Analysis Paper: Open Veins of Latin America

Sarah Myers

Modern Latin America

April 1, 2014

“Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others – the empires and their native overseers.”

                                                – Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins


Latin America, including: Central America, South A

merica, Mexico, and all of the Caribbean islands, was discovered to be conquered. The first European country’s to send explorers to the region of Latin America were Spain, France, and Portugal[1].

In the book, Open Veins of Latin America, Galeano vividly illustrates the exploitation of Latin American resources after the Spanish conquest[2]. The goal of discovering gold, silver, and sugar, was to gather raw material to feed a hungry, growing foreign nation[3]. The development of Latin American resources aided developing countries; Latin American resources did not benefit Latin America.

After the Canary Islands were discovered, Europe took notice to undiscovered territory. This territory was seen as potential land for colonization[4]. Spain was the first European country to claim the land but was rivaled by Portugal[5]. After arguing over the land, the pope drew an imaginary line down the middle, and gave a hemisphere to each country. This was called the treaty or Tordesillas and it allowed Spain and Portugal to establish control over whichever land they found in their given half[6]. This was the beginning of the Spanish conquest. It was also the discovery of Latin America’s bountiful resources & raw materials.

Latin America was blessed with resources far beyond what was found in its neighbor across the sea. It still is even in 2014- the President of France is reconnecting ties with Mexico because of it[7].

But in the early days of discovery, little was known about the land. Early complex civilizations, The Aztec, Inca, and Maya, were found with gold[8]. To understand social hierarchy was to understand why Europeans lusted so hungrily after it[9]. But to Natives, gold was used as laminae to cover objects and to honor Gods in temples and gardens[10]. It was not integrated into any economic system nor did it hold any monetary value in their society.

 This is a contrast from the economics that dominated foreign nations in Europe; their economic basis was one of money[11]. That foundation gave gold tremendous power in the eye of the conquistador and even more so in the nation’s. After mass murder and near extinction of the natives, gold was melted into bars and shipped back to a still developing Europe[12].

         Gold and other colonial resources helped to provide the capital needed to help Europe develop and progress as it was continuing to expand and grow its power[13]. The wealth brought in from Latin American gold fed into European economic systems, which provided the country with funds needed for industrialization[14]. Europe continued to look to Latin America as it expanded to find new resources for investment and creation of markets.

Take for example, Potosi, located in Bolivia, known at one time as the “Silver City”[15]. The end result of exploitation swept the city clean of its silver, and once the silver was gone, so was the money[16]. Latin America was only good to Europe if raw material was to be found. This is evident in Potosi. When the silver was gone, so were the merchants who had come with their business. Potosi, once so rich anyone could buy anything up to the title Prince, was left abandoned as riches were sought elsewhere[17].          What little wealth stayed in Potosi was not invested into Potosi , and though wealthy miners had more money than they knew what to do with, the money had been spent on expenditures instead[18]. As a result, poverty dwelled in Potosi for centuries. The city felt poverty so deep; church candles could not be lit[19].

Gold was market for foreign investment, silver was a market for foreign investment, and so was sugar. Like silver and gold, sugar became a huge market for foreign enterprise and the demand for this product grew so large that an international market was founded because of it20.

The warm and fertile soil was well suited for sugarcane. This aggressive, devastating plant was planted in North East Brazil, all throughout the Caribbean basin, and on the Peruvian coast21. Demand for sugar increased to amounts high enough to generate a demand for a world market22. Europe’s investment meant Europe’s market, but it was Latin American soil and therefore resource of Latin America that produced the capital. “At the end of the sixteenth century Brazil had no less than 120 sugarmills worth two million euro…” (Galeano, 63)

Galeano wrote to tell us that the world has its winners, and it its losers but there cannot be one without the other23. It happened that Latin America took the losing side for five hundred years as a consequence of economic dependency forced upon the countries by foreign nations in need large amounts of capital for the benefit of progress24. The raw materials bled from Latin America soil provided the capital needed to feed such development.

Europe had been more developed than Latin America upon its discovery. The country that was developed kept developing, and the country that wasn’t- fell dependent to the one that was.

The discovery of such land, “opened fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie25.” Europe had a class in society who was the wealthiest of people, and the main concern of this social class was to keep it that way26. They took investing risks as a means to bring rise to industry.

The discovery of America, as Karl Marx notes, “paved the way” for modern industry that has established the world market27.


“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 other28.”

