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What Chavez Should Have Given Obama

By Carlos Lozada

In the photo-op seen ’round the world, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez greeted President Obama at the Summit of the Americas this weekend with a gift copy of “The Open Veins of Latin America,” a 1970s tract of the old-school Latin American left. (The book, by Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano, promptly shot up to No. 2 on Amazon.com’s sales ranking.) But is “Open Veins” -- a strident criticism of European and U.S. influence over Latin America -- really the best work Obama can read to understand the region’s realities? To find out, I asked five Latin American writers to each recommend one book they would want the president to read instead.

2666: A Novel” (2008) by Roberto Bolaño
I would give President Obama the novel “2666” by Chile’s Roberto Bolaño. Aside from being a must-read work of contemporary literature, it offers all the clues to understand our continent: its contradictions, miseries (individual as well as collective ones), inequalities and capacity for redemption. It also reveals that stereotypical — and stereotyping — interest that Americans and Europeans have toward all things “Latin.” I hope that by reading this novel the president will transcend that logic and operate at a level commensurate with the expectations the world has of his capacity for reflection.
— Paula Escobar is magazines editor of the Chilean daily El Mercurio and co-author of “24/24: Un día en la vida de 25 mujeres chilenas.”

The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States” (1987) by Carlos Rangel (translated from “Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario”)
Rangel’s skewering of the arguments blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for the ills of developing nations is a good antidote to Galeano’s babble. Obviously, foreign powers -- from Spain, France and England early on to the United States and the Soviet Union more recently -- have shaped Latin America’s politics and economics, often with dire consequences. But foreign interventions alone do not explain the continent’s backwardness. Why does Argentina sink while Brazil thrives? Why is Chile a prosperous democracy while neighboring Bolivia remains one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere?
Latin America’s problems were not made in Washington or London but primarily in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Caracas, Brasilia and in the rest of the region’ s capitals. Rangel stated this clearly when it was not fashionable to do so. Deeply depressed, he committed suicide in 1988.
— Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan, is the editor in chief of Foreign Policy and author of “Illicit.”

Update: In an earlier version of this post, Eduardo Galeano was incorrectly identified as a diplomat. He is a journalist and novelist.

The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry (2009)
I suggest a potent dose of poetry for a man who has shown himself to be an impressive wordsmith in his own right. No better way of falling in love with Latin America and understanding its despair and hope, its lustful richness and dark dreams, than an array of lyrical voices from that extraordinary continent. The torrent of Neruda, the intricacy of Vallejo, the fire of Sor Juana, the humor of Parra. There are many compelling collections available, but President Obama might do well to wait until June when The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry, a magisterial anthology, will be out.
— Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman is author of “Death and the Maiden” and “Heading South Looking North: A Bilingual Journey.”

Man of Glory: Simon Bolivar” (1939) by Thomas Rourke
Although published 70 years ago, this book would go a long way to explaining contemporary South America to our new president. It’s all about the wars for independence, which were waged very differently in Latin America. Spain was a cruel and corrupt mother; the terrain on which the battle played out was wild and unforgiving; the leaders were all-too-human and flawed. Bolivar declared early on that Latin America could not possibly adopt anything like the U.S. Constitution, and liberation would never have been won without the sacrifices of all the races — black, white and indigenous, fighting side by side. The spirit of the people, the burdens of history, the prejudices that persist to this day. It’s all here.
— Marie Arana, a Peruvian novelist, is the former editor of The Washington Post Book World and author of “Cellophane” and “Lima Nights.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007) by Junot Díaz
This novel is not only a delight to read, but it also shows the interconnectedness among the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. While telling the story of Oscar Wao’s family, Díaz shows the traumatic history of the Dominican Republic and the bittersweet life of struggling Latino immigrants in the United States. The writing is also a vibrant embrace of cultures: English fused with the energy of Spanish to create something new, something that belongs to the United States and to Latin America as well.
— Bolivian novelist Edmundo Paz Soldán is author of “The Lessons of Desire,” “Turing’s Delirium” and “Palacio Quemado.”

Carlos Lozada is deputy editor of the Outlook section.

By Carlos Lozada  | April 20, 2009; 4:20 PM ET
Categories:  Lozada  | Tags:  Carlos Lozada  
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Comments

I think Chavez made a good choice...and the fresh idea is that President Obama will read it... no one would expect that of Bush.

If you really want to get into it, dust of Brazilian, Gilberto Freyre's "The Masters and the Slaves. Or better yet, CLR James, "Black Jacobins". The history of the Americas has seldom been openly shared in the U.S.

Posted by: free-donny | April 20, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

The open veins of Latin of America, is only #2 most Americans prefer #1 Liberty and Tyranny, a conservative manifesto, by Mark R. Levin, to Galeano babble.

Posted by: xthat | April 20, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Barry mingling with company he finds most at home with during his I Am The One Apology Tour. Dictators, Marxists, Communists. And no one should be surprised. It is who he is. You can tell a man's character by who he associates with. In this case Barry's extended family includes Ayers, Resko, Wright, Daniels, Flagler, ACORN and God knows who else. Yep he is on the same plain, wave length as these enemies of America and what does he do, not defend America but accept the critic's spewing and sit there with his wide smile.

