December 1, 2016
Seven years ago this month, I finished reading Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano. This superb 1971 work of investigative journalism is the book that then Venezualan leader Hugo Chavez gave President Barack Obama.
I’ve been keeping journals in one form or another throughout my life. I chose this seven-year interval to show how events do grow on themselves, and issues never die. They merely change form.
Now we have the death last week of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who was simpatico with Chavez. We have the recent ousting of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff by a political coup, which was vehemently protested by the popular electorate. Social upheaval around the world reflects the troubles in Latin America, yet the strategies used by the power brokers remain the same.
Open Veins reveals how the game has been played and how it continues to be played. What follows is only a partial set of notes from my reading, but it summarizes the book’s overall message.
OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA, EDUARDO GALEANO, 1971
The early part of the book, Open Veins of Latin America, depicts how Spanish conquistadors raped South America of gold and silver in the 1600s. They enslaved the Incas and other natives to do their dirty work. Priests soon followed and continued the tyranny, shaming the locals for being un-Christian and forcing them to work in the mines as penance..
The middle pages of Open Veins depict the violence and social repression brought by the foreign money exporters They used and use local governments to protect heir “investments.” The same story occurs over and over, under different cloaks, whether cacao, coffee, rubber, cotton, or bananas.
The oligarchies control the land, with the help of government. Government gets its cut in the form of taxes and job security. Peasants are paid in subsistence wages if they are lucky. Monoculture of produce for export displaces food production for locals, and malnutrition is common.
The book shows how prices are manipulated on Wall St., how US surpluses dumped in other countries are “foreign aid” drops prices for local economies, and the peasants are the first to suffer.
I thought about how this book shows the same methods the robber barons used in the book by that name. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man also comes to mind. I thought the advantages of TV and the worldwide communication network is exposing the barbarian plunderers like never before. No wonder the world hates the US, but we learned our methods from the British, who are no more civilized than they were when they were Angles and Saxons.
Their arrogance and ours knows no bounds, apparently, because they and we continue to get away with it. It also provides more evidence for my hypothesis that government and property rights are the problem. Land can’t be owned, not really, but property rights and government are two sides of the same coin.
Reading Open Veins tells me others are aware of the tactics used by the exploiters and have been writing about them a long time. Open Veins was first published in 1971, 36 years ago, as many investigative books were. The clamp down on journalists since then has been subtle, a mere matter of monopolizing news sources and publishers the way United Fruit monopolized the Latin American banana market.
The governments change, but the methods are the same around the world. Those who claim the land have all the rights, as long as others believe in property rights.
I believe the land claims its people. I feel claimed by this property and am unconcerned about how I will hold on to it. It will hold on to me, I figure, because it knows a valuable human sacrifice when it supports one.
In Open Veins, as everywhere, the oppressors succeed by dividing and conquering, by pitting people against each other, controlling food and water sources.
Why, you might wonder.
It is the folly of the testosterone poisoned, I claim. They think oppression increases profits. They aren’t free market capitalists, who know oppression is bad for business. You want to keep your work force strong, healthy and happy, because they will work harder for you out of gratitude.
When you’re an absentee landlord, as so many of the latifundio owners are, it’s easy to pretend ignorance of the injustice perpetrated in your name. But how much can they enjoy all that ill-gotten wealth, knowing they did nothing to earn it and most live in fear of those they exploit?
In the US, people are TV-educated, at least, and able to get different versions of the exploitation game. US residents know they are being exploited, but they aren’t sure who’s pulling the strings.
You are, Joe and Josie Taxpayer, as long as you put up with it.
Open Veins tells other stories of governments colluding with investors, primarily British bankers in the 1850s, to rape and pillage their countries’ natural resources, including their people, all for exports.
Because no one values the contribution of human capital, not even those like Eduardo Galeano, the author, books like Open Veins miss the point. It correctly implicates foreign investors, governments, and bankers, as well as the established oligarchies in the various Latin American countries, but it blames the dictators rather than the social conventions that allow dictators to grow and flourish.
