Monday, April 20, 2009

That "Chavez Book" Gifted to Obama and the Search for Tolerance in the Americas

In Search of a Gentler America Series

20 April 2009

After President Obama's now famous quip,  "I thought it was his book, I was going to give him one of mine," that "Chavez book" has now shot its way into the bestsellers' lists. 

According to a report by Agence France-Presse,  that book  with the English title,  Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, shot its way up the sales charts from 734th place to second place at Amazon.com after the joint Chavez-Obama "endorsement." The book's original Spanish title is Las Venas Abiertas De Americana Latina.

And yes, the author is not Hugo Chavez; it's a Chavez-toted book, not a Chavez-authored one. It's an old 1971 book by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Hughes Galeano

In any event, Hugo Chavez has now managed to become the world's most effective book publicist and Barack Obama its most effective book endorser!  

Truly, a new era of engagement and collaboration in the Americas!  Hooray!

Seriously, I believe that if more Americans read a book critical of the United States -- whether it be Galeano's or some other author's -- it will hopefully challenge many of them to find out the truth instead of reacting negatively and rejecting its contents simply because their country is being criticized. Admitting ignorance on a topic is not weakness; cutting down that ignorance -- attacking it aggressively -- is real strength. Hitting the bookshelves instead of throwing temper tantrums is the more desirable reaction. That should be the American attitude as it should be the attitude of any nation whose historical record or past economic actuations is coming under verbal attack. 

The process of critique, introspection and reflection can have a cathartic effect upon a nation's psyche. A nation can choose to subject itself to this cathartic process or reject it altogether. Therein lies the outcome.  Attitude is everything. 

If Chavez is indeed a thug, as some Americans say he is, shouldn't he be a thug whom Americans can engage openly or should he be the thug who remains detached, unwelcome and eventually unreachable? Chavez exerts a considerable influence in Latin America; hefty Venezuelan resources will see to that. And the forum provided by the Summit of the Americas will ensure that it remains that way.  

Americans have to bear in mind that their government, which to many people personify their country, is viewed as a thug and a bully in some parts of the world.  People see things from where they are and truth for them begins from where they sit.  The operative word here is viewpoint. What this means is that one nation's truth may be another nation's untruth. Not exactly an ideal situation but one that does hew closely to reality. 

Which brings up the next operative word -- tolerance -- a notion which is the touchstone of individual liberties and basic freedoms in any democracy. Without the hope of tolerance promised by the Americas in the 17th century, the Mayflower settlers and those who came after them would not have built their homes in the New World.    

Denying the injustice and inhumanity of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or the existence of explicitly-worded US Department of Justice memos that approve of torture methods like waterboarding will not make them go away. Confronting these ghosts of the recent past, let alone the distant ones, is the only approach that has the chance of doing that. 

Closing the "open veins" and healing the wounds that caused them in the first place is the better first step in traversing the long and difficult road back towards a gentler America.    

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