Open Veins of Latin America Summary

Eduardo Galeano

Open Veins of Latin America

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Open Veins of Latin America Summary

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Open Veins of Latin America is a book of lyrical history by Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, poet, and writer. Published in 1971, it was banned shortly after publication for its left-wing perspective on the history of the region. Galeano begins his history with European settlement of the region of Latin America and the conquest of the native peoples living there, continuing on to examine the lasting impact that the United States has had over conflicts and economic woes in the region. Galeano is noted for saying that the book took him four years to research and only ninety days to write. He wrote it while working as an independent journalist and editor for the publishing department of the public university in Uruguay.

The book begins with the colonial settlement of Latin America, which began around 1492 when Christopher Columbus set foot on the “New World.” During this first excursion, Columbus and his fellow explorers, noticing gold glinting on the necks of the natives, became hungry for the wealth that existed under the soil of this new continent. Their pillaging for gold and other jewels in Latin America came at the cost of millions of indigenous lives and livelihoods – knowledge that there was gold on the continent lead thousands of other explorers to arrive and stake their claims, leaving the natives without land or resources and exposed to conflict and disease that would wipe them out almost completely.

During the second wave of European colonization, settlers arrived with the plants that would begin to shape life in the region for centuries to come. Settlers came with cheap food crops to feed the slaves of future plantations, and cash crops such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton. Even before slaves were imported from Africa and China to work the plantations, Europeans used violence and brutal racism to force indigenous peoples to work the mines in Bolivia, in order to send back precious gold and silver to Spain, England, and other colonial nations. Later, slaves would arrive, extending this system of exporting natural resources from Latin America for the gain of colonial nations, as well as complicating local communities with racial tensions and damaging or altogether destroying delicate ecosystems and local economies.

According to Galeano’s central thesis, that since its discovery by Europeans and other settlers, Latin America has been brutally pillaged and disregarded by larger foreign powers; even the business and infrastructure that came later to Latin America was rooted in corporate or foreign greed. Much later on, for instance, Latin America was seen as a place with unorganized and cheap labor, which companies such as Volkswagen and other manufacturers could exploit to produce cheaper products that they could then sell to the world. Though technically workers in countries like Brazil and Chile were producing these products, all the wealth was being funneled back to already wealthy European nations.

Later, in order to try to make up for the imbalances that colonial systems create in impacted countries, many Latin American nations sought loans from the same foreign powers that had destroyed their local economies in the first place. However, these loans were often swallowed by corrupt systems and interest, only further damaging the nations they sought to help. Foreign powers and their laws brought violence and drugs to Latin America; any attempt by the locals to revolt against oppressive governments are often thwarted by these systematic issues of violence and poverty. Galeano does go into great detail about the realities of the various uprisings and leftist political coups that attempted to overthrow oppressive systems, talking about the many reasons they failed, which often tie back to colonial powers.

Galeano ends his book with this revolutionary idea: it is time for Latin America to systematically overthrow its masters, one by one, country by country, in order to rise up and come into its own.

Eduardo Galeano is considered one of Latin America’s literary giants, and a preeminent writer of fiction, history, and journalism. Considered a leftist radical by many, his books, including Open Veins of Latin America, have been banned in various Latin American nations for their revolutionary ideas. He has received a Stig Dagerman Prize and an International Human Rights Award for his work. He has published a number of works, including a book-length lyrical work on soccer. Some of his other notable works include Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone and Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History.