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Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent Paperback – January 1, 1997
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A dazzling barrage of words and ideas.-History
Well written and passionately stated, this is an intellectually honest and valuable study.-Library Journal
A superbly written, excellently translated, and powerfully persuasive exposé which all students of Latin American and U.S. history must read.-Choice
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Spanish
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As I grow older I continue to unlearn the propaganda, lies, half-truths and omissions the American school system poured into my head. The corporate media and the largely ignorant masses who surrounded me, of course, helped to propagate and reinforce this misinformation so that by the time I reached adulthood I was as stupid, misinformed and biased as everyone else. How easy the sheep are led!!
Along the way, by sheer dumb luck, I begin to meet certain rare individuals who knew what was happening and went through certain life experiences that caused me to question everything I thought I knew and believed in. It was a traumatic time in my life. At first I resisted the truth. How could everything my teachers, parents, friends, the media and various authoritarian figures told me be wrong??? Once the truth stuck its foot in my door I was finally forced to question everything and forced also to search for the truth on my own. Its something everyone must do if they really want to know reality.
One source of the truth can be found in certain select books and their authors who are courageous enough to face the powers of falsehood and deception. Galeano's "Open Veins" is one such book. It, together with Howard Zinn's People's History, should replace all the current history books in our schools and should be required reading for the President of the US and all the others who hold the fate of our nation and the world in their hands. That is why Hugo Chavez gave it to Obama, hoping it would be read so that the leader of the US might gain some modicum of understanding about the history of Latin America. I doubt he ever read it.
This book is packed border to border with facts, figures and accounts all duly documented with a bibliography nearly as long as the book itself. How one man could put together, assemble such a wealth of information, in one book of 300 pages is mind-boggling. I knew our government's foreign policy record in Latin America was bad but didn't know how bad. Now, I know--and it has left me saddened and exasperated because there is no way we can undo the injustices of six hundred years--not even a way we can change the current and future policies that perpetuate those injustices for those who hold power are too entrenched.
My thanks and gratitude to Galeano, a giant of a man, through whose book I now know the history of Latin America--through whose book I now know the truth.
"And There I Was" by DH Koester
Galeano’s thesis is that Latin America, “has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role…our region still works as a menial…Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European – and later United States – capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power…The history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is an integral part of world capitalism’s development.”
The pre-Columbian population of the Americas totaled no less than 70 million when the foreign conquerors arrived. A century and half later, they had been reduced to 3.5 million, just five percent of the original number. It was a virtual death sentence for millions of indigenous peoples who were forced to work in the mines, clawing out gold, silver, and other metals for shipment to Europe. When there weren’t enough Indian slaves, millions of Africans were imported to work the mines and plantations. The African death rate in Latin America was far higher than in the United States.
Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pope, apologized for his Church’s role in the colonial invasion of the Western Hemisphere and the violent subjugation of its indigenous inhabitants. “Many grave sins were committed against the Native people of America in the name of God,” Pope Francis said. “I humbly ask for forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church itself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
The Pope’s critique of capitalism echoes Galeano’s. It is said that Pope Francis has embraced liberation theology, which led Christian resistance to the right-wing regimes in Latin America during the 1970s and 80s. The Pope calls upon us to rethink capitalism, indicting the global economic system with its “deified market” that vastly enriches a few while leaving billions behind in misery. Galeano asserts that the economic system is Latin America has almost always enriched a few while leaving the masses in abject poverty. In short, Francis and Galeano are singing from the same hymnal.
One fascinating event Galeano describes is how in 1864, Paraguay was invaded in “a war of extermination which was the most infamous chapter in South American history.” The government of Paraguay had been the most progressive in Latin America, fomenting internal development using protectionism and without foreign investment. Britain encouraged Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to invade their neighbor. The war lasted five years, killed more than 80 percent of the Paraguayan population, and led to the annexation of large parts of the country by Brazil and Argentina.
Though formal colonization had ended in Latin America, foreign domination did not. U.S. President William H. Taft said in 1912 that the correct path in foreign policy “may well be made to include active intervention to secure for our merchandise and our capitalists opportunity for profitable investment.”
Looking at just tiny Panama, American troops intervened there twenty times, most recently in the invasion of 1989. The US occupied Haiti for twenty years. Marine General Smedley D. Butler, who had led many military expeditions south of the border, said in 1935 that, “I spent my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”
When Latin Americans resisted brutal oligarchies, the US typically backed the generals, such as the notorious Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, who ruled from 1932-1944. The US overthrew the democratically elected reform government in Guatamala in 1954, and this led to 15 years of violence.
Economic development in Latin America, Galeano writes, has been held back by producing only certain crops, such as bananas, sugar cane, and coffee, by the lack of agrarian reform and by dependence on Britain or the US. His heroes are the land reformers, who inevitably faced foreign opposition and reversal of reform, such as the liberator Simon Bolivar, Jose Arrigas in Argentina, and Emiliano Zapata in Mexico. Both the US and Britain long used tariffs to protect their infant industries from foreign competition, while pressuring Latin America to lower it tariffs for British or American goods. In other words, do as I say, not as I do.
Several chapters in the book are devoted to the Twentieth Century, focusing on the American desire for oil, iron ore, copper and other metals. Latin Americans got little of the benefit from the sale of their natural resources -- workers got very low pay, and the governments typically got modest tax revenues or concession payments – while the profits went to the multinational corporation that controlled the process. Dictators “hawked the country to foreign capitalists as a pimp offers a woman.” In this way, countries rich in natural resources remained poor. “What Latin America sells gets constantly cheaper and what is buys gets constantly dearer.” Thus economic inequality grows.
If there were any benefits to Latin Americans from economic domination, other than for a few oligarchs, Galeano does not mention them. He does not acknowledge the improvements in Latin American living standards and life expectancy that have occurred despite the obstacles, though it is true Latin America remains relatively poorer than North America.
Some readers will take exception to Galeano’s sympathy for Castro, and may be uncomfortable with the forward by Isabel Allende, who describes how the democratically elected president of Chile – Salvador Allende -- was overthrown by the CIA in 1973, installing General Pinochet and his long and brutal reign.
These reservations aside, Galeano is a gifted story-teller who can turn a phrase, and if he is a dangerous radical, then so is the Pope. ###
I was recently asked in France by a History/Geography teacher what precisely was meant by "banana republic". As I embarked in an impromptu explanation of the effect of wealth extraction (be it by the sword and slavery or marginally better through IMF structural adjustments) on the structure of an economy and, through it, of the whole society, I soon realized that I would never be able to do it as well as Eduardo Galleano did forty years ago.
I therefore sent a French version of his magnus opus to the teacher, and since I was at that I decided to reread it as well.
This book is now quite old and many recent developments are missing, but it is still the most comprehensive account of the systemic plunder of a whole continent I have found so far.
Eduardo Galleano does not shy from his leftist viewpoint, but past the introduction this hardly has an impact on the clarity and the precision of his Historic analysis which breadth and depth are breathtaking.
I can only regret that he didn't write recently an update to account for the very interesting last 40 years.
As it stands now, las venas abiertas de América latina remains a foundational document for whoever wants to understand the roots of today's societal organization and aches in latin America.
Also noteworthy: the translation to English is excellent.