Introduction and Forewords



From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary:
Myths and Realities in Latin America



The Latin Americans:
Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States.




Carlos Rangel




With forewords by
Carlos J. Rangel, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Jean François Revel





Whoever leads his life, in politics as in history, by what he’s been told, will be regrettably misled.




(True) revolution -which under diverse guises stirs and drives mankind since the dawn of history- seeks to free man from the myths that oppress him, so that he may live in total fulfilment…; whereas propaganda wants to appropriate even the infant…, disfigure man, make him a stranger from himself. It asserts that it does so to promote Revolution or defend freedom, but its ending is paralysis, subjugation and to make him a slave.



I find it extremely disturbing that mainstream ideas about the United States in the rest of the world are in great measure falsehoods; this inserts an element of error into the entire life of the planet which exists because, if not only because, of that, in a state of error.



The lie inserted itself into our peoples almost constitutionally. The damage is immeasurable and reaches deep within our being. We move at ease within the lie … That is why struggle against the official and constitutional lie is the first step in any serious attempt of reform.






















Because of and for Sofía








Introduction to the new English language edition


On September 17, 2021, a newspaper editor, adviser to governments and successful investment banker of my close acquaintance, Russel Dallen, passed away. I had met him in 2016 while organizing a scholarly panel in Miami to discuss the 40th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of this book in Spanish (1976). Born in Mississippi, Russ had a successful life, obtaining degrees in Columbia and Oxford, becoming savvy in the international world of finance, and developing a particular affinity for Venezuela, where he spent many years as Publisher and Editor of two daily newspapers, one in Spanish and one in English.

When it was time for Russ’ intervention in that panel, contrary to all the other speakers before him, he presented in English. He deliberately did so, he said, because he wanted to underscore the universality of the book and its need to be more widely circulated among English reading audiences.

Russ had originally read this book as a Fellow at Columbia University while studying under Zbigniew Brzezinski. Once in Venezuela he read it again, this time in Spanish, and was surprised when he realized it was that same book from his college days. Up to then he had not because the title in English was very different from the one in Spanish, to wit: The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States, while in Spanish it was titled Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario.

His was not the only one puzzled over the years as to the title of the book. While the original title of the book was faithfully translated into every other language it was published in (French, Italian, Portuguese, and German), in English that odd title was used. A title that was, my father himself told me, suggested (imposed) by the NY publishing house in 1977, believing it would make the book more marketable to their audiences. The reality is that even the reviewers of the book thought it was a flawed decision, referencing the original name repeatedly. I have thus renamed this new translation, to keep the original intention of the title, as: From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary.

This is not a lighthearted decision. Russ’ insight and anecdote illustrates the unfortunate fate befallen upon this work, a work which speaks to larger themes on social and political development relevant to the broad world of today. By titling the book “The Latin Americans” the book is immediately pigeonholed into a specialized field of study that marginally interests mainstream political and social thought. While not equating Rangel’s work to his, the perception would be vastly different if the translation of Plato’s work was named “The Greeks: Their Republic.”

In addition, while Ivan Kats’ translation of the book in 1977 was noteworthy, it must be pointed out that his source material was the French version of the text. This present edition is the first translation made directly from the original Spanish. Furthermore, omissions in that translation are now included, most notably thirteen paragraphs from Jean-François Revel’s original foreword. Other changes included grouping the last three chapters on Political Power in Latin America into a single one, losing the singular traits identified by Rangel in the subtle aspects of this issue. 

Besides the one from Revel, this edition also includes two other forewords: a biographical introduction to Carlos Rangel incorporated to the new editions of the book In Portuguese (2019), Spanish, (2021) and Italian (2022), and a foreword written in 1996 by Carlos Alberto Montaner, former president of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, prolific writer, notable Cuban dissident, and close friend to Carlos Rangel.

Russell Dallen passed away on what would have been Carlos Rangel’s 92nd birthday. This edition is dedicated to Russ, and to the likeminded who seek beyond their borders to learn about their home. I thank CEDICE Libertad, a Caracas-based think tank co-founded by Carlos Rangel and dedicated to liberal democracy, its Executive Director, Rocío Guijarro, the Interamerican Institute for Democracy and its Executive Director, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, Laurence Debray, my stepsister Adriana Meneses without whom this project would not have been possible, and Beatrice Rangel (shared last name, no shared biological genes, but many shared intellectual ones), for their unwavering support and encouragement to complete this task.



