Open Veins of Latin America Notes

2. King Sugar and Other Agricultural Monarchs

Plantations, Latifundia, and Fate

“Undoubtedly gold and silver were the main motivating force in the Conquest, but Columbus on his second voyage brought the first sugarcane roots from the Canary Islands and planted them in what is now the Dominican Republic.” (59)

“For almost three centuries after the discovery of America no agricultural product had more importance for European commerce than American sugar.” (59)

“Canefields were planted in the warm, damp littoral of Northeast Brazil; then in the Caribbean islands—Barbados, Jamaica, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Guadeloupe, Cuba Puerto Rico—and in Veracrus and the Peruvian coast, which proved to be ideal terrain for the “white gold.” (59)

“The land was devastated by this selfish plant which invaded the New World, felling forests, squandering natural fertility, and destroying accumulated soil humus.” (59)


“The long sugar cycyle generated a prosperity as mortal as the prosperity generated by the silver and gold of Potosi, Ouro Preto, Zacatecas, and Guanajuato.” (59-60)

“At the same time, directly or indirectly but decisively, it spurred the growth of Dutch, French, English, and U.S. industry.” (60)


“The demand for sugar produced the plantation, an enterprise motivated by its proprietor’s desire for profit and placed at the service of the international market Europe was organizing.” (60)

“It no longer depends on the importation of African slaves or on the encomienda of Indians; it merely needs to pay ridiculously low or in-kind wages, or to obtain labor or to obtain labor for nothing in return for the laborer’s use of a minute piece of land. It feeds upon the proliferation of minifundios—pocket sized farms—resulting from its own expansion, and upon the constant internal migration of a legion of workers who, driven by hunger, move around to the rhythm of successive harvests.” (60) Yeah I’m getting a lot from these two pages, this has to do with Latin America becoming a European market, sugar perspective. What is actually going on is far beyond my simple mind. All you say is sugar and I think of twinkies, that’s the generation who won the lottery just by being born, speaking- or at least that’s how it seems, to them. And it seems that way, because that’s what they were taught. And I’m supposed to respect those who taught be to an intolerable fuckhead? Wait, set myself up, nobody taught me that. Its too obvious Eugenics didn’t play a role in my existence, if it had, I might be up on some stage singing praises and thanks to a country I believe in…not sitting here bitchin’, bitchin’, bitchin’ like damn why didn’t I get any better characteristics. Mom could have had a Carrie Ruppert if things worked out right, but she married by Dad, and instead got some half-assed incompetent rebel.

Proliferation: 1.  to grow by rapid production of new parts, cells, buds, or offspring

2:  to increase in number as if by proliferating

“Each region, once integrated into the world market, experiences a dynamic cycle; then decay sets in with the competition of substitute products, the exhaustion of the soil, or the development of other areas where conditions are better. The initial productive drive fades with the passing years into a culture of poverty, subsistence economy, and lethargy.” (60) This is the state the regions are left in after exploitation. There are examples in the following sentences if I need to go back and use them.

“Each product has come to embody the fate of countries, regions, and peoples; and mineral-producing communities have, of course, traveled the same melancholy road.” (61) This is a sad story here. Devastating, really.

“The more a product is desired by the world market, the greater the misery it brings to the Latin American peoples who sacrifice creates it.” (61) Great quote.

How the Soil Was Ravaged in Northeast Brazil

“Brazilian colonial society flourished in Bahia and Pernambuco as a sub-product of sugar until the discovery of gold moved its center to Minas Gerais.” (61) Not sure if this will be useful but it relates to sugar and gold which is the exploitation I focus on. And Brazil I could work in as an example of an exploited country. Bahia and Pernambuce being regions. That’s a good way to break it down. Country, Region, People, or People, Region, Country. All were in affected and I can work in my sympathies for the Natives in there.

“At the end of the sixteenth century Brazil had no less than 120 sugarmills worth some *symbol for euro, 2 million, but their masters, owners of the best lands, grew no food (that’s interesting). They imported it, just as they imported an array of luxury articles which came from overseas with the salves and bags of salt.” (63)

“Abundance and prosperity went hand in hand, as usual, with chronic malnutrition and misery for most of the population.” (63) (can’t have one without the other, which I believe is Galeano’s point.)

Something something something “World Development of Capitalism” that sounds like a phrase I could expand on. (65)

“Where opulence is most opulent, there—in this land of contradictions—misery is most miserable; the region nature chose to produce all foods; denies all.” (64) (which circles around my point, I’m fairly sure, I just don’t know how. Have to find some sort of link.)


