What to make of the book that Chavez gave Obama?

A decade ago, I and the other two co-authors of the "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot" devoted a chapter to refuting the historical and ideological fallacies contained in Galeano's tract, which we called the "idiot's bible." Everything that has happened in the Western Hemisphere since the book appeared in 1971 has belied Galeano's arguments and predictions. But I guess Chavez has given it the kiss of life and, since people are asking, here I go again.

The book rails against the international division of labor, in which "some countries specialize in winning and others in losing." That division of labor in the Western Hemisphere has not changed--Latin American countries still export commodities--and yet in the last six years, poverty in the region has been reduced to about one-third of the population, from just under half. This means that 40 million were lifted out of that hideous condition. Not to mention the 400 million pulled out of poverty in other "losing" nations worldwide in the last couple of decades.

The book claims that for years "the endless chain of dependency has been endlessly extended." The story now is that the rich depend on the poor. That is why the Chinese have $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds! The book's jeremiad goes on to say that "the well-being of our dominant classes ... is the curse of our multitudes condemned to exist as beasts of burden." One of the few countries that exemplifies that curse is the author's beloved Cuba, where a worker cannot be paid directly by a foreign company employing him or her; the money goes to the government, which in turn pays the worker one-tenth of the salary--in nonconvertible local currency.

Galeano's mathematics are hugely entertaining. He states that the average income of U.S. citizens is "seven times that of a Latin American and grows 10 times faster." The gap has actually shrank, dear comrade. Many "poor" countries in modern times have seen their income gap with the Unites States narrow dramatically. Thailand and Indonesia have seen theirs cut almost by half in three decades.    

The book's Malthusian predictions invite no less compassion than its economic forecasts. Overpopulation, Galeano maintains, will mean that "in the year 2000 there will be 650 million Latin Americans," the implication being that the region will starve. In 2000, the region's population was 30 percent smaller than the author predicted.


I would pay anything to be a fly on the wall when President Obama opens the first page of the idiot's bible.


Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and the editor of "Lessons from the Poor."

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa