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