Chavez’s naughty gift
By Alvaro Vargas LLosa Eduardo Galeano, the author of The Open Veins of Latin America, the book that Hugo Chávez gave to Barack Obama in Trinidad, looks pretty uncomfortable whenever he is asked about his archaic political tract. It is easy to see why: Since the 1970s, its content has been ridiculed line by line ...
By Alvaro Vargas LLosa
Eduardo Galeano, the author of The Open Veins of Latin America, the book that Hugo Chávez gave to Barack Obama in Trinidad, looks pretty uncomfortable whenever he is asked about his archaic political tract. It is easy to see why: Since the 1970s, its content has been ridiculed line by line by that most cruel of literary critics — reality.
Galeano takes a hemophilic look at Latin American history and concludes that the region´s inert state is the consequence of vampiric predation by bloodsucking Europeans and Americans. His book maintains that the capitalist system keeps poor countries in perpetual dependence vis-à-vis rich countries by forcing them to sell cheap primary products in exchange for expensive goods, and profiting from investments in natural resources.
One can picture Obama falling over with laughter as he reads the jeremiad against Third World exploitation, for it turns out that the new millennium is being dominated by the rise of poor, “dependent” nations and the increasing loss of competitiveness of wealthy nations. How does one square the dependency theory with with the fact that, through globalization, Latin America has pulled 40 million people out of poverty in six years and the United States has borrowed $1 trillion from China, a country whose per capita income is more than seven times smaller?
The author´s view that imperialism makes it impossible for countries to develop flies in the face of the prosperity of almost all of the victims of 20th century Japanese imperialism. One of them, Taiwan, has practically caught up with Japan and another, South Korea, is not far off. Not to mention the fact that Brazil, a victim of 500 years of European and American imperialism (according to the book), is now going to contribute more than $4 billion to the International Monetary Fund, the financial arm of imperialism!
Galeano claims that in the 1970s the Unites States´ income per person was seven times that of Latin America and that the wealth gap would increase exponentially. Actually, the gap was four to one and it has not increased. The fact that it has not yet narrowed has to do with the “lost decade” of the 1980s, a byproduct of Latin American populism, but things are changing. Since 2001, the United States´ income per capita has risen by 27 percent while that of Peru has risen by 85 percent.
Galeano must feel just as embarrassed as Franz Fanon, the author of the The Damned of the Earth, would have felt if he had been alive to witness the rise of a black man to the presidency of the United States.
I hope that next time Obama meets Chávez he gives him a copy of The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States, by Venezuelan writer Carlos Rangel. Published just four years after The Open Veins of Latin America, it demolishes the ideas that kept the region in its political and economic infancy for so long.
Alvaro Vargas LLosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and the editor of Lessons from the Poor.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
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