The Plight of Cobán Painting

Open Veins

“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.”

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.

…the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing: the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is…an integral part of the history of world capitalism’s development.

Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others.

Says Josué de Castro (a Brazilian physician who received the International Peace Prize in 1954): “I, who have received an international peace prize, think that, unhappily, there is no other solution than violence for Latin America.”

In the eye of this hurricane 120 million children are stirring. Latin America’s population grows as does no other: it has more than tripled in half a century.

One child dies of disease or hunger every minute, but in the year 2000 there will be 650 million Latin Americans, half of whom will be under fifteen: a time bomb.

Among the 280 million Latin Americans of today, 50 million are unemployed or underemployed and about 100 million are illiterate; half of them live in crowded, unhealthy slums.

Is everything forbidden us except to fold our arms? Poverty is not written in the stars; underdevelopment is not one of God’s mysterious designs. In a sense the right wing is correct in identifying itself with tranquility and order: it is an order of daily humiliation for the majority, but an order nonetheless; it is a tranquility in which injustice continues to be unjust and hunger to be hungry.”

Any guesses as to when these words were written?

They were written over forty years ago and published in the book Open Veins of Latin America by writer Eduardo Galeano. The book was also re-made famous in 2009 when Hugo Chávez famously presented it to President Obama, which immediately bolstered the book to the top of the bestseller lists.

While I am not much of a fan of Hugo Chávez, I read the book and it is very well-researched and documented, and is a convincing, factual testimony of the exploitation of Latin America from 1492 to the present.

So what’s this have to do with my painting?

A year or two ago, I saw a photo that a friend of mine took on a trip to the International Micro-Credit Enterprise Forum in Cobán, Guatemala. He was working for the Peace Corps at the time in Costa Rica (beforehand, he and I were both Community Economic Development volunteers with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica).

After finishing Open Veins of Latin America, I thought again of that photo and decided I wanted to paint it. It’s of a woman and what appears to be her two daughters (or granddaughters?). Their colorful, artistic clothing is contrasted with melancholy expressions. In a way, it could be expressing the plight of the indigenous, and in this case, the plight of Cobán, where the photo was taken.

Cobán, and Guatemala, were devastated by a 36 year civil war. Nowadays, Cobán is located in the crossfire of the drug war and is one of the most violent areas in the world.

Historical actions of the past have led to the present violence in Latin America, especially in Central America.

The exploitation of these countries over the centuries, as well as their own political corruptness, has led to this poverty and violence, and a huge influx of Latino immigrants to the U.S. that many politicians do not want to welcome (even though their foreign and economic policies over the years helped create the mass relocation of people from Latin America to the U.S. ).

The United States is the big consumer of the Latin American drug trade.

The product ends up here and is bought here. Millions of dollars are spent on border protection and the drug war, while thousands of lives continue to be taken, and thousands more live in misery, caught in the crossfire.

Obviously, spending millions and millions on fighting the drug war has not worked, and is not working. It hasn’t worked for a long, long time. We’ve seen this same thing happen 80-90 years ago. During Prohibition in America (1919 – 1933), there was a dramatic rise in organized crime, and a dramatic rise in spending to fight organized crime. When Prohibition was repealed, the lower prices from legal competition took away the Mafia’s profit and thus their negative impact on communities.

When you look at the outcomes, the obvious solution, and the lesser of the two evils, really, is to legalize drugs.

Until then, the plight continues.

The Plight of Cobán 1.0 and 2.0

I have 2 versions of this painting, which is a part oil, part acrylic painting on 8″ x 10″ (with 1″ width) ready-t0-hang gesso board. The painting wraps around the edges.

The Plight of Cobán 1.0 is of the 2 girls and the woman, in their vibrant, cautious existence:

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The Plight of Coban 1.0

The Plight of Cobán 2.0 includes a historical mural on the yellow wall.

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The Plight of Cobán 2.0

Starting from the left, is a Mayan man representing the proud indigenous culture, overlooking an ancient Mayan pyramid. Next to him is a painting of Pedro de Alvarado, a Spaniard who accompanied Hernán Cortés in the conquest of the Aztec empire, and later led the attempted conquest of Mayan civilization in Guatemala (1523), to which he was appointed Governor. To the right of Alvarado is an image representing the drug trade, the violence, the failed policies, and the closely linked, intertwined connection with the United States.

This powerful painting tells an uncomfortable truth and is one of those special paintings that can be gazed upon and contemplated.

Feel free to leave your comments on this post!

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Each painting sold provides 75 meals to the hungry through my donations to the Capital Area Food Bank.


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