Richard Gott / The Guardian – 2009-04-29 22:29:08
Chavez’s Perfect Gift to Obama
Richard Gott / The Guardian/UK
“To be alive: a small victory. To be alive, that is: to be capable of joy, despite the goodbyes and the crimes, so that exile will be a testimony to another, possible country…. Joy takes more courage than grief. In the end, we are accustomed to grief.”
— Eduardo Galeano, Days And Nights of Love and War (1978)
LONDON (April 20, 2009) — Some surprise has been expressed in the Anglo-Saxon world that Hugo Chavez should have presented a book to Barack Obama by Eduardo Galeano.
Ignorance can be the only defence, the very fault that the Venezuelan president had earlier accused his US counterpart of suffering from. For Galeano is one of the most well-known and celebrated writers in Latin America, up there with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and his huge output of fact and fiction, as well as his journalism, has been published all over the continent. His books have been continuously in print since the 1960s, read voraciously by successive generations.
It was a brilliant idea of Chavez’s to give Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America to Obama, since this book, first published in 1971, encapsulates a radical version of the history of Latin America with which most Latin Americans are familiar. Its subtitle, Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, gives a flavour of its contents, which discuss the way in which Latin America has been dominated and exploited by its European invaders (and later by US corporations) for hundreds of years.
Written in short episodes, sometimes just paragraphs, it is very characteristic of Galeano’s highly original style, comparable in some ways to that of the Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist, who has a similar capacity to write about history and current affairs in a language that is both poetic and passionate. The late Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski might be mentioned in the same breath.
Some resistance to Galeano’s writings in the mainstream conservative culture of the US may have been caused by the fact that his books were published by the socialist Monthly Review press and translated by Cedric Belfrage, a British-born journalist who emigrated to work in Hollywood and became a member of the US Communist party. Belfrage was deported back to England in 1955, in the waning years of the McCarthy era, before establishing himself as a Spanish translator in Mexico, where he translated many of Galeano’s books.
Galeano was born in Montevideo in Uruguay in 1940 and became the editor in the 1960s of Marcha, Latin America’s best and most influential political and cultural weekly. Galeano took refuge in Buenos Aires in 1973, after a military coup in Uruguay closed down his magazine, and founded a comparable review, Crisis, in Argentina, chronicling the events of the dramatic Peronist years between 1973 and 1976, when another coup sent him into exile in Spain. Galeano then expanded his Open Veins into a three-volume cultural and political history of Latin America, titled Memories of Fire, with thoughts and reflections on the events of almost every year throughout the continent.
Chavez will certainly have read Obama’s own biographical writings and will know that Obama is an intelligent and creative writer himself. He would also have guessed that Obama would enjoy and appreciate the writings of Galeano as he seeks to recast US policy towards Latin America.
As a North American, unfamiliar with the Latin American passion for soccer, Obama might also benefit from reading Galeano’s Football in Sun and Shadow, a wonderful account of the history of the game, published in 1995. The book was written largely to convince leftwing intellectuals (and Cubans obsessed with baseball), some of whom had a supercilious attitude towards the game, of its political and cultural significance.
Galeano celebrated soccer’s broad appeal to the great mass of the people of Latin America, an aspect of the southern continent’s culture that North Americans ignore at their peril. (c) 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited Richard Gott is a writer and historian. He worked for many years at the Guardian as a leader-writer, foreign correspondent and as the features editor
I Hope “Ojalá”
(November 10, 2008) — Will Obama prove, at the helm of government, that his threats of war against Iran and Pakistan were only words, broadcast to seduce difficult ears during the election campaign? I hope. And I hope he will not fall, even for a moment, for the temptation to repeat the exploits of George W. Bush. After all, Obama had the dignity to vote against the Iraq war, while the Democratic and Republican parties were applauding the announcement of this carnage.
In his campaign, the word most often repeated in his speeches was leadership. In his administration, will he continue to believe that his country has been chosen to save the world, a toxic idea that he shares with almost all his colleagues? Will he insist on the United States’ global leadership and its messianic mission to take command?
I hope the current crisis, which is shaking the imperial foundations, will serve at least to give the new administration a bath of realism and humility.
Will Obama accept that racism is normal when it is used against the countries that his country invades? Isn’t it racism to count the deaths of invaders in Iraq, one by one, and arrogantly ignore the many dead among the invaded population? Isn’t this world racist, where there are first-, second-, and third-class citizens, and the first-. second-, and third-class dead?
Obama’s victory was universally hailed as a battle won against racism. I hope he will assume, in his acts of government, this great responsibility.
Will the Obama government confirm, once again, that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are two names of the same party?
I hope the desire for change, which these elections have established, will be more than a promise and more than a hope. I hope the new government has the courage to break with the tradition of the one and only party, disguised as two parties which at the moment of truth do more or less the same thing while simulating a fight. Will Obama fulfill his promise to shut down the evil Guantánamo prison?
I hope, and I hope he will end the evil blockade of Cuba.
Will Obama continue to believe that it is great to have a wall that prevents Mexicans from crossing the border, while money moves without anyone asking for its passport?
During the election campaign, Obama never honestly confronted the subject of immigration. I hope, now that he is no longer in danger of scaring voters away, he can and wants to break down this wall, much longer and more embarrassing than the Berlin Wall, and all the walls that violate people’s right to free movement. Will Obama, who so enthusiastically supported the recent little gift of 750 billion dollars to bankers, govern, as usual, to socialize losses and privatize profits?
I’m afraid so, but I hope not.
Will Obama sign and comply with the Kyoto Protocol, or will he continue to give the privilege of impunity to the nation that is poisoning the planet the most? Will he govern for cars or for people? Can he change the murderous course of the lifestyle of the few who are risking the fate of all? I’m afraid not, but I hope so.
Will Obama, the first black president in the history of the United States, realize the dream of Martin Luther King or the nightmare of Condoleezza Rice?
The White House, which is now his house, was built by black slaves. I hope he won’t forget it, ever.
Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer, is the author of Open Veins of Latin America and Days and Nights of Love and War among many other books and articles. The original essay, “Ojalá,” appeared in Página/12 on 6 November 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi. from www.monthlyreview.org 11/10/08