Open Veins alludes to the guano on the coast of Peru, left by centuries of seagulls and pelicans, discovered and plundered in a few short years to replenish nutrient-starved wheat fields in Europe. The Peruvians destroyed the gull and pelican habitats by overtaking, effectively killing the goose that laid their golden eggs. Meanwhile, the technique for fixing atmospheric nitrogen was developed, and the guano industry died overnight.
Galeano provides example after example of corruption, revolution, unstable governments all at the mercy of British and American governments and corporations. Over the centuries the plundered resources have changed, but the methods remain the same. Gold and later other minerals. Tin, copper, iron, silver.
I’ve read about the oil in Venezuela and the oil cartel controlled by Rockefeller interests.
No wonder Chavez wanted Obama to read it, and no wonder Obama won’t do it. But how many other people will?
Americans provide the markets for these treasures, but Americans are insulated from the real costs through price fixing, labor exploitation, and tax advantages. Gas costs more in some of the producing areas than in the US. The developed countries, like Britain and the US, control the refineries and the mills, usually locating them at home, where labor is paid multiple what the disenfranchised Latin American labor gets.
America and the world have been suckered into overusing oil to support the oil cartel, and they continue to waste it in the name of quick profits and unacknowledged long term costs. Galeano notes that oil supplies the war machines, a fact I haven’t seen substantiated anywhere else.
Americans don’t want to see their part in all this. If they do, they compensate by giving money to charities or support social programs on pseudo-philanthropic entities like the Ronald McDonald’s houses at hospitals.
Open Veins, like The Robber Barons, astounds me with its details, its voluminous research, its insight into the methods used through Latin American history to degrade and oppress people. While the Spanish and the Catholic Church initiated the devastation, the British institutionalized it, especially when industrialization began. The industrial centers became black holes for raw materials, including human capital to produce it, but the raw goods never garnered the prices of the finished products, and the Brits conveniently dominated the finished product industry.
The Brits bought and sold Latin American governments, used them to fight each other—such as the Triple Alliance against Paraguay and its leader/dictator, Francisco Solano Lopez, who was dangerously independent, building Paraguay’s internal economy with foreign debt. The British bankers—Bank of London, Barings, and Rothschild—couldn’t stand it. They financed Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay to wage war against Paraguay, effectively broke up Paraguay, and bloodied everyone involved, as well as indebting them and ravaging the country, then collected in London from all sides.
I’m amazed at the wealth of detailed information in Open Veins. It substantiates everything in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man about how the US government and corporations work in foreign countries, all with banker help, of course. In Open Veins, the International Monetary fund and governments of Latin American countries collude to export money out of the countries under the guise of helping them. Galeano pegs Wall Street as the center of the vortex, as I have 40 years later.
Open Veins was powerful. Galeano ends by saying that more revolution is coming, but he does this without conviction. He sees the foreign investors and banks as having won the economic wars. The masses, he believes, are too beaten down to fight back.
Debt is the trap for these countries, as everywhere. I believe these countries should not feel obligated to honor debt assumed by dictators who were subsequently deposed. That’s why they were deposed. Governments are not like buildings, tangible assets that can be repossessed. No. Governments are paper shells, here today and gone tomorrow, leaving their works like corpses behind.
Governments are primarily economic entities, and this is where Galeano stumbles. Politically, he needs to blame the corporations, knowing full well the enemy lies within, because the corps couldn’t do their damage if Latin American governments didn’t provide the keys, the prisons, and the armed guards to keep the masses under control. In 1978 he wrote that his book was banned in several countries. If he had questioned the validity of the debt assumed by these dictators, and the US/corporate players, he would not have lived to write the 1978 revision.
Of course, as usual, I am the only person on the planet who understands that the debt is illusory. It is all uncollectible. It is government who has enslaved the populace, here as well as elsewhere, and the populace will remain slaves as long as they believe they need masters.
Galeano doesn’t question the value of the technology and machinery these countries are acquiring at such great cost. He has been seduced, like others, into believing this junk represents progress. He sees this struggle between rich and poor—especially foreign rich—when I see more and more the imbalance between rural and urban.