Foreword to the 2019 edition:
Carlos Rangel: Weathering the Storm of History

by Carlos J. Rangel


«Facing unpredictability, unsafe conditions and an absence of stable and adequate institutional and legal frameworks, human beings will react by seeking conformity and refuge within a pyramidal system of personal relationships, with a tyrant at the top of that pyramid (…) that is why communist countries have reinvented caudillismo, labeling it there a ‘personality cult’».

Carlos Rangel, From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary


A few months ago,[1] Pedro Almeida, president of Faro Editorial in São Paulo, Brazil, kindly contacted me to request permission to publish a new Portuguese language edition of From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary, by Carlos Rangel, my father, and a new appreciation of the book. More than four decades have gone by since the first edition of this book was published by Éditions Robert Laffont in France. The first Portuguese language edition of the book was published by Assea in Lisbon for Portugal in 1976 and subsequently, in 1982, in São Paulo for Brazil by the Universidade de Brasilia. Faro Editorial now offers a third edition to the Portuguese speaking world at a time of uncertain crossroads for a world immersed in a new ideological conflict: the one between nationalism and globalism.  This text written by Carlos Rangel between 1974 and 1975 remains relevant today not only to understand the lead up to our current crossroads, but to place it in its Latin American context.

It has been said of Carlos Rangel (1929-1988) that he was an ignored prophet, condemned to Cassandra’s fate. To a certain extent this is true, mainly in the world of politics. The prophetic insights of the book are particularly chilling in its section dedicated to “Forms of Political Power in Latin America”, when he delves into Chile and Peru showcasing what are clear precedents to what later happened in the region, almost identically, in countries which wrapped themselves in the garb of the “XXI Century Socialism” promoted by the São Paulo Forum 25 years later.

But the limited flourishing of liberalism today on Latin America has a great debt to Carlos Rangel’s mind; and the everlasting struggle to strengthen liberal democracy feeds off his ideas. The context of the book’s origins, its original recognition and condemnation, and the historical basis of the coalescing of Rangel’s ideas illustrate their importance and impact in our world today. I am grateful to Faro Editorial and Mr. Pedro Almeida for the opportunity to share this context and importance in a new edition of the leading volume in Carlos Rangel’s legacy.

Cold Showers: The Unmasking of Illusions

In early 1976 Monte Ávila editions in Caracas published its first edition of the book From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary, a small run with a white cover. Just a few months earlier, in 1975, the book had been published in France. The French liberal philosopher Jean François Revel recalls in his memoir[2] the origins of the book: “When I first met Carlos Rangel in Caracas in August 1974… he asked me to read a couple pages he had written about the historical destiny and the political psychology of Latin America. He humbly suggested the pages were, at best, a draft for a newspaper column. After reading these brilliant pages and driven by the personal friendship and intellectual brotherhood that immediately began between us, I pressed him, not without glee, to develop his ideas with all the rigor they deserved in a comprehensive and detailed book about Latin American civilization. Upon my return to Paris, I had Éditions Robert Laffont send him a contract. This explains the paradox that the original edition of the master work on Latin American political theory first appeared in French.”[3]

The original manuscript in Spanish was translated into French by Françoise Rosset, translator for Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares (author of Morel’s Invention). Revel states that, by appearing in French, the book targets two audiences that seeded Rangel’s inspiration: Europe, with its romantic and mistaken conceptions about Latin America, and Latin America, with its grandiose and mistaken self-conceptions. Unfortunate conceptions that, of course, also coexist in the United States. In his memoir, Revel extends himself on this:

The European left expects from Latin America, and the Third World in general, the revolution frustrated in their own territories. Thus, during a summer vacation in 1969 in Tunis, in Hammamet, I recall a conversation with Jean Daniel, a chat near a beach where he had been kind enough to invite me over for dinner. The Editor of the Nouvel Observteur [Daniel] told me: “As of today, I don’t know where World Revolution will come from. Perhaps Latin America?” After the failure of May 1968, the French left, expert leader of all things revolution, sought out in Latin America a branch of the Quartier Latin. That revolutionary European left found a renewed vitality to its insurrectional dreams in Mexico 1994: the EZL (Zapatista Liberation Army) [4]. Forgotten once again was what I like to call Rangel’s Law originally formulated by Carlos in From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary, appropriate in 1976 and repeatedly observed since, to wit: any time people, real persons, freely vote in fair elections they will choose moderate solutions, center-left or center-right parties.[5] The legendary Latin American extremism is an elitist phenomenon. The intellectuals, military, fascists, and revolutionaries that have battled amongst themselves for power with rifle shots and burning rhetoric over centuries are opposing oligarchies, anxious to satisfy their appetite for domination, (not to mention their financial appetites).

