(On March 14, novelist EDUARDO GALEANO spoke to the gathering of thousands in Montevideo to bury the remains of the first recovered “desaparecidos” (disappeared) victims of the Bordaberry dictatorship. The “progressive” (neoliberal) government of Tabaré Vázquez still hasn’t summoned the courage to repeal the “Leye de Caducidad” known as the “law of impunity” which the dictatorship legislated before leaving power, ensuring that none of its members would be tried for crimes committed during its reign from 1973-1985. The speech was published in the weekly newspaper, Brecha, March 17, 2006. Translated for CounterPunch by Clifton Ross.)
Every 14 of March Uruguayans who were prisoners of the dictatorship celebrate the Day of the Liberated.
It’s something more than a coincidence.
The disappeared, who are beginning to appear, Ubagesner Chaves, Fernando Miranda, call us to struggle for the liberation of memory, which continues to be imprisoned.
Our country wants to stop being a sanctuary of impunity, the impunity of murderers, the impunity of thieves, the impunity of liars, and we’re turning this direction, at last, after so many years, taking the first steps.
This is not the end of the road. It is the beginning. It was costly but we are beginning the hard and necessary transit to the liberation of memory in a country that seemed to be condemned to a state of perpetual amnesia.
All of us who are here share the hope that sooner, rather than later, there will be memory and there will be justice because history teaches us that memory can stubbornly survive all its prisons and that justice can be more powerful than fear when people give it aid.
The dignity of memory, the memory of dignity.
In the unequal combat against fear, in that combat that each one of us fights every day, what would become of us without the memory of dignity?
The world is suffering an alarming disparagement of dignity. The undignified, those who rule in this world, say that the undignified are the prehistoric, nostalgic, romantic, those who deny reality.
Every day, everywhere, we hear the eulogy to opportunism and the identification of realism with cynicism; the realism that requires elbowing and forbids the embrace; the realism of screw everything and fix it as you can and if not screw you.
The realism, too, of fatalism. This is the worst of the many ghosts seen today in our progressive government, here in Uruguay, and in other progressive governments of Latin America. The fatalism, perverse colonial inheritance, which forces us to believe that reality can be repeated, but it can’t be changed, that what was is, and will be, that tomorrow is nothing more than another name for today.
But could it be that they weren’t real, these men and women who have struggled and who struggle to change reality, those who have believed and believe that reality doesn,t demand obedience? Aren’t they real, Ubagesner Chaves and Fernando Miranda and all the others who are arriving from the bottom of the earth and time to testify to another possible reality? And all those who hoped and wished with them, weren’t they, and don’t they continue to be, real? Were the hangmen not real, were the victims not real, were the sacrifices of so many people in this country that the dictatorship turned into the greatest torture chamber of the world not real?
Reality is a challenge.
We are not condemned to choose between the same and the same.
Reality is real because it invites us to change it and not because it forces us to accept it. Reality opens spaces of freedom and doesn’t necessarily enclose us in the cages of fatalism.
The poet has well said that a single rooster doesn’t weave the morning.
This Creole with a strange name, Ubagesner, wasn’t alone in life nor is he alone in death; today he is a symbol of our land and our people.
This militant worker embodies the sacrifice of many compatriots who believed in our country and our people and risked their lives for this faith.
We have come to tell them it was worth the effort.
We have come to tell them that, dead, they will never die.
We are gathered today to tell them that the tangos we hear tell us that life is short but there are lives that are startlingly long because they continue in others, in those who will come.
Sooner or later we, walkers, will be walked on by the steps of others, just as our steps are taken in the footprints other steps left behind.
Now when the owners of the world have forced us to repent of all passion, now when style makes life so cold and barren, now is a good time to recall that little word that we all remember from childhood tales, “abracadabra,” the magic word that opened all the doors, that word, abracadabra which meant in ancient Hebrew, “Send your fire to the end.”
Today, more than a funeral, this is a celebration. We are celebrating the living memory of Ubagesner and all those generous men and women who, in this country, sent their fire to the end; those who continue to help us to not lose our way and not to accept the unacceptable and not to ever resign ourselves and never to step down from the beautiful little horse of dignity.
Because in the most difficult hours, in those days of enmity, in the years of the grime and fear of the military dictatorship, these people knew how to live and give themselves entirely and they did so without asking for anything in exchange, as if their lives sang that old Andalucian copla that said, and still says and will always say, “My hands are empty, but they are mine.”