Political enemies come in different forms and shapes and one needs creativity to defeat them, says the writer.

By Eduardo Galeano

June 1999

The papers carried the story: one fateful day in 1982, the Devil, in the form of a housewife, visited the rooms of the Vatican. To drive the demon out of the woman, who howled as she dragged herself across the floor, Pope John Paul II recited the old exorcisms of his colleague Pope Urban VIII, trusted formulas from a golden age.

It was Urban VIII who uprooted from the head of Galileo Galilei the diabolic idea that the earth rotated around the sun.

When the Devil appeared in the Oval Office of the White House in the form of an intern, President Clinton did not resort to the antiquated Catholic method. Instead, Clinton unleashed a hurricane of missiles on Iraq to drive the demon out.

Immediately afterwards public opinion polls showed that Satan had retreated: eight of every 10 Americans supported this military ritual, confirming that the gods were, as ever, on his side.

Forewarned is forearmed: although Clinton fled the Devil and was able to continue as president of the planet, his exorcisms are not over. Iraq, a land kissed by the blazing mouth of Satan, where serpents and chemical and biological weapons lie in wait, continues to be bombed from the air. And it continues to suffer the ceaseless punitive economic siege, which prohibits it from selling and buying. The economic blockade began a decade ago when another president, George Bush, launched his own crusade against these infidels of Islam.

After his hand-to-hand combat with the Devil, Pope John Paul II was not very convinced by the diablicidal powers of traditional exorcisms. And at the beginning of this year, the Vatican released a new Manual of Exorcism, which includes an updated practical guide to identifying the possessed. In this catalogue of their unmistakeable characteristics, there is no trace of the general's uniform for the Chilean army, a herniated disk or diplomatic immunity.

President Clinton has also modernised the techniques of battling Evil. Though Pentagon generals are always ablaze with the desire to invade something, the White House prefers bombing from a distance.

This makes it easier to kill without being killed. At the end of the three days and three nights of punishment against the evil ones of Iraq last year, Rear Admiral Cutler Dawson assessed the situation and concluded that a finer outcome would have been impossible. 'There is not even a scratch on one of our machines.'

So much the better. It will be a big job. Back in 1569, demonologist Johann Wier made a tally of the devils working full-time on earth for the perdition of souls. He listed 7,409,127 devils, in 79 legions. Since that census, much water has passed under the bridges of hell. How many are there now? It's hard to say. Devils will go on being devils, friends of the night, afraid of salt and garlic, but their theatrical skills make counting difficult.

However, it would not be an exaggeration to estimate that at least eight of 10 members of the human race are under suspicion. A basic statistical assumption would lead one to count all non-whites, whose demonically-coloured skins, from coal black to sulphur yellow, belie a natural inclination towards crime.

Among this group, we must count the 1.3 billion members of the sect of Mohammed. For 1,400 years these tricksters have used turbans to hide their horns, and robes to cover their dragon's tails and bat wings.

But Dante already condemned Mohammed to one of the circles of hell in the Divine Comedy; and two centuries later Martin Luther warned that the Muslim hordes, which threatened Christianity, were not made of skin and bone but were 'a vast army of devils'.

In addition to skin tone there is also tone of thought to be considered: How many enemies of order are there? They too are proficient in the art of transfiguration. These days the colour fiery red is used little in the world, but subversives make use of the entire rainbow to recycle themselves, and are well-versed in the use of masks, disguises, and other ruses picked up from their old friends, the travelling players.

But the list doesn't end there. Other multitudes must be added. The ranks of the demons and the possessed are so vast that they would make hell seem empty.

There is no room here for generalisation, however. Among the Muslims there are saints, too, for example, like the sheiks and kings of the desert that toast cheap Western oil and are arms dealers' best customers. They too love democracy, though they've never tried it, not wanting to waste any.

Saddam Hussein knew how to behave like a saint until a few years ago. A lay dictator when all is said and done, he still has a Christian prime minister. During the Iran-Iraq war, he was the very picture of virtue. But afterwards, he entered the service of Satan, and from then on received his vitamins from hell.

The prince of darkness, devourer of bodies and souls, doesn't even sleep on Sundays. Nor do his functionaries. Fighting Iraq, hard is not hard enough; any distraction could be fatal. The Pentagon needs $12 billion more? Clinton sends the money over. When wars go well, the economy goes better. The United States, which has the largest military budget on the planet and produces half of all arms made worldwide, is experiencing a radiant prosperity that the entire planet envies.

Lesley Stahl interviewed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 12 May 1996, on the programme '60 Minutes'. Referring to the sanctions against Iraq which were strangling the country, the questioner asked, 'They say that half a million children have died as a consequence of these sanctions. Do you think it is worth it?'

'We think it is worth it,' Albright responded. Three years later, there is every indication that the battle against the Devil is still dragging on. 'It is harder to kill a phantom than a reality,' novelist Virginia Woolf commented some years ago. - Third World Network Features/IPS

About the writer: Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan journalist and author of Memories of Fire and The Open Veins of Latin America. The above article is reprinted with permission from Inter Press Service.