Isabel Allende, Barack Obama and Latin America's Open Veins

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Isabel Allende, Barack Obama and Latin America's Open Veins

Much has been made over President Barack Obama meeting Hugo Chavez over the weekend. Most controversial was Chavez’s gift of the book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.

American newscasters and pundits described Obama’s acceptance of the leftist-socialist tome as a sign of weakness.

chavez-gives-a-book-to-ob-001

The right is so infuriated by Obama’s attempt at resetting America’s approach to the world, Dick Cheney crept out from his crypt during a moonless night to denounce Obama’s overtures toward world leaders as “not helpful,” and setting the “wrong standard.” Cheney claims that the U.S. has nothing to “apologize for.”

The book, by Uruguayan journalist and award-winning novelist Eduardo Galeano, was written in 1971 and describes five centuries of exploitation by European colonizers and American business and political interests. Since Chavez handed the book to Obama, it has shot to the number two spot on Amazon’s sales list. (All “adult” jokes aside.) In the forward of the 1997 edition of Open Veins of Latin America, the internationally acclaimed novelist, activist and feminist, Isabel Allende writes: "After the military coup of 1973, I could not take much with me: some clothes, family pictures, a small bag of dirt from my garden and two books: an old edition of the Odes by Pablo Neruda and the book with the yellow cover, Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina."

Isabel is the cousin of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was murdered in a U.S.-backed military coup d'état. Salvador Allende was the first democratically elected Marxist and attempted to set Chile on a path of socialism, which included a nationalization of large industry and universal health care. The resulting coup installed the military dictator General Augusto Pinochet as head of state, who then carried out decades of atrocities against his own people. Chile was the first successful U.S.-backed military coup in Latin America and soon others followed, creating Banana Republics throughout the region. Isabel goes on to write:

This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right. In every instance, the military acted as mercenaries to the privileged groups in power. Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration camps, censorship, imprisonment without trial and summary executions became common practices. Thousands of people "disappeared," masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives… In this political context, The Open Veins of Latin America was published.

In 2002, the Bush Government attempted to oust Hugo Chavez from office. The coup failed. I came across this video of Isabel Allende at the TED conference when she spoke there a few years back. I recognized her name, but didn’t know much about her, other than she was the author of The House of the Spirits, which was made into a 1993 movie where Glenn Close and Meryl Streep are lovers, of sorts. Given the misuse of power throughout history, not just between the global north and the global south but the abuse of power within gender, income, race and class, Allende makes a case for the nurturing feminine energy in the management of the world.



Comments [22]

Roberto's picture

Please, some facts: Isabel

Please, some facts: Isabel Allende the novelist is NOT the daughter of President Salvador Allende. She is related to Allende, but not the same person as Isabel Allende Bussy, who is now a member of the Chilean Parliament. Isabel the writer is magnificent, particularly in The House of the Spirits, while Isabel the congresswoman is mediocre at best, if sincere.

Grace Moon's picture

thanks Roberto.

thanks Roberto.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Lezbeth's picture

Isabelle Allende is one of my

Isabelle Allende is one of my faves. I've read most of her books. Her writing is fabulous even translated. Her early books and short stories got tiresome to me because the revolutionary/aristocrat theme was overused. Her later books (Daughter of Fortune, for example) are more complex and interesting.

I had a Chilean sister (exchange student) in 1970/71 when Allende was elected. Her father had been the secretariat of the railroad and was ousted along with the dictatorial government. It was fascinating to watch her, with her terror and uncertainty as she received letters from her family about their "reversal of fortune" (another Allende title), the long lines to purchase things like bread and toilet paper and other huge disruptions in ordinary life. She was afraid to go back and afraid that her family would be murdered if she defected.

Even apparently elected govts can be oppressive (GWBush for example). After Allende's election, the transfer of power was also brutal and put the common folk into upheaval. I'm sure much of that was due to US puppet-masters squeezing their allies. Neither govt system has a corner on protecting the people from suffering. Don't get me wrong, I love a good revolution, would like to see one here. Pinochet was obviously a brutal puppet. It's just good to acknowledge there are other perspectives on the story.

Grace Moon's picture

um yeah agreeing with Yonks

um yeah agreeing with Yonks below, I don't think a country's financial meltdown are the same as an oppressive regime who imprisons and tortures political dissidents.

the difference between Allende and pinochet are pretty stark.

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Lezbeth's picture

Color me misunderstood. I

Color me misunderstood. I reread my comment and can see how it might be interpreted as equating the two govts--Allende's and Pinochet's. That's not what I intended.

My comment expresses frustration. I've taken a moratorium on news, pundits, even our beloved Rachel Maddow because I'm getting tired of didactic pronouncements devoid of a broader perspective. This isn't about Chilean politics at all. Sometimes, ideological knee-jerks bar exploration, blotting out any opportunity for true dialog and becoming mean-spirited. My comment on Chilean politics isn't the bee in my boxers.

