At President Obama’s meeting with the heads of South American countries this morning, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stood, walked over to him, and presented him with a copy of "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano.
Obama politely posed for a photograph with Chavez, shook his hand, and accepted the gift.
The book, first published in Spanish in 1971, offers a critique of the consequences of 500 years of European and U.S. colonization of Latin America.
"The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing," the book begins. "Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role."
Galeano writes that while the era of "lodes of gold" and "mountains of silver" has passed, "our region still works as a menial laborer. It continues to exist at the service of others’ needs, as a source of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries which profit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them."
At another point in the book, Galeano writes: "Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others."
The book also criticizes the U.S. for "spreading and imposing family planning. … In Latin America it is more hygienic and effective to kill future guerillas in the womb that in the mountains or the streets."
Banned in Uruguay and Chile when it was first published, "Open Veins of Latin America" is considered a classic in Latin America.
In Isabel Allende’s foreword to later versions of the book, the Chilean-American writer says that Galeano "has more first-hand knowledge of Latin America than anybody else I can think of, and uses it to tell the world of the dreams and disillusions, the hopes and the failures of its people. … Galeano denounces exploitation with uncompromising ferocity, yet this book is almost poetic in its description of solidarity and human capacity for survival in the midst of the worst kind of despoliation."
The copy of the book Chavez gave Obama appears to be in Spanish, a language Obama does not speak.
At the start of the first plenary session at the Summit of the Americas later this morning, President Obama was asked what he thought of Chavez’s gift.
“You know, I thought it was one of Chavez’s books," Obama answered. "I was going to give him one of mine.”
- Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller