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What’s at Stake in Venezuela?

Greg Grandin, 7 February 2019

... 1. The concept of sovereignty may refer to the political control that a leader exercises over a society and territory, or the psychic control that an individual exercises over herself. 2. Sovereignty has a long history in political thought, not least in relation to the expansion of European imperial powers. But it was in Spanish America that its modern form – applied to non-imperial or non-colonial nation states – was first put into effective use as a diplomatic norm ...

Don’t look at trees

Greg Grandin: Da Cunha’s Amazon, 9 October 2014

Scramble for the Amazon and the ‘Lost Paradise’ of Euclides da Cunha 
by Susanna Hecht.
Chicago, 612 pp., £31.50, April 2013, 978 0 226 32281 0
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... The Amazon basin​ is roughly the size of the continental United States and contains more than a thousand shifting tributaries. If it had been found at the edge of human settlement, it would have been more comprehensible to European colonisers. Frontiers symbolise limits to knowledge and boundaries to movement; their meaning is encapsulated in a simple injunction – push on ...

Katrina Time

Greg Grandin: Dave Eggers in New Orleans, 6 January 2011

by Dave Eggers.
Penguin, 368 pp., £8.99, 0 14 104681 3
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... In early September 2005, a week after Hurricane Katrina, the police and National Guard arrested Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant who worked in New Orleans as a building contractor and landlord. Zeitoun was seized on his own property; the unidentified officers refused to tell him why he’d been arrested. They took him to Union Terminal, a train and bus station that had been hastily converted into a mini supermax jail, where he was processed in the passenger lobby, below a neglected cubist fresco, a four-wall epic that gives a concentrated version in violent oranges and reds of Louisiana’s history, including the Spanish conquest of the Mississippi Valley, the torture of Native Americans, the chattel slavery that built New Orleans, the nightriders of the Ku Klux Klan, oil rigs, wars and mass graves ...

Don’t do what Allende did

Greg Grandin: Allende, 19 July 2012

Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War 
by Tanya Harmer.
North Carolina, 375 pp., £38.95, October 2011, 978 0 8078 3495 4
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... The 1930s, the chronicler of American poverty Michael Harrington once said, ended in 1948, when the Cold War began to call into question the idea that democracy would lead to socialism. But by that definition, perhaps the 1930s didn’t really end until 11 September 1973, when Pinochet launched his coup against Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected Marxist president, and Allende committed suicide in the national palace ...

Sucking up to P

Greg Grandin: Henry Kissinger’s Vanity, 29 November 2007

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power 
by Robert Dallek.
Allen Lane, 740 pp., £30, August 2007, 978 0 7139 9796 5
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Henry Kissinger and the American Century 
by Jeremi Suri.
Harvard, 368 pp., £18.95, July 2007, 978 0 674 02579 0
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... Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik, with its moral relativism and easy acceptance of American limits, is often contrasted with the neocon evangelism that took off after the attacks of 9/11. Kissinger had long served as a foil for the New Right. The secretary of state ‘sounds like Churchill’ but ‘acts like Chamberlain’, Norman Podhoretz wrote in 1976 ...

Why stop at two?

Greg Grandin: Latin America Pulls Away, 22 October 2009

Leftovers: Tales of the Latin American Left 
edited by Jorge Castañeda and Marco Morales.
Routledge, 267 pp., £17.99, February 2008, 978 0 415 95671 0
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... The people of South America are the most ignorant, the most bigoted, the most superstitious of all the Roman Catholics in Christendom,’ John Adams, the second American president, wrote in 1815. The notion that they could form a ‘confederation of free governments’, as the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda had proposed, was as ‘absurd as similar plans would be to establish democracies among the birds, beasts and fishes ...

Down from the Mountain

Greg Grandin: What Happened to Venezuela?, 29 June 2017

Chávez: My First Life 
by Hugo Chávez and Ignacio Ramonet, translated by Ann Wright.
Verso, 544 pp., £30, August 2016, 978 1 78478 383 9
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... By the end​ of the last century, Venezuela’s old constitutional order, which for four decades had rotated power between two ideologically indistinguishable parties, was close to collapse. The crisis had started decades earlier, in 1983, when the bottom fell out of the world oil market. Then, as now, Venezuela derived most of its state revenue from the export of petroleum ...

Whalers v. Sealers

Nicholas Guyatt: Rebellion on the Tryal, 19 March 2015

Empire of Necessity: The Untold History of a Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty 
by Greg Grandin.
Oneworld, 360 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 78074 410 0
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... slave ship that had been captured off the coast of West Africa by a French privateer. Greg Grandin, whose new book recovers the Tryal rebellion and its literary afterlives, likes the image of a French Jacobin ship towing an English slave vessel towards the Spanish-American frontier. These ‘floating contradictions of the Age of ...

Dedicated to Democracy

Corey Robin: How the US did for Guatemala, 18 November 2004

The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War 
by Greg Grandin.
Chicago, 311 pp., £40, October 2004, 0 226 30571 6
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... it is Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua rather than Guatemala that earn most of the attention. But, as Greg Grandin shows in The Last Colonial Massacre, Latin America was as much a battleground of the Cold War as Europe, and Guatemala was its front line. In 1954, the US fought its first major contest against Communism in the Western hemisphere when it ...

Duas Cervejas

James C. Scott: Ford’s Utopia, 8 October 2009

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City 
by Greg Grandin.
Metropolitan, 416 pp., $27.50, June 2009, 978 0 8050 8236 4
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... Brazil? The story of Ford’s not-so-excellent adventure in the jungle is a writer’s dream and Greg Grandin takes full advantage of its dramatic potential. Along the Tapajós, a tributary of the Amazon, Ford fought two battles in which the lessons he had learned in Michigan turned out to be handicaps. The first was with the workers of the Brazilian ...

Life, Death and the Whole Damn Thing

Jenny Diski, 17 October 1996

An Anthropologist on Mars 
by Oliver Sacks.
Picador, 336 pp., £6.99, January 1995, 0 330 34347 5
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The Island of the Colour-Blind 
by Oliver Sacks.
Picador, 336 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 0 330 35081 1
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... Many of the case-histories are similar to the cases in the earlier book or amplifications of them. Greg, ‘The Last Hippie’, a Krishna convert whose progressive brain tumour was mistaken by his fellow worshippers for special spiritual illumination, has a detachment from his illness similar to that of Jimmie, the Korsakov amnesiac. Jimmie’s memory came to ...

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