Eduardo Galeano opened his most famous book, Open Veins of Latin America, with the observation that "The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing." Latin America, has specialized in losing. He quotes an Alliance for Progress coordinator as observing that "to speak of fair prices is a 'medieval' concept, for we are in the era of free trade."
|"Excuse me waiter, there's the blood and misery of a thousand small farmers in my coffee."
His observations in this book, which he wrote 25 years ago, ring as true today as when he wrote it. It remains a key piece of literature for anyone who wishes to understand the role of Latin American in the international political economy. Why is Latin America poor? It is not because of a lack of natural resources. Latin America provides many of the raw products (silver, tin, copper, coffee, sugar, bananas, cotton, etc.) which has allowed the industrialized world to flourish. Latin America is a very wealthy region, but the people who live there do not benefit from this wealth. It is not because the people are lazy. Who else would work for sub-minimum wages cleaning toilets for multi-millionaire congressional representatives? If Starbucks paid agricultural workers a fair and living wage for picking coffee beans, your morning cup of joe would be prohibitively expensive.
Latin America is poor because capitalism has made it poor. As he observed in Open Veins of Latin America, "Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others." In order to flourish, capitalism requires access to cheap and easily exploitable resources, both of the human and natural varieties. Capitalism excels at enriching industrialized countries at the cost to the rest of the world. As Ernesto Cardenal stated when he was on campus in September, capitalism fails exactly because it has succeeded in doing what it is designed to do: make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
In the midst of this situation, Galeano continues to be a voice calling out for social justice and a more humane world. As a world-renowned journalist and author of numerous books and essays on Latin America, he manages to remain a story-teller who communicates his messages with wit and humor as well as a biting political critique. Galeano refuses to fall into a defeatist attitude of victimization or to retreat into an abstract and irrelevant ivory tower.
From his birth in Montevideo, Uruguay, in South America, in 1940, Galeano has remained politically engaged in a struggle to improve the world in which we live. He entered journalism as a political caricaturist for a socialist newspaper in Uruguay, and has edited other newspapers and publications. Because of these activities, he was imprisoned and forced into exile in Argentina and Spain for eleven years. Dictatorships have tried to ban Galeano's writings, but banning such an author only increases the significance of what he has to say. Throughout the entire process, Galeano has never lost his inspiration and hope. It is his hope for a better future which should inspire us all.