this because, my God, we cannot leave just 4% of the world’s population [inaudible] the population of the United States and abandon all back mostly the underdeveloped countries in Latin America and Africa and part of Asia.

AMY GOODMAN: Sebastião Salgado, world’s leading documentary photographer from Brazil, and Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer. We now turn from artists to politicians, who have themselves been in exile, like Galeano and Sebastião Salgado, who were forced to leave their own lands because of military dictatorships. We turn now to a new foreign minister. He is José Ramos-Horta, just named foreign minister of East Timor under the UN transition government.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: My name is José Ramos-Horta, member of the transition cabinet in East Timor in charge of foreign affairs. Elections in the U.S. are the ones that are most closely followed by everywhere, everyone around the world, because of the power of the United States in influencing, in shaping events. Policies in this country necessarily affect the lives of many.

The other day, a friend of mine, a Democrat, said she wasn’t so distressed, because, well, anyway, we survived eight years of Reagan. I’m not obviously commenting on the Reagan administration. I’m just quoting the friend of mine. And I said, “But do not think only of whether you survive eight years of Reagan. Ask other people around the world what impact the Reagan administration had on other countries.”

My point is regardless of who is elected, and I will not comment on that, because it will be interference in U.S. electoral process. Regardless who is elected, there will be positive or negative impact to the lives of millions of peoples around the world. And that’s why we all follow with a lot of concern, a lot of interest, elections in this country, both for the White House, but also for the Congress itself.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the elections in Timor mean — not exactly elections, those will be next year, but the referendum? What percentage of the population came out for that? Here in this country, less than half the population comes out to vote.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: In the last year, a referendum on independence, almost 99% of people over the age of 17 went to register their vote. And that was extraordinary, not only the high number of people, but also we must remember that for many months, they were subject to terror campaign, a vicious terror campaign to discourage them from registering and from voting. And in spite of that, thousands of women, older people, some people were sick, and yet they walked hours, women with children on their back line up from early hours in the morning to cast their vote, the vote of their conscience. What an extraordinary display of courage by our people.

DR. SEN WIN: Well, I’m Dr. Sen Win. I am the Prime Minister of the government-in-exile from Burma, we call National Coalition Government of Union of Burma. Well, we hoped that whatever the result of the next, you know, election, presidential election, the U.S. policy on Burma will be going ahead, will continue, you know, because we see no change, no visible change, no significant change. In fact, it is deteriorating on the ground. So we don’t see why the U.S. policy should change because of the change of the president, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do elections mean for the people of Burma? What would elections in Burma mean?

DR. SEN WIN: Well, of course, this means a lot. The people of Burma has voted in 1990 elections, and they voted overwhelmingly for the change, for the National League of Democracy, that led by Dr. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate. And that means a lot. And NLD, National League for Democracy, won overwhelmingly. So that’s the, you know, what the people want.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there will be elections again in Burma?

DR. SEN WIN: Well, we are for looking so that the last year — I mean, the last time election results will be implemented, in the sense, the people vote for democracy. The people vote for change. The people vote for justice, you know. So this is what we want. .

AMY GOODMAN: And what is happening with Aung San Suu Kyi right now?

DR. SEN WIN: She’s under house arrest. And not only she is under house arrest, leadership — the whole leadership of the National League for Democracy party is under house arrest. The military has put — arrest those people who accompanied Aung San Suu Kyi to the railway station. They are putting pressure on all the members, and they are trying as best as they can for the eviction from the headquarter in Rangoon. So it is really a very hard time.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did she try to go to the railway station and what was she doing then?

DR. SEN WIN: Well, she wants to go outside Rangoon. So although she was said to be not under house arrest since ’95, actually she was restricted in every possible way physically, you know. So she could not go out of Rangoon for any, you know, context. So she wants to show that, you know, that in Burma, there is no such thing as freedom of movement, you know. So she tried to Mandalay by, you know, train.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened?

DR. SEN WIN: Well, the military don’t allow it. And then they will taken her by force and put her under house arrest.

AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of pressure — are you satisfied with the U.S.’s pressure? Or do you think the U.S. could do more?

DR. SEN WIN: Well, we always said that the whole international community should do more.


DR. SEN WIN: Well, we are talking about sanction, you know, selective sanction. And then we are also talking about pressure, you know, to send a strong signal that the military cannot get away with what they are doing now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this information about Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s corporation, the largest oil services company in the world, helping to build the oil pipeline of the Burmese regime?

DR. SEN WIN: Well, we just read it a few weeks ago, and, of course, we have our policy. We have our own view. And we have — that all — those view declared a long time ago that any kind of investment, not only from U.S., not only from one company, all kinds of investment, like now, is not helping the people, not helping our cause. That also hold for European Union investors, you know, like Premier Oil, Unocal — Unocal is from U.S. — Premier Oil, Total from France, you know. So all kind of that kind of investment is not helping our cause.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Sen Win, Burma’s Prime Minister in exile, East Timor’s Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta, Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado and Eduardo Galeano, the great Uruguayan writer, talking about U.S. elections.

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