World Contrasts

Our World is a Great Paradox That Turns Around in the Universe

Half of the population of Brazil lives in poverty or in extreme poverty, yet Lula's country is the world's second market for Montblanc fountain pens, and the ninth largest buyer of Ferraris. Armani shops in Sao Paulo sell more than in New York.

Allende's executioner, Pinochet, paid homage to his victim every time he spoke of the "Chilean miracle." Pinochet never confessed it, nor has it been mentioned by the democratic rulers who came after him, when the "miracle" became the "model"--but what would happen to Chile if its copper were not Chilean? The copper industry--the central roof beam of the Chilean economy--was nationalized by Allende, never to be privatized again.

Our Indians were born in the American continent, not in India. Turkeys and corn are also American, despite the name the English language has given this bird, and the fact that corn is called "Turkish grain" [granoturco] in Italian.

The World Bank praises the privatization of public health in Zambia: "It is a model for the rest of Africa. There are no more waiting lines at hospitals." The Zambian Post daily completes the idea: "There are no more waiting lines at hospitals because now people die at home."

Four years ago, journalist Richard Swift arrived in the fields of western Ghana, were cheap cocoa is harvested to be shipped to Switzerland. The journalist carried some chocolate bars in his backpack. The native harvesters had never tasted chocolate before. They loved it.

Rich countries, which subsidize their agriculture at the tune of millions of dollars per day, forbid agricultural subsidies in the poor countries. A record harvest by the Mississippi river floods the world cotton markets and causes prices to collapse. A similar harvest near the Niger river pays so little the corn is not even worth picking.

The cows of the North earn twice as much as the peasants of the South. The subsidies received by each cow in Europe and the United States double the average salary earned by peasants in the poor countries for a whole year of work.

Producers from the South go to the world markets in disunity, while sellers from the North impose monopoly prices. Since the World Coffee Organization disappeared, ending production quotas, the price of coffee has hit rock bottom, and lately it's been worse than ever: in Central America, those who sow coffee reap hunger. But the price one pays for drinking it hasn't dropped at all.

Charlemagne, founder of the first great European library, was illiterate.
Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail solo around the globe, did not know how to swim.
The world contains as many hungry people as obese. The hungry eat garbage from garbage cans; the obese eat garbage from McDonald's.

Progress causes bloating. Rarotonga is the most prosperous of the Cook islands, in the South Pacific. It has amazing economic growth rates. But even more amazing is the growth of obesity among its youth. Forty years ago, eleven out of 100 of them were fat. Now all of them are fat.

Ever since China opened up to the so called "market economy," its traditional menu of rice and vegetables has been speedily overtaken by hamburgers. The Chinese Government had no choice but to declare war on obesity, which is now a national epidemic. The advertising campaign publicizes the example of Liang Shun, a young man who lost 115 kg (253 lbs) last year.

The best-known line attributed to Don Quixote ("They are barking, Sancho; it's a sign that we are moving") does not appear at all in Cervantes' novel. Humphrey Bogart does not say the most famous line ("Play it again, Sam") attributed to him in the movie Casablanca.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, Ali Baba was not the leader of the 40 thieves, but their enemy; and Frankenstein was not the monster, but its inventor.

On first thought it seems incomprehensible, and on second thought as well: in the places where progress has progressed the most, people work the longest hours. The illness caused by too much work leads to death. It is called karoshi in Japanese. Now the Japanese are adding yet another word to the dictionary of technological civilization: karojsatsu is the name given to suicides caused by hyperactivity, an increasingly frequent occurrence.

In May of 1998, France reduced the work week from 39 to 35 hours. Not only did such a measure prove effective against unemployment, but it also provided a rare instance of sanity in a world that has got a screw loose--or several, or all of them. For what is the use of machines if they can't reduce the amount of time humans spend at work? But the Socialists lost the elections and things in France went back to normal, so a law that had been dictated by common sense is already on its way out.

Technology produces cubic-shaped watermelons, featherless chickens, and a lifeless labor force. In a few hospitals in the United States robots already take on some nursing tasks. According to the Washington Post, robots work 24 hours a day, but they cannot make decisions because they lack common sense--an unwitting portrait of the ideal worker in the world to come.

According to the Gospel, Christ was born during the reign of king Herod. Since Herod died in 4 BC, Christ was born at least four years before himself.

Christmas Eve is celebrated in many countries with thundering salvos. Silent night; holy night! The sound of the fireworks drives dogs insane and deafens women and men of good will.

The swastika, which the Nazis identified with war and death, had been a symbol of life in Mesopotamia, India and America.

When George W. Bush suggested that forests be cut down in order to end forest fires, he was misunderstood. The President seemed a bit more incoherent than usual, but he was being consistent with his ideas. These are his holy remedies: to cure a headache, we shall behead the sufferer; to save the people of Iraq, we will bomb it to a pulp.

Our world is a great paradox that turns around in the universe. At the rate we are going, the owners of the planet will soon outlaw hunger and thirst in order to forestall shortages of food and water.

Orginally published on

Journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1940. During the Uruguayan dictatorship, he lived in exile in Argentina and Spain, returning in 1985. Among his books are "The Open Veins of Latin America," and the trilogy "Memories of Fire." He most recent book is "Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking Glass World."

AMP Section Name:Globalization
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