Open Veins In Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent-Eduardo Galeano with a Foreword by Isabel Allende

galeanoLatin America is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.   The Iguazu Falls, Andes Mountains and Patagonia attract millions of visitors annually.  The beauty of these and other sites across Latin America stand in stark contrast to the poverty that can be found outside of major cities and sometimes within.  In between major railway stations and ports exist slums that remind us of the severely uneven distribution of wealth throughout the continent.  Speaking from personal experience, most Americans would be shocked at living conditions that still exist in Latin America to this day.   But why does a continent with a history that goes back several hundred years  and is home to beautiful people, beautiful languages, great foods and beautiful scenes of nature, continue to suffer from poverty, corruption and exploitation.

The key to understanding the current state of these and other Latin American affairs, is to revisit its history.  Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) has done just that in this eye-opening and best-selling study of Latin American history that was first published in 1971.   The edition that is the subject of this review was re-published in 1997, and contains a foreword by Isabel Allende,  a cousin of the late Chilean President Salvador Allende (1908-1973).   On September 11, 1973, Allende died on a self-inflicted gunshot wound as opposition forces engaged in a CIA-backed overthrow of the government.  Isabel currently lives in California and is a naturalized United States Citizen.

Galeano starts by revisiting how Latin America came into existence from a continent of indigenous people to one in which Spanish is the dominant language.  The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean marked a distinctive change in the course of world history and although he never set foot in North America,  Columbus is still considered by many to be the person that discovered what is today the United States. In recent years however, the holiday of Columbus Day has been replaced by Indigenous People’s Day or in others not acknowledged.  In Central and South America, the arrival of the Spanish explorers would have a profound impact and set the stage for plunder, murder and exploitation that engulfed the continent.   Next to Columbus are the stories of Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) and Pedro de Valdivia (1497-1553), explorers who would spend their last days in South America.    And as Galeano re-tells their stories, the reader might want to make notes of names, dates and places as the story comes together like a puzzle.

While the tragedy of exploitation and violence played out, not all voices were content with Spanish domination and the extermination of South America’s inhabitants.  Tupac Amaru (1545-1572) and Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) also appear in the book and it would be safe to say that an author would find it impossible to discuss Latin American history without recounting their extraordinary and short lives.   However their efforts proved to be ineffective against the rush of colonization that dominated the southern hemisphere.  And it is at this point in the book that Galeano turns up the heat as we learn how natural resources became a gold mine and and the populations of the Carribean, Central American and South American nearly disappeared as a result of warfare, famine and disease.  World superpowers sank their teeth into the Latin American cash machine and have never let go.

The grip of foreign control has proven to have disastrous effects on politics, producing revolutions and widespread practice of the coup d’état.   Leaders who leaned left and sought to reclaim industries exploited by foreign corporations were quickly dealt with through American foreign policy.   Those who did play the game were rewarded and tolerated through the Good Neighbor Policy and other shady practices.  The climate of distrust and violent overthrow of the government has never left Latin America.  The current events in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina are prime examples of the volatile political climate that continues to exist.  And all the while, foreign corporations continue to reap enormous profits as they move around offices and politicians like pieces on a chess board.

Galeano provides a staggering amount of information in the book which is sure to shock the reader.   But this book is key to understanding why Latin America has developed so many third-world countries. It would be easy to blame those countries for their own failures.  But what we know is that after a colonizer has left the colonized, it is immensely difficult for those nations to find a permanent path of success.  This was beautifully explained by Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) in his classic The Wretched of the Earth.   The future is bleak for many Latin American nations as inflation rises and the IMF becomes more reluctant to give out loans.  Poverty continues to increase giving rise to protests, crime and strikes.  What we see today is a manifestation of what Galeano calls “five hundred years of the pillage of a continent”.

If you have never traveled through Latin America, I implore you to do so at least once.  I firmly believe that there are many great things that are unfamiliar to those who live in the northern hemisphere. I have had the privilege of visiting  Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.  Chile is next on the list.  Through my travels, I have met many people who have become a permanent part of my life and I am eternally grateful for having met them.   Galeano died on April 13, 2015 after a battle with lung cancer but he left behind important works and this masterpiece which has been translated into more than twelve languages.  This book has proven to be the companion guide every person needs in order to understand many of things that will be seen in Latin America, including the current presence of open veins.

