Review: Open Veins of Latin America–Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent

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Brilliantly Translated, Poetry of Pathos, Compelling, June 5, 2009

Eduardo Galeano

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 Bobbye Ortiz 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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