“The food of the minority is the hunger of the majority.” (64) (Great Quote)

“Turned into a wage-worker, the peasant who had previously tilled his small plot experienced no benefit, since he did not earn enough money to buy what he had once produced. “ (64-65) (who and what and where and what are we talking about here, -talk about decline. No, that’s not funny…I know, but sharp contrast from the prosperity of yesterday is it not?


“As usual, the expansion expanded hunger.” (65) (illustrative word choice Galeano)

The Devastation of the Caribbean

“…in Cuba the sugarcane invasion sent the best virgin forests up in smoke. In the same years it was destroying its own timberlands, Cuba became the chief purchaser of U.S. timber. (those US bastards, somebody fuckin’ planned that I ain’t got no doubts about it, but I don’t have any proof to back it up either, and that’s why people keep their mouths shut.) Moving on.

“The extensive plunder-culture of sugarcane meant not only the death of the forest but also, in the long run, the death of the islands’ fabulous fertility.” (68) and Galeano put an extra note on that.

From the Sacrifice of the Slaves in the Caribbean were born James Watt's Steam Engine and George Washington's Cannon

“The sugar of tropical Latin America gave powerful impetus to the accumulation of capital for English, French, Dutch, and U.S. industrial development, while at the same time mutilating the economy of Northeast Brazil and the Caribbean islands and consummating the historic ruin of Africa.” (78) (that sentence ways a ton)

“Adam Smith said that one of the principal effects of the discovery of America “has been to raise the mercantile system to a degree of splendor and glory which it could never otherwise have attained to.” (11 Galeano notes, Galeano 79) (intro or conclusion, quote, and relate somehow, another sentence a little to heavy for me to just be throwing around.)

” According to Sergio Bagu, the most potent force for the accumulation of mercantile capitalism was slavery in Americas; and this capital in turn became “the foundation stone on which the giant industrial capital of world of modern times was built.” (Galeano 79) (I know…slavery have nothing to do with the topic of exploitation, oh wait, yeah it does- not the exploitation of sugar, silver, and gold, but yeah- maybe I could find a way.)

(I probably should have done slavery if I wanted to talk about the “foundation on which modern capitalism was built”.)

Hegemony: (especially among smaller nations) aggression or expansionism by large nations in an effort to achieve world domination. (

Impetus: a moving force; impulse; stimulus: (

“The whole process was a pumping of blood from one set of veins to another : the development of the development of some, the underdevelopment of other.” (83) (*Great Quote/This is what the whole damn book is about: OPEN VEINS)


“Forty year later British invaded the world market with Malayan rubber.” (90) (Mention competition, it’s a driving force in economics. And definitely not my area of study, but I could make some sense of it.)


“The last decades of the nineteenth century marked the rise of European and U.S. gluttony for chocolate. The industry’s progress lent great impetus to Brazilian cacao and to production in the old Venezuelan and Ecuadorean plantations.” (92) (Exploitation gave work, its not all bad but I have a hard time seeing that. Somewhere there must be some evidence of the upside but I have trouble finding it, especially when I’m inclined to dive right into what-is-the-saddest-part. Good question for writing help, how do I make this less one sided. What exactly am I trying to argue here?)


(How cacao ties in, maybe use this as enforcing the point…or something, to-the-added-benefit-of- whatever, to convince.) “Like sugarcane, cacao means monoculture, the burning of forests, the dictatorship of international prices, and perpetual penury for the workers.” (92) (If I found no evidence of upsides then I’ll be left saying- I found no evidence of upsides, which makes me sound narrow-minded, unless that’s really how it went, but it wasn’t, there were things that developed. Or maybe nothing developed, economically countries grew, but develop, if they did, I wouldn’t be reading about modern day poverty on every page.


“In Colombia, where suitable slopes abound, coffee is king. According to a Time magazine report in 1962, only 5 percent of the price yielded by coffee in its journey from tree to U.S. consumer goes into the wages of the workers who produce it.” (27 Galeano notes, (98. *99 Galeano) *The price breakdown is as follows: 40 percent for middlemen, exporters, and importers; 10 percent for taxes imposed by both governments; 10 percent for transport; 5 percent for publicity by the Pan-American Coffe Bureau; 20 percent for plantation owners; and 5 percent for workers’ wages. (cold hard evidence, box quote perhaps)


“In the United States and Europe coffee creates income and jobs and mobilizes substantial capital; in Latin America it pays hunger wages and sharpens economic deformation.” (101) (Contrast between the developed the less developed)


Talk consequences for a paragraph somewhere in the paper


(different thought, there’s the who free trade market, important but…I have no idea what it is or consists of so, I don’t think I’ll be able to use it unless I have extra time to research it “free competition”)


101 talks about burning coffee…if I need a good backup example of “colonial economic crisis,” there it would be.”