I'm concerned about ideological, limiting beliefs. I spent many years as a mediator, dealing with disputes between regular folks--neighbors, ex-lovers, etc. NEVER have any agreements been reached until both parties can hear each others' points of view AND find something common and positive as a starting point to move ahead. As a mediator, I could make judgments about right/wrong but that doesn't resolve anything. My judgments are rarely reflected in the ultimate agreement parties come to. This doesn't mean I'm devoid of a moral compass. It means that, in this broken world, my compassion can't be limited to those with whom I agree.

yonks's picture

So a guy lost his job and a

So a guy lost his job and a girl was afraid, that give a serious comparison for pinochet's military dictatorship.

I know you try to be objective and fair but sometime, things are going so far in one side that whats seems to be the middle is already too close of the power weight.

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Lezbeth's picture

I can see how you would

I can see how you would interpret my comment that way. Let's make another comparison--Cuba. Although he took the leadership position with popular support, Castro turned out to be brutal and oppressive in his government. My comment is directed at the idea that just because the people support a regime that comes into power doesn't mean that they don't suffer as a result.

Look at the struggle in South Africa right now. Apartheid is over, Mandala led an incredible turn-about. A few years later, the people are still living in townships in abject poverty, personal crime is on the rise and the opposition party is trying to create a viable alternative to clean up the corruption that is rife in govt right now.

My point is this...we can not assume all good or all bad about anything. Power corrupts. Perhaps it's human nature. Pinochet was horrid. That doesn't change because there was also suffering when Allende was elected. It's not an either/or, good/bad world. Things are much more complex. Just because we believe one philosophy is better, let's not assume people don't suffer in other situations.

yonks's picture

I understand your agenda

I understand your agenda about ideology but it makes you unfair with Allende, He was socialist and compare him to Castro is as unfair than compare him to Pinochet. you speak about corruption but i don't think he had the time to be corrupted, he hadn't have chance to do his own mess. A wall of money was build to put him down as soon as he had been elected.
The problems you'v talk about on the line to get bread or toilette paper was due to the massive strike of the truck drivers syndicate who had been paid by the CIA to do so.

Have you read the last speech he made when soldiers was on their way to arrest him?
http://www.tlaxcala.es/detail_artistes.asp?lg=en&reference=3

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

yonks's picture

"Les veines ouvertes de

"Les veines ouvertes de l'amerique latine" is a classic of the free world. Did i tell you that my first crush was a chilean girl? I always found that those peoples are so intense, so aware of unfairness, so awake on politic issue.

Here's the Ken Loach on 9/11 1973
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xghdk_11-septembre-ken-loach

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Stacy Jill's picture

First off - Cheney just needs

First off - Cheney just needs to go away. Your time in the spotlight is thankfully over... Smile

Isabel Allende is an amazing individual and her books which a lot of them can be classified as historical fiction are wonderful. I was hooked after I saw her speak at an event here in Chicago.

Grace Moon's picture

nice to see you here xo

nice to see you here xo

tweet tweet @gracemoon

yonks's picture

good blog, thanks :)

good blog, thanks Smile

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Robin Rigby's picture

I saw Cheney talking on the

I saw Cheney talking on the news about how Obama shaking hands with Chavez and the two of them smiling as they greeted each other was a sign of weakness. I cannot imagine a more ridiculous statement. World leader of not, when you meet someone you're supposed to be polite and friendly. Even if you've heard awful things about them from other folks you have a responsibility to review the facts and make your own judgement. Even if you have met them before and don't like them you still put up a good front and smile and greet them pleasantly. This is even more important for a world leader or someone in a position like Hilary Clinton or any foreign ambassador.

Adding to the fact that it's just the right thing to do on a human level if you got elected on a platform of change then you MUST act differently toward someone your predecessor demonized.

The republicans become more and more pathetic by the day.

minniesota's picture

Dear Ex-Vice President

Dear Ex-Vice President Cheney: Please shut your pie hole.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Robin Rigby's picture

Hahahaha! I wish I had said

Hahahaha! I wish I had said that.

minniesota's picture

I just feel like being very

I just feel like being very direct lately. Wink

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

LongBeachDogLover's picture

You wear it well.... :)

You wear it well.... Smile

Not2Taem's picture

Isabel Allende, what a woman!

Isabel Allende, what a woman! I plan to read everything I can find. And yes, we may have to wait for the old men to die, but we do have a RESPONSIBILITY to do better with the social education of our boys.

Great Blog. Laughing out loud

lucia_2008's picture

Greed of all countries have

Greed of all countries have lead to the demise of so many people globally. There are just to many people who will never admit to the wrong that has been done.

Smile...life is good!!!

mysticsmb's picture

If Americans are learning

If Americans are learning more about the world and other viewpoints because the President accepted a book, how can that possibly make us weak? Knowledge is power.

mysticsmb's picture

Before I even read all the

Before I even read all the particulars of this blog, can I just say that I find the whole 'strong/weak' construct as it applies to nations to be utterly stupid, not to mention useless.

yonks's picture

Plus, it tell a lot on how

Plus, it tell a lot on how the person who said that, think.
Who need justice, who need respect, all you need is to be the stronger so you can kick everybody's ass. And because he have no mercy as a strong, he's afraid of being weak.

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-