“In the introduction, Galeano makes the case that family planning is some kind of US import to Latin America, as some sort of sinister plot to control their population to keep them from being a threat to the US. I disagree. Several well respected anthropological studies have shown that as the affluence of women increases their birth rate decreases. This is a pattern that holds true across widely disparate cultures around the world. If anything, the US provided family planning counseling and contraceptives that women in Latin America wanted anyway.
On page 75, Galeano notes that before Castro's revolution Cuba had 5000 tractors and 30,000 cars. He states that when he wrote the book in 1973 Cuba had 50,000 tractors, and nothing remained of the 30,000 cars "except a few specimens fit for scrap iron". This gets a pants-on-fire rating. Cubans not only love classic American cars, Cubans are _nuts_ for classic American cars. They have lovingly cared for them, and even passed them down through generations from father to son to grandson. They have gone to great lengths to keep their classic American cars running. They are geniuses at keeping them running. The overwhelming majority of those classic American cars are still running, and a number of them have actually been rescued from the scrap heap to which Galeano relegated them.
Several places in the book Gleano mentions that Latin American countries began selling their products to "Socialist countries". Considering this was written in 1973, that means the Soviet Block. Like almost all of the Socialist activists of the time, Galeano looked at the Soviet Union through rose colored glasses. While he and other Socialist activists may have been under the impression that they were "throwing off the yoke of Capitalist oppression", they were in reality simply trading one hegemony for another. Soviet imperialism was equally as ugly on its vassal states as Capitalist imperialism.
The point that Galeano makes, again and again, is that foreign capital investment in Latin America has resulted consistently in the channeling of wealth out of Latin America and into the coffers of transnational corporations. Since the late 19th Century those transnational corporations have been overwhelmingly US in origin.
He points out also that again and again in Latin America when "nationalist" governments have been elected the US has wrecked those governments and helped put in place right wing dictators, like Anastasio Somosa and Agosto Pinochet. Our government organs have done this entirely to protect the property and profits of US transnational corporations. He is not alone in this assertion, and a number of other sources, many of them equally if not more credible than Galeano have made the same assertion.
In terms of style, OVLA is dense. Galeano would have benefited from a good editor. The book is often disjointed, but you have to read every word of it, because Galeano manages to glue the disjointed pieces together, and all of them are important to his points.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the history of, and current situation in Latin America.
But the reader must keep in mind the age of the book. It was originally written in the early 1970's and published in 1973. A further comment was appended in 1980. Times have changed in much of Latin America since then. While the situation across much of Latin America is still not good, hopefully it is looking up.
Wingborn wrote this review Thursday, July 29, 2010.