Chavez enrolls Obama in Latin America 101

The Presidents of Venezuela and the United States have “informally” crossed paths twice at this weekends’ Summit of the Americas. Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama first exchanged words yesterday, and then, today, Chavez gave Obama a book as a gift.

CB Trinidad Americas Summit Obama

The book he gave him is Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by legendary Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. (Here’s a recent article on Galeano where he discusses some of his ideas on Latin America and his new book, Espejos.)  The text is a familiar one to students of Latin American history, serving as it does as something of an introduction to European and U.S. imperialism in the hemisphere.

That’s right; Chavez just suggested Obama “go to school” on the imperial history of his nation.

I suspect the big O already knows a bit about that past (and, regrettably, present), but I still hope he takes the time to read Galeano.  It’s one of those life changing books, challenging as it does many of the fundamental assumptions of U.S. involvement in the hemisphere.

But Chavez didn’t stop there.  In comments he delivered on Saturday, Chavez said the U.S. “must breakaway from the concept of viewing us as its backyard.”  (See the full story here.)  The notion of “proximity” has always been a prcursor to U.S. empire, as argued (with copious amounts of proof) by scholars like Lars Schoultz and Louis Pérez Jr. When he said that, Chavez wasn’t speaking to Latin America, the only part of the hemisphere that seems to be reporting on his remarks.  He was intentionally trying to “teach” the U.S. about the problems of its own “savior” tendencies.

Chavez is a well-read man, familiar with much of the recent work in Latin American history produced by English-language writers.  Some years ago, he made a public appearance holding Empire’s Workshop, by historian Greg Grandin (a stellar book, btw).  Our president has the chance to show Latin Americans he is more than a machine spouting off the rhetoric of neoliberalism, like our previous 43 guys in office.  A good start might be by showing them he understands what it is they know and why they know it.

But, then again, it’s politics.


8 thoughts on “Chavez enrolls Obama in Latin America 101

  1. Mostly unrelated, but since I spent a couple of hours this evening cursing a sports team from Los Angeles, which makes me think of you, I’ll note that Galeano also wrote a very idiosyncratic book on soccer that I enjoyed.

  2. Steven, if the two of us can be friends while still maintaining the sports loyalties we do, the entire Civil War really seems a bit overblown, doesn’t it?

  3. You state a great truth.

    There’s something I’ve long wondered, and it occurs to me you would be the perfect person to explain it, given your loyalties and the depth and breadth of your knowledge in other areas. Given what happened in Chavez Ravine so many years ago, why do the Dodgers have such a fervent fan base amongst Latinos? I think this deserves its own post, unless you’ve already done it :-).

  4. Did you just call Obama the “whore of Babylon,” suggesting Chavez is the anti-Christ and Obama his supplicant? That’s clever, but a little fearful, no? I’s also deeply dismissive; after all, we have little to gain in terms of understanding our world if we assign anyone we disagree with the status of “biblical epiphenomenon.”

    And they call the “left” emotional?

  5. Gladly, GLP.

    Aside from the fact of its readability (Grandin writes much better than your average academic and is, therefore, much friendlier to a non-academic audience) he does the two things most important in a text like his–concisely brings together the historical literature on Latin American “empire” and adds to that with his own archival research.

    The end result is informative but also important. His primary argument that Latin America was used as a test ground for specific kinds of US policies, practices, and apparatus building speaks to 20 years ago as well as it speaks to our present. For that, Grandin is a successful historian, ever-aware of the tragic human consequences of the history he unearths as well as passionate about exposing it so that (ultimately) is might never again occur.

    For teachers like me who are always looking for texts that can summarize a HUGE field (US-Latin American relations in the 20th century) so that we can get into some of the more interesting debates within our own fields books like his are, simply, stellar.

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