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Tuesday 14 April 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Eduardo Galeano and The Idiocy of Latin-American Socialism

(So the big news in Uruguay today, which probably won't make a blip in U.S. or European news feeds, is that Eduardo Galeano has died.  You might not know who he is, but he wrote a book almost half a century ago that ended up making him rich, and utterly ruining the political minds of the last few generations of Latin-Americans who bought into it's argument that anything bad that ever happens in Latin America is Not Our Fault (but rather the fault of the evil evil capitalist and imperialist systems) and that the only solution to this is populist communism.  As I already wrote two different blog entries on the man in the past, and it is the 10th Anniversary of this blog, I present you both of those classic rants today)

The Open Veins of Latinamerica

Some of you may have heard that at the recent conference in Trinidad & Tobago, President Obama received a very special gift from Hugo Chavez; a book. Not just any book, but a Uruguayan book, Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina, written by Uruguayan Communist and Millionaire Eduardo Galeano.

Chavez expressed his hopes that Obama would read that book and learn something; which is a bit of a challenge given that the copy Chavez chose to give Obama was in Spanish, which Obama does not read, despite the fact that there are many editions of the book in English, which Obama does read.

But let's suppose that there was a way Obama could read it, or that he got hold of an English version. Would he learn from that book, and what would he learn?
Now, I'm in an interesting position of having actually read that book (in its original Spanish to boot), so I could tell you a little of what its all about.

It is, for starters, brilliantly and beautifully written. Galeano is very talented as a writer. And, like many millionaire communists, he is masterful at evoking both a moving emotional response, a sense of outrage at injustice, and in portraying and communicating a vision of a utopia that could be but isn't. Shit, there's a reason all my favourite Uruguayan musicians are communists too. They write the best fantasy.

The book's title is a reference to a symbolism Galeano utilizes in the book, that Latin America is a body, her veins having been cut open, her richness pouring out of her being fed upon vampirically by the first world.

This book, which has been printed in something like 80 editions throughout the world, and is famous to just about any Latin-american, has a lot of truths in it. It proceeds to tell a history of Latin America's exploitation from the arrival of Cortez right up until the 20th century. And there can be no doubt that Latin America has been royally fucked with.

Now, if President Obama were to learn from this book, there's another book I would like to recommend to him at the same time: Plinio Mendoza, Carlos Montaner (one of the truly great intellects of Latin America and a giant defender of centrist democracy) and Alvaro Vargas Llosa's collaborative work, Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot. In this book, they analyze the essential make up of what they call the "Latin American Idiot", the leftist fallacies and general mentality that has infected all of Latin America which actually contribute, rather than combat, Latin America's ongoing failure to live up to the potential its resources and people should indicate.
And in that book, they dedicate an entire chapter to deconstructing Open Veins, calling it the "Idiot's Bible".

Let's look at some of the basic argument. The basic concept behind Open Veins is that Latin American countries are poor and oppressed because other countries who are rich have kept them down, and stolen from them. The concept is that if north america and Europe are rich it is because south america is poor. And that if south america is poor, it must be the fault of the 1st world. The basic philosophy of the Latin American Idiot is that "if anything bad happens here, its not our fault".

This conspiracy-theory way of blame-shifting does indeed permeate Galeano's book, and is unbelievably prevalent in Latin American culture. The economist's fable they tell is one of superpowerful oligarchical countries which intentionally do everything they can to make sure that no other poor country will come up and steal their things; a hierarchy that will be enforced forever by the first world, unless you have (usually violent) revolution to change things around. And of course that in the third world countries themselves, anyone who is rich is also an oligarch, a traitorous tool of the first world, who lives off of the stolen wealth of others.

Well, in Montaner & co.'s book, they actually take Uruguay as an example to rebut Galeano's charges. The gist of their argument is that Uruguay is one of the countries in south america with the least wealth disparity, but certainly, there are rich people and poor people. Galeano's argument would be that the rich people in Uruguay, the ones with yachts and summer homes in Punta Del Este, have that wealth because they have "stolen" it from their fellows.
The left in Uruguay usually extends that argument to the middle class, too. One famous senator and ex-guerrilla communist, Pepe Mujica, made an oft-quoted reference to the "scoundrels from pocitos" (Pocitos being the most notable middle-class neighbourhood of Montevideo). So those Uruguayans who don't have yachts, but have houses of their own and cars of their own, have also apparently stolen that wealth from the majority of Uruguayans, who do not own their own houses or their own cars.

