Customer Reviews: Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
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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.
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Kudos to Hugo Chavez for putting this book in the eye of the emerging consciousness of the US public--Obama will not read this book because he already knows the story, he is the front end of the Borg--the system, and so similar in policies to Bush as to possibly wake up the naive.

The book begins with one of the finest Forewords I have ever read, by Isabel Allende, and I offer just one quote from her spectacular introduction of the book:

"His work is a mixture of meticulous detail, political conviction, poetic flair, and good storytelling."

The translation by Cedric Belfrage merits special note. This book sings in English, and the translator has done justice to the original.

A major recurring theme throughout the book is that of capital squandered by the few while the many actually producing the capital dies of hunger or disease.

I list ten other recommended books at the end of this review. Early on the author makes these points:

1. The indigenous bourgeoisie are the ones who have sold out their countries to the multinational corporations. Toward the end of the book re repeats this with a chapter on the guards that opened the gates.

2. "The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret--every year, [the equivalent of] three Hiroshima bombs."

3. Quoting Lyndon Johnson: $5 invested in population control is equal to $100 in economic growth. This in the context of the author making the case that Latin America is under-populated in relation to Europe.

4. Imperialism and what I call predatory capitalism depends on, imposed, inequality and growing disparity on the countries rich in raw materials.

His early account of the European invasion by steel and horse and disease was unique in its time; see 1491 below for a broader more recent treatment. The indigenous population by this account dropped from 70 million to 3.5 million.

Among my notes:

1. The historical record is lie--laws were indeed passed protecting the indigenous natives, but never enforced, something history does not document as well.

2. "Ideological justifications were never in short supply."

3. Spanish dressed up the natives in Andalucian costumes, some of the clothing we think of today as traditional was actually imposed on the natives.

4. Spanish and others moved drugs (coca) from strictly ceremonial use to the general population and then into massive export.

The history of Latin America is a history of sequential pillaging. First gold, then sugar, then rubber followed by chocolate, cotton, and coffee, then the banana--the tree of hell under United Fruit. And then Chilean nitrates, Bolivian tin, and finally the "black curse" of petroleum.

Sugar in particularly devoured both the soil and humanity, first in Brazil then in the Caribbean.

The ready use of slavery, both of indigenous natives and of imported Africans, created the economic bottleneck that survives to this day, where those actually extracting the raw materials are virtual slaves and do not derive the fruits of their labor.

The author contrasts the manner in which the US used the Homestead Act to grant land to individuals who were incentivized to develop the West, and the latifundo oligarchy that imposes perpetual poverty on generations of indigenous individual families.

Myself being a survivor of the Central American wars, and the duty officer the night land reformer Mark Pearlman was executed in El Salvador by an extreme right death squad, I read with interest about the recurring attempts to achieve agrarian reform, only to have push-back from the 14-500 families that "own" the land.

I am fascinated by the corporate war between Shell (Paraguay) and Standard Oil (Bolivia) in which the armies of those countries, and the poor of those countries, were the pawns in the "great game" of wealth confiscation.

The book is a catalog of all the dictators supported by the USA and enriched by US and European multinational corporations.

The second half of the book yields the following notes:

1. Industrial infanticide has been imposed on Latin America by protectionism and free trade (as opposed to fair trade)

2. Loans and railroads (with attendant land rights and obligations) deformed Latin America.

3. The International Monetary Fund (IMB) is the knife that slits the belly of each country to let in the maggots of immoral capitalism.

4. The Ministries of Labor in each Latin American country are the new slave traders.

5. "International charity does not exist." The role of US aid is to help the US domestically. As of the book being written, only 38% of aid was actually targeted aid, all the rest existed to bring greater benefits back to the "giving" country.

6. What Latin America has been lacking all this time is a sense of economic community within its own continent.

7. The book was banned in Chile and Uruguay.

I end this summative review with two quotes--cliff notes for the President, if he has anyone active on Amazon:

Page 261. The task lies in the hands of the dispossessed, the humiliated, the accursed. The Latin Ameerican cause is above all a social cause: the rebirth of Latin America must start with the overthrow of its masters, country by country. We are entering times of rebellion and change.

Page 285. "The system would like to be confused with the country." and "In these lands we are not experiencing the primitive infancy of capitalism buts its vicious senility."

Notes and index complete the work. A solid four hour read without interruptions. A great book for anyone desiring to know why the USA is being pushed back while China and Iran are displacing the West in the southern hemisphere.