ISBN-10: 0853459916

ISBN-13: 978-0853459910

I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives-Dr. Roberto Canessa with Pablo Vierci

20180603_011546The definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens one.  On October 13, 1972, Roberto Canessa was one of forty passengers aboard Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 bound for Santiago, Chile.  The plane clipped the top of a mountain peak and crashed in a region known as the Valley of Tears.  Seventy-two days passed before all of the survivors were rescued.  Canessa and Nando Parrado, author of Miracle in the Andes, walked for ten days through the mountains  towards Chile to find help.  A peasant, Sergio Catalan, rode his horse for eight hours to notify authorities.  The ordeal of the survivors was turned into a book called Alive, and a film of the same name starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich.  In 2010, a documentary was released by the History Channel under the name of  I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash.  The films and books that have been published do an incredible job of allowing readers and viewers to step inside the nightmare than existed on that isolated mountain slope.  Here, Canessa tells his story but his account differs from the others not in facts but in presentation and focus.

Parrado’s book deals mainly with the time they spend stranded in the Andes.  The end of the book is focused on his life after the crash and updates on the other survivors. Canessa takes a different track and the book is not just about him but also about his family and patients.  A small part of the book is dedicated to the crash.  Canessa confirms statements given by Parrado both in his book and in the documentary.  But I honestly believe it is what happens in his life after the event that makes the book so intriguing.  As the story progresses, the reader will note that at times we are reading Roberto’s words and then another section will be the testimony of his children, father or patients.  These interviews were not conducted by Canessa himself. Vierci, a childhood friend and journalist, reached out to Canessa’s patients and obtained their recollections without his involvement.  I believe that this decision was critical to the book’s aura for it gives us a complete picture of not just the rugby player that survived the impossible, but also of a husband and doctor of medicine.

Dr. Canessa, as he has been known since finishing medical school in his native Uruguay, became a well-known cardiologist throughout the world. He has performed operations on scores of patients, mainly children and devoted his life to their survival.  But as we read the stories and read Canessa’s words, we get the feeling that the Andes mountains always remain present in his mind and as he admits, they shape the way he has viewed life since he returned to Montevideo. He certainly could have never imagined he would face death in the autumn of 1972 but the experience is one which no person can ever fully leave behind.

As a supplement to the book, numerous color photographs are provided by Canessa and families of his many patients.  The photos show the progression of age, wisdom and how far he has come in life. By his own admission, he has always been a bit rebellious and done things his way whether they were accepted or not.  But it is this rebellious nature that served him well as he and Nando walked for over seventy miles to find another trace of human existence.   The Chileans have a saying “the Andes don’t give back what they take”.  For the players and other passengers on Uruguayan Flight 571, the mountains almost took everything.  But sixteen young men held out hope, steeled their nerves and accomplished what no one thought could be done.

Dr. Canessa has lived his life applying the lessons he learned during that ordeal and his story will always amaze shock those who are discovering the story of the crash for the first time.  Like Parrado’s book, I read this one sitting.  His words and those are others are clear and in an easy to read format making the story flow smoothly without losing the reader’s attention.   And although the crash took place more than forty years ago, the story of their survival and the approach to life by Canessa are more than enough to inspire anyone.

ISBN-10: 1476765448
ISBN-13: 978-1476765440

Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home-Nando Parrado with Vince Rause

20180603_011625On October 13, 1972, Nando Parrado was a twenty-two year old rugby player with the Old Christians from Montevideo, Uruguay.  The team was en route to Santiago Chile for an annual match against a rival team.  As their Fairchild 227 flew north through the Andes following a navigational error by the plane’s pilots, it clipped the top of a mountain peak as the crew struggled to force the aircraft to climb over the deadly terrain.  The initial crash killed several passengers and by the time the survivors were rescued in December, 1972, only sixteen remained.  Their story was told by author Piers Paul Read in the 1974 book Alive and a film of the same title was released in 1993, starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich. In  2010, the History Channel released a documentary called I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash.  In the documentary, Parrado is main narrator sitting in front the camera as viewers relive the nightmare.  The film, book and documentary are accurate portrayals of the events that took place but are told by others who are relaying the stories of the survivors.  This is Nando Parrado’s story and the will to survive that led him and co-survivor Roberto Canessa to walk for ten days in the hope of finding another human being and help for the other passengers left behind.

In the film Alive, Parrado is played by Ethan Hawke and despite the lack of  Uruguayan Spanish in the film, Hawke provides a convincing portrayal.  However for all of the Hollywood’s special effects and production etiquette, the film still fails to fully convey the nightmare that was their ordeal.   Perhaps producers did not have enough time or felt that audiences would have revolted at all of the details.  What is clear from Parrado’s account is that the horror that existed on the mountain slope was more than anyone could have imagined.  Brutal, tragic and even macabre, it is a story that no filmmaker could write, such events happen by circumstance, albeit tragic.  The survivors of the crash would never be the same again and according to Nando, a couple of them struggled later in life.  But their story continues to amaze and inspire and is a prime example of the tenacity of the human will to live.

