Can we ever close the open veins of Latin America?
On memory of my land and those who have suffered from its gifts;
“The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations”.
(Eduardo Galeano, 1971)
These are the starting words of the book the Open Veins of Latin America. Galeano’s narrative starts with the discovery of the Americas and gives a glimpse to 500 years of conflict over resources. Throughout his book he explains how the stories of struggle, massacre, dictatorships and mainly capitalism have led Latin America to its perdition. For him, the Old-World order has remained unchanged to this day. The same countries that conquered are the ones that remain in power, the wealthiest, the safest, the most progressive and the ones with all the positive qualities. Whilst some other nations have been able to advance their positions, they are few in number.
Following Galeano’s metaphor, Latin-Americans have been more than trespassed and wronged by the economic and political intervention of foreign powers in their territories. There is a good side of the land and there is a side that is not that good. And people will perish as the side of the land where they belong, people will be cursed by the resources that the land provides to them. Some will be lucky enough to be born in the good side of the land and there are others who will not. That simple fact will determine the path to follow in the lifetimes of those individuals, at least to some extent. The generations to come will struggle as the old generations have.
The rich will become richer and the poor will remain poor
Nowadays, notwithstanding the large efforts from governments, international organisations, citizens and a political discourse which promotes an agenda of ‘no-one left behind’ the goals for a united world seem to be unreachable. In 2015, the United Nations set the 17 so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The worldwide promotion of gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and an end to poverty and hunger are amongst these goals. In his talk, “The global goals we’ve made progress on- and the ones we haven’t” Michael Green warns the audience about the unequal likelihood of most countries to meet the SDGs in 2030.
Nonetheless, while some countries are forecasted according to the Social Progress Index to reach these goals in 2030, such as Denmark, many others are being left behind. While some countries will meet the SDGs in 2030 others are not forecasted to do so until 2094. Of course, this last statistic fails to consider relevant factors such as the environmental sustainability in the world during the following decades. It is highly concerning and difficult to digest that some countries will have to spend sixty-four more years of poverty, of hunger, of inequality and of backwardness. It will take the lifetime of this entire generation to fulfil those goals and perhaps, if we are lucky enough, gaze into what a world that has met the 2030 SDGs would look like.
The solutions offered that would close the huge gap between the current state of the world and one which meets the 2030 SDGs seem to be not only underwhelming, but redundant. Ironically, within Green’s discourse the first solution that he proposed goes in hand with the words “to call on the rich countries”. Clearly, so far and in the years to come, a dependency of the poor upon the rich will be unavoidable. Historically, it has become the easiest answer, but the one with the worst economic and political implications.
What a disappointment it is to discover that your country relies on the hated words of others? Can we see ourselves with the same dignity? Can we still trust on others? Within the history of Latin America there were some who possessed the most desirable virtue and some who did not: the superiority of race. And it was that superiority the one that gave to some the moral virtue to own foreign territory. In regards to U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, for President William H. Taft there was the correct path of justice: “active intervention to secure for our merchandise and our capitalists opportunity for profitable investment”.
In the context of distribution and inequality, merchandise is not only an important but an interesting word. Several authors, within their narratives have used such a word before to highlight to readers its significance. If the topic is about inequality and social injustice, the word choice of the writers should never be taken for granted. Particularly, it was in a work of fiction that I came across a powerful phrase; the world is a market with –sadly- us as its merchandise. The Mexican writer J. M. Zunzunegui, forty-five years after the publication of Galeano’s book, came to confirm once again one of the conclusive and most thought-provoking assertions from the Open Veins of Latin America: What was the objective of the Argentinian dictatorships? “To supply cheap labour to an international market that demands cheap products”.
Perhaps, the feeling of hopelessness that I experience every time I encounter with these narratives is the same one that José Mujica expresses through his political discourse. Indeed, the reflection of Uruguay’s former president is a witty one. In his words, inequality is the principal characteristic of Latin-Americans and the biggest challenge for current democracies. For him, the weak nature of humans to gain territory, profits, wealth and power has reduced our human value. Do we think we are able of restoring that value in us? Or maybe, it would be better to ask. Are we capable of doing so? How?
Even though years go by, there are wounds that never close, wounds that can never be healed. Some people try to forget history, others remain uninterested but others acknowledge that somehow, we are doomed to be bound to it. Thinking that we are tied to our past may seem to be a romantic idea, however, its reach is much wider than we think it to be. We may assume that the inequality that we see today is an occurrence of our current circumstances, of the 21st century, but we can never be sure. These are questions that remain important in the minds of those who belong to or were born on the poor side of the land.
President Taft’s declaration took place in 1912. Can we be sure that after more than one hundred years we have moved on to a new era of humanity where we do not act at the service of turning people, cultures and their resources into cheap products? Indeed, at the heart of the overestimation of human potential, its weak nature lies.
It is hard for people to realise that their existence continues to be at the very service of other’s needs but what is even harder is having to witness it.
The open veins, remain open.
This article was written by Giselle Vega