In the annals of Latin American history, perhaps no other figure is as studied as Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), the liberator of South America. Former Venezuelan President Hugh Chavez (1954-2013) famously spoke with images of Bolívar behind him as he sought to transform the country into a contender on the world stage. The life of Bolívar lasted less than fifty years but within two decades he became the leading figure in the Latin American movement for independence from the Spanish Empire. The nations of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and Bolivia (his namesake) are the products of his vision, a united South America free from the influence of its northern neighbor. And prophetically, many of his beliefs about the future of South America have come to pass, cementing his legacy as one of the continent’s greatest heroes. Marie Arana, a native of Bolívar’s beloved Peru, has composed a stunning biography of the late figure that shows a complex character, driven by ideology but crippled by his own generosity and disregard for personal well-being.
On July 24, 1783, Don Juan Vicente and Doña María de la Concepción Palacios y Blanco welcomed their fourth child into their growing family but neither of them could have imagined then that their son would one day become the liberator of South America. To understand the mind of the future leader, it is necessary to understand his past and Arana presents his story in a format that is guaranteed to pull the reader in. The story takes us back in time where the Spanish Empire controls nearly all of the continent and a young Bolívar is learning about colonialism first hand. Tragedy became a part of his life from an early age as the deadly disease known as tuberculosis wreaks havoc across the continent. What is clear however, is that from a young age, the rebel the world would come to know was being crafted through life experiences and the ugly hierarchy of exploitation and racism used to subjugate those considered to be unworthy by the Spanish monarchy in Madrid. The young revolutionary proved to be a fast learner and before long, he became part of the growing movement for freedom.
The book continues to heat up as Arana brings the past alive allowing us to follow Bolívar as he traverses Latin America, covering more ground than any of the greatest warriors in history. But the campaign was far from easy and behind the scenes, back door deals, treachery and in some cases luck, combined to push forward the independence movement. And as Bolívar rises through the ranks, a cast of characters develops, increasing the suspense in the story as the final showdown with Spain looms in the horizon. The author increases the suspense as the book moves forward, making it impossible for the reader to stop. I found myself captivated as I followed the events that culminated in the legendary battles that chartered a new path for Bolívar and millions of South Americans.
The battle of Ayacucho in the Peruvian War of Independence proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back with the Spanish Empire withdrawing the majority of its forces from South America. For Bolívar this was just the beginning of a long struggle that would see the continent nearly tear itself apart and result in his exodus from the place he called home. Assassins, opportunist, traitors and cowards became major players in a deadly game of treachery that ensued following the continent’s liberation from Spain. Arana puts all of the players and pieces together in a narrative that is both shocking and disheartening. And through the story, we can clearly see the development of the Spanish Empire’s system of racial hierarchy that has remained with Latin American society to this very day. Fully aware of this, Bolívar made it a point to include everyone in his campaigns with the belief in his heart of a truly united and free Latin America.
Before he died, he recorded a statement regarding the lessons he learned after two decades of service in the revolution. Hauntingly, his words proved to be correct and to this day, Latin America has never been able to eradicate the very issues proclaimed by Bolívar in 1830. And if he were alive today, he would be discouraged to see that he was correct. Nevertheless, he did succeed in liberating Latin America before greed and deception caused infighting among the new republics that has never fully subsided. But perhaps one day, we may finally see a truly united continent, free of demons from Spanish and British rule and the dreadful effects of the systems of class division and slavery. And in that moment, the spirit of Bolívar will truly live on.
The story at hand is one of courage, love, triumph, betrayal and vindication. Bolívar is long gone but his name and legacy continue to live on. Marie Arana has done a great service to a legendary historical figure who changed the course of world history and paved the way for the birth of a new South America.
Open Veins In Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent-Eduardo Galeano with a Foreword by Isabel Allende
Latin 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.
October 10, 1967 – Argentine newspaper Clarin announces that Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) has died in Bolivia on October 9 after being capture with a group of guerrilla fighters attempting to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. In Buenos Aires, his family receives the news of his death and is completely devastated. Juan Martin, his younger brother, races to his father’s apartment where his mother and siblings have gathered as they attempt to piece together the last moments of Ernesto’s life. Che was secretly buried in an unmarked grave and his remains remained hidden for thirty years before author Jon Lee Anderson convinced a retired Bolivian general to reveal the grave’s location. His remains were returned to Havana on July 13, 1997 where he was buried with full military honors on October 17, 1997. In death, Che’s legacy grew exponentially and even today in 2017, he is the icon of revolution around the world. But after his death, what happened to his family and where did their lives take them? Juan Martin, at seventy-two years old, has decided to tell his story and reveal to us many facts about the Guevara family that have sometimes been overlooked by history.
Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Che’s story, having read Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara and several others relating to the campaigns in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. But I was always curious to know how Guevara’s fame affected the lives of his family. A couple of months ago, I watched an interview with Juan Martin from Buenos Aires that appeared on the news station France24. And it was then that I learned of his book in which he reminisces about his famous older brother. And what I found in the pages of this book is a story that should be read by those who admire Che and even those who loathe him. I would like to point out that the book is not a glorification of his brother. Without question, they shared a special bond and he remembers him with fondness but admittedly, he was fifteen when Che died and did not have the decades long relationship with him that his parents and older siblings did. Nevertheless, he shares many great details about their lives, shattering long-held myths about the Guevara and Lynch names.