Later, Revel continues:

That Noble Savage appeared in French before its Spanish language edition is not a simple anecdote but is important as it relates to the substance of the book. [The target readers] were in fact, at a minimum, both European and Latin American. Both inspiration sources for Rangel are, conjoined and complementary: Latin America’s misconceptions about itself and Europe’s misconceptions about Latin America. Latin America’s aberrations and delusions have always been encouraged by the narcissistic projections of Europeans. For these, America is like a mirror of their own obsessions, repulsed by North America, infatuated by South America.

The western intellectual elite was still in the throes of hangovers from the drunken bouts of the Spring of ’68, the idealistic backlash to political assassinations in the U.S., Mexico ’68 (Tlatelolco and the Olympics), etc., as it sought ways to justify Prague, the Cultural Revolution –and did not how to react to the genocidal Pol Pot. Amid these existential contradictions appears Regis Debray and asserts that there is a “Revolution within the Revolution” (1974) adjudicating that it has had its noble rebirth in Latin America. The increasingly impossible hope of a communist utopia in Europe can keep a candle lit in the exotic tropical jungles whence coffee, cocoa and tobacco came from. Revolutionary romanticism thus elevates the likes of Ché Guevara, that tropical Fouché from La Cabaña, Camilo Torres, the rebel priest sacrificed to the all-powerful catholic church to the glee of atheist intellectuals and, of course, Fidel Castro, the courageous David challenging the imperial Goliath.

Carlos Rangel was scorned by many because his book came to light during that period of political agitation at the peak of the Cold War.[6] His argument that communism was an empty promise and an excuse to justify totalitarian regimes was unwelcome in that Latin American moment and, frankly, in the Western intellectual circles. A reviewer of the U.S. edition wrote “at least it was published on recycled paper, so no trees were cut”. His calls to defend and strengthen the institutions of liberal democracy as the best way to achieve prosperity were ignored while the seductive illusions of socialism took over the political landscape of the region.

Who was that Rangel arguing backwardness as something noxious instead of ennobling? And who proposed that the reasons for backwardness were internal, not imposed by Yankee imperialism? That the “liberation” and the “revolution” were myths made to perpetuate “consular caudillos”? There were those who read into the book to reinforce their own myths and colonial or pseudo-socialist prejudices with ironic or pompous cadences.  For example: “in a striking work of demythologization, the Venezuelan author and former diplomat exonerates the U.S. from responsibility for the failures of Latin America.” (Foreign Affairs, April 1978); “As a vigorously argued polemic, this will delight many on the non-revolutionary end of the political spectrum, but its points merit consideration regardless” (Kirkus, November 1, 1977); “His provocative, stimulating and unabashedly pro-American book, is often stronger on assertion that evidence. (Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1978, p.155). Even Helen Wolff, president of her namesake editorial house, was somewhat superficial in commenting to the New York Times about her publication calendar for the last quarter of 1977 when mentioning “The Latin Americans, by Carlos Rangel, a Venezuelan. It’s about the love-hate relationship with the United States, which takes an unusual slant by being pro-American” (NYT, September 30, 1977).

In his country Carlos Rangel was accused of reactionary, pro-Yankee, far right and even of being a CIA agent. In a memorable incident, his book was publicly burned in a plaza at the main university of the country, Universidad Central de Venezuela for “dishonoring the historical virtue of the indigenous nation”. Rangel accuses Latin American universities of failing to educate and graduate professionals in an efficient manner and that is why when –within the framework of a democratic society—he headed to a public forum to debate his book in that same university, he was mobbed by militants and agitators and spat upon along with his wife at the time, the journalist Sofia Imber.  As the professional and democrat he was, he arrived to the debate, wiped his face and took his seat.

