We have been observing what Eduardo Galeano has called the “open veins of Latin America,” the flow of agricultural products and minerals from the region for the benefit of others. In the twentieth century, the petroleum and minerals flowing from the region were essential for the US armed forces, inspiring Galeano to refer to them as the “underground sources of power.” In the posts of 10/17, 10/18 and 10/21/2013, we have observed: the aggressive pursuit of petroleum in Latin America by the transnational oil companies, supPoported by the US government: and the efforts of some Latin American governments, supported by popular movements, to take control of their petroleum resources. This dynamic of popular movement has been most fully expressed by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, led by Hugo Chávez, which today constitutes a significant challenge to the neocolonial world-system.
Conflict between Latin America and the neocolonial power to the north also has expressed itself in Chile, which has the largest copper reserves in the world. During the Great Depression, with the consolidation of US neocolonial domination of Latin America and the final displacement of Britain, Chilean copper fell under the control of the United States. The two largest reserves were owned by the Anaconda Copper Co. and the Kennecott Copper Co., “two companies intimately tied with each other as part of the same world consortium” (Galeano 2007:187; 1997:144). And “the owners of copper were the owners of Chile” (Galeano 2007:188).
From the 1930s through the 1960s, Chilean copper expressed the extreme inequalities that pertain to the world-system. On the one hand, during this time the two principal companies had remitted four billion dollars from Chile to their corporate headquarters, even though they had not invested more than 800 million dollars, and nearly all of this investment came from profits earned in Chile. On the other hand, “Chilean minors lived in narrow and sordid cabins, separated from their families, which inhabited miserable hovels on the outskirts; separated also from the foreign personnel, which in the large mines inhabited a universe apart, a mini-state within the state, where only English was spoken” (Galeano 2007:189-90). “The average salary in the Chilean mines was one-eighth the basic salary of the refineries of Kennecott in the United States, even though productivity was at the same level" (Galeano 2007:189; 1997:145). The taxes paid by the companies to the Chilean state did not begin to compensate for the exhaustion of this non-renewable resource. In 1965, the government signed an agreement with Kennecott that supposedly established the government as a partner, but in fact established a new tax scheme that enabled the company to triple its profits (Galeano 2007:190; 1997:146).
In the 1970 elections, Salvador Allende was elected president. He had been the candidate of the Popular Unity, a multiple-party coalition consisting of the Socialist, Communist, and Radical parties as well as former members of the Christian Democratic Party who, influenced by liberation theology, had formed a separate organization. Nationalization was central to the Popular Unity program, and in its first year, the Allende government nationalized copper, iron, and nitrate industries, all of them previously owned by US corporations (Cockcroft 2000; Hart 2009).
The government of Salvador Allende was brought to an end by a coup d’état on September 11, 1973, during which Allende died. Army Commander Pinochet was named President, beginning a brutal and repressive dictatorship that lasted nearly 20 years, before it was cast aside by the“transition to democracy” that swept Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. Under Pinochet, Chile was the first country in Latin America to impose the neoliberal project. Much has been written over the role of the United States in trying to prevent Allende from assuming the presidency in 1970, in seeking to destabilize the Allende government, in supporting the September 11 coup, and in supporting the Pinochet dictatorship.
Salvador Allende will always be with us. He is present in the popular movements that today seek a just and democratic world. We will write more on Allende and his vision of “revolutionary democratic socialism” in a future post.
Cockcroft, James. D., Ed. 2000. Salvador Allende Reader: Chile´s Voice of Democracy. Edited with an introduction by James D. Cockcroft. With translations by Moisés Espinoza and Nancy Nuñez. New York: Ocean Press.
Galeano, Eduardo. 1997. The Open Veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a continent, 25th Anniversary Edition. Translated by Cedric Belfrage. Forward by Isabel Allende. New York: Monthly Review Press.
__________. 2004. Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina, tercera edición, revisada. México: Siglo XXI Editores.
Hart Dávalos, Armando. 2009. “Sobre Salvador Allende” in Fidel Castro, Chile y Allende: Una mirada al proceso revolucionario chileno. México D.F.: Ocean Sur.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, open veins of Latin America, Galeano, copper, Chile, Salvador Allende