Resources are the raw materials relocated to foreign lands for refinement then sold back to the people of the emptied, destroyed land. Such a cycle keeps the developing countries developing, and the under developed from developing. The Bourgeoisie themselves could not exist without expanding, “revolutionizing the instruments of production” and for that, they needed capital, and a new market.

Ramon Eduardo Ruiz of California University argues Galeano distorts some truth that is already known, and that he writes without reaching a goal, but speaks for majority of Latin American scholar’s throughout the book29.

Warren Dean of New York University says that Galeanos’s work is ‘disconnected’ and ‘loose-ended’ but he agrees with the role that Us and Europe have played in part of history, as ‘perfecting methods of extration and repression30.’

Early on Dean tells us Galeano has ‘more than enough to convict’ but later questions the certainty Galeano holds in his thesis; whether imperialism is the fault of the horror story that is presented, or is it not. He argues that Galeano focuses far to much on repression and defeat over other aspects over the course of Latin American history31.

Daniel Hellinger of Webster University contrasts that the vision the book provides is overshadowed by the “developmental theories” depicting foreign investments32.

Galeano’s insight is excruciatingly eye opening.

There many more exploited resources than sugar, gold, and silver: oil off the gulf of Mexico, Nitrates in Chile, sugar from the Dominican republic, coffee in Colombia & Brazil; tobacco in Cuba, bananas in Costa Rica…33

“Latin America is a rich land. Yet the natural wealth has not brought prosperity to all.34”

History as we know it What if Mexico had maintained its gold supply? Its oil supply? By taking these questions and applying them to any exploited resource , it is clear that the balance of power may have been tipped in a different direction.



























[1] Peoples World Cultures, 6

2 Galeano

3 People World Cultures, 43; Galeano, 29

4 Peoples World Cultures, 38

5 ibid, 38

6 Galeano, 16

7 Lecture, 4-15-14

8 Peoples World Cultures, 88

9 Chasteen, 10-11

10 Galeano 20

11 Marx, 362

12 Chasteen, 15:32

13 Galeano, 29

14 ibid, 29

15 Galeano, 23

16 ibid

17 Galeano 36

18 ibid, 22

19 ibid, 24

20 ibid, 28

21 ibid, 59

22 ibid, 60

23 ibid, 1-2

24 ibid, 79

25 Marx, 222

26 ibid, 223

27 ibid, 223

28 Galeano 83

29 Ruiz, 582

30 ibid

31 Dean, 961-962

32 Hellinger, 423

33 Peoples World Cultures, 18, 100, 111, 120, 129

34 Peoples World Cultures, 16



Bibliography of Notes


Chasteen, John. Born in Blood & Fire, Latin American Voices. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. Print.

Dean, Warren. “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano; Cedric Belfrage.” The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol.54, No. 4 (Nov., 1974), pp. 691-692 (): 691-692. Print.

Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America. Monthly Review Press, 1997. 1-317. Print.

Guitierrez-Steinkamp, Martha, John Moreno, and Jeanette Betancourt. Peoples World Cultures Latin America. Saddle Brook, N.J.: Peoples Pub. Group, 2001. Print.

Marx, Karl, and Zbigniew A. Jordan. “1848 and After.” Karl Marx: economy, class and social revolution. New York: Scribner, 19751971. . Print.

Ruiz, Ramon. “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano; Cedric Belfrage.” Pacific Historical Review, Vo. 44, No. 4 (Nov., 1975), pp. 581-582 (): 581-582. Print.


[1] Peoples World Cultures, 6

[2] Galeano

[3] People World Cultures, 43; Galeano, 29

[4] Peoples World Cultures, 38

[5] ibid, 38

[6] Galeano, 16

[7] Lecture, 4-15-14

[8] Peoples World Cultures, 88

[9] Chasteen, 10-11

[10] Galeano 20

[11] Marx, 362

[12] Chasteen, 15

[13] Galeano, 29

[14] ibid, 29

[15] Galeano, 23

[16] ibid

[17] Galeano 36

[18] ibid, 22

[19] ibid, 24

20 ibid, 28

21 ibid, 59

22 ibid, 60

23 ibid, 1-2

24 ibid, 79

25 Marx, 222

26 ibid, 223

27 ibid, 223

28 Galeano 83

29 Ruiz, 582

30 ibid

31 Dean, 961-962

32 Hellinger, 423

33 Peoples World Cultures, 18, 100, 111, 120, 129

34 Peoples World Cultures, 16


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