Carlos Rangel is often called the Eric Sevareid of Venezuela. The accolade is not entirely valid, however, for while Rangel is probably his country’s most noted news commentator and a television personality in his own right, he is not the worldwide traveler and observer that Sevareid became three decades ago. The Rangel focus is hemispheric in general and Venezuelan in particular. And it is here that Rangel excels. His trenchant commentary of things Venezuelan is listened to daily with interest, concern, and often protest by thousands of Venezuelans including Rómulo Betancourt, Rafael Caldera, and Carlos Andrés Pérez.
Now, in a book that in its first year of publication is becoming one of the most widely circulated and controversial titles in Latin America, Rangel approaches a much larger audience. Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario has already gone through a dozen editions in Caracas and is being distributed in a variety of editions and languages in Europe, and one due for publication in the United States.
Rangel’s thesis is that the United States is not responsible for all the failures and frustrations of its Latin American neighbors. This does not make the book pro-United States, however, for he takes North Americans to task for a variety of shortcomings. But he argues persuasively that Latin Americans cannot pin their lack of development on imperialist exploitation by the United States. For support, Rangel looks to the statistics of economic growth for Latin America in this century. Latin America has for some time manifested a “rate of growth superior to that of today’s advanced capitalist nations in the nineteenth century—a rate of approximately 2 percent a year; while Latin America increased between 1935 and 1953 at a rate of 4.2 annually and between 1945 and 1955 at a rate of 4.9 percent per year” (p. 57). He then notes that with the petroleum revenues of recent years, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Mexico have had even greater growth.
This rate of growth, he admits, is not enough, either in comparison with the present growth of the economically advanced nations or in recognition of poor distribution of the revenue in Latin American lands. Similarly, he recognizes that the region’s growth rate is neither enough to overcome the poor administration by Latin Americans of their disposable resources nor enough to face up to the population spiral affecting the area. But to blame the United States and other industrialized nations for “the poor use of our opportunities” (p. 57) distorts reality.
Rangel blames Marxism for creating what he terms the “myth” of U.S. and capitalist responsibility for the backwardness of Latin America. The United States, however, has not made it easy to counter the charge. Its political, economic, and cultural arrogance leads to an abysmal misunderstanding, or worse, a complete lack of interest in Latin America. For instance, he claims that Cuba was, and continues to be, a disaster for the United States since it improperly understands just what Fidel Castro stands for.
“He is the only Latin American leader whose anti-Yankeeism cannot be doubted,” Rangel writes. “A word of favor from him for the military president of Peru or for the Social Democratic president of Venezuela is of sure political usefulness to one or the other. What is more, either of them, when recognized by Fidel, feels a secret emotion because he is receiving from someone with the proper qualifications a certificate of good anti-North American conduct” (p. 257).
All this is good journalism. For the most part, it is good political commentary. And it may well prove to be one of the most accurate evaluations of the present stormy era in contemporary politics and in relations with the United States. Jean François Revel, the French author of Neither Marx nor Jesus, writes in an introduction to Rangel’s book that “it is a completely new and probably true version of Latin American civilization” (p. 11). Mexican poet Octavio Paz suggested recently that the book should be read by all Latin Americans “in order that they gain an appreciation of themselves.”
The same might be said for the North American student of Latin America. For Rangel has done for twentieth-century Latin America what Alexis de Toqueville did for nineteenth-century North America. Time and debate may suggest imperfections in Rangel’s analysis; events may date it. But Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario (the title comes from Rangel’s vision of Latin America’s historic progress) is the first essay in decades to attempt an explanation of Latin American reality. It is properly receiving a wide audience.