Wow, the Open Veins of Latin America is so grim. Or rather what it describes is. I don't know if it was the translator or Galeano or what, but the way the bestiality of the colonial exploitation of Latin America is described is actually almost jokey. Sarcastically and angry, obviously, but it makes the grim reading somehow bearable nonetheless. Or maybe I'm just getting less squeamish about grim reading as I age and as my job forcibly informs me that life is grim so might as well read grim too. I don't know.
One thing I've enjoyed about the first third is his historical economic perspective - not just in the sense of how dreadful the sugar or coffee etc. monocultures, single-minded resource mining, were in the colonies themselves, but also why Spain and Portugal have always been such economic shitholes relative to other major European nations despite such riches being exploited in their overseas property. How they failed to encourage any sort of industrial means of production on their own territory, and how all that money therefore ended up in the pockets of industrially producing countries like the Netherlands and England. In the case of Portugal especially, the country failed to have any protectionism in their policies vis a vis England during the gold rush in Brazil - that lovely old free trade - which meant all the gold went to England, all the produce went to Portugal and Brazil. Which leaves Portugal, eventually, with no gold and lots of worn-out stuff, and England with gold and a working class whose consumer demands can sustain some sort of functioning economy.
It's been a question I've been asking myself for a long time - why are we so fond of free trade? Especially now, as it's costing us jobs as the units of production move to cheap labour countries; and in the beginning, as the lovely Ha-Joon Chang pointed out, the economically powerful countries protected their home industries furiously. And as silly as it sounds, until the last week or so it had never properly sunk in for me that we're so fond of it because we're English, or as North Americans we're culturally English (face it). And it has quite an auspicious history in our culture, that free trade. If you imagine the self-evidently wrong things people have a real spiritual faith in - like, that a man this criminally irresponsible and sociopathic has some authority that the Good Lord Herself gave him - then it makes absolute and perfect sense that the idea of free trade (accessing raw materials and selling finished goods our population had processed), which did make us much richer than most of our trade partners over centuries, would inspire an even more devout and widespread faith.
This is the thing, you know - at work and on the news I'm faced constantly with things that are obviously destructive, environmentally or socially - I'm faced with these incredible iniquities, and this incredibly badly functioning economic system. And I don't think it's because the people involved wish to do evil, or wish to act badly; I don't think they want to harm their fellow man, or harm their planet. I don't even think the prime motivation is to be much richer or much better than their fellow men, although that's there, and it's huge, the animal motivation to be more secure than anybody else . . . I think we're looking at faith in action, at the conviction that there's no other way. That not only that this way of organizing ourselves economically is the best, or the least worst, but that any other way of organizing ourselves economically would lead to a complete fucking disaster.
I think it's a very religious sentiment, or religious faith; that all the horrible things done to Latin American nationalist movements during the 'Cold War', for example, were okay for US policy makers and for US people (because it's not like all those dreadful things were secret) because they had a conviction, a faith that the alternative to an admittedly obviously higly exploitative economic model would have been so much worse. It's something that's been so difficult to argue with, and so many people in the US who did argue with it were condemned with a really religious fervour. There are so many rational arguments against the economic model, but framing the arguments rationally doesn't really match the spirit, I think, in which the economic model is supported. So what to do about that? Maybe it's already changing. I don't know. Latin America is going all lefty now and while there's a lot of bad noise in the media it doesn't sound like they're funding any more Contras.