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.

Comments

  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.

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