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Josť Saramago:
"Trees can be revived, the dead cannot"

By Carla Maldonado*

MILAN - The anti-war spirit of Portuguese writer José Saramago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, has scandalized the public more than once. He has called for silencing the drums of war in the Mexican state of Chiapas and in Palestine, the latter of which he compared to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust.

As for the apparently imminent war in Iraq, Saramago, 80, has not toned down his discourse. In a collective letter to the president of the United States in early February, he wrote that war is always a step backwards, it is a failure of democracy, of development and understanding: "it is a defeat for all humanity".

The author of "On Blindness" and "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ" is concerned about the human and environmental catastrophe that seems to be approaching, but he says: "the trees can be revived, the dead cannot."

Saramago spoke with Tierramérica in an exclusive interview during his visit last week, to Milan, Italy, where he presented his most recent book, "O Homem Duplicado" (The Duplicated Man).

Q: What is your stance on the impending war in Iraq?
A: This attack is being prepared by the empire of the United States. In the 19th century the world empires reached their peak, in the 20th century they declined, and now in the 21st century they are recovering. But the difference is that today there is only one single colonial empire in the world: the United States. Before, there were the Portuguese, Spanish, French and British empires. Now there is just one.

Q: Are weapons and petroleum industry interests behind this drive for war?
A: Yes, they are part of the motives for this war, but there are also many more. To make this clear (if anything can be sufficiently clear in this world): no other country has military bases in the United States, but that empire has military bases around the world. This fact, which does not seem to bother people, can only mean one thing: I have military bases throughout almost the entire world, in other words, I have an idea of domination. These are not bases with universities and hospitals; they are bases with soldiers and weapons. This has a specific end: to control the world. It would be better if we would talk with each other about what is behind all of this, and not just what is on the surface.

Q: Experts predict that an attack would not only cost thousands of human lives, but also that it would destroy the environment. They talk about an ecological tragedy. What do you think?
A: Ecological tragedies are very important, but human tragedies are more so. A tree can, more or less, be revived, a forest, a woodland, if we take care of it. But the dead cannot be revived. There is no way to restore them to life. While it is true that we should be concerned about ecological catastrophes, it is no less true that we must think especially about the catastrophe that would be the death of a great number of human beings, which in these moments we cannot even imagine.

Q: In your book "The Cave" you talk about the world that is disappearing, that we are losing species, we are losing traditions.
A: One day we are all going to fall into a black hole in the galaxy and then everything will end. But until that happens, we have to be aware that every four seconds someone in the world dies of hunger. And the environment has to do with this situation.

Q: How important for you is environmental awareness?
A: The environment is very important, but we are going to have to be concerned about something more. I have a garden and I take good care of my trees, but I am more worried about the people who live inside my house.

* Carla Maldonado is a Tierramérica contributor.

Copyright © 2003 Tierramérica. All Rights Reserved

Josť Saramago. Photo credit: Proceso magazine