But, Montaner writes, at what point does that chain of abusers and victims end? What about the Uruguayan who rents and owns no car, but has an air conditioner and a cellphone. Has he stolen from those poorer Uruguayans who can't afford either?
At some point the logic goes down to the poorest street of the poorest neighbourhood in Uruguay, where the man living in one hut owns shoes, and the man living in the next hut cannot afford even shoes. Has the utterly poor man with shoes vampirically stolen the wealth those shoes represent from the man without shoes?

And of course, what about Mr.Galeano himself? Who has a very comfortable house, car, makes frequent transatlantic trips and tours, and is now, thanks to Mr. Chavez and Mr. Obama, the best-selling author in all of Uruguayan history? Has he stolen his millions from Uruguay's poor? Isn't he a vampire? Or are financially acceptable communists exempt?

Of course, there is the national level, and the question of exploitation there. But its one thing to admit that imperial powers have abused Latin america, and quite another thing to claim that those powers have made it impossible for Latin america to be anything other than what it is, that it is their fault, and not Latin Americans' own, that we're in the shithole that we're in.

Consider Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and many other small and weak nations who have in only the last century gone from being backward shit holes to being among the most economically powerful in the world, and wealthy for their citizenry, to boot. Why did the International Conspiracy of great powers not stop them?
Chile was a country that was royally fucked with by the United States. They launched a coup, overthrew their legitimately elected leader, killed thousands; and yet when Chile began growing in their economy, the U.S. didn't try to slam it down; instead it invited it to join the free trade association, making Chile even wealthier.

On the other side of the coin, Argentina was one of the most wealthy and economically powerful countries on earth in the era between 1900-1925. Why would other economically powerful nations have chosen to destroy it, and not, say, Switzerland or Belgium? Likewise, after Argentina's own disastrous political and economic policies had sent it down the crapper, it still wasn't as bad off as Taiwan was in the 40s and 50s. There's no reason, no deterministic kismet that fated that Taiwan would become a great producer of technological materials and not Argentina. It was just that one country and its people made the right choices, and other made all the wrong choices.

And if one nation being poorer than another is due to the poorer nation having been robbed by the richer one, why is Paraguay poorer than Uruguay? Did Uruguay steal its wealth? Is Costa Rica to blame for being better off than Nicaragua or Honduras? If it isn't, why, according to Galeano, should Europe and America be? And if they're responsible for Honduras being poor, aren't they also responsible then for Costa Rica being less poor?

These are Idiot Fairytales, that insist on putting blame on a lack of prosperity in anything but one's own failures to modernize, to progress, to maintain stability, and to cut through bureaucracy. Latinamerican Idiotism is composed of this bizarre mix of ultranationalism, communism/socialism, Conspiracy Wingnut theorism, a cultural hierarchy (one could almost call it racism) where anything Indian is better than anything else and anything Hispanic or Latin is better than anything Anglo-Saxon or American (even if the latter is ideas or techniques that work, and the former are ideas that don't, often ideas that the Latin countries of Europe have long since abandoned), Personality cults of populists like Chavez, and a constant, constant, Victimhood-stance of trying to deflect any culpability for one's state.
I'll mention also, for all my north american and European readers, that the book also devotes an entire chapter ("The Idiot Has Friends") to the "1st World Idiots" who support and assist this mentality. The intellectual and pseudo-intellectuals, and the naive college kids who wear Che Guevara t-shirts, who have taken on the idea of the "Noble Guerrilla" (and the "Noble Leftist Populist") as the modern version of the "Noble Savage" myth, refusing to believe that Chavez, Castro, and especially Guevara could have done any wrong. The type of hippie idiots who believe that there's nothing wrong with having a Toyota or Honda plant in the U.S., but that having an american company putting a factory or office in Uruguay would be "exploitation" even if they'd be paying Uruguayans three times what they could ever hope to earn otherwise. The sort of idiots who think "fair trade" is somehow going to be a real solution to the problem, and is not in fact just a trendy gimmick that plays on white people's sense of guilt.

