Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Old & New Conquistadors

“The Open Veins of Latin America – Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,’ by Eduardo Galeano, 1973-1979. 

Galeano makes the supposedly dry phrases of Marxist and political economy come leaping to life.  Primitive accumulation, sub-imperialist, international division of labor, agro-export and resource-export economies, mono-cropping, sub-proletariat, debt and wage slavery, international ‘credit’ and national debt, capital imports, cultural neo-colonialism, reserve army of the unemployed, horizontal and vertical monopolies, oligopoly, latifundia, disequilibrium, under-development, disinvestment, internal imbalances, unequal exchange, denationalization, profit repatriation, lack of internal markets, ‘free’ trade, national & comprador bourgeoisie, imperialism, colonialism, slavery – all take on powerful resonances through his lyrical prose.  He intended to write a history that was not boring.  He has succeeded.
Romantic Conquistadors meet Colorful Aztecs - 1519
Galeano tours Latin American history the way a novelist might.  He concentrates on the various economic periods of Latin America’s history, not on its emotional crises or its artistic heritage or its magical mirrors.  Starting from the cruel consequences of Columbus’ landing in Hispaniola up to Latin American’s role as a cheap labor and resource colony for American and European manufacturers, the ‘open veins’ are those relished by vampiric economic systems.  Looting, rape and pillage are polite words to describe the results. Though this book mostly ends in 1973 on the eve of the coup against Allende, basically it still results in heaps of bodies and economic blood-letting, as colonialism and imperialism have distorted Latin America to this day.

Galeano makes clear that the ‘national bourgeoisies’ of Latin America did not even fulfill the role of consolidating an independent ‘national’ economy in their various countries, let alone uniting in a real common market or country as happened in most of North America and Europe.  The seaports to elsewhere are the centers of these countries, not the roads to each other.  Unity was the dream of Bolivar and his followers and the many revolutions against outside control, most of which failed.  History will see if the present state of Latin America, which is attempting to move away from the dictatorships of local thugs and imperial capital will actually create independent countries or a united hemisphere.  Cuba was the only one that completely broke with the imperial system, and that was because it took a working-class path.  It would seem that only the working-class can even accomplish national tasks.  Given recent events in the BRICS and their South American subsidiaries like Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, the outcome is not at all clear.  The age of market & finance imperialism mitigates against real independence.

Galeano describes the relations of production between the ‘horseman and the horse.’  The initial extraction of silver and gold over the bodies of indigenous slaves in places like Potosi’s Cerro Rico (8 million lives!) and Ouro Prieto, exported through Spain to the bankers in England, the Netherlands, France & Italy.  This made European industrialization possible.   The creation of agro-export economies producing sugar, indigo, cotton, rubber, tobacco, coffee, cacao, meat – leaving less food in the stomachs of the campesinos than in the stomachs of the Europeans and later, the Americans.  This agricultural economy spurred African slavery in the islands, in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.  Then the removal of resources - first guano, then nitrates, oil, natural gas, copper, iron ore, tin, bauxite, nickel, manganese, saltpeter, diamonds on a mass scale.  These processes destroyed the soil and left wastelands of poverty when the rushes were over. As time went on, the weak and parasitic comprador bourgeoisies were bribed to sacrifice local ‘light’ industrial development to imports.  Later heavy industry invaded owned by foreign corporations using local cheap labor and resources, their profits expatriated to build skyscrapers in New York.  Import prices rose while raw materials’ prices went down like a broken teeter-totter.   Lastly, debt through colonial and imperial banks and later entities like the World Bank become the biggest national import while crippling interest one of the largest exports.  Will the paralytics even be provided a wheelchair? asks Galeano. 

White Devil God of Potosi, Bolivia
In the process, the Latin American ‘rebellions of the hanged,’ as the Old Gringo B. Traven might put it, are enumerated.  The crushing of Montezuma.  The war led by Tupac Amaru in Peru that got rid of slavery and forced labor, and who was later tortured to death in the central plaza of Cuzco.  The longest black slave rebellion in history, in Palmares in northeast Bahia Brazil, which eliminated money and created a free republic.  It was portrayed in the book “The War at the End of the World” by Mario Vargas Lhosa.  The bloody dismemberment of Paraguay in the “War of the Triple Alliance” by ‘neighbors’ at the behest of British money.  This event was denounced by left populist Huey Long as a war benefitting the criminals at Standard Oil of New Jersey.  Capital yawned.   

The repeated efforts of nationalist, anti-imperial leaders to break from outside control – Zapata and Cardenas in Mexico, Sandino and his later followers in Nicaragua, Varela & Rosas in Argentina, Arbenz in Guatemala, Gaitan in Columbia, Lechin in Bolivia, Artigas in Uruguay, Alvardo in Peru, Jagan in Guyana, Vargas and Goulart in Brazil, Francia and Lopez in Paraguay and Balmaceda & Allende in Chile.  The Cuban revolution which overthrew the slavish Batista kleptocracy was the only long-running but isolated break.  And now that too is under threat.

The titles of chapters alone are indicative:  “The Dimensions of Industrial Infanticide;” “Development is a Voyage with more Shipwrecks than Navigators.” “Cheap Hands for Coffee,”  “…the Importance of Not Being Born Important,” “Technocrats are Better Hold-Up Artists than Marines” “The Contemporary Structure of Plunder,” “The Goddess Technology Doesn’t Speak Spanish,” and so on.

Clearly U.S. attempts to undermine Latin America independence and wealth continue to this day.  The undercover support for the coup and dictators in Honduras (with Clinton leading the pack) is only the latest example.  The TPP is still on track and the IMF and World Bank still salivate over their loans.  The backing of the corrupt president and ruling stratum in Mexico, the U.S.’ nearest neighbor, is another example that impacts the U.S. every day. The U.S. is also backing middle & upper-class demonstrations in Brazil and Venezuela. 

Galeano ends thus:  “The task lies in the hands of the humiliated, the dispossessed, the accursed.  The Latin American cause is above all a social cause:  the rebirth of Latin America must start with the overthrow of its masters, country by country.” 

Related reviews below:  An Anthology of the Writings of J.C. Maritequi,” “The Daminficados,” “The Diary of Che Guevara,  Secret History of the American Empire,” “The Shock Doctrine,”

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog

March 18, 2016

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