In death, famous people sometimes become larger than life and their stories are retold but often misinterpreted and sometimes outright distorted. It is well-known that Che was very close to his mother, but as Juan Martin shows, Ernesto even tested her patience at times and his relationship with his father was not as great as some have been led to believe. They had many battles and never completely saw eye to eye on various issues but it in the end the elder Guevara supported his son and benefited from his legacy.
To understand Che’s life, it is necessary to trace the family’s origins several generations back. Juan Martin provides a short biography to clear the record about the family name. What I found interesting is that their family life was far from upper class and was highly nomadic. Money was usually and issues and several moves between Rosario, Misiones, Alta Gracia and Buenos Aires proved to be a challenge for the family of seven. But incredibly, they maintained strong family bonds that were desperately needed following Che’s death. The events in Cuba would change the family’s life forever in more ways than one. What is often misunderstood is that while Che had enormous success in Cuba, his accomplishments received little to no acknowledgement in Argentina. And having been there myself, I can attest to the fact that you will not find monuments or murals to him rampant throughout Buenos Aires. And following his death, the family would have to fear for their lives as a brutal dictatorship under Juan Peron locked the country in a vice grip and leftist organizations were persecuted beyond belief. And it is this part of the story where Juan Martin’s life takes on a life of its own.
Juan Martin Guevara spent eight years in incarceration for suspected leftist activity. His wife Viviana was incarcerated for an equal amount of time. In fact, most of Che’s immediately family were forced to leave Argentina as the government initiated a crackdown on anyone suspected of being communist. And during that time, the Guevara name was suspect to immediate suspicion. He along with millions of other Argentines lived through the tragedy of the “disappeared” in which an estimated 30,000 Argentines are believed to have been seized and murdered by nefarious elements within the government. The Falklands War followed in 1982 and the country reached its breaking point under the government of Carlos Menem (1930-) when the convertibility system imploded and the Corralito was imposed on Argentine citizens limiting the amount of money people were allowed to withdraw from their bank accounts. Today he is still going strong, having lived through appendicitis, hepatitis and even a heart attack while in prison. Sadly, his older sister Celia, who he describes as being just like Che in many ways, has steadfastly refused to discuss her famous older brother, never recovering from his death and according Juan Marin, completely unaware he had written this book. His children grew up in Cuba and now live in Europe and other parts of the world. Four of Che’s five children still reside in Cuba where his daughter Aleida and son Camilo carry on their father’s legacy. And Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016 makes his presence felt in the book providing many gestures of good will for the Guevara family as they made a new life in Cuba.
Che will also be a controversial figure but with this book, Juan Martin has in fact shown more of the private side of Che and relayed the truth about what their family life was really like as they grew in Argentina. There are many parts of the book which are said and also shocking but necessary to understand the political climate that existed then and continues to plague Latin America. In the end, this is a fitting tribute from a younger brother to an older sibling, whom he misses dearly and idolized.
And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out) Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina-Paul Blustein
On 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.
On 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
On July 26, 1952, Evita “Eva” Peron died at the age of 33 from the effects of uterine cancer, leaving behind a grieving husband and a country in mourning. The former actress and radio personality had risen from the streets of Los Toldos to become the First Lady of Argentina and the creator of the Eva Peron Foundation. The organization had served the poorest residents of the country giving financial support and developing areas in need of structural improvement. Her policies and actions sometimes drew controversy and faced resistance from different sectors of society including the military, who tried more than once to stage a coup before Juan Peron finally fled into exile in 1955. Her life has been depicted in Broadway and in films but the true story is often subject to speculation, misinformation and mystery. This is the real story as told by Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro of a young woman, born in adversarial circumstances but destined for a life of fame and purpose but destined to a tragic fate. Carefully researching her early life, their account also serves as a historical record of the social climate of Argentina in the early 20th century. Her spiritual and political evolution into a leader who at times garnered more attention than that of her husband, displays remarkable commitment, drive and patriotism. But like all famous historical figures, controversy follows her throughout her life and her tragic decline is a reminder of our own mortality. Her death and the actions surrounding the embalming and theft of her body are both shocking and disturbing.
Well over 50 years have passed since her death and even to this day there are many loyal Peronist and Peronistas that remain committed to an era that has long since passed. Since the time when Eva was the name heard around the world, there have been many figures in Argentine politics that have come and gone. The recent administration of Cristina de Kirchner was plagued by accusations of corruption and even murder after the untimely death of Alberto Nissan who threatened to reveal what he believed to be the government’s complicity in a horrific crime that had been covered up and ignored by the government. In 2015, she was succeeded by Mauricio Macri and many hope that change is in the air. And with the recent visit of President Barack Obama, the people of both Argentina and the United States have renewed optimism that the two nations can repair relations and continue to build a better relationship. While Peron is no longer with us, she remains a mythical figure in the history of Argentina and for some she will always be the unrelenting crusader for equality. But for others, she will always represent the many things that were considered to be wrong with Argentine politics. Nonetheless, her legacy continues and for an eternity, Eva will always be remembered.