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Poetic Writing, History from a Latin, Leftist Point of View
on July 21, 2009
Like many, I bought this book because Hugo Chavez recommended it to President Obama. It was my birthday, so I also bought several other books by Galeano. I am still reading my way thru them. As I read this book, I also read Walking Words [Folk Tales] and Days and Nights of Love and War [a Memoir].
It is difficult to assess this book and ignore current politics. I would suggest people read '1491' [A Pre-Columbian History of the Americas] This would provide some perspective as to the reality Galeano describes. If your only knowledge of American History is what you learned in High School and a survey course your Freshman year of college, this book may seem to be sheer propaganda.
If you are a Republican, or a chauvinistic nationalist, you will hate this book. Eduardo Galeano writes from the perspective of an exile who was forced out of Uruguay by a US supported Right-Wing Military Dictatorship in the 1960s, and then forced to leave Argentina when the Generals took power in the early 1970s.
The history of the Americas after 1492 is a history of Colonialism, Slavery, and the destruction of the people's culture. Even an ardent apologist for the status quo would find it difficult to deny that. You may believe the population is better off than they would have been without these gifts of European domination, but that is merely opinion. There is no way to know at this point.
One reviewer said that he believed this history was too biased toward Socialism, and that 'no one would leave a Capitalist county to go to Russia or Cuba'. That review was written only 2 months ago, long after Russia ceased to be a 'Socialist' country. As for Cuba, we are talking apples and oranges. Who knows how appealing that country might be, if even visiting were not illegal.
This History is well written, and presented more as an economic history then a social or political one. It does not follow the usual time-line format of important dates, Presidents, and Wars. Rather, it discusses how natural resources were developed, and then shipped to Europe to build nascent Capitalism there, and later in the US.
Instead of discussing the colonies of Spain and then France and then England, in a stately progression; Galeano discusses the theft of gold and silver in the 1500s, and the destruction of the indigenous cultures and religions. Then, he moves on to the enslavement of the Indians to mine the tin and other metals; and the stripping of guano and nitrates for European farmlands. Once the raw materials have been exhausted, he describes the importation of blacks to turn the South, in both the American Continents, into huge Plantations growing sugar, cotton, rubber, coffee, and whatever else would pay extreme profits.
Eduardo Galeano is not very complimentary about the Europeans. That is his own heritage, but he does not defend it. The title of the book is very descriptive of his basic premise: The open veins are the rivers of wealth leaving the Eastern shores of the Americas, for Europe. He is no 'free trader', and believes the economy in Latin America was deliberately stunted by a program of exporting raw materials only, while importing manufactured goods. If you look at the economy in the US today, this book may give you an idea of our own future, if we continue to shut down our manufacturing base and rely on cheap goods from Asia.
Eduardo Galeano has written a history, but even in translation, his writing sings. He is a poet, first, and foremost. No matter what the subject of any one of his books, it is presented in verbal pictures that encourages the reader to sing along. Much as Diego Rivera painted a graphic history of Mexico in his murals, Galeano portrays the Americas as they were, and as they are; with a ghostly image of what might have been, demanding your attention as you read.