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The Book Chávez Gave Obama

April 21st, 2009 · 2 Comments

The Book Chávez Gave Obama

President Obama got in several good lines during his trip to meet with
Latin American leaders on Saturday, but the funniest came when reporters
asked about the book that Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, gave
him: “The Open Veins of Latin America,” by Eduardo Galeano. “I thought
it was one of Chávez’s books. I was going to give him one of mine,”
Obama quipped.

Though I’m sure “Un Brazalete Tricolor” is every bit as riveting as
“Dreams from My Father,” Obama should be glad to be in possession of
“Open Veins,” which shot to number eleven on Amazon within hours of
Obama receiving it. Whatever one thinks of its message (it denounces
both U.S. imperialism and the ruling élites of Latin America from a
Marxist-Leninst perspective), the book has a fascinating history.
Galeano, who is Uruguayan, wrote it in the last three months of 1970,
and was eventually forced into exile as the book grew in popularity. It
has sold steadily ever since, in Latin America and around the world,
with more than fifty Spanish editions, and translations into more than a
dozen languages.

Given its currency with contemporary Latin American leaders (Chávez is
not alone), it may come as a surprise to learn that, years after the
publication of “Open Veins,” Galeano decided that the book “reduced
history to just one dimension.” Part polemic, part history, and part
“talk with the people” “Open Veins” has at its heart what many critics
now consider a simplistic model of dependency, and a fuzzy prediction
that Latin America is “entering times of rebellion and change.” Its
continued popularity has much to do with its style. In 2000, Galeano
told the Times that it was a book about political economy “written in
the style of a novel about love or pirates.” The historian Gerald Martin
describes Galeano’s appeal as similar to that of George Orwell: each is
“a writer of immense influence who cannot be easily pigeonholed.” Like
many of Orwell’s political writings, “Open Veins” remains fresh because
of the power of its storytelling.

In later years, Galeano turned to fiction and “fictive” histories. His
most recent book to be translated into English, “Mirrors,” is due out in

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stephen P. Smith // Apr 21, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Someone ought to hand Obama WH&EE!

  • 2 nemo // Apr 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    There you go.

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