Other books I recommend (you have to look for my summary reviews now, Amazon buries serious reviews with a few negative votes).
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier
The Trial of Henry Kissinger
Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future - and What It Will Take to Win It Back
Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
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on June 15, 2009
Sometimes it is vitally important to read "the other side" of history... and hear the voices of people telling their own story, being interpreters of their own experience. Galeano, both a historian and journalist, writes a masterful history of Latin America - giving voice to Latin American peoples. Much like Howard Zinn's work in A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (P.S.), Galeano tells the neglected story. He provides a well-researched history, but his gifts as a journalist shine as he knows how to tell a story that engages the reader... instead of overwhelming the reader with dates and data.

Many people (who never read this book) have discarded the validity of this book because Hugo Chavez gave it to Barack Obama... but I hope Pres. Obama has read it. The U.S. and western Europe have to confront centuries of oppression, exploitation, and injustice in Latin America. We can choose to live in ignorance... or begin to hear stories from our brothers and sisters in Latin America and work for a better, more just, future. Reading Galeano's excellent book is a good place to start the process toward justice.

I read this book while on a trip to southern CA and Mexico. Numerous conversations were initiated as people noticed my book, especially in Mexico. These conversations only added to my learning experience.

I highly recommend this book for students of history and those who want to have their eyes opened so that they might work for a better future. In my opinion, every single person from the West working, serving, vacationing, or studying in Latin America should read this book.
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on January 26, 2010
Good art, fine art, hits a nerve. This book will rip out your nervous system....

Those who profit from imperialism will hate it. Those who pay the price will identify with it and like it.

Now look at the rating chart---no middle ground. That should tell you how good this book is.
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on June 22, 2009
For many who have not read the book, there appears to be blind indignation over Galeano's assertions. Clearly,such a powerful writer does not have time to indulge himself politically - his is a vivid historical account of destruction in Latin America. Many of the "invisible" souls that have perished by way of colonial power are the point of his indictment concerning American and European hegemony. Contextually speaking, much fits with the pattern of containment and control practiced in America and Europe. A sample of American history concerning indeginous peoples of the last four hundered years make a strong case for the criticism. If the historic pattern is evidenced over and over thoughout American and European history, one could conclude that it has been a consistent means to an end - dominance over others. Galeano's economic history of Latin American is evidenced in countless documents, articles, and primary sources. If you want to counter the book, read the evidence and then make your conclusions. Sadly, most do not want to take this writer head on. One of his personal concerns are the "invisibles" who passed through this continent's history without any mention of the horror they were put through. I will never look upon European and American achievement without thinking about the blood, sweat, and tears of people who paid the ultimate price for western arrogance and cultural superiority. This book may cut too close to home. However, if you think your standard of living did not come with a price tag, ask the people of Latin America.
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on March 9, 2011
My college professor in Latin American history brought a sample from this book to class one day to illustrate the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores to Latin America. I was instantly taken by it and decided to purchase the book when I got home. Galeano has a way of making beautiful introductions to books. Throughout, his use of metaphors is very clever. Overall, I enjoyed this book to the point I could not put it down.
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on November 12, 2015
Eduardo Galeano died in April, 2015. He was a Uruguayan journalist, best-selling author, and one of the most prominent Latin American writers. This book about the last five centuries of Latin American history focuses on the genocide, abuse and exploitation that started with the Spanish conquistadors and colonization. It continued with foreign economic domination of the banana republics and the brutal dictators -- many imposed and supported by the CIA -- during the twentieth century. Open Veins of Latin America was initially banned in several Latin American nations, including Uruguay.

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. ###
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on March 29, 2010
I read this book out of curiosity--and interest in Latin America. I was advised that it was just rant or left-wing rant, but decided to see for myself. I came away with this as the main idea: "in Latin America, free enterprise is incompatible with civil liberties" as Galeano says in his commentary on the book in an afterward. The book catalogues the exploitation of "the people" --usually the indigenous people--by South American oligarchies and by their European and North American affiliates.

It's certainly been a controversial book. First published in 1971 and often condemned and frequently banned in Latin America, I doubt it's been on the radar in North American very long. The current edition was published in 1997 with a foreward by Isabel Allende. It's been in the news recently when President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela gave a copy to Obama and then when commentators speculated on whether or not he would read it. Actually, I hope he did. ([...])

My first impression was that Galeano's detractors were right, the book was just rant. Galeano is a journalist and he knows how to use words to move readers. My impression was that every sentence in the first chapter had emotionally-loaded words. If his ideas hadn't piqued my curiosity I might have put it down. Ensuing chapters might come to emotionally-loaded conclusions, but the presentation of evidence was impressive. I can't endorse the ideas completely because I don't know enough to evaluate everything he says, but I was impressed.

Galeano's thesis is that the first the European conquerors (Spain and Portugal), later European business interests--mainly the British--and finally the US (government and business) have promised developmental assistance but delivered subservience largely by economic means--by keeping production costs low using raw materials and cheap labor from Latin American and then selling products for large profits, even selling them back to Latin American countries at the same time as they prevent them from producing their own products. In what seemed to me a telling comparison he contrasts conquistadors arriving in Latin American with the expectation of taking riches home to Europe with settlers in New England fleeing Europe and determined to grow their food and make the products they need for themselves--and to stay, not seek treasure to bring home. In what turned out to be an advantage for North America, there was no gold or silver, not even promising farms land so the British, in comparison to the Iberians, tended to ignore the colonies rather than plunder them.

In this idea, Galeano reminds me of Fareed Zakaria's thesis in The Future of Freedom where he explains that wealth in the form of natural resources is actually a deterrent to democracy because it leads to a ruling class that appropriates the resources and uses them to develop the country (or to line their own pockets) rather the depending on the population to supply funds for the government in the form of taxes. Elections don't mean much if the people doing the electing have no power. And clearly immigration to America took a far different path in the North than in the South. The result was the development of a growing middle class of local producers in North America--something that didn't happen in most Latin American countries which developed local oligarchies who themselves continued to be exploited by powerful patrons.

Galeano's text is colorful and impressive, even for someone like me for whom the names and historical events are not familiar. He's a master of the powerful and memorable phrases than sum up (probably somewhat simplistically but I ended up thinking often right nonetheless) the problem. "Underdevelopment in South America is a result of development elsewhere", " a Volkswagen Republic is much like a banana republic", "nationalization doesn't necessarily redistribute wealth". Over and over again he talks about the wealth concentrated among an oligarchy and the widespread poverty at the bottom that has characterized many Latin American countries for centuries, making it clear over and over again that "the outposts pay the price for the wealth of the centers". The centers were usually the ports that grew up to serve the Europeans and later North Americans who needed to ship the gold, the silver, the meat, the rubber, the bananas or whatever.

It's easy for a US citizen to agree with all the details about exploitation by Europeans, harder to deal with exploitation by North Americans. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner (20070 confirms US involvement in supporting the oligarchies that support the US companies. It struck me reading about the maneuverings of American companies that, whether needing bananas or rubber or petroleum, they were operating not all that differently from how we're discovering they operate at home and it's abundantly clear at this point that the US is moving toward something like the Latin American republics with wealth increasingly concentrated among the few while the middle class which enabled the US to be different from its Latin American neighbors is dwindling. Power in the US is increasingly in the hands of corporations--often multi-nationals with loyalties primarily to their own interests which may or may not be the people of the United States. But perhaps I push this too far.

I have to note that Galeano, as many other Latin Americans, deplores the fact that the US has even co-opted the name "America". (I had a hard time avoiding it in this review.)

Bottom line: This is a highly emotional book, but the logic and the evidence is quite definitely not lacking. I tend to compare him to Michael Moore, who goes after public attention with emotionally charged rhetoric, but backs it up with facts and details that prove the need for drawing attention to the issue. I cannot evaluate the detail and no doubt Galeano exaggerates and rants but it's still a compelling book that's worth the attention of a thinking person.
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on June 14, 2016
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
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on September 25, 2014
Not certain why Galeano recently repudiated his work in Open Veins. Most of the statements he makes in the book are well known to history and not particularly controversial. Whether or not they recommend a socialist solution to Latin America's numerous ills is a whole other debate. I never thought Galeano was necessarily advocating such a solution as he recounts the various ways Latin American countries have been exploited by large capitalist concerns over the years.

I did enjoy his writing style, more so than some of his other works. It's helpful, I think, to know some of the basic historical facts about the various Latin American nations before reading this book or you won't understand much of it. Like reading Mein Kamph without any knowledge of postwar German politics at the time. In my case, it really supplemented and reinforced many of the things I've been reading and learning. Like The Prize, Daniel Yergin's opus about the history of oil, I only wish he had continued on into the present day.
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