Sunday, 19 April, 2009, 15.12 BST
by: Andrew Clark
Sales surge for book about history of Latin America's exploitation after exchange at summit of Americas.
A 36-year-old historical tract attacking the imperialist exploitation of Latin America has become an improbable overnight bestseller after the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez abruptly presented a copy to Barack Obama.
During a session of the summit of the Americas in Trinidad at the weekend, Chávez strode up to Obama, patted him on the shoulder and, with a friendly handshake, gave him a paperback copy of Eduardo Galeano's 1973 work, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.
As footage of the encounter appeared on news bulletins, the book rocketed up the US paperback sales chart of the online bookseller Amazon, soaring from number 54,295 to sixth place within 24 hours.
A classic work in left-wing circles, Galeano's book analyses five centuries of unequal relations with Europe and the US. It contends that Latin America has been abused as industrialised nations plundered its natural resources, ranging from gold and silver to cocoa and cotton.
Obama accepted the book in good humour, telling reporters: "I thought it was one of Chávez's books. I was going to give him one of mine."
The US president has made it clear that he wants a friendlier relationship than his predecessor with Chávez, who once described George Bush as the "devil" and who frequently railed against the US for providing flawed global leadership.
After meeting Obama, Chávez suggested on Saturday that Venezuela was ready to send an ambassador to Washington, ending a diplomatic impasse which began in September. The summit was also notable for further signs of a thaw in US-Cuban relations.
It is not the first time that Chávez has influenced the readers of the world. Three years ago he publicly praised a Noam Chomsky tome, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, at the United Nations. The book surged to the top of Amazon's bestseller list.
Galeano's book could provide food for thought in the White House. A highly controversial work, it was banned during periods of military leadership in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. In a famous passage, it argues: "Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others."
A recent edition contains an introduction by the novelist Isabel Allende, who writes that the book was one of a handful of items she took with her when she fled Chile after a military coup in 1973 along with a bag of dirt from her garden, some family pictures and clothes.
Advisers to Obama suggested, however, that a practical problem may interfere with the president's enjoyment of the book. When asked whether Obama was likely to read it, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "I think it's in Spanish, so that might be a tad on the difficult side."
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