Monday, March 1, 2010

Columbus by Eduardo Galeano

Defying the fury of the winds and the hunger of ship-eating monsters, Admiral Christopher Columbus set sail.

He did not discover America. The Polynesians had arrived a century previous, and the Vikings four centuries before that. And three hundred centuries before them all came the oldest inhabitants of these lands, the people who Columbus called Indians, believing he had entered the Orient by the back door.

Since he did not understand what they said, Columbus was convinced the natives did not know how to speak. Since they went about naked, were docile, and gave up everything in return for nothing, he believed they were not thinking beings.

Although he died insisting his travels had taken him to Asia, Columbus did begin to harbor doubts on his second voyage. When his ships anchored of the Cuban coast in the middle of June 1494, the admiral dictated a statement affirming that he was in China. He left written evidence that his crew agreed: anyone saying the contrary was to receive a hundred lashes, be fined ten thousand maravedies, and have his tongue cut out.

At the bottom of the page, the few sailors who knew how to write signed their names.


  1. In God We Trust

    Presidents of the United States tend to speak in God's name, although none of them has let on if He communicates by letter, fax, telephone or telepathy. With or without His approval, in 2006 God was proclaimed chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.

    That said, the All Powerful, who is even on the dollar bill, was a shining absence at the time of independence. The constitution did not mention Him. At the Constitutional Convention, when a prayer was suggested, Alexander Hamilton responded:

    "We don't need foreign aid."

    On his deathbed, George Washington wanted no prayers or priest or anything.

    Benjamin Franklin said divine revelation was nothing but poppycock.

    "My mind is my own church," affirmed Thomas Paine, and President John Adams believed that "this world would be the best of all worlds, if there were no religion in it."

    According to Thomas Jefferson, Catholic priests and Protestant ministers were "soothsayers and necromancers" who divided humanity, making "one half fools and the other half hypocrites."

  2. Free Trade? No Thanks

    When the Meiji era in Japan was taking its first steps, Ulysses S. Grant, president of the United States, paid the emperor a visit.

    Grant advised him not to fall into the trap laid by British banks, for it is not generosity that leads certain countries to be so enamored of lending money, and he congratulated him on his protectionist policies.

    Before being elected president, Grant had been the general victorious in the war waged by the industrial North against the plantation South, and well he knew that customs barriers had been as much a cause of the war as slavery. It took the South four years and six hundred thousand dead before it realized that the United States had broken its links of colonial servitude with England.

    As president, Grant answered Britain's relentless pressure by saying:

    "Within two hundred years, when America has gotten out of protectionism all that it can offer, we too will adopt free trade."

    So it will be in 2075 that the most protectionist country in the world will adopt free trade.

  3. "Mirrors; Stories of Almost Everyone" by Eduardo Galeano, translated by Mark Fried; Nation Books, 2009