Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Open Veins of Latin America

The 1971 publication of Las venas abiertas de América Latina, the Open Veins of Latin America, earned Eduardo Galeano exile from Uruguay and entry into the pantheon of literary giants. Even in its English translation, the story of "five centuries of the pillage of a continent," as the book's subtitle describes the work, is almost pleasurable reading by way of Galeano's extraordinary eloquence.

The primary relevance of Open Veins, however, is a capacity for moral outrage and thoughtful analysis in its author commensurate with his literary abilities. Blending journalism, history, and economics with political and moral analyses, the book traces the roots of Latin America's misery to the exploitation and domination of the region, by Spain, other European powers, and eventually the United States, often in the company of local elites.

For five centuries, Latin America, among the richest of regions beneath the soil, has languished in an unnatrual poverty. Beginning with the Spanish conquest, the region has been looted, its great fortunes reserved for foreigners and their local collaborators, and toil and misery allotted to its people. Thought the details may be obscure, the plot is familiar.

The story of Open Veins is another familiar plot of obscure details. It gave voice to the marginalized and oppressed peoples of the region, who received it with enthusiasm. Isabel Allende refers simply to the book with the yellow cover that accompanied her into exile from Chile after the overthrow of democracy there. The military dictatorship of Chile was joined by those in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in banning the book.

Those regimes have collapsed, the books has outlived them. The continued popularity of Open Veins, however, must be seen in part as reflection of the continuation of the injustices it denounces. When Barak Obama received a copy of the book at a diplomatic conference he scoffed that just because he is given a copy of Peter Pan doesn't mean he will read it.

But Obama already knows the plot well. The month after comparing Galeano's masterpiece to Peter Pan the democratically elected government of Honduras was overthrown in a military coup. It is not known if the American government was involved in the coup, it is clear, however, that President Obama broke with the rest of the region and of the world in supporting and thus preserving the coup. A few months later he established a ring of new American military outposts in the region. So the pillage continues into a sixth century. Perhaps more Americans should read the book their President mocks.

No comments: