Eduardo Galeano, "Argentina, Obedient Victim"

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"Argentina, The 'Obedient' Victim"

An Interview with Uruguayan Writer Eduardo Galeano

Montevideo, Uruguay, 22nd of January, 2002

"The lesson for the world is, not to buy the IMF discourse, which leads to extermination." -- Galeano.

Interviewer: Argentina did everything the IMF ordered, and it's a broken country -- what's the lesson to learn for Mexico?

Eduardo Galeano: It's not only a lesson for Mexico but for the whole world, but in general I'd say that people just shouldn't believe the story: one has to be a bit more careful; the discourse of power doesn't reveal, but conceals or disguises the truth. The lesson from Argentina is not to follow this (neoliberal) discourse that leads to extermination! And not only has it lead to the destruction of national economies, but it also has horrifying consequences beyond economics. This neo-liberal IMF discourse doesn't only reflect in massive poverty but also produces an offensive concentration of wealth among the few. It is like a slap on the face, a daily insult -- this ostentatious power of the few in the midst of the helplessness of the many.

Interviewer: What are the non-economic consequences?

Galeano: First, the discreding of the idea of "democracy". Now "democracy" is identified with corruption, with inefficiency, with injustice. This is the worst thing that could happen to the notion of "democracy". Remember that democracy means "power of the people", and this word has been humiliated to the most extreme extent, and it has turned into the antonym of justice. This is felt by many, so many people, especially the young people. Democracy is a cave of thieves that has no use at all and doesn't do anything but hurt the poor.
This is the vision of democracy for an enormous number of people, at least in the Latin-American countries. And this is the worst cultural consequence, because there exists a democratic culture that allows the exercise of democracy to be something more than just a shadow puppets' theatre on the wall.

Interviewer: The corruption of democracy becomes a breeding ground for fascism....

Galeano: Moreover, tremendous damage has been done to the "culture of solidarity" during the years of neoliberalism in Argentina. Ties of social solidarity have cultural expressions that are born in connection with others. In a neoliberal system that promotes and practises egoism and selfishness, the culture of solidarity is badly injured. The predominating culture today is every man for himself and on his own. And that really hurts me very much. I tell you something that makes me sad about the current cultural reality and it is reflected in a radical change of language: there is a fucked-up re-interpretation of the dictionary.

Interviewer: Argentina and Uruguay are basically formed by nostalgic European immigrants -- with a deep melancholia prevailing for Europe.

Galeano: Yes -- those are countries with an overwhelming immigrant population, and there it's interesting to note that there is a universal perplexity in face of the enormity of the crisis like the one Argentina is suffering -- which is truly a tragedy. Universal perplexity because they don't understood how this could happen in a white country, well-nourished, without problems concerning population explosion. But the fact itself questions the theories of anthropologists, sociologists, politologists and other "ists" who identify, for example, underdevelopment and poverty with social explosions.... Things, they say, that happen in the "darker" regions of the planet, the regions that are doomed in advance to suffer poverty because of their skin colour, due to "blood-mixing" that didn't have good results. But against these racist interpretations of that so-called human misfortune, episodes like the one in Argentina happen, and they can't explain how this could happen.

Interviewer: But Argentina has everything -- water, petrol, wheat, meat, a giant and empty territory. Some sectors of the left think it could save itself on its own.

Galeano: This is impractical. Nobody can save themselves on their own. The only way out for the Latin American countries not to lose everything or to recover part of what has been lost, is to be able to unite. In Latin America the presidents gather but they don?t unite; they have those summits, exchange discourses, pose for the photos, but they are unable to unite in order to create a united front against the international banking cabal that is ruling us, against the usury of external debt that is strangling us, against the collapse of the prices of everything we sell. If the presidents unite, maybe something could be done in order to escape this fate of universal imposition of misfortune. And there you have another contribution to the new dictionary.

Interviewer: Which?

Galeano: The new name of the financial dictatorship is "International Community". Anything you do to defend the little bit you have left of sovereignty is an attack against "the international community", not a legitimate act of defence against the usury practiced by the bankers that rule the world. The more you pay to these banks, the more you owe. For that reason, a country like Argentina is dismantling everything, the economy, the state, the collective identity of the people who don't know who they are anymore, what they are there for, where they come from and where they are going. There is a spiritual emptiness that systematically corresponds to the material emptying of a country looted up to its spiderwebs.

Interviewer: Why didn't what happened in Argentina happen in Uruguay?

