Victimization Won’t Open Latin America’s Eyes

It's time for Latin America's leaders to acknowledge their mistakes like Eduardo Galeano did, albeit late in life.
It’s time for Latin America’s leaders to acknowledge their mistakes like Eduardo Galeano did, albeit late in life. (

EnglishThe 74-year-old Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, whom I once accused of causing the greatest intellectual damage to the continent, died last Monday, April 13.

On social media, I lamented his death as I would do with any other human being, although I made it clear that I never liked his book, Open Veins of Latin America. Some people were offended by this, and I received plenty of criticism, most of it polite.

Nevertheless, I was shocked how people can barely distinguish between two very different judgements: “I don’t like it,” the one I made, and “it’s bad,” a far too strong one for me to pronounce. I was truly scared by what Galeano’s demise revealed deep within human nature: dogmatism.

In his 1971 magnum opus Galeano committed errors that border on infamy, as he acknowledged himself recently. The Uruguayan intellectual said he didn’t know enough economics or politics when he wrote what became the Latin American leftists’ most influential pamphlet.

Now I ask the reader to answer, with utmost honesty, what would you call someone who holds onto a book who even its author rejects? Without a doubt we’re facing a fanatic.

Open Veins convinced several generations that we Latin Americans are poor because those from overseas “empires” are rich. If that were true, there would be no explanation for the great disparities between Spain, that conquered a continent with abundant precious metals, and the United Kingdom, which remains today a much more solid economy with stronger institutions.

I’m not stating anything new here. Economist Deirdre McCloskey can explain it much better than I could possibly in Bourgeois Dignity, as well as Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their book Why Nations Fail.

In this part of the globe, victimization is a grave problem, as became evident during the Summit of the Americas in Panama earlier this month. Leaders from 30 countries basically took turns to hector the US president — and those who follow my writings know I’m not Obama supporter — who was right when he pointed out that using “the United States as an excuse … for political problems that may be occurring domestically” is “not going to bring progress.”

The legacy of Galeano’s Open Veins is precisely that thesis of claiming to be the eternal helpless victim.

In the wake of the writer’s death, the Peruvian Literature Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa told Deutsche Welle news agency that while he regretted it, Galeano had painted an unfortunate “caricature” of Latin America. His words were far more apt than those who cried not for the human being, but rather the lost Marxist ideologue.

Forty-four years after the publication of the book that exaggerated foreign plundering and blamed capitalism for all of the continent’s evils, we’re reaching a moment where blood-stained socialist revolutions that have nothing to do with upholding human dignity are finally fading away.

We have to wonder how long will it be until Latin America finally opens its eyes to the reality: capitalism has pulled people out of misery faster than any other system, and Latin America’s shortcomings are overwhelmingly its own doing. With disappearing scapegoats, who else will be there left to blame?

By admitting errors in his most important work even so late, Galeano made an act of great responsibility. That does not, however, clear his guilt; he was undoubtedly one of Latin America’s most irresponsible ideologues.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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