The beauty of this book is that these are Nando’s words as told by him.  And what we see is a young man who through fate, rises to the occasion through sheer determination to live or in the alternative meet his death while trying.  I have been to Montevideo and Punta Del Este, two important cities both in Uruguay today and in Parrado’s story.  I have also been to Argentina and what I found interesting was the rugby aspect of his account.  Football is without question the national sport throughout Latin America.  But as we learn from Nando, Christian missionaries who traveled to Uruguay from Ireland insisted that the students at Stella Maris learn the United Kingdom pastime of rugby.  And it was this game that served as the basis for their fatal flight.  As their situation unfolds, the teachings and team spirit kicks in as they lean on each other in the struggle for survival.

The accusations of cannibalism that they faced is addressed by Parrado and he explains how and why they reached the decision to consume the only food they had left; the deceased.  I cannot imagine what it was like mentally for them to even consider such an act let alone execute it.  But in desperate times, we often rely on desperate measures.  Readers will assuredly be divided on the issue but what we can all agree on is that had we been in that situation, we honestly do not know what we would have done until we were left with no other choices.

Although this is Parrado’s story, we also learn a great deal about the other players whom he becomes closer to as the ordeal goes on.  By the end of the book, it is obvious that he and Canessa have become extremely close and are still friends to this day.  They are bonded by their love of rugby and their shared experience on an isolated mountain in the Andes.  The other survivors all play a role in the story and Parrado does not neglect their contributions and importance.  I believe it is imperative to remember that many of the players were under twenty-five years of age. In fact, Carlos Páez Rodríguez turned nineteen as they face possible death.  At that age, I could have never fathomed being in such a situation and the courage, tenacity and creativity displayed by the survivors is incredible.

I enjoyed this book so much that I read it one sitting while home on a dreary Saturday afternoon.  But as I looked outside my window, I reminded myself that no matter how bad the weather is, it does compare to what Parrado, Canessa and the other survivors were forced to endure.   The book is called Miracle in the Andes for good reason, it truly was a miracle that anyone made it off that mountain alive.  Today at the age of sixty-eight, I am sure Nando Parrado remembers everything as if it happened yesterday.  And until the day they leave here, Parrado, Canessa, Páez and the others will always look back at the time they came face to face with death in the Andes mountains.   Now a husband and father of two adult daughters, Parrado is still a revered figure, known as an Andes survivor.  A former race car driver who raced in Europe,  he is long retired from the sport but his passion for all things in life is contagious and it is easy to see why he refused to give up his fight to live.  This truly is a miraculous story and a great read.

ISBN-10: 140009769X
ISBN-13: 978-1400097692

Becoming the Tupamaros: Solidarity and Transnational Revolutionaries in Uruguay and the United States-Lindsey Churchill

tupamarosNestled between Brazil and Argentina is the small Latin American nation of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay). The nation is the second smallest on the continent next to Suriname and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. To foreign visitors, it may seem a like destination that is too good to be true.  Currently, the nation enjoys peace and shows no signs of the conflicts that once plagued Uruguayan society.   Revisiting the past, Lindsey Churchill tells the story of the Tupamaros, the left-wing revolutionary faction that captivated a country and earned the admiration of revolutionaries abroad.

The world is intimately familiar with the revolutionary campaigns in Cuba, Russia, China and Vietnam.  Names such Castro, Guevara, Mao, Stalin and Ho Chih Minh, have become cemented in the ideology of left-wing movements .  Uruguay also has a story to tell, one that contains all of the elements found in the narratives of Latin American politics saturated with military dictatorships.  Churchill takes us back in time to understand the development of the Tupamaro faction, their relationship with revolutionary groups in the United States and their inner-struggled with gender, the topic that plagued revolutionary efforts around the world.  Named after Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui), the revolutionary warrior who led a revolt against the Spanish empire, the group evolved from a political party into an organization that resorted to fear through violence as they advanced their agenda of transforming Uruguayan society.   Their story begins in the 1960s and in particular 1968, when Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco (1920-1998) suspended the constitution and unleashed a wave of oppression.  Fueled by the successful revolution in Cuba and the spirit of the American Civil-Rights Movement, the Tupamaros and the became the foremost revolutionary party whose actions sometimes had deadly consequences.

Although the book is only two hundred and sixty pages, I literally could not put it down.  Prior to reading it, I was unfamiliar with the Tupamaros and the reign of Pacheco’s successor, Juan Maria Bordaberry (1928-2011) whose twelve-year dictatorship following a coup, marked the darkest period in the history of the nation.  Political oppression, false imprisonment supplemented with torture and in some cases sexual assault, combined to fuel the drive for social reform through any means necessary. Churchill shines as she explores the purpose behind the movement, their relationship to U.S. revolutionaries and the complicated manner in which race in Uruguay is addresses or in some cases ignored completely.  In contrast to the images we find in the media, Afro-Uruguayans make up a sizeable portion of the country and in this book, their plight is not forgotten.  Through Churchill’s words, we become witnesses to the intricate and reciprocal relationship between American and Uruguayan revolutionaries who actively supported and encouraged each other in their struggles.