Galeano: There are a few significant differences between Uruguay and Argentina with respect to what could be an image of things in common. A shared history that brakes with the disintegration of the colonial space that once was the estuary of Río de la Plata. They are differences with origins in the early reforms that took place in the times of José Battle Ordóñez, a man with an extraordinary impulse for change and a precursor for his times (from 1904 onwards). He was a visionary who put Uruguay into the avant-garde of the world in many aspects. Now this is hard to imagine, as we are in the rearguard now, but this country was the successful laboratory of social, political, economic and cultural transformations which now seems like shadows in the distance. For example, nationalisation of public services and afterwards giving the state the role of an industrial engine.

Interviewer: What kind of reforms are you talking about?

Galeano: Like a very early Divorce Law in 1908. My grandmother, for example, was divorced. And fundamental social reforms like free and obligatory education, including physical exercise. Uruguay got filled with sports grounds, which explains the miracle of us becoming world champions in football before the existence of the Jules Rimet (World) Cup, in the Olympic Games of 1924, 1928 and after in the first World Championship in 1930, which is worth mentioning for a country as small as Uruguay that has less inhabitants than New Jersey. But that was possible because the State did actually represent the people on the whole and it wasn?t just a machine, invented by a few in order to mash the others.

I think somehow this was behind the plebiscite of a few years ago. I don't remember the date, but in the middle of the high euphoria for privatisation in Latin America, when everything up to the rocks were being sold, a plebiscite took place herein Uruguay and 73 percent of the population voted against privatisation. So public monopolies remain public, telephone, electricity, everything to do with state activity. People here didn't believe that privatisation would free the country from external debts, which was wise because in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, where everything got privatised, there wasn't just free competition but also private monopoly, and external debt multiplied in the middle of an avalanche of capital coming from the sale of public services and resources. This plebiscite saved us from that experience.

Interviewer: How would you describe the situation in your country?

Galeano: Uruguay is having a hard time. Globalisation has beaten us down a lot, Industry is destroyed; there is not much left of the Uruguay I grew and formed in, but in spite of all that the country still has some possible defences left, which Argentina hasn't -- for the simple reason that Argentina lost its economy; there is no control of the basic economic resources. Sovereignty is reduced to a hymn, a flag.

Interviewer: You said that the tragedy of Argentina, a white, educated and well-fed society, is today the example of what can happen to every educated and well-fed society.

Galeano: What happened in Argentina made the seams of the schemes explode in which uniform thinking tries to enclose reality. (The US historian Arnold J. Toynbee warns that societies in decline have a tendency towards uniformity and societies in rise to diversity. When a society starts to decline, fall, get silent, the same words are always repeated; it suffers a crisis of ideas which is manifested in repetition.

Interviewer: It stops thinking its own ideas, doesn't it?

Galeano: Regarding the 11th of September, I've read the most colossal nonsense. For example, the impossibility for US intelligence to act in Afghanistan because they don't have personnel "specialised in the Arabic language", but in Afghanistan they don't speak Arabic, but Pashtun and other languages. Or like so many times I have heard people talk about the "Arabic danger" and as an example they mentioned Iran, but Iran is not Arabic either, it's Persian. Or when people talk about the "Arabic religion", while the Arabs are actually a minority within Islam, and the vast majority of the world population that believe in Mohammed's message is not Arabic. I'm mentioning these as examples of the nonsense that is repeated every day until it becomes an unquestionable truth.

Think of what just happened at a university in Boston. One of the teachers wrote me to tell me that he took an article of mine from La Jornada called "The Theatre of Good and Bad" about the 11th of September. He put it on the Internet in order to distribute it among the other teachers of his college, but one of them denounced him to the directors, who accused him of putting "national security" in danger. Then the case passed on to the State authorities who decided that this article of mine could possibly contain subliminal coded messages, coded terrorist instructions. So this teacher was forced to contact lawyers and has turned into a victim of prosecution, which reminds us of the McCarthy Era.

Interviewer: So you must be on the Pentagon's Black List, then.

Galeano: Well, I've got the thick skin of an old elephant, but think of the situation of people like the teacher in Boston. There is a repressive climate being created in the world in order to throw everything that could be a construed as dissidence or doubt into the flames. For this reason it's getting more and more obvious that something has to be invented, some way out, because we are, in all respects, crashing into a wall. And to wait for a miracle is just not possible. We have to stand up against this imposition of misfortune as our destiny and try to imagine something different, beginning from the few certainties we still have left.

(Translation by Polo)