The principal postulate of the book falls by the wayside in those reactions. Rangel establishes that Latin America has had all the conditions needed for success and that its fault lies in not confronting the reasons for its failings, with a tantalizing “until now”, written twice in the introduction to the book. But to achieve that success, Latin America collectively needs to psychoanalyze itself, so to speak, to clear away the mental clouds that lead it astray from its potential; to clear the myths that perpetuate its fateful self-oppression manifested in a perverted rule of law and a rationalization attributing to capitalist countries the backward state of “third world” countries – including in Latin America. Rangel sought with this book to begin the conversation such psychoanalysis requires and suggests that the treatment needed to alleviate this patient’s ills is large doses of democracy. Of true democracy: messy, pluralistic, independent of Leninist pressures, and with a free press.

Carlos Rangel, liberal

Rangel was not right wing in the Manichean sense of the words.  He was not left wing either. He was a liberal. What is a liberal? One of his favorite authors was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Moynihan defines liberalism as follows: “the essence of liberalism consists in an optimistic belief in progress, in tolerance, in equality, in the rule of law, and in the possibility of attaining a sustained measure of human happiness here on earth.”  Rangel detested Somoza, Trujillo, Stroessner what Pinochet represented. Also Castro, Gualtieri, Videla, Ernesto Cardenal… any and all tyrants and tyrant wannabes that perpetuated (and perpetuate) the myth that nations need a strong, centralized and all powerful government, and for whom representative democracy is an unnecessary luxury. Rangel had to stand up against those who did not want him interviewing representatives of the Venezuelan left to deny them a public voice. Because he was a believer in freedom of expression, tolerance and diversity of ideas he had to wander with his television opinion shows from network to network when he would not budge to the will of the owners. Rangel denounced a complicit business society where the main competitive skill was befriending the government. In a famous speech in 1984 to leading members of the Venezuelan business elite, he essentially accuses them of being accomplices to keeping the country from economic development—and receives a loud standing ovation.[7] In a widely circulated TV interview he suggests that the ownership of state enterprises should be transferred to the workers of those enterprises as a method to decrease the size of the state. That is being liberal… and challenges the notions of “left” and “right”. To understand the origins of his liberal train of thought we must approach Rangel’s personal history within the historical context of his upbringing; to understand, “who is that Carlos Rangel?”


In 1949 the Soviet Union challenged the world, by detonating its first atomic bomb and raising the stakes between the new world powers. Rangel identifies the failings and faults democracy faces in Latin America, setting them in the global context of a rivalry between liberalism and totalitarianism, identified in their respective hegemonies of capitalism and communism: the U.S. and the Soviet Union. His book narrates how, upon the end of WWII, there was a shift in the Soviet communist party which had allowed itself some leeway during the war as it sought allies to prevail over Nazi power. At the end of the war this quickly changed and the leader of the U.S. Communist Party, Earl Browder, was the first sacrificial lamb to what Rangel calls a renewed sectarism of the left, a practice rejecting and excluding anyone who does not follow the orthodox party line, that of the Soviet Communist Party. Browder was condemned in an article published in, Cahiers de Communisme, the journal of the French Communist Party, signed by Jacques Duclos, the party’s leader. Years later it became known that the article had in fact been written in the offices of the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret services agency, in Moscow. Rangel reports the consequences of  these events as a witness to them.

Earlier, in November 1948, a military junta had toppled Rómulo Gallegos, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, who was close to José Antonio Rangel Báez, Carlos Rangel’s father. This early paternal influence associated to the democratic fever sweeping the country from 1945 to 1948 will leave an indelible mark in him about the promise of democracy.

The so-called Venezuelan democratic triennium originated with a previous coup, in 1945, which toppled the then military president, Gen. Isaías Medina Angarita, who had ascended to office by the indirect vote of a restricted electorate. A young and savvy political leader, Rómulo Betancourt, had realized that within the armed forces there were ambitious individuals, among them one called Marcos Pérez Jiménez, itching to topple president Medina. Betancourt knew that if that were to happen the transition to a universal democracy (of which the Medina government was reluctant anyway) would be stalled and pacts with those young officers. This is also to the advantage of Pérez Jiménez, associating himself to the credibility of a civilian-military alliance, credibility he would lack if he were to execute his simple and ambitious military takeover. In October 1945 the coup unfolds, Medina is toppled, and Betancourt heads the “revolutionary” government junta.