If you stand outside the local city airport in Buenos Aires, you can see the shores of Uruguay in the distance.  It might be hard to imagine for some, that the small nation largely forgotten in the media was once home to one of the world’s strongest political movements.  Society was divided, violence became a tool and the United States found itself involved in yet another controversial situation involving a Latin American dictatorship.  Many years have passed since the Tupamaros last embraced their revolutionary tactics but they remain a part of the nation’s social fabric. In fact, the former President José Mujica (1936-), is a former member of the Tupamaros and served thirteen years in prison for his deeds.  He was succeeded by Tabaré Vázquez (1938-) who still holds office today.

For those interested in the story of the Tupamaros , this is a great read and critical in understanding their history and the development of politics in modern-day Uruguay.

ISBN-10: 082651944X
ISBN-13: 978-0826519443

Revolution Within The Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba 1952-1962-Michelle Chase

23937036The Cuban Revolution has served as a blueprint as a successful campaign for independence from imperialism.   Fidel Castro (1926-2016),  Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) and Raul Castro (1931-) became legendary figures in Cuba and around the world.  Raul is remaining member of the trio and is currently the President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba following Fidel’s retirement in 2008. In March, 2016, United States President Barack Obama made a historic visit to the island in an effort to restore severely strained diplomatic relations between the two nations. Time will tell if Washington and Havana continue down that path.

When Fidel Castro died in December, 2016, he joined the ranks among the now deceased leaders from the Cold War Era.  Raul remains carrying the Castro name and the torch of the revolution.  As fascinating as the revolution is, there are many stories that have never been told.  Che’s march in Santa Clara and Fidel’s triumphant march into Havana are typically referred to as the shining moments of the movement.  But upon closer inspection as Michelle Chase shows us, a revolution took place within the revolution. Examining the importance of women and gender politics, Chase shows the revolution from the view of the female revolutionary and the struggle of women prior to and post-revolution. Admirers of the Castro brothers and Guevara might be tempted to believe that the Cuba became a glorious paradise following Batista’s overthrow.  But the reality is that women waged their own battle to achieve equality and a voice in Cuban society.

When we think of the Cuban revolution, we often conjure up the image of the Barbudo, the bearded guerrilla fighter in the jungles of the small Caribbean island.  In truth, behind the heroic figures, were women who saw the revolution as a chance to transform Cuban society and prove that they had just as much courage, will and goals as their male counterparts. To reinforce the importance of women in the effort, Chase revisits the events prior to Batista’s fall as young Cubans began to form resistance groups opposed to the tyrannical dictator supported by the United States.   And interesting, the effort was far more widespread than  the Twenty Sixth of July Movement which is the default resistance group examined in books, magazines and documentaries.   Women participated in this group and many others in the effort to establish a free Cuba.  Their voices and stories come alive in this book to enlighten even the most serious student of the revolution. I found the book to be significant for it touches of a largely unknown topic outside of Cuba.

Where the book shines is in its unfiltered examination of Cuba post-revolution. There is no glorification of Castro here.  We see what was happening and the effect on everyday Cubans.  And without women, there was no way Cuban society could have continued to function.    Also highlighted in the book are the areas in which the revolution was failing its citizens.  Even today, Cuba is still in need of much reformation but is still constrained under the banner of revolution.  We can only guess as to what will happen after Raul Castro leaves office for the final time.   Regardless of how or when he leaves office, it is imperative that we remember the lives and efforts of the Cuban women, who marched, carried signs, put their lives on the line and challenged the establishment.  Today they are grandmothers and great grand-grandmothers.  But there was a time in their lives where they took part in one of the 20th Century’s greatest events.

ISBN-10: 14 le69625008
ISBN-13: 978-1469625003

And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out) Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina-Paul Blustein

mkriOn Tuesday, June 27, 2017,  Argentine President Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Michelle Bachelet of Chile met in Santiago, Chile to discuss a trade agreement between the two South American nations.  A trade agreement would be a boost to the economies of both nations and help the Argentine economy recover from years of devaluation of the peso and loans on which the country was forced to default.  In three weeks I will revisit the Argentine Republic, landing in Buenos Aires, appropriately called the “Paris of South America”.   As of today, the exchange rate between the United States Dollar and Argentine Peso is  $1=16.4ARS. The peso continues to struggle to regain its value as the Macri administration continues its mission to reform the economy.  Incredibly, between the late 1800s and 1930, Argentina was one of the richest nations on earth and boasted a high rate of exports.  Changing world markets and political instability plunged the nation in dark times as the grip of Juan Perón (1895-1974) tightened over Argentina giving birth to the Peronist party.  Even today, his influence and that of the late Evan Peron (1919-1952) continue to be felt in Argentine society.

