Thursday, August 20, 2015

Open Veins of Africa

A hugely important letter published in the UK Guardian (11/8/15), touching on the flood of African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers now heading for Europe:

"As organisations working to address global poverty, we condemn Phillip Hammond's [British Defence Secretary] warped claims about African migrants (Report, 10 August). It is not 'marauding' African migrants, but the UK and other wealthy nations that are threatening living standards and causing poverty for people in Africa and across the world. Sub-Saharan Africa loses $192 bn to the rest of the world each year. In return it receives just $30bn back in aid. Whether it is our network of tax havens that allows the theft of billions from countries in Africa each year, the costs we save by recruiting health workers from the world's poorest countries, the aid we give as loans which contribute to the looming debt crisis, or our carbon emissions which force African countries to pay out billions to adapt to the climate change we cause, it is the UK and our wealthy allies, not African migrants, doing the marauding.

"The UN is clear that most migrants attempting to reach the EU are fleeing persecution or conflict. These people have the right to protection under international law. The British government claims it wants to stop the minority who are fleeing poverty making dangerous journeys to the UK. The solution does not lie in increased security in Calais. It is in ending our own contributions to global poverty." (signed by 9 UK aid organisations)

The letter reminded me irresistably of the late Eduardo Galeano's wonderful 1971 book Open Veins of Latin America, from which, obviously, comes the title of this post:

"The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role. We are no longer in the era of marvels when face surpassed fable and imagination was shamed by the trophies of conquest - the lodes of gold, the mountains of silver. But our region still works as a menial. It continues to exist at the service of others' needs, as a source and reserve of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries which profit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them...

"Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European - or later United states - capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power. Everything: the soil, its fruits and its mineral-rich depths, the people and their capacity to work and to consume, natural resources and human resources. Production methods and class structure have been successively determined from outside for each area by meshing it into the universal gearbox of capitalism. To each area has been assigned a function, always for the benefit of the foreign metropolis of the moment, and the endless chain of dependency has been endlessly extended."

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