In April Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez reached out to Barack Obama and gave him a gift. It wasn’t a billion barrels of crude or a letter of resignation, which were no doubt what Obama was hoping for, but rather a very normal and inoffensive-looking book (this was still far better than Evo Morales’ gift, which was another round of accusations that the US was trying to kill him. Sigh).
The book was Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, a tome of some existing fame which became an instant bestseller as it was passed from Chavez to Obama.
The title should give some indication as to what the book is about, but given that the gift was an untranslated Spanish-language edition, it’s safe to say Obama hasn’t spent much time pouring over its pages. To avoid the potentially awkward consequences that could ensue from the next meeting between Chavez and Obama (“how did you like your gift” “oh yeah, it was pretty, um, interesting” “so which bits did you like the best” “well definitely the um, the start was pretty, like, um, hey look, there’s Kevin Rudd!” “Who?”), I thought I’d provide some cheat notes to help Obama. He’s a busy man after all; he has a Peace Prize to earn…
Title: Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
Author: Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist and freelance political exile.
Published: 1971, and then again later.
Introduction: 120 Million Children in the Eye of the Hurricane. Explains how Latin America is exploited.
Chapter 1: Lust for Gold, Lust for Silver. Explains how Latin America is exploited.
Chapter 2: King Sugar and other Agricultural Monarchs. Explains how Latin America is exploited.
Chapter 3: The Invisible Sources of Power. Explains how Latin America is exploited.
Chapter 4: Tales of Premature Death. Explains how Latin America is exploited.
Chapter 5: The Contemporary Structures of Power. Explains how Latin America is exploited.
Seven Years After. Explains how Latin America is still exploited.
Venezuelan oil fields, Bolivian silver mines, Brazilian favelas, Caribbean sugar plantations, Central American banana plantations, Brazilian coffee plantations, Chilean guano deposits and copper mines, nineteenth century Paraguay, Zapatista Mexico, the Panama Canal, Argentine prisons, leaky slave galleons, denuded rainforests………..
The Spanish. Outsiders that harvested, mined and plundered Latin America for their own benefit. Villains.
The English, and to a lesser extent the other Europeans. Outsiders that harvested, mined and plundered Latin America for their own benefit. Came after the Spanish (see above). Villains.
The USAmericans. Outsiders that harvested, mined and plundered Latin America for their own benefit. Came after the English (see above). Villains.
The Oligarchy. Insiders that privatised, mortgaged and sold Latin America for their own benefit. Villains.
The International Monetary Fund. See the USAmericans.
Augusto Pinochet. Chilean general who became president/dictator through a violent coup. Friend of the Oligarchy (see above) and the USAmericans (see above). A villain.
Salvador Allende. Chilean socialist president overthrown by Augusto Pinochet (see above). A hero.
Isabel Allende. First cousin once removed of Salvador Allende (see above). Wrote the foreword to Open Veins. Likes it. Fled Augusto Pinochet’s coup (see above) carrying a copy of Open Veins (an early edition, before she had written the foreword).
Old Woman. Lives in a São Paulo hovel. Drinks coffee from small tin can and talks to author. Claims that Brazil is “ours”. An anecdote.
“We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity”.
“The massacres of Indians that began with Columbus never stopped”.
“The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret – every year, three Hiroshima bombs”.
“There are less than 1,000 computers in Latin America and 50,000 in the United States”.
“One wonders if those that made us paralytic might offer us a wheelchair”.
“One writes to answer the questions that buzz in one’s head”.
Notes for the President (of the USA)
* Don’t take anything Galeano says too personally, after all you were only 10 years old when this book was published, and not directly complicit in, for example, the CIA’s support of Pinochet.
* Galeano is opposed to slavery, to indentured labour, to serfdom, and to other forms of labour exploitation. By aligning yourself similarly you may be able to reach out to those of the left like Galeano and Hugo Chavez. These people cannot vote for you, but being cordial to them might boost your popularity with certain demographics (most of whom also cannot vote for you).
* The CIA, the IMF, the green berets and the oil companies are for the large part unpopular within Latin America. This may be because every time they become involved in Latin America people start dying (according to Galeano). Finding less polarising cultural ambassadors to send to the region may prove worthwhile.
* Galeano wrote Open Veins in the years after Che Guevara was assassinated. Neither this event nor the ongoing embargo seem to have ended the Communist threat in the region. Cuba may be the country that has changed the least from the time of the book’s publication to today. It might be time to consider a new Cuba strategy.
* Five hundred years of exploitation has not caused Latin America to love unreservedly the Spanish (see above) or the English (see above) or the USAmericans (see above). For the USAmericans at least it is not to late to rethink this approach. It might be time to call off the conquest.