Now, none of this means that Galeano is completely wrong. He has half of the equation. Montaner & co. have the other half. Galeano is never willing to admit latinamericans have ever been at fault for anything, and Montaner & co. are prone to underestimating the level of fault that the first world and the capitalist system as its played out historically might have. That's why I'm saying that Obama should read both books, if he really wants to get at the truth behind Latin America.

But of course, none of this has anything to do with what Chavez really wanted. Chavez's real deal was that for the first time, Obama and him were at the same conference, and Chavez was not the constant center of attention. And to a megalomaniac like Chavez, not being the constant center of attention is absolutely intolerable. It drives him crazy, any time that absolutely everything isn't about him, him, him. Hence the grandiose gesture toward Obama of giving him a book he can't actually read.

Of course, Mr.Galeano is laughing his commie ass all the way to the bank.


(Originally Posted April 21, 2009)


The Open Veins of Latin-American Idiocy

So today, I present you a not-quite-deathbed confession of a Uruguayan writer some of you might have heard of.  Eduardo Galeano, who wrote the book Hugo Chavez pretended was his favorite, along with many other Latinamerican pseudo-intellectuals and their north-american college-liberal counterparts, "The Open Veins of Latin-America".

It turns out that Galeano, only some 40+ years too late, has repudiated his book as the drivel it is.  Too late, because he has already ruined the minds of about two generations of gullible latinamerican leftists, desperate to believe (and to inculcate this belief in latinamerican youth) that everything bad that has ever happened to Latin America is the fault of evil imperialists and not their own hopelessly inept or hopelessly corrupt political and economic systems.

The book is drivel, as Vargas Llosa said, the whole argument of "Open Veins" was "We're poor, but it's their fault".  Now Galeano sees that Cuba and Venezuela are the two worst countries in latinamerica (and Argentina is well on its way) thanks to leftist policies and he's trying to make deathbed-amends for how he utterly ruined two generations of latinamerican minds with this book that indoctrinates them into thinking that nothing that goes wrong for them is ever because of internal bad governance.  Sadly, it's probably too little too late.

If you've ever had someone try to tell you how amazing "open veins" is, or try to argue with you based on the pseudo-history and nonsense written therein, I suggest you recommend they read "the Guide to the Perfect Latinamerican Idiot", a specific and thoughtful response to all the fundamental (false) claims of "open veins".


(originally posted June 2, 2014) 


  1. As we'd say in Spanish, "haciendo amigos". :D

    Galeano's death has had a modest impact on some left-winged media here in Spain, by the way. I don't know about TV or big 'papers, I don't follow either.

    In any case, thank you for your viewpoint on this. I read Galeano's "Open veins..." a long time ago and although it made me think about Latinoamérica, I never (as it usually happens to me with almost everything) bought everything he wrote or said.

    (I liked him, though, on a visceral level).

    ¡Un saludo!

    1. Gracias! El problema es que en latinoamerica todavia tenemos milliones de tarados que creen en las pelotudezes que escribio ese hombre, y eso impulso movimientos enteros (era el libro favorito del Chavismo) que son MUCHO mas responsables que 'yanquilandia' por la continuada pobreza y corrupcion del continente.

      Considera que la otra gran noticia del dia aqui en Montevideo es que el gremio ultra-isquierdista de empleados publicos municipales estan amenazando con paralizar la cuidad si gana el candidato centro-derecha en las elecciones municipales (al menos que les da un salario minimo que llevaria a que el tipo que ordena el correo ganaria $2000US por mes (en un pais donde el promedio es $500US)).

      Eso es la izquierda latinamericana: un grupito de hijos de diez mil putas que se dedican a gritar en el nombre del "pueblo" pero lo unico que les interesa es enriquezerce ellos mismos al costo del publico general.

  2. I learned of his death through my BBC app so I think at least some people here in Europe are aware it happened.

    I have his book in my office though I've never read it. I keep it around because it helps me pass as an expert on the Latin American left (and because it came with a print of a very embarrassing piece of marxist-leninist propaganda written by a proeminent Belgian journalist folded inside its cover).