The world was changing at an accelerated pace, signaled by the terror inducing glow from a few months before in Japan, and the rebalancing of a new global equilibrium. Long distance communications, quasi-instantaneous news and new modes of transportation revolutionized thoughts and aspirations. In Venezuela, the three years after the coup of ’45 will offer a democratic syllabus to the country, as a debate on the framing of a new constitution airs directly to ubiquitous transistor radios. Once this constitution, which guarantees universal voting and social rights, is approved, popular elections are held. In February 1948 Rómulo Gallegos, a renowned writer and intellectual, became the first constitutional civilian president of the country since 1859 after being overwhelmingly elected to office two months earlier. But the new democratic constitution and the revolution of popular expectations do not please Pérez Jiménez, who conspires once again and executes a coup merely nine months after Gallegos assumed office.

After the coup of ’48 and the tragic death of his father in 1949, Carlos Rangel distances himself from his country, leaving at age 21 to pursue his university studies abroad in the United States. Three years later, in a bout of rebelliousness, independence and youthful impulse, he elopes to Paris with his gringa girlfriend, the young plastic artist Barbara Barling, to the City of Lights, upsetting both high-brow families. He arrives thus to a world of party purges, ideological depuration, intrigue, and suspicion while he continues his studies at La Sorbonne, another hot bed of leftists.

In Paris, in the Quartier Latin, there are exiles of all kinds, refugees from dictatorships and tyrants in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Rangel meets there many Venezuelans fleeing Pérez Jiménez’s dictatorship, who is oppressing ever fiercely in Venezuela. Among those is Luis Anibal Gómez, who in a recent extended essay[8] recollects the time when he met and became friends with Rangel:

He lived near Parc MontSouris, close to the Ligne de Sceaux, he had a car. It was an unselfish friendship, inspired by sincerity and frankness. He –also immersed in the Sartrian atmosphere of the moment—told me he agreed with almost all about Marxism, except with respect to art. He did not believe in committed art and I, for one, detested those paintings of soviet generals, packed with medals feeding pigeons in the park.

Unwavering I responded that what we were interested in was toppling Pérez Jiménez, no matter what, while soviet generals could feed their pigeons; and that everything else would be fixed or not later. It was all about priorities.

He agreed. He would not be a militant in our group, but someone more useful by not seeming to be one or participating with us, rather remaining at the margins, a bit desuus de la melée. He would be crypto communist in the slang of the times.

He then confided that through friends and influences it was possible he could be appointed to a position in the Venezuelan Embassy in Rome. He had to respond within a few days… I told him I would think about it… And I did, more to his benefit than to the party’s interests: the world of espionage was alien to us, exotic, very dangerous. We were not qualified, neither he nor I, to navigate the murky waters of espionage and treachery. My opinion was negative.

Carlos Rangel would become a perfect example of the saying that describes his generation well: “he who is not socialist when young, has no heart; he who is socialist when old, has no brain.” At the time Rangel was 24 years old, the U.S. had just obliterated a small island in the Pacific with the horrifying hydrogen bomb, and the Soviet Communist Party was perfecting techniques to infiltrate with subversive propaganda the western world.  Communism had not demonstrated yet its internal structural fallacies that lead it relentlessly to fierce totalitarian rule, and in western intellectual circles it was accepted as a possible alternative economic model. Stalin’s crimes were hidden from public view and those of the Soviet regime were yet to be revealed by Solzhenitsyn. There was vigorous intellectual debate on the virtues and failings of capitalist and communist systems; a debate handicapped by the hidden advantages of communism which in its orthodoxy does not allow freedom of expression, ideas and the press -that is, real discussion- and encourages subversive infiltration and “useful idiots,”[9] while in capitalist liberal regimes self-criticism is oxygen.

Gómez describes a notable anecdote involving Rangel occurring towards the end of 1952 within the semi-clandestine activities of Venezuelan exiles in Paris. The Congress of the People for Peace had been scheduled for that December in Vienna. This event had been fostered by the soviet intelligence services, the KGB, as an opportunity to disseminate the anti-U.S. propaganda generated by the Korean war. The Congress was to be presided by Jean-Paul Sartre,[10] who had described this war as one between capitalism and the proletariat.

