Day 2: Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America. There was a period in the early 80s were it seemed all my friends were reading and pushing everyone else to read this book. I quickly did the same. Isabel Allende’s introduction begins, ‘when I was young and still believed that the world could be changed according to our best intentions and hopes….’ Well, we were all young, and still believed – some of us still do — and the book offered a cogent and rousing denunciation of the systematic oppression of all of Latin American by the ‘First World,’ primarily the US in the years preceding the book’s publication, for the world to redress. I loved: the humour: ‘Fight poverty, kill a beggar’; its dictums: ‘the more freedom is extended to business, the more prisons have to be built for those who suffer from that business’; and it’s oratorical style, one full of facts but also full of feeling that sometimes turned to fury but was usually blackly funny: ‘The division of labour among nations is that some specialise in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialised in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilisations’.
Galeano’s words on the systematic oppression of the poor south spoke to a teenager living in the rich north who had already witnesses waves upon wave of migration that was a direct result of what Galeano was analysing and preaching about: the Chileans, the Argentinians, the Hondurans, the Nicaraguans, the Salvadoreans, who periodically landed in Montreal – destitute, nostalgic, grateful for a new life, sad but hopeful — were evidence of Galeano’s truth. I think there’s also a personal connection in terms growing up in what was then a cultural colony where all tv etc was American and seeing such a direct contestation in a way that was so easily legible. It changed one’s perceptions. It changed me.
Hugo Chavez gifted the book to Barack Obama on his state visit to the US.