Skip to main content

Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)

Open Veins

Galeano, famous for The Open Veins of Latin America, among several other books, has passed away. He was a leading voice of the Latin American left, as The Guardian elegantly put it, which is a more accurate description than the 'anti-capitalist' epithet used by Reuters.

I inherited the copy of the book pictured above from my mom, who loved Galeano's books, in the 1980s, I guess, when I decided to study economics. I can't say that I was influenced by his book, even though Galeano thanks one of my teachers, Carlos Lessa.* He wasn't an economist, and I normally wouldn't post about it. But I decided to post something since, not long ago, a friend told me he had disavowed the book.

If one reads the accounts of his rejection of the book, it seems that it was the language, the vocabulary of the left in the early 1970s, which Galeano seemed to suggest that was heavy and dated, what led to his criticism of his work. Also, as he got older, and found mistakes in the book (sadly he doesn't specify which ones), his older self tended to be less satisfied with the result. Note, however, that in this discussion about what message he would like Obama to get from the book, after Chávez gave the US president a copy, he summarizes the basic point, which he seems to still uphold. In his words, he wanted Obama to get: "a certain idea about the fact that no richness is innocent. Richness in the world is a result of other people's poverty. We should begin to shorten the abyss between haves and have-nots."

A cursory look at the book might give you the not altogether incorrect sense that Open Veins provides a simplified version of Dependency Theory. Galeano was a popularizer of the kind of political economy that can be broadly defined as Structuralist. One not all together different from the one used for consumption in American universities, which simplifies and blames underdevelopment on developed countries, and that sees limited space for development in the periphery.** And, in that sense, it is a good thing that Galeano could say: "Reality has changed a lot, and I have changed a lot." But it is unclear that he threw the baby out with the bath water.

* If I had to say a book that influenced my choice to study economics, that I read in high school, it was Osvaldo Sunkel's El marco histórico del proceso de desarrollo y de subdesarrollo, which has a message that is not altogether different from Open Veins, namely that underdevelopment is part of the same process that caused development. Think of the Industrial Revolution in England, that goes hand in hand with deindustrialization in India. Industry and empire, as another historian would put it, are tied together.

** For alternative and more sophisticated versions see here.


  1. As someone with no specialization in the relevant areas, but someone who'd been impressed by Galeano's poetic sensibilities, I appreciate your taking the time to write this post and link your essay.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What is the 'Classical Dichotomy'?

A few brief comments on Brexit and the postmortem of the European Union

Another end of the world is possible
There will be a lot of postmortems for the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Many will suggest that this was a victory against the neoliberal policies of the European Union. See, for example, the first three paragraphs of Paul Mason's column here. And it is true, large contingents of working class people, that have suffered with 'free-market' economics, voted for leaving the union. The union, rightly or wrongly, has been seen as undemocratic and responsible for the economics woes of Europe.

The problem is that while it is true that the EU leaders have been part of the problem and have pursued the neoliberal policies within the framework of the union, sometimes with treaties like the Fiscal Compact, it is far from clear that Brexit and the possible demise of the union, if the fever spreads to France, Germany and other countries with their populations demanding their own referenda, will lead to the abandonment of neoliberal policies. Aust…

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…