Posted by: FraudObama | April 20, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Obama's approach to make talk or dialogue with friends or foes as the first option to sort out conflicts and troubling issues, is in direct correspondence to his pronounced commitment during electioneering and more of a human,logical and rational line of action for a leader of 21st century world,termed as a global village,particualry of a Super Power(rather the only one). He has not said that whatever his predecessor,Bush,did was wrong but he is proving through his actions,it could be better.Talking with adversaries is not indicative of weakness but ref;ective of moral courage and intellectual superiority.Bravo Obama,the leader of 21st century !

Posted by: saleemchaudhry | April 20, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

"Open veins" is a very good read. It accomplishes what the author attempted: portraying Latin America as an innocent, powerless victim of U.S. imperialism.

Of course, that is just one side of the actual history. It completely misses Latin Americans' own problems: authoritarianism, messiahnism, and chronic corruption. For a good read on this, a perfect gift would be "Handbook of the Perfect Idiot" (Vargas Llosa, Montaner, Apuleyo) which is a fantastic portrait of any Latin American dictator, from Somoza to Chavez, and the bunch of idiots who believe them.

Posted by: tropicalfolk | April 20, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Banana republics are a legacy of corrupt Spanish Colonialism and exploitation from the former United Fruit Company... affectionately known as the octopus. The Eisenhower administration set up a coup in Guatemala in 1954 to keep United Fruit happy.

Those days are long gone and we can't be blamed for everything that goes wrong south of the border.

Posted by: alance | April 20, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

It is important to keep the meeting of Chavez and Obama in perspective. Nixon met with Brezhnev and Mao, Reagan met with Gorbachev. George Bush was filmed palling around with Vladimir Putin. Our Presidents sometimes have to meet with some nasty folks. ............


http://thefiresidepost.com/2009/04/20/obama-and-nixon-greeting-nasty-people/

Posted by: glclark4750 | April 21, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Galeano's "babblings"? Whatever else he may be, Eduardo Galeano is an excellent writer. Anyone who labels his work "babblings" has neither read nor understood it. Why resort to an ad hominem attack rather than facing some uncomfortable arguments?

Posted by: DiligentSon | April 21, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

It is scientifically proven that anybody who uses says "ad hominem attack" is an idiot. It is also scientifically proven that anybody who argues against science is an idiot.

Posted by: BinkyLover | April 21, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Great photo of 2 dictators! I'm certain obama has read everything dealing with socialism and more, that is, if he can read. He is a disgrace to this nation!

Posted by: smathern | April 21, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

We loan [20 Billion Dollars Per Month With Interest] from [Communist-Socialist [China] to Finance our [2 Middle East Occupations] for the past 6 years and it seems under Obama, this will Continue, until [2011].

Communist-Socialist [China] the largest Communist-Socialist Nation on Planet Earth, Buys Our Debts an thus Owns the [Country]
-------------------

An we are in Bed with [China], Bush just came back, from China, telling Communist-Socialist China, how much we need them and how Crucial the Asian Market is to the World, making up [55%] of the Market...

No one calls George W. Bush a Damn [Communist-Socialist]...

It must be Grand to be the [Corporate Color] having all the Perks-Bonuses and Give Me's one can stand ?

Posted by: omaarsblade | April 22, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

COWARD LIAR BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA "APOLOGIST IN CHIEF", HOW CAN HE KEEP HIS NONSENSE PROMISE DURING HIS CAMPAIGN, THAT IS, NEGOTIATING WITH U.S.' ENEMIES SUCH AS CUBA, NORTH KOREA AND IRAN, WHEN CUBA'S COMMUNIST REGIME REFUSED TO ANY POLITICAL REFORM AS FIDEL CASTRO, WHO HAS STILL CONTROLLED CUBA, STATED THAT OBAMA MISINTERPRETED HIS BROTHER RAUL BY SAYING THAT CUBA WOULD RELEASE SOME POLITICAL PRISONERS, NORTH KOREA JUST LAUNCHED ANOTHER MISSILE TEST, AND IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, AN EXTREMIST WHO HAS CALLED FOR ISRAEL TO BE WIPED OFF THE MAP AND DENIED THE HOLOCAUST, AGAIN DEFIED U.S. AND EUROPE WITH HIS RACIST HATE SPEECH AGAINST ISRAEL AT A U.N. ANTI-RACISM CONFERENCE??? IS HE GOING TO BOW TO FIDEL CASTRO, KIM JONG IL AND MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD AS HE DID TO KING OF SAUDI ARABIA TO GET HIS PEACE DEALS??? IS HE WILLING TO CONVERT TO ISLAM, HIS KENYAN FATHER AND INDONESIAN STEP-FATHER'S RELIGION, TO MEET OSAMA BIN LADEN'S REQUIREMENT THAT TO END THE IRAQ WAR, U.S. WITHDRAWAL IS NOT ENOUGH, AMERICANS MUST REJECT THEIR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM AND EMBRACE ISLAM??? AS FOR WATERBOARDING TACTIC USED BY CIA, OBAMA ORDERED TO STOP IT EVEN IT DID WORK WELL ON TERRORIST SUSPECTS SUCH AS KHALID SHAIKH MOHAMMED, THE SELF-DESCRIBED PLANNER OF 9-11 ATTACKS, SAVING THOUSANDS OF AMERICAN LIVES!!!

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | April 22, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Term limits are the only cure for fighting this epidemic of greed and bad Goverment.

Posted by: khardy40 | April 22, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Paula Escobar counters the stereotyping of latin America by stereotyping Americans and Europeans. So much for intellectual integrity and the Golden Rule. I'm not impressed.

Posted by: mightysparrow | April 22, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

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