I want to dedicate this tribute to the living memory of two people named Carlos: Carlos Lenkersdorf and Carlos Monsiváis, very dear friends who are no longer, but remain.
I begin by saying thank you: Thank you, Marcelo, for this gift, this joy. I say thank you in my own name and also in the name of the many Southerners who will never forget their gratitude to Mexico, the country of their exile, refuge of the persecuted in the years of filth and fear of our military dictatorships.
And I want to emphasize that Mexico deserves, for that and for many other reasons, all of our solidarity, now that this dear land is a victim of the hypocrisy of the global narco-system, where some stick their nose and others provide the corpses, and some declare a war and others receive the bullets.
This generous act honors me because of who it comes from. Mexico City is at the forefront of the fight for human rights, in a broad range that spans from sexual diversity to the right to breathe, which already seemed to be lost.
And I’m very honored to receive this gift, because it is very much about challenge: in our countries complete independence is still, for the most part, a job to be done, one that brings us together every day.
In the city of Quito, on the day after independence, an anonymous hand wrote on a wall: Last day of despotism and first of the same.
And in Bogotá, shortly after, Antonio Nariño warned that the patriotic uprising was becoming a masquerade, and that independence was in the hands of gentlemen of much starch and many buttons, and wrote: We have changed masters.
And the Chilean Santiago Arcos attested from jail:
–The poor have enjoyed glorious independence as much as the horses that charged against the king’s troops in Chacabuco and Maipú. All of our nations were born in lies. Independence abandoned those who put their lives at risk fighting for it; and the women, the illiterate, the poor, the indigenous and the blacks were not invited to the party. I suggest taking a look at our first Constitutions, which give legal prestige to this mutilation. The Constitutions granted the right of citizenship to the few who could buy it. The others continued to be invisible.
Simón Rodríguez had a reputation for being crazy and so he was called: The madman. He said crazy things, such as:-We are independent, but we are not free. The wisdom of Europe and the prosperity of the United States are, in our America, two enemies of freedom of thought. Our America must not slavishly imitate, but rather be original.
–We teach children to be inquisitive, so that they will become accustomed to obeying reason: not authority like the feebleminded, or custom like fools. He who does not know, anyone can deceive. He who does not have, anyone can buy.
Don Simón said crazy things and did crazy things. There in the early eighteen twenties, his schools mixed boys and girls, poor and rich, indigenous and whites, and also joined head and hands, because they taught to read and add and also to work with wood and earth. Latin sacristy was not heard in their classrooms and they defied the tradition of contempt for manual labor. The experiment did not last long. A clamor of outraged voices demanded the expulsion of this satyr that had come to corrupt the youth, and Marshal Sucre, president of the country we now call Bolivia, demanded his resignation.
From then on, he traveled on the back of a mule, making a pilgrimage along the coasts of the Pacific and across the Andes, founding schools and asking intolerable questions to those newly in power:
–You, who imitate everything that comes from Europe and the United States, why do you not imitate originality, which is most important?
This old vagabond, bald, ugly and potbellied, the most courageous and lovable of the thinkers of the Americas, was more alone every day, and he died alone.
At eighty years old, he wrote:
–I wanted to make the earth a paradise for all. I made it a hell for myself.
Simón Rodríguez was a loser. According to the value scale of this world, which venerates success and does not forgive failure, men like him do not deserve to be remembered.
But does not Don Simón live on in the energy of dignity that today travels our America from north to south? How many speak through his mouth, although they may not know it, like that Molière character who spoke in prose but did not know he spoke in prose?
Does not Don Simón continue to teach us, a century and a half after his death, that independence is another name for dignity? It is true that the colonial legacy still weighs, and weighs heavily, that it applauds copy and curses creation and admires, as Don Simón denounced, the virtues of the monkey and the parrot. But it is also true that it is increasingly young people who feel that fear is a humiliating and boring prison, and dare to think freely with their own minds, to feel with their own hearts and to walk with their own legs.
I do not believe in God, but I do believe in the human miracle of resurrection. Because perhaps they were wrong, those mourners who refused to believe in the death of Emiliano Zapata, and thought that he had gone to Arabia on a white horse, but they were only wrong regarding the map. Because the view is that Zapata remains alive, though not so far, not in the sands of the East: he goes riding through here, just nearby, wanting justice and creating it.
And note what happened with another loser, José Artigas, the man who made the first agrarian reform in America, before Lincoln and before Zapata.
Nearly two centuries ago, he was defeated and condemned to solitude and exile. In recent years, the military dictatorship of Uruguay built him a grand mausoleum, trying to lock him in a marble jail. But when the dictatorship tried to decorate the monument with some of his phrases, they found none that were not subversive. Now the mausoleum has dates and names of battles, without any phrases. Involuntary tribute, involuntary confession: Artigas is not mute, Artigas is still dangerous.
A funny thing: with so many alive who talk without speaking, in our lands there are dead who speak silently.
Blessed are the losers, because they committed the insolence of loving their land, and risked their lives for it. But it is known that patriotism is the honorable privilege of dominant countries: only those in charge have the right to be patriotic. In contrast, the dominated countries, condemned to perpetual obedience, cannot exercise patriotism, on pain of being called populists, demagogues, delirious: our patriotism is considered a plague, a dangerous plague, and the masters of the world, who test our democracy, have the bad habit of averting this threat with blood and fire.
Blessed are the losers, because they refused to repeat history and tried to change it.
Blessed are the losers, and cursed are those who confuse the world with a racetrack, and hurtling toward the peak of success they climb, kissing up and spitting down. Blessed are the indignant and cursed are the undeserving.
Cursed is the successful dictatorship of fear, which compels us to believe that reality is untouchable and that solidarity is a fatal disease, because the neighbor is always a threat and never a promise.
Blessed is the embrace, and cursed is the elbow.
Yes, but…So many losers, no?
When some journalist asks me if I’m an optimist, I answer, sincerely:
–Sometimes. It depends on the moment.
Full time optimists always seemed rather inhumane to me.
I think that disappointment is a human right, and in a way it is also proof that we are human, because we would not suffer disappointment if we did not have breath.
It is undeniable that the reality is not very encouraging, the fucked up habit of rewarding those who squeeze their neighbors dry and exterminate the earth, water, and air. And yet, the most exciting adventures in the transformation of reality tend to stop half-way, or get lost or disappear, and often end badly.
It is undeniable, I say, but one should also ask: When these lovely collective experiences end badly, do they really end? There’s nothing to be done, are we left just to resign ourselves and accept the world as it is, as if it were destiny? A few years ago the theory of the end of history became fashionable. More than one swallowed that toad, though common sense shows us, with powerful simplicity, that history is born anew each morning.
The best part of this matter of living is life’s ability to surprise. Who could have foreseen that the Arab countries would live this hurricane of liberty that they are now living? Who would have believed that Tahrir Square would give the world this lesson in democracy? Who would have believed what the boy, planted in the square for days and nights, now believes: “Nobody is going to lie to us anymore”?
When all is said and done, when history says goodbye, or seems to say it, it is saying to us, or at least whispering: until later, until a little later, see you later.
And I say goodbye to you, now, it’s already time, as history has taught me, saying thank you, saying to you: until later, until a little later, see you later.
Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer and journalist, is the author of “The Open Veins of Latin America,” “Memory of Fire,” and “Soccer in Sun and Shadow.”