Galeano, Eduardo. OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA: five centuries of the pillage of a continent. 1973, 1997. Monthly Review Press. New York, USA.

“In the years since the first edition of Open Veins, history has not ceased to be a cruel mistress to us…The system has multiplied hunger and fear; wealth has become more and more concentrated, poverty, more and more widespread. That is recognized by the documents of specialized international agencies in whose aseptic vocabulary our oppressed territories are countries in the process of development” and the pitiless impoverishment of the working class is “regressive income distribution.”

“Our fate as Latin American writers is linked to the need for profound social change…In an incarcerated society, free literature can exist only as denunciation and hope.”

When Hugo Chavez recommends a book, it immediately hits the USA best seller list. If I ever write a book I´ll send him a copy to promote. Most recently he told another President to read “Open Veins of Latin America” and people were clamouring to read this historic classic.
Galeano, a Uruguayan author and journalist, can write history in such a poetic and pictorial style that the events and their connections come alive like a stage drama. He expresses history through facts enhanced with unique personal observation and quirky connections. He has been exiled and jailed for his beliefs and writing, he is no ivory tower academic; he is proof that the truth is a threat to power and words do matter.

Here is an example from his home country, now a bit freer than when he wrote, “In Uruguay the inquisitors have modernized themselves: an odd mixture of Middle Ages and capitalist business sense. The military don´t burn books: now they sell them to paper factories which shred and convert them into pulp for return to the consumer market. It isn´t true that Marx is not available to the public. True, not in the form of books, but in the form of paper napkins.

The author considers that the right venerates the past because it prefers dead people to the living and it legitimizes “privileges by heredity.” That kind of history is a blind nostalgia but history as he reveals it is a constant and methodical dispossession of millions of people and hundreds of cultures and society in order to enrich Europeans originally, and more recently USA elites and corporations. From middle age feudalism the exploitation has morphed into the global dictatorship of multinational corporations and their compliant friends in government.

Galeno documents it all from the slave trade to trade agreements. He explains the skewed kind of development that an economy dominated by the export market creates; a development that requires a small, very powerful, ruling elite in every country that identifies its interest with those of its imperial masters. The concept that people — workers, peasants, and indigenous cultures — are disposable commodities goes way back to the European invasion and still exists. But as Galeano records all these oppressed have organized and rebelled at various times, lately with the greatest success.

Eduardo Galeano Book Review

European conquerors predicted the end of indigenous cultures by 2000 like the Maya of Guatemala where these girls are learning traditional dance in 2009. Photo © Theresa Wolfwood.

The details of the pillage go on and on; from coffee, bananas, rubber, cocoa, gold, tin, silver, copper, oil and the latest — biodiversity. All more commodities for corporate gluttony.

Galeano writes that “The international market remains one of the master keys to this operation. There the multinational corporations impose their dictatorship.”

As I write this review in 2009, the forces of capitalism are breaking apart and as Walden Bello, a contemporary scholar and activist with much in common with Galeano, says, this is the time for transformation to grow through the cracks.

This book is a literary blood letting — the veins pour out the centuries of barbaric poison inflicted on the millions from Mexico to the tip of Chile and everywhere in between.  Someone said it was too depressing to read this book; it is indeed like viewing a wounded body. But it is griping and essential reading.

The Chilean writer, Isobel Allende says in her foreword, “There is a mysterious power in Galeano´s story—telling. He uses his craft to invade the privacy of the reader´s mind, to persuade her or him to read and to continue reading to the very end, to surrender to the charm of his writing and the power of his idealism.”

Eduardo Galeano Book Review

Photo from Colombia, the last major stronghold of USA domination in Latin America. Lilany Obando being taken to jail a year ago where she remains. Her crime? Defending the rights of peasants & trying to uncover the truth about assassinations of labour and human rights activists.

Yes, much of what he wrote in the end of the last century is still true. But, like me, Galeano is an optimist and recent events in Latin America have given cause for hope. There has been a rise in progressive social movements from the Landless in Brazil to peasants reclaiming resources like water in Bolivia and El Salvador, to new movements like the Zapatistas in Mexico of indigenous cultures defending their communal lands. Elected progressive governments are empowered by hopeful citizens and the power of corporations and international instrument of oppression like the World Bank are being defied. And Ecuador will close a USA naval base.

We too have much to learn from Galeano´s stories and analysis; we may even recognize that Canada is an occupied country, exploited like our neighbours to the south who inspire us with their creativity. In fact to the struggling and oppressed elsewhere in the world, from Ramallah to Rangoon, Latin America is today a shining beacon of hope. The road is long but there are many light posts along the way. La Lucha Continua!

Filed under Book Reviews, Eduardo Galeano