Students of Argentine history will often ask the question, why did Argentina end up in a financial collapse in 2001?  Paul Blustein (1951- ) tackles this questions and provides answers to help us understand how and why it happened.  Blustein is former writer for the Washington Post and has written about economics for more than 35 years. It was during a post in Buenos Aires that he began the project that became this phenomenal book that tells the story of what proved to be the inevitable.   As part of his research, he interviewed dozens of individuals who were direct participants in the events in the book and others knowledgeable about what really happened.  And what he explains in the book is eye-opening and prophetic not just for Argentina but for every country across the globe that has to confront a rising deficit and possible financial collapse.

On April 1, 1991, Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo (1946- ) adopted the convertibility system which fixed the exchange rate at $1=1ARS.  The new policy initially proved to be a blessing for the Argentine economy, allowing citizens to improve their quality of life, invest, improve savings and travel abroad.  But behind the scenes the government was struggling to reign in spending and raise enough taxes to maintain the newly placed system which required banks to keep an equal amount of U.S. Dollars to Argentine Pesos. A pesos crisis in Mexico and changing world markets, set the ball in motion for what was to come in the next decade. As Argentina grappled with a looming financial disaster,  the International Monetary Fund (IMF) became a prime player in the effort to save its economy.  The Fund, created in 1944 in New Hampshire, engaged in protracted negotiations with Argentina to save the Republic even in the face of financial mismanagement and a severe inability to stimulate economic growth.  The two would eventually reach an agreement that showed signs of being the saving grace needed to save the nation.   Despite IMF intervention, a second agreement would be reached before the long feared collapsed occurred dropping the value of the peso completely.  In fact, things got so bad that President Fernando De La Rúa (1937- ) escaped by helicopter after resigning along with Cavallo, who had previously instituted a zero deficit policy and enacted the corralito, the infamous rule that capped the amount of money citizens could withdraw from their bank accounts sending the public into a rage.

With the whole world watching, Argentina sank deeper into financial distress but in recent years has enjoyed a streak of years of political stability. Its economy still has a long way to go to reach pre-2000 levels and time will tell if the Macri administration can fully rebuild the country’s bank accounts while avoiding another financial catastrophe. For those in control, the lessons of the past will need to be remembered moving forward. What I did like deeply about this book is that not only does Blustein tell us the story but he helps us understand how the IMF works and the value of currency.  And no matter where you live, your country has the potential to suffer the same fate as the Argentines if adequate controls are not placed on spending and taxation. For those seeking to understand the crisis that crippled Argentina, this is a good place to start. I highly recommend supplementing Blustein’s compendium with Luis Alberto Romero’s A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century. Both books will give the reader tremendous insight of a country that has to be seen in person to be appreciated.

ISBN-10: 1586483811
ISBN-13: 978-1586483814

Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos, War on Drugs Book I-Shaun Attwood

pabloWagner Moura became one of Netflix’s most memorable faces when he assumed the role of infamous drug czar Pablo Escobar in the hit series Narcos. The series, while based off of true events,  is also a fictional account of the late kingpin’s life as a cocaine trafficker and public enemy number one in Colombia.   The received rave reviews and I  enjoyed it immensely.  I was aware of Escobar’s story before watching the show and knew that the producers would tweak some parts of the story to enhance its seduction.  The created a hit that will remain one of the best products of the digital behemoth.  But some of us may be asking ourselves, how much did Netflix get right? And what did they change as they filmed the show?  Shaun Attwood goes behind the camera and revisits the real story of Pablo’s rise and downfall that lead to his death on December 2, 1993 in the city of Medellín.

Attwood gives a brief recap of Escobar’s early life before returning the story at hand, his time as a narco.  And it is here that the story quickly picks up speed.   Netflix changed some of the names of the major players in the story most likely for either legal or creative reasons.  For some readers, they may need to quickly catch clips of the show to match the characters.   The deaths are also different but follow the same narration as the show.  Pablo once again takes center stage with a supporting cast of deadly enforcers.   Combined with the animosity of rival cartels, law enforcement, revels and a president determined to see Escobar fall,  the war on Escobar and drug trafficking nearly turned Colombia into a bloodbath.   The violence and increase in American consumption in cocaine, earned Escobar the wrath of Washington, then under control of President George H.W. Bush.   Attwood probes in the battle between the two and Washington’s many actions to bring the drug lord down.   Some are familiar but other information might be surprising for some readers who were unaware of the extent of Washington’s involvement in Escobar’s apprehension.

