HAVANA TIMES — “Scientists say we’re made of atoms, but a little birdie told me we’re made of stories. One truth of the Mayan Indians is that we’re children of the days, and therefore every day a new story is born.”
Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan writer and thinker who, with his lucid and light pen, has collected the story of his continent in books like The Open Veins of Latin America’ and Genesis (Memory of Fire Trilogy). His seventy-one years weigh on his back, but not on his words.
We were on his terrain, sitting at an awkward wooden table in front of a large plate-glass window of an old Brazilian Café in the Old City of Montevideo, Uruguay. We each drank three coffees over our warm conversation while life passed because, above all, Galeano is a storyteller who splashes conversation with stories and anecdotes.
“In Spain a gap is opening between institutionalized politics and the younger generation that believes, rightly, they’re being cheated. The program in which Spain is stuck and which began with the Zapatero government has thrown two centuries of workers’ gains into the garbage,” explained Galeano.
To me I have mixed feelings. On one hand, one feels that it’s hopeless to think things will improve, but there are also the solidarity movements that are taking up the struggles of other peoples as their own, and these are more present than ever…
Eduardo Galeano: Haste is human and understandable. People see the need for things to change between now and Monday. But to be able to put yourself into reality and to then want to change it, you have to understand it as it is. Reality is like that, it’s not something that happens in fifteen minutes.
There’s a new energy that’s very encouraging; it’s the Vitamin E of expectation and enthusiasm. It seems impossible after so many disappointments, so many disillusionments, especially in relation to the young generation. The ‘movement of the indignant’ I think conveys this enthusiasm, which is a very beautiful word, very beautiful, and that must be defended because it means ‘to have the gods within.’ There are times when people and societies feel they have the gods within them; those are magical moments, great ones, not the everyday or what’s normal. Everyday life becomes far removed.
When they say ‘there is no alternative,’ it seems that perhaps the real crisis is the story, in the same way we talk about things and tell ourselves that things will always be the same.
Eduardo Galeano: Again, haste is human and understandable. People see the need for things to change between now and Monday. But that has nothing to do with reality. History is a slow lady who never walks in a straight line, but in jolts, stumbling. She gets up, falls again… zigzagging, and with many contradictions…going here, going there, returning, and starting over. That’s the enemy of haste. To get into reality and to then want to change things, you have to understand it as it is. Reality is like that, not something that happens in fifteen minutes.
Many times we’re wrong in that we identify history with major episodes — the storming of the Winter Palace, the World Wars… — but human greatness is in the small things, the things you do every day, day after day, what is done by those who are anonymous without knowing what they’re actually doing. Sometimes in conversations people will ask me who my favorite hero is, and this last time, instead of saying heroes of bronze and marble, I said it was the taxi driver who took me to my house the night before.
In a meeting with some members of the ‘indignant movement,’ they told me that people were demanding leaders, but that they didn’t have any. I told them that I hoped they’d never have any. To learn is learning to disobey. I also told them not to listen to those who ask them for results, and that they continue on their way and reality would tell them where to go.
Maybe these stories speak more of reality than the risk premium, which is what all journalists focus on…
Eduardo Galeano: I like to do that and that’s what I do: I tell very short stories that contain other stories within them and that say much more than what they seem to say, therefore they have to be read several times. The good thing about human reality is that it speaks in a language of symbols. You always have to read between the lines of what appears to be said.
Sometimes one feels discontented in seeing utopia as unattainable and feeling that resistance is a road to nowhere. That’s when we get too tired to keep walking in this zigzagging of history.
Eduardo Galeano: I had some meetings in the camps of the ‘indignants’ in Madrid and Barcelona. In one of those meetings, late at night, talking with people, they told me about their problems and difficulties. They were saying that people were asking for leaders but they didn’t have any. I told them that hopefully they would never have any because the need to have a leader to take you by the ear and guide you is the plague of the world.
Learning is learning to disobey. The other concern that tormented them was where they were going, what they were going to do after tomorrow, and what their goal was… I told them not to pay attention to any of that, that they should keep forging ahead and that reality was going to tell them where to go. I told them not to pay attention to those who ask about results and who ask them what will happen tomorrow or next week. I told them to respond to them with a beautiful verse of love that says love is infinite while it lasts. We are infinite as we progress, and this journey of ours will be infinite while we sleep.
After a year of peaceful protest without a response from institutionalized politics, the miners’ struggle has used more direct means for opening the debate about legitimacy and the need for these means.
Eduardo Galeano: That’s easy to say, especially when others are dying. That’s something I totally reject. Some intellectuals send others to be slaughtered. I’m not one of those and I think every country, every social movement and every person has the right to choose their path. Outside of this, no one has the right to tell anyone where to go or how. And certainly not to say that the only way is through the use of arms.
That depends on each moment, on each place, on each person and the less violence the better. There have been times when it has been inevitable and many of the changes in human history have been affected violently, but generally that hasn’t led to overall success, because they end up being condemned to a vicious circle.
A friend of mine always says that for rivers of blood to run, there must first run rivers of ink…
Eduardo Galeano: The poor die in wars, not those who deliver speeches extolling the values of war. If not, look at the Malvinas Islands; the officers didn’t even nick themselves shaving. It’s easy to send others to die.
(*) Published with the permission of Pikara Magazine.