At a meeting of the nations of our hemisphere last week, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela presented U.S. President Barack Obama a book, “Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina,” or “The Open Veins of Latin America.”
The work, originally published in 1970, is the best known by Eduardo Galeano, an Uruguayan writer. It explores the history of European colonization of Latin America. Galeano’s book immediately began rising to the top of the best-seller lists. I also became interested in his work, wanting in particular to learn what this influential author had to say about the land. What follows is an excerpt from a recent interview he did with Niels Boel of UNESCO:
“Five centuries ago, people in Latin America were taught to separate nature from Man—or so-called Man—which in fact meant men and women. Nature was placed on one side, human beings on the other. The same divorce took place the world over.
“Many of the indigenous people burned alive for worshipping idols were simply the environmentalists of their time who were practicing the only kind of ecology that seems worthwhile to me—an ecology of communion with nature. Harmony with nature and a communal approach to life ensured the survival of ancient indigenous values despite five centuries of persecution and contempt.
“For centuries, nature was seen as a beast that had to be tamed—as a foreign enemy and a traitor. Now that we’re all ‘greens,’ thanks to deceitful advertising based on words rather than deeds, nature has become something to be protected. But whether nature is to be protected or mastered and exploited for profit, it’s still seen as separate from us.
“We have to recover this sense of communion with nature. Nature is not a landscape, it’s something inside us, something we live with. I’m not just talking about forests, but about everything to do with the reverence for the natural that the indigenous people of the Americas have and always have had. They see nature as sacred in the sense that every harm we cause turns against us one day or another. So every crime becomes a suicide…I truly wish that we could manage to summon up enough energy to heal ourselves.”
The full UNESCO interview with Eduardo Galeano is available here.