During the recently concluded qualifying rounds for next summer’s 2014 World Cup, I was reminded of Paraguay’s run at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. So much hope for a more equitable world seemed to mis/dis-placed onto the upsets Ghana and Paraguay scored to advance to the quarterfinals of that event.
The tournament ultimately ended in a symbolic recuperation of white hegemony thanks to the all European finals between Spain the Netherlands. As a consolation prize, Paraguay received a Playboy spread for Larissa Riquelme, a Paraguayan model who rose to global fame by cheering the team on in a cleavage-showing shirt at the Cup.
I knew next to nothing about Paraguay at the time. Since then, I learned a little bit about the historical source of the tension behind these World Cup matches thanks to Eduardo Galeano’s 1971 classic, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, the book the late Hugo Chavez once gave to Barack Obama at a press conference. (To little or no avail.)
On page 39, Galeano traces the roots of the industrial revolution in the wealth countries like Spain and the Netherlands extracted from Latin America, Africa, and Asia: “Ernest Mandel has added up the value of the gold and silver torn from Latin America up to 1660, the booty extracted from Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company from 1650 to 1780, the harvest reaped by French capital in the 18th century slave trade, the profits from slave labor in the British Antilles and from a half-century of British looting in India, The total exceeds the capital invested in all European industrial enterprises operated by steam in about 1800.”
The book contains two striking passages about how a small, remote, land-locked country like Paraguay has been powerfully affected by far away nations after they gained their independence from Spain in 1811:
“(p 179) Petroleum has … also set off a war – the Chaco War of 1932-1935 – between South America’s two poorest peoples. Rene Zavaleta called the mutual massacre of Bolivians and Paraguayans “the war of the naked soldiers.” Louisiana Senator Huey Long shook the United States on May 30 1934 with a violent speech accusing Standard Oil of New Jersey of provoking the conflict and of financing the Bolivian army so that it would appropriate the Paraguayan Chaco on its behalf. It needed the Chaco – which was also thought to be rich in petroleum – for a pipeline from Bolivia to the river. “These criminals,” Long charged “have gone down there and hired their assassins.” (note: “Long took off the adjectival brakes regarding Standard Oil, calling it “criminal, evil, wicked, domestic assassin, foreign assassin, international conspirator, a gang of rapacious thieves a bunch of vandals and thieves.”) At Shell’s urging, the Paraguayans marched to the slaughterhouse: advancing northward, the soldiers discovered Standard Oil’s perforations at the scene of the dispute. It was a quarrel between two corporations, enemies and at the same time partners within the cartel, but it was not they who shed their blood. In the end Paraguay won the war but not the peace. Spruille Braden, the notorious Standard Oil agent, chaired the negotiating commission which retained for Bolivia and for Rockefeller thousands of square miles claimed by the Paraguayans.”
“(207) The woes of the Paraguayans stem from a war of extermination which was the most infamous chapter in South American history: the War of the Triple Alliance, they called it. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay joined in committing genocide. They left no stone unturned, nor male inhabitants among the ruins. Although Britain took no direct part in the ghastly deed, it was in the pockets of the British merchants, bankers, and industrialists that the loot ended up. The invasion was financed from start to finish by the Bank of London, Baring Brothers, and the Rothschild bank, in loans at exorbitant interest rates which mortgaged the fate of the victorious countries.”
“Until its destruction, Paraguay stood out as a Latin American exception- the only country that foreign capital had not deformed. The long, iron-fisted dictatorship of Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia (1814-1840) had incubated an autonomous, sustained development process in the womb of isolation… Expropriations, jailings, persecutions, and fines had been used – not to consolidate the internal power of landlords and merchants, but for their destruction. … the lack of democracy disturbed only people who were nostalgic for lost privileges. There were no great fortunes when Francia died, and Paraguay was the only country in Latin America where begging, hunger, and stealing were unknown; travelers of the period found an oasis of tranquility amid areas convulsed by continuous wars. The US agent Hopkins informed his government in 1845 that in Paraguay there was no child who could not read or write. … Foreign trade was not the axis of national life…The succeeding governments of Carlos Antonio Lopez and his son Francisco Solano continued and vitalized this task. … When the invaders appeared on the horizon in 1865, Paraguay had telegraphs, a railroad, and numerous factories…(208)”
I’ve been meaning to read Galeano’s book about football for quite some time. Today I resolve to read it before the next Cup.