By Barry Rubin
During the recent Latin American summit, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez gave U.S. President Barack Obama a book.
The book is Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Latin America’s Open Veins) the lesser-known subtitle is Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by the Uruguayan Marxist Eduardo Galeano. Presumably, Obama has no idea about the author’s identity or the book’s importance.
In fact, though, this book written in 1968 is perhaps the biggest-selling political tract in Latin American history. It argues that the continent is poor because its wealth has been stolen by American corporations. Consequently, it argues, Latin American countries should kick out U.S. influence. During the 1970s the book was largely distributed by Fidel Castro’s Cuban regime throughout the continent to further its ambitions to encourage Communist anti-American revolutions and to make Cuba the hegemonic power there.
He also co-authored a book on the glories of socialism with Ernesto “Che” Guevara whose English edition was published by the Fair Play for Cuba committee, a pro-Castro front to which Lee Harvey Oswald belonged, and wrote a laudatory biography of an El Salvadoran Communist leader.
There is no doubt that Galeano is a very talented man who has even written a popular song and that he has very individualistic views. In 2003 he even signed a petition calling on Cuba to release political prisoners. While pessimistic about socialism—he argues that China has sold out to Wal-Mart—he views capitalism as the world’s principal problem.
Yet there is equally no question as to his political views in the book Chavez gave to Obama. It can be summed up in one sentence: All Latin America’s problems are America’s fault.
According to the book: “Our wealth has produced our poverty. In the colonial alchemy, gold turns to lead and food to poison….The North American economy needs Latin American minerals like the lungs need air.
Promoting anti-Americanism, then, was an act of self-defense and an absolute necessity. It was an absolutely central and essential doctrine. And this ideology was based not on any specific U.S. policy or intervention but on the supposed essence of the United States itself in both its domestic and international aspects.
While clearly American and other Western corporations have at times exploited Latin America—we merely need think of the politics of companies like United Fruit and Anaconda Copper or the sugar companies—what Galeano says goes far beyond that.
The cause of Latin American underdevelopment in this view is not due to its political or social structures or any other internal factor but is completely external. While Marxism preached development plus economic change, the Galeano world view focuses overwhelming on simply blaming and eliminating the United States. It is, in a real sense, the Latin American equivalent of radical Islamism.
It is quite possible that Obama himself shares some of the Galeano world view. Whatever his personal ideas, though, his job is to defend the United States from demonization, not join in it. Perhaps he should have given Chavez Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, or The Federalist Papers, or Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies Volume 2.
But Obama probably didn’t even realize that he, and the country he leads, were being grossly insulted by Chavez’s poisoned gift.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org