Friday, July 31, 2009

A Gift that Gives Back?

Yesterday I finally got around to watching the DVR recording I made of Eduardo Galeano being interviewed about his new book, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, on Book TV. As expected, the interviewer brought up the recent incident of Hugo Chavez presenting Barack Obama with a copy of an earlier Galeano book, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, during Obama's first official visit south of our border, so to speak. (Chavez' gift was of the original Spanish edition of this book, rather than the English translation by the late Cedric Belfrage. Galeano had high praise for Belfrage in the course of his Book TV interview.)

As a writer, Galeano has a long tradition of documenting Herbert Agar's "truth which men prefer not to hear." This means that his career has been as much one of a survivor as of a writer. His Memory of Fire trilogy was written in Spain at a time when his life was in peril in just about any South American country. Since much of his writing has been as a journalist, one has to wonder how he would react to today's news about the practice of journalism in Venezuela as reported by Will Grant for BBC NEWS:

A tough new media law, under which journalists could be imprisoned for publishing "harmful" material, has been proposed in Venezuela.

Journalists could face up to four years in prison for publishing material deemed to harm state stability.

Public prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, who proposed the changes, said it was necessary to "regulate the freedom of expression" without "harming it".

The move comes at a time of rising tension over private media regulation.

Under the draft law on media offences, information deemed to be "false" and aimed at "creating a public panic" will also be punishable by prison sentences.

The law will be highly controversial if passed in its current form.

It states that anyone - newspaper editor, reporter or artist - could be sentenced to between six months and four years in prison for information which attacks "the peace, security and independence of the nation and the institutions of the state".

What I remember most from the Book TV interview is Galeano's claim that he always tries to take a view of the world that gives equal measure to the dark side and the bright side. In this case this may mean that he can appreciate both the potential danger for Venezuelan journalists and the opportunity for an ironic sense of humor, even if the humor itself has a dark side.

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