The strict laws of reciprocity, so ingrained in the soul of the Inca, remained hidden to Pizarro, as they did to Cortes and Columbus before him. In the Capitulaciones, for example, there is no mention of the inhabitants of the land that has been promised in return. The absence of the Indians on paper is a sign of things to come. They are expected to be absent from the land and so they will be made absent.
It’s a big question, and it’s asked on the final page, after three hundred odd pages of context framed within economics, history, and a bit more economics. I’m not sure the question is answered however, maybe it’s not even meant to be, but then again it could have been right in front of me and I would have trudged past without noticing. I struggled through this book with a determined resignation that I would make it to the end.
When I was about three-quarters of the way through, a friend pointed out that this was a study book. Ah, of course, it made sense. You should read this slowly, make notes, look at the events, put everything in it’s context and then think about what the book was saying, perhaps you should even do that with every book? I didn’t do it. I barrelled through from beginning to end, well, I tried to. I gave up trying to understand every line, the economic theories, the conclusions drawn from historical context, and instead took limited knowledge from a paragraph, or where I was particularly dense, a page.
The scope and breadth of this book is incredible, as Guardiola-Revera places the impact of the discovery, conquering and colonisation of Latin America on the indigenous populations nature-sustaining methods of trading and working, in the broader of context of world economics. Along with an encyclopaedic history for the region the book explains how the southern hemisphere is trying to tear the shackles of economic guidance that the modernised West has foisted upon it, read “ours is the best way to do it, so you will do it”.
There is also a lot of comment, and this is perhaps the most pertinent thrust of the book, about the Latinsation of the US and the impact this will have on not just the US itself, but the world in general. The growing power of indigenous peoples across Latin America, for example, following the ‘water wars’ in Bolivia that preceded Evo Morales rise to power, to the 2006 political demonstrations in the US for illegal immigrant rights, and how this will influence the US as it becomes more Latino.
Mixed thoroughly in with the dense economic theory is the history of the region, and Guardiola-Rivera extrapolates the impact of specific events on world economics, from the power of the initial trading of pure gold for trinkets, to the Spanish silver peso, the worlds first universal currency. These were the more interesting parts for me, over and above the economics, even though the closely are ever intertwined.
By the end I had learnt a bit, forgotten a lot and not understood even more than that. There are areas where Latin America is trying to change the one size capitalism fits all philosophy of the West and hopefully it will succeed. I am the man who knew too little about economics to be able to properly comment about the theory and the context, but barring a radical shift, the time will come when the US becomes the next Latin American country, then maybe they really will rule the world.
One thing I did learn about myself is that I can’t give up on a book, I wanted to put this down and move on. I couldn’t do it. So a little of self revealed to me at the very least .
History, the long term, does not respond to the imperatives of short-term gains, or to the interests of some, and thus new forms of being in common and collective organisation are required in order to defend the interests of all. From that perspective, the sacrifices of the many in the interests of a few is unacceptable and therefore it is justified that the many – for instance the working masses of the Americas, both Indian and African – stand up to the interests of the few in the name of the interests of all.