Published May 2009

Galeano seeks to explain how the mechanisms of plunder operated from the beginning of the colonial era, through independence and into the twentieth century. He discusses in detail the way in which industrialisation of Europe and subsequently the USA was achieved at the expense of the impoverishment of Latin America, in terms of natural & human resources.

The Open Veins of Latin America is divided into 2 main sections. The first recounts the story of how Europeans first “discovered” Latin America and started to plunder the continent’s natural resources, from minerals they mined through to agricultural goods created using the labour of the indigenous population. These goods were exported from Latin American soil directly to Europe without fully compensating the indigenous population. As he does throughout the book, he illustrates the story with colourful examples from all over the continent; sugar plantations in the Caribbean, mineral mines in what is now Mexico, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, cacao in Venezuela and sugar, cotton, rubber and tobacco in Brazil. These ventures demonstrate the exploitation of the indigenous population for one aim; the production of goods for European consumption, which prevented diversification within the local economy.

In the second section, Galeano moves on to discuss how the industrial revolution in Great Britain would not have been possible without the natural resources of Latin America. He argues that Great Britain, through trade and finance rather than military conquest, effectively absorbed Latin America into the British Empire. The continent’s heavy reliance on trade with the Old World had numerous implications. For example, the growth of a division between the port cities in which trade was conducted and the rural areas which remained underdeveloped, the impact of which can still be felt today. The author also discusses the role of the upper classes, arguing that whilst they had the education and wealth to change the path of development, they were so strongly linked to Europe and the increasingly influential US through trade and multinational corporations, that they had essentially “enlisted in the foreign invasion force without shedding tears or blood”. Galeano details the rise of the US and international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, and how those institutions, along with multinational corporations, have continued the process of exploitation in the region. He is particularly scathing of the IMF, describing it as “born in the United States, headquartered in the United States, and at the service of the United States”. Galeano believes that British imperialism caused Latin America to be so focused on Europe that there were no strong links between the countries on the continent. This pattern has been continued and entrenched by the United States until today, and enables the US to play the role of the hegemon in the region

If you like this genre, you would probably enjoy reading “Redeemers” by Enrique Krauze.

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