(c) 2009, Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY -- The book that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, has long been regarded as a bible for the Latin American left, found on the bookshelves and university reading lists of a generation of students of the region.
"Open Veins of Latin America" recounts, as its subtitle says, "Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" -- the harvesting of the region's cotton, rubber, coffee, fruit and other resources by U.S. and European powers. It posits, from a Marxist viewpoint, that such exploitation is the root cause of Latin American poverty.
When the book was published in 1971, Publishers' Weekly called its Uruguayan author, Eduardo Galeano, "both impassioned and a hard-nosed scholar." Galeano was a hero to the left, although ridiculed by the right and for many years persecuted by military dictatorships.
Galeano fled his native Uruguay after a military coup in 1973 and ended up in Argentina. A few years later, he fled military rule there. "Open Veins" and other works were banned in many parts of South America, until the continent began to return to civilian elected governments in the 1980s.
A decade ago, "Open Veins" was attacked by a more conservative literary movement and featured in an irreverent publication, "Manual of the Perfect Latin American Idiot." Most of Galeano's work was translated to English by a British-born member of the Communist Party in the U.S., who was deported in the 1950s. Galeano, who is journalist, historian and essayist, has said his work cannot be pigeon-holed in a single category because of his mix of poetic imagery with hard political treatise.
As classic as the book was in Latin America, it had become somewhat obscure in mainstream U.S. circles until the Chavez endorsement. A paperback version jumped from position 54,295 at the online retailer Amazon.com to the No. 2 slot, practically overnight, news agencies reported.
Galeano, now 68, remained pointed in his criticisms during a book tour in Mexico City earlier this month.
"The contemporary world is not democratic but profoundly fascist, chauvinistic, militaristic," he was quoted telling an audience of several thousand university students who waited in line for hours to see him.
He went on to say, however, that he was pleased to see that an "almost black" candidate, referring to Obama being biracial, had been elected president of the United States and hoped that might help end racism.
If reports from the Chavez-Obama exchange are to be believed, the book offered by the Venezuelan leader was in Spanish, and the U.S. president does not read the language. Why Chavez didn't give him an English version is anyone's guess.