…when the invitation to participate in the Vienna Conference circulated, the Adecos[11] as well as us [congregated in] the Maison de Savants, a venue with halls for rent located in the Quartier Latin. [The Adecos] had called in their minions from other countries, so there were more than fifty attendees. The event unfolded with the structure our group had set: let everyone give their opinion. The extreme left would be presented by myself and Manuel Caballero, as expected by the cliché the Adecos had of us.

After a long while, when all had given their opinions, Carlos made a master recapitulation and proposed a full endorsement for the Congress. Everyone voted in favor of his proposal, expect for the two Adeco leaders.

To isolate them was not in our unity plans, even though it was a democratic decision that, by the way, surprised us with its world of lessons. All cordial treatment [with the Adecos] ended, and we became irreconcilable enemies.

This congregation of dissidents, even in Gómez remembrances biased in favor of the Venezuelan communists, in effect accomplished what the directorate of the Soviet CP had formalized in the Comintern of 1947. The sectarian directive for the left: purge any tinge of “browderisim” and indiscipline in alliances with other leftist movements, as dictated by Duclos in his article from a few years before; and Rangel was a witness to that directive in action.

The president of the Venezuelan delegation to the Congress will be General José Rafael Gabaldón, persecuted opponent of Juan Vicente Gómez (Venezuelan dictator from 1908 to 1936), founder and first president of the Venezuelan Democrat Party (PDV), one of the first modern parties in the country, associated to Gen. Isaias Medina Angarita, the president toppled in 1945. Gen. Gabaldón was also the father of Arnaldo Gabaldón, a leading figure during the guerrilla movement of the so-called Armed Struggle period in Venezuela, who would die accidentally in a guerrilla camp in 1964. Gen. Gabaldón’s speech in 1952 to the Congress was called “Defending Peace and Latin America.” [12]

The playwright Bertolt Brecht participated in the Congress as well, and his words there can be used to describe the future of countries which will suffer attracted by the mirage of communism: “Mankind has an amazingly short memory as to tolerated misery. Its capacity to imagine future misery is almost even less.” Brecht will die in 1956 under mysterious circumstances in East Germany, aged 58.

In 1953 Rangel returns to Venezuela. The country is under political repression by the dictatorship and the typical mercantilist complicities of this type of regime prevail. Lacking opportunity to flex his intellectual capabilities, together with his brother and other partners he dedicates himself to commerce, including residential construction and a Honda Motorcycle dealership. But his Paris experiences and record evidently make him nervous and he sleeps next to his wife Barbara with a revolver under his pillow.  In an incident described by Gómez, Rangel hides him in the house’s basement, to keep him safe from the dictator’s security forces, which were persecuting Gómez for being a notorious militant of the Venezuelan CP.[13]

Finally, as 1955 neared its end, Rangel decides to self-exile, sells his home and, embarking in a merchant steamship moves to New York, returning to the city that had welcomed him years before during the traumatic aftermath of the war. In 1950 during his college days, as he narrates in this book, Rangel had worried about a turn to the hard right in the U.S. and an incipient threat of political persecution driven by Senator Joseph McCarthy. He now arrives to a prosperous city at its peak of creativity and to a country rejecting that populist discourse from Senator McCarthy by a censure vote and his fall in disgrace. Certainly the cold war rages on, but the obvious prosperity of this city is a grand showcase of the better opportunities granted by liberalism. In late 1956, with the brutal Russian invasion to Hungary, Rangel’s conviction that communism is not an option to improve the welfare of society is sealed. From that moment onwards Rangel, with his experience of a life in the shadows under a dictatorship from the right and his knowledge of the intentions of the Soviet Communist Party from the left, becomes a fierce defender of liberal democracy which, through his own eyes, has seen as the best alternative system of government.

Residing in New York he delves into study and is adjunct professor of Spanish and Latin-American Literature, deepening his permanent interest in the works of Miguel de Unamuno and other thinkers of the same vein.[14] At that moment he thought of remaining in the U.S. and pursuing an academic career, but the events in Venezuela took him to another place. Naturally he was in touch with the Venezuelan expat community in New York. