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The Current Situation in Latin America
E duardo Galeano was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1940. During the military dictatorship he lived in exile, first in Argentina, later in Spanish Catalonia. In 1985 he returned to Montevideo. Galeano is an icon of progressive Latin American literature. His two monumental works, Open Veins of Latin America (1971) and the trilogy Memory of Fire (1982, 1984, 1986), made a tremendous impact on Latin American and world intellectuals, unveiling the brutality of colonialism and post-colonialism, but also capturing readers into their original, magic, and poetic prose. His latest book is Bocas del Tiempo (2004).
VLTCHEK: How would you compare the situation now and during the time when you were writing Open Veins of Latin America and Memory of Fire ?
GALEANO: I would say that now the tendency is to vote in progressive governments that are trying to change things. This means a tremendous challenge, but also a tremendous responsibility because these new progressive governments that can be found in several countries of Latin America are carriers of collective hope, which was not yet dead but seriously wounded. Latin America is part of the world which was for many years condemned to the system of power where intimidation had more strength than the vote. It began in 1954 when the democratically elected government of Guatemala attempted to make agrarian reforms, to return dignity to indigenous people; all that was later destroyed by foreign invasion. Then it continued: invasions and coups against any positive changes—progressive or nationalistic—concerning natural resources, independence, national dignity. Governments that intended to implement changes were destroyed. It happened in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and in Chile, which became the most famous case because Salvador Allende was converted to an international symbol. Then the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; again the same thing—they were destroyed after ten years of war because they intended to create a country where there was only a colony before.
So all this is a very long story of frustrations, failures, of hope washed in blood. All this created the situation in which we are now. How can I explain it? Change is possible, but to implement change, one has to fight against not only the painful and fucked up experiences of the last half century, but also against the long betrayal and something that I call “the culture of impotence.” It is a culture that has roots in the colonial period when the continent was controlled by Spain and Portugal and that was later broken up and consolidated by the military dictatorships and fatalistic brothers from the church. All this helped to create a culture of impotence that manages to paralyze people with fear. These days this culture of fear has a spokesperson who is a universal god—the god of the market.
In Latin America it is common to criticize the foreign policy of the United States. On the other hand, it often appears that centuries of European colonialism are forgotten and forgiven. Can you this?
I think this sentiment exists because there is nostalgia for the
multi-polar world. From the weak nations’ point of view, it
is better if there are many powerful countries than if there are
just a few. The more concentrated is power, the fewer opportunities
there are to move. Space for change, space for freedom to implement
change is then very narrow; very small. A unipolar world—one
with only one power—makes sure that this space almost disappears.
In a multi-polar world this space multiplies. Therefore, there is
nostalgia for a multi-polar world. For some 50 years we had something
that was called the “socialist world,” which was of course
not really socialist, but it managed to create another pole. During
those times, Europe had at least some energy to implement its own
development. Many people see the disappearance of that period as
a loss. Now it seems like faraway history.
Things fundamentally changed; look at an extreme case like the one of the UK. Not long ago I was visiting London and I happened to be invited to speak at the Royal Festival Hall. It was packed with people. During my first lecture someone from the audience asked me whom would I vote for in the upcoming elections? I said that I’m not going to sell ice to the Eskimos; that I am not going to tell English people for whom they should vote. But people kept insisting, kept pushing: “Whom would you vote for?” At the end they reduced their questions to: “So at least say what would be your message to the English public.” So I told them: “I don’t think it is a very dignified position to be a colony of your former colony.” They were laughing a lot after I said that; they thought it was a great joke. But it wasn’t a joke. It’s true. Europe is now very much under the control of dictatorship; of only one power, which is represented by one guy from Texas presiding over the degradation of the political process, reducing it to the level of low quality comics.
Most Europeans are losing any desire to vote. As we saw during the previous elections in the UK, the majority of people are voting for politicians for whom they harbor no respect.
There is a universal crisis of so called representative democracies or democracies, which rely on the system of competing political parties. This crisis is mostly reflected in the apathy of young generations. If you ask young people whether they believe in democracy, in the energy of changes in democracy, most young people just shrug their shoulders and tell you that they don’t believe in it, or believe just a little. This universal crisis—and Latin America is part of this world and this crisis—takes place mainly because politicians did very little in order to dignify democracy. Many young people see democracy as some enormous circus where professional politicians are performing incredible tricks. Once they reach the government, they do everything possible not to fulfill what they have promised during the election campaign.
This is exactly against the essence of democracy and young people at the end feel that they are invited to choose between the same and the same. The goal now is to restore democracy to its deep essence: as the power of the people. In this world, which is losing faith in so called representative democracy, there are new developments in participatory democracy. These are very interesting developments, reflecting the revitalization of community power with a more and more active presence of minorities in political life, including the presence of women who are of course by no means a minority. There is also the growing influence of the pacifists. Sometimes one feels that pacifists are powerless since they were not able to stop the war in Iraq. But we can’t forget that before the war, for the first time in the history of humanity, there were enormous demonstrations and protests against the war—before the war began.
This was important because at least it put on record how disconnected many governments are from their people who were screaming slogans against the war on the streets, but their voices are being ignored. So at least it was important as a testimony. On the other hand, it is also obvious how far we are from the time of political maturity when we could be capable of punishing politicians for their betrayals; to punish with the most powerful weapon—the ballot. There is a saying that a lie has short legs. Not long ago I wrote an article arguing that it is not true: a lie has very long legs. So long are the legs of a lie that it is capable of running at full speed carrying liars on its back. Because when Tony Blair and George Bush lied about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, people in their countries still awarded them with the vote in the following elections. So we are still very far from the time when people will be realizing how powerful a weapon their vote can be.
You mentioned pacifism. Do you believe that it is possible to fight against global dictatorship by pacifist means?
I don’t believe in saying “The way to do it is armed struggle.” I’ve met many people who were seriously involved in armed struggle, but they were reacting to the will and desires of the people. They never acted as if they were enlightened by some divine power or by some chosen minority. Also, they say that if there were someone shouting, “Armed struggle, let’s die,” they would probably be working for someone and would be embarrassed to confess for whom. They would be some professional provocateurs like Bin Laden. Bin Laden is an official of fear, that’s clear. Bush was just about to lose the elections, and then Bin Laden appears, declares that he is going to eat all children in the raw, and Bush wins. So there is blackmail by the dominant power when it uses the threat of terror. It happens very often: one’s enemies are the best allies.
I think the ways of change are dictated by the circumstances of each country, each place, and each time. I don’t think that arrogant intellectuals should be dictating to people which way they should be heading. I think we should be listening to the people, see in which directions things are developing. People are walking where they can, not where they want to. But they are walking. One has to have enough modesty and humility to listen to the sound of their steps.
Now one thing that I can say: experience shows that this formula of universal capitalism is not working. It does not solve any basic problems of humanity and, in addition, it is endangering the very existence of our planet. Therefore, we have to be alert and follow the contradictions created by this very system. Contradictions between what the system says and what it does. Between what the system wants and what it can do. From these contradictions grow the base of the new world, which is not yet born. One has to be a realist, but also to remember that reality is not only the world that we know, but also the world that we need. And the world that we need is inside the stomach of the present world. This new world often seems to be too silent, but it exists. We have to be patient and humble to hear how it is kicking inside. We have to see in which way each situation is developing, at each and every moment, everywhere. By doing this, we have to drop formulas. The 20th century was where formulas failed. Formulas failed once, twice, 1,000 times. We already experienced the pedantry with which the world was forced to adapt to the formulas.
At least we know that we don’t want to repeat mistakes, which occurred in the past when one half of the world had to sacrifice freedom in the name of justice, while the other half had to sacrifice justice in the name of freedom. Now we know that this will not do: that justice and freedom are Siamese twins. They were born back to back—attached to each other and they want to live together. At least this we know, so we don’t have to repeat what has been done; what went wrong with some terrible consequences. Remember, when the so-called “real socialism” collapsed without one drop of blood, nobody gave a shit. I knew many leaders of the Communist Parties from the former Eastern Block; they converted themselves into businesspeople, overnight. These are the countries that were claiming they were governed by the proletariat.
After all that, do you still maintain some belief in socialism or communism?
Of course I do. I don’t think there has been anything yet that we could call real socialism. There were developments, some experiences that were correct. But the system was divorced from the people. It was operated in the name of the working people, but it was not the case in reality and the proof was in the incredible simplicity by which it decomposed.
What an arrogance of that bureaucracy that later recycled itself in just ten minutes into a bourgeois class. They became capitalists. They changed one type of oppression for another, but one way or the other continued to function as an oppressive force. So all this has obviously nothing to do with ideals of socialism. But it is also obvious that if capitalism doesn’t work for the majority of people, sooner or later we will have to lift up the old banners, which were made dirty and were abused.
Back to Latin America: it is clear that most of the people here still desire social justice and a system that would be able to guarantee it. However, after they vote in progressive governments, these are not always able to deliver their promises.
People here want very basic things. They still can’t find the answers or solutions to their very simple demands like dignity, peace, and work. People are searching, but they are not finding solutions. They are walking and searching on different roads. They are being betrayed—we have a long tradition of betrayal here. They are now, generally and to a certain point, thinking that these new governments, which have lately appeared in several parts of South America, will act more or less in accordance with the hope that they managed to evoke. That’s why I always say, careful, one doesn’t play with people’s hope. Hope is very fragile. If people deposited this hope in your hands, comrades—be very careful. Don’t betray this hope. Because hope can’t be recovered easily. When it is lost, it takes a long time to bring it back. New progressive governments in South America are facing tremendous historic responsibility. One of the writers and journalists who had a profound influence on me kept repeating: one sin that can’t be forgiven is a sin against hope. Everything can be forgiven, but not this. That’s why progressive governments have to be extremely careful not to destroy hope.
A lot is being written lately about betrayal of hope. Some point fingers at Lula’s government in Brazil. But how much space do these governments have to maneuver?
Space is very limited and they have to fight an uphill battle. But one has to have something clear: if you are going to repeat history, it is better if you leave in power those who are already there. If your point is that you will not be able to change things, then don’t promise that you will. If you do and don’t deliver, you are lying to the people. If you can’t change things, let capitalists preside over capitalism. But if you are going to get your hands on power in the name of change, in the name of national sovereignty or human dignity, then you have to be responsible for your promises. If you can’t do it, just go home, turn on the television and let politicians take care of politics. In the moment when Lula or others propose changes, they are responsible for their promises. One of Lula’s politicians recently responded to the accusations about corruption in the present government: “But these things have always occurred in Brazil.” But if this is always going to happen, why didn’t they leave those who were doing it to continue?
Andre Vltchek is a writer, journalist, filmmaker, and co-founder of Mainstay Press, a publishing house for progressive political fiction. He is senior fellow at the Oakland Institute and author of several fiction and non-fiction books. His most recent is Point of No Return ( Mainstay Press ).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.