In spite of changes by the producers of Narcos, the show did an excellent job of telling the story.  The actors in the show all did an incredible job of bringing the past alive again in stunningly vivid detail.   The cinematography was beyond amazing and Colombia became enchanting real, a beautify country caught in an unfortunate situation.   As I read the book,  I involuntarily pictured the actors from the show as I read the conversations that are put on display in the book.  And although their faces and names are changed, their roles in the story are not.  To be fair to Attwood, the book is not a biography of Escobar, so readers in search of that will be disappointment.  But for those who want to know what was changed during the filming of Narcos and what really happened, Attwood does a great job of putting it together in a narrative easy to follow and thoroughly engaging.

Twenty-three years have passed since his death but Escobar continues to live in pop culture, documentaries and on the internet.   To be fair, a large number of traffickers existed at the time Escobar made his name.  Some of them are still alive today while others are incarcerated or deceased.  Regardless of their present status, none have come close to matching the man who could arguably be called narco number one.   In future years, he will continue to fascinate and mystify and his story is re-told and readopted for the silver screen.  In death he has become martyr, icon and glimpse into Colombia’s dangerous past.   Narcos has yet to be discovered, but more viewers will tune into the show and have many questions about the true story.  With books such as these, they will find the answers that they seek.

ISBN-10: 1537296302
ISBN-13: 978-1537296302

A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century-Luis Alberto Romero

untitledOn April 6, 2017, The Global Confederation of Labor (CGT) conducted a one-day general strike in protest of the policies of the administration of President Mauricio Macri. (1959-) Inflation, high taxes, low wages and job cuts have constrained the people of Argentina into an economic vice grip as the president attempts to steer the country away from a looming economic crisis.  The strike is just one in many that have taken place during the last one hundred years in one of South America’s most popular countries. In July, 2017, I had the privilege to visit Buenos Aires, the city that has been called the Paris of South America.   In July of this year I will return to the nation that is home to world-famous steaks, milanesa, wine, asado and dozens of culinary delights that make the heart flutter and the mouth water.  I do not know what the political climate will be like when I visit but I can be sure that the people of Buenos Aires will show me the same hospitality that they did in the past and in the process help to create memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life.  My favorite Argentine presented this book to me as a gift, a gift that keeps on giving.  This book is a history of the Argentine Republic during the twentieth century. And what is contained in the pages of this book is essential in understanding modern-day Argentina.  James P. Brennan has translated the work of Luis Alberto Romero (1944-), who became a Professor of History at the University of Buenos Aires in 1967. The book is written as only a professor could but presents the reader with a wealth of critical knowledge that is invaluable.

The story begins towards the end of the 1800s as Argentina sees an influx of foreign immigrants, a trend that continued forming the blend of culture that became a signature to this day.  Politically, the nation is still in early stages at attempts to embrace democracy.  In 1916, the course of the nation changed forever with the election of Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852-1933), the “father of the poor” and co-founder of the Unión Cívica Radical.  He is seen as a reformist and one of the nation’s best leaders.  He was succeeded by Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear before being elected for a second time in 1928.  On September 6, 1930, he was deposed in a coup by the military, a trend that would continue for decades to come and cast a dark light on the future of Argentine politics.  Several military officials followed and assumed the office of the presidency. But in 1943, Argentina’s history was forever changed once again with the assumption of power by the late Juan Perón.   His reign over the nation, subsequent political activity up until the time of his death and the party that bears his name,  became permanently fixed in Argentine politics making it extremely hard for opponents of the party to exist as they attempt to transform society.

While the story of Argentina is complex and volatile as shown intricately in the book, there were other players involved in the development of the country.  The United States and Great Britain played critical roles in Argentine society in more ways than most Americans or Brits may be aware of.  Personally I learned a few things about my own government’s actions in Latin American and in particular Argentina that help explain how and why the nation still struggles with its economy.  When President Barack Obama visited Argentina in February, 2016, it was crucial step in repairing relations to two nations that were once more closely aligned.  Moving forward, it is hoped that both countries continue the effort and solidify a growing bond that will benefit both parties.  But in order to do so, it is necessary to revisit and reconcile the past not only with America but with England as well.  The conflict over the Malvinas Islands, instigated by then president Leopoldo Galtieri and the rise and fall of the export of beef, are dark moments in Argentina’s history that are examined in detail in the book.

The role of the military is not overlooked and throughout the book, its presence is continuously felt as one president after another is deposed and replaced by the next general in line.  And during the rule of Galtieri, the plague of the “disappeared” during the Dirty War that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Argentines with the final number possibly as high at thirty-thousand people.  The nefarious actions of the government would result in the formation of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the organization of Argentine mothers who demanded answers into the final destinations of their children and loved ones.  The group is supported by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.  The true number may never be known but what is certain is that many lost their lives as the government enforced a crackdown on all forms of opposition.  Their efforts proved to be futile as opposition parties continued to flourish as legitimate threats to the crown of the highest office.   The elections of Carlos Menem and Fernando de la Rúa marked a stark change as neither candidate was a military official at the times of his election.   However, each left office in controversy with the latter being forced to leave quite unceremoniously.  He was succeeded by Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (1947-), Eduardo Duhalde (1941-), Néstor Kirchner (1950-2010) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (1953-) before Macri’s successful campaign as the candidate of the Republican Proposal (PRO) party.  Macri’s future is unknown at the moment but he finds himself in the position of former presidents who have struggled to maintain control of the country while attempting to balance the budget, promote economic growth and curtail the rising rate of inflation that has plagued Argentine society for several decades.

The highlight of Romero’s work is the attention paid to the economic policies that nearly crippled the economy and threatened to cause the country to self-destruct.  Seemingly, the ministers of finance were replaced as often as the deposed presidents.  Martinez de Hoz (1925-2013) and Domingo Cavallo (1946-) stand out in the book as pioneering reformists and also contributors to the woes of Argentines. They are two among dozens that have tried without long-lasting success to complete fix the nation’s problems.  Romero’s investigation into their policies and their effects serve as a lesson in economics that can be revisited in the future by other ministers of finance.

For those wishing to understand the political history of modern-day Argentina, this is the place to start.  So take a seat and follow Romero has he steps back in time revisiting the pivotal moments in the Republic’s history that has and continues to confound its citizens and those abroad.

Argentina is amazing” – Arjun Kapoor

ISBN-10: 0271021926
ISBN-13: 978-0271021928

More Terrible Than Death: Violence, Drugs and America’s War in Colombia-Robin Kirk

more terribleEarlier this year, Netflix released the second season to the hit show ‘Narcos’ starring Wagner Moura as the infamous Pablo Escobar.  While not exactly a dead ringer for Escobar, Moura pulls off a stunning performance bringing the late drug czar back to life.  The series is violent and gritty but a look into a time in Colombia’s past when life was more terrible than death.  Robin Kirk is  currently the Faculty Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Duke Human Rights Center at Duke University. She is an experience human rights worker and penned this phenomenal account of the effects of the drug trade on the nation of Colombia.

To most Americans, Colombia is known for coffee, violence and cocaine. While it is true that the country produces the largest amount of cocaine in the western hemisphere, there is far more to Colombia than meets the eye.  The country is also known for its beautiful landscape, hospitable people and some of the finest cuisine in Latin America.  Intervention by the United States into Colombian affairs, the constantly growing market for illegal drugs and political instability helped turned Colombia into the most dangerous country of earth with a murder rate nearly triple of the worst American cities. Escobar stands out as the most popular narco to have come out of Colombia.  But what most forget is that the drug trade went far beyond Escobar and involved many players, some of whom held high positions in Colombian society.  Through Kirk’s memoirs of her time there, we come to know the courageous Colombian citizens who risked their lives in service of their beloved homeland.  The extreme acts of violence are well-known and documented.  Escobar literally held the country in a grip of fear as he waged war against the establishment determined to see him in prison or dead.  As the acts of terror grew, Los Pepes and other cartels unleashed a deadly campaign to rid Colombia of the Rionegro menace. The ensuing war resulted in one of Latin America’s bloodiest drug wars with hundreds of men and women dying at a staggering rate. But as we make our way through Kirk’s book, we are able to see there were more players involved and more ideology in effect than is often shown.

In the wake of U.S. aggression, many Latin American nations struggled with class war between conservative and liberal, Colombian in particular. The civil war in 1948-1958 known as la violencia was  an eerie premonition of the future to come.  The FARC and right-wing Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá, led by the late Carlos Castano, rose to prominence as the two largest extremists groups determined to bring a change to Colombian society by any means necessary.  The drug cartels, M-19 Marxist group and the National Liberation Army (ELN) added another dynamic to already precarious situation and the battles between the parties resulted in a torrent of violence that shocked and appalled the citizens of Colombia and the world at large.

To the average American it is easy to write off Colombia as another hodgepodge of violence. But the stark reality is that the carnivorous American appetite for cocaine helped fuel the highly profitable drug trade and war.   The war on drugs, spearheaded by President Ronald Reagan and continued by future presidents, did little to deter the monster that had been unleashed. Chemical sprays and millions of dollars invested in anti-drug campaigns had little or no effect on the supply of cocaine and in some cases had adverse effects health wise upon the people with the misfortune to live in areas in close proximity to narco operations. Suspicion, fear and paranoia gripped the minds of drug traffickers and left and right-wing leaders.  Doctors, politicians and even judges were no longer safe and many have been forced to leave Colombia in fear of their lives never to return.  Today, the drug trade continues and the government of Colombia continue to negotiate with the FARC to reach a peace agreement.  A truce would be a monumental historical moment giving the people hope and restoring their faith in the country they call home.

