Monday, April 20, 2009

Chavez offers a gift

So Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gave Obama a book -- Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

Evidently, the copy in question was in Spanish. This may account for the slight hint of recoil we see from Obama. Galeano's sweeping history was the standard account of Latin American development available to thoughtful North Americans in the 1980s. I'd be surprised if Obama had not encountered it back then and probably read it.

I guess it was polite of Chavez not to offer a copy with this cover from the 70s.

As of this evening, the current edition has risen to Number 2 ranking at Amazon. A lot of people are in for a good read. The book is a vivid, broad-stroke introduction to why Latin Americans might be more than a little suspicious of Big Brother north of the Rio Grande.

As in so many arenas, Obama wants to look ahead when relating to Latin America.

I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future. (Applause.) I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it.

Transcript of remarks

I don't know if he'll be able to pull that off. Think about it -- the U.S. has only focused on mucking about in the affairs of the oil states of the Middle East since 1945 (Barbary pirates excepted.) And we've stored up a heck of a lot of grievances in that short time. In Latin America, we've been asserting our dominance over resources and political systems since the early 1800s. It will take more than nice words to work through that ugly history.

Oddly, recent U.S. wars of empire in Iraq and Afghanistan have created some breathing room for Latin countries to strengthen their economies and political systems while the Yankis were distracted. (That happened during World War II as well; U.S. wars elsewhere have been good for our southern neighbors.) Latin America is more ready to meet the U.S. from a stronger footing than perhaps it has ever been. As in so many arenas, the world is changing ...

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