- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

PORT-OF-SPAIN, TRINIDAD (AP) - President Barack Obama says he came to a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders to listen and learn about a region he’d never visited. On Saturday, Hugo Chavez gave him some reading material that the Venezuelan president thinks will help.

The socialist leader presented Obama with a hardcover edition of “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” by famed Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano.

Chavez said he inscribed the book: “For Obama, with warm regards.”

The 1971 book documents how European and American commercial interests have dominated and afflicted Latin America since the Spanish conquest, and it’s a favorite among left-leaning Latin Americans from Argentina to Mexico.

“He believes the book tells the truth, and he wants to give Obama the truth,” said Michael Shifter, a Latin America analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue group think tank in Washington.

“It also gives him an opportunity to grandstand a bit” at an event where Obama’s sheer star quality is outshining other leaders.

Chavez says he frequently rereads Galeano as a reference point.

One emblematic passage describes how Latin America “continues to work as a servant. It continues to exist to serve the needs of others as a fountain and reserve of petroleum and gold, copper and meat, fruits and coffee, raw materials and food destined for rich countries that benefit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them.”

Novelist Isabel Allende describes the book’s enduring appeal as politically charged history with an intimate touch: “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.”

Persecution of Galeano by right-wing dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s helped cement the author’s reputation as a voice of Latin America’s dispossessed.

His newspaper editorials and activism against political corruption in Uruguay forced him to flee to Argentina after a military coup in 1974. His name later appeared an Argentine death squad list targeting dissidents, and Galeano fled to Spain to live in exile until his return to Uruguay in 1984.

“It’s an extraordinary book that helped me understand Latin America when I was young, our history, our reality,” Chavez told reporters after meeting with Obama and South American leaders.

Obama, the author of two best-selling books himself, may have trouble with the copy presented by Chavez. Images of the encounter showed that the title was in Spanish, and Obama doesn’t speak or read the language.


Passages from “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent”:

_”Development develops inequality.”

_”The international division of labor is that some countries specialize in winning and others losing.”

_”… The Cuban economy was modeled on foreign demands for sugar. The slaves produced the coveted product destined for the world market, but their profits would since be enjoyed by the local oligarchy and imperialist interests.”

_”The International Monetary Fund was created to institutionalize the financial domination of Wall Street over the entire planet when, at the end of World War II, the dollar began its hegemony as the international currency. It was never unfaithful to its master.”

(This version CORRECTS the first name of book author Eduardo Galeano.))

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