The story of Latin America is one of which many Americans remain ignorant.  Assumptions and pre-conceived notions have caused many to disregard Colombia as nothing more than a country of outlaws plagued by greed and cocaine. But in reality the truth is far different.  The people there wish to live in peace and happiness like other countries but have been plagued by an environment encompassed by terror and fear from various angles by various groups all with separate agendas. And while it appears that its worst days are behind, there is still much work to be done as can be seen from the rejection of the proposed peace deal with the FARC.  But all is not lost and a new future for Colombia is apparent as it finds itself on the brink of overdue social reform. With this incredible account of the turmoil that engulfed Colombia and the tragic fates of those who dared to speak up in defense of the place they called home, Kirk has done a great service to everyone that calls their self Colombian.

ASIN: B004WOH0D0

The Tainos: The Rise and Fall of the People Who Greeted Columbus-Irving Rouse

TainoThe reputation of Christopher Columbus and his actions continue to be re-examined as more cities throughout the United States pay homage to the nation’s Native American population.  His arrival in the Caribbean in 1492 set off a chain of events critical to development of the area as we know it today.   It is common knowledge that many atrocities were committed during Columbus’ voyages to what was called the New World.  As the Spanish colonized the Caribbean, the native Indian population began to decline and was nearly non-existent by 1524.  We know them by the name Taino but their history and significance is still widely understated.  But just who were the Tainos and how did they come to inhabit what is today the Spanish, British, Dutch and French West-Indies?

Irving Rouse was an archaeologist on the faculty of Yale University and conducted extensive work on the history of the Taino population.  In this phenomenal account of the history of the Taino Indians, he meticulously reconstructs the history of the region and explains the long and intricate evolution of the mysterious natives.  Tragically, their language was never officially recorded and scare parts of it remain today.  No written records are in existence regarding their daily lives to give researchers insight into their culture. As a result they are forced to rely on artifacts found during excavations.  But incredibly,  we are able to trace their origins back to 4000 b.c.. Rouse thoroughly explains the paths taken by the original inhabitants of South America and their journeys north towards the Caribbean. The histories of the Casimiroid, Ortoirnod , Saladoid and Ostionoid people come to life through Rouse’s analysis and the ethnic groups of the Guanahatabey, Taino, Igneri and Island-Carib are further analyzed during the period between 1492, the arrival of Columbus and 1524, the last official year for their existence.

Today, Christianity is the dominant religion in the Caribbean.  The acquisition of territory by Spanish invaders resulted not only in occupation of native land but the forced conversion of the natives to a new faith. Rouse takes great strides to show us that the Tainos had their own religion and gods which they believed served many purposes in life.   Similar to the Greeks and Romans, the Gods and Goddesses were integral to Taino society, influence everything from childbirth to inclement weather. Their significance is explained giving the reader greater insight as to how Taino society operated during their time.  Without written records, the religions artifacts are critical to understanding the beliefs held during archaic times.

The legacy  of Christopher Columbus continues to be debated hundreds of years following his death.  The now prevailing view is that he was a genocidal maniac whose sole purpose was to exterminate the native Indians.  But as Rouse shows us,  the commonly held view of Columbus suffers from many faults and he was not quite what he is made out to be.  His four voyages to the Caribbean had a range of effects but the reality is that the majority of horrific acts of violence that transpired, did so at the times when he was absent from the region, having returned to Spain to assess the progress of the Spanish expeditions.  A gifted navigator and explorer, his lack of management and planning served as a catalysts for the unspeakable acts of horror that were committed by those under his command left in charge to enforce the will of the Spanish government. Columbus died only 12 years following his first visit to the Caribbean and two years following his fourth voyage, so he did not live to see the extermination of the Taino people.   And while he did not “discover” America, his voyages did develop a new connection between Europe and the Americas.  He was not the first to make the trip to North America, coming in second to the Viking explorers, but he did provide a highly critical link between two continents.  And although he was searching for a new passage to Asia, fate took him to the Caribbean, the place where he and his brothers Diego and Bartolome would make their names known.  But for all of his successes, his biggest failure was his inability to protect the native Taino population resulting in their gradual decline and complete extermination by violence, marriage and even disease.

As of late, there has been a resurgence of Taino heritage and pride and thousands of Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the Caribbean proudly exclaim their Taino routes.  The story of the mysterious race of people who dominated the Caribbean is being retold in its entirety but there is much that still needs to be said.  And each October as we look back on the life of Columbus,  we should also look back on the people that he encountered and their tragic history.

ISBN-10: 0300056966
ISBN-13: 978-0300056969