(I’m not focusing on coffee…but here we go, 10 pages is a lot to cover so incase I run out of sugar and gold and silver research…let’s jus add coffee!) “ Central America was transformed: by 1880 its newborn plantation were raising almost one-sixth of the world’s coffee production. Coffee locked the region firmly into the world market. First English, then German, and finally U.S. buyers gave life to a native coffee bourgeoisie, which became the political power after the revolution led by Justo Rufino Barrios early in the 1870s.” (105-106)


“At no time in the ensuing century, of course, were periods of high prices reflected in wages, which have remained at the hunger level no matter how much was paid for coffee.” (106)


“This helped prevent the development of any internal consumer market in Central America.” (106)


“As elsewhere, the ever expanding cultivation of coffee discouraged food-raising for the home market.” (106) ( important in regards to my thesis.)


(may work well in conclusion) “The land was as exhausted as the workers—the land was robbed of humus and the workers of their lungs—but there were always new lands to exploit and new workers to exterminate.” (109)


(Consequence to talk about: 1929 Crisis)

“Coffee depended on the U.S. market, on U.S. consumption capacity, and on U.S. prices; bananas were a business of, by, and for the United States. Suddenly, in 1929 came the crisis. In the Caribbean, the New York stock market disaster which cracked the foundation of world capitalism fell like a huge block of stone into a puddle. Coffee and banana prices plummeted, along with sales.” (110)

“Peasants were evicted on all sides, unemployment soared, and a wave of strikes swept city and countryside; credit; investment; and public spending collapsed; and in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, state employees’ salaries were cut almost in half.” (110)


Contrast: “Why is the north rich and south poor?” (North America/South America)

(Colonial beginnings: different aims? Different societies? That’s what he states I put it into questions to think about it and not take it as fact and maybe expand. On it…yep.) “ They Mayflower pilgrims did not cross the sea to obtain legendary treasures; they came mainly to establish themselves with their families and to reproduce in the New World the system of life and work they had practiced in Europe. They were not soldiers of fortune but pioneers; they came not to conquer but to colonize, and their colonies were settlements. “ (132) (I would much like if I could work this into conclusion. Great day. Many thanks.)

“New England colonist, the original nucleus of U.S. civilization, never acted as colonial agents for European capitalist accumulation; their own development, and the development of their new land, were always their motivation.” (132)


Free workers formed the base of that new society across the ocean.” (132)


“Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, had an abundance of subjugated labor in Latin America. Enslavement of the Indians was followed by the wholesale transplantation of Africans.” (132)


(And Lastly) “Their profits came from outside; they were tied more to the foreign market than to their own domain.” (132)


“Tropical lands produced sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo, turpentine; a small Caribbean island had more economic importance for England than the thirteen colonies that would become the United States.” (133)

3. The Invisible Sources of Power


Latin America’s illusionary fortune


“Here the money flowed and everyone thought it would never stop,” I was told by the surviving residents. (143)


“For the world, in effect, Bolivia did not exist then or later; the looting of its silver, and later of its tine, was no more than an exercise of the rich countries’ natural rights.” (149)


‘This is a long story of infamies, of deeds of business prowess which have spread a black curse across the earth.” (159)

 4. Tales of Premature Death

(Wealth drained from Venezuela was even more than from Potosi/oil/166)

“The future victors divided up the spoils of the vanquished in advance.”

(Contradiction to add in for good argumentative purpose) Shortly before going to war, the Argentine president, inaugurating a new British railway line, made an impassioned speech: “What is the force driving this progress? Gentlement, it is British capital!” (Really? Because I just read 193 pages saying that it was your resources that was turned into that capital, shouldn’t Latin American be receiving benefit?) (194)

Disagreement: Also for argument’s sake) “The inventor of the measure, Roberto Campos, offered this explanation: (although what he was explaining is lost on me) “Obviously the world is unequal. Some are born intelligent, some stupid. Some are born athletes, others crippled. The world is made up of small and large enterprises. Some die early, in the prime of life; other drag themselves criminally through a long useless existence. There is a basic fundamental inequality in human nature, in the condition of things. The mechanism of credit cannot escape this.” (Credit. Yeah. Someone’s going to have to explain this to me.) (220)


Part III 7 Seven Years After

This book was written to have a talk with people. A non-specialized writer wanted to tell a non-specialized public about certain facts that official history, history as told by conquerors, hides or lies about.” (265)



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