The Open Drains of Latin America

NEW YORK – Stories are most believable when they reaffirm our prior beliefs and assumptions. If not, we tend to find them implausible.

A case in point is Eduardo Galeano’s much-admired 1971 book The Open Veins of Latin America, which has sold more than one million copies in 12 languages and defined a generation’s view of the region’s tortured history. The late Hugo Chávez gave US President Barack Obama a copy when they met in 2009 in Trinidad.

The book is commendable for its ability to describe five centuries of Latin American history with great coherence, something that only a work of fiction can achieve. History, unfortunately, is a bit more complex. A few weeks ago, Galeano, to the astonishment of many, distanced himself from his own book. He said he could no longer bear reading it, and that when he wrote it, he “lacked sufficient knowledge of economics and politics.”

Why was the book so well received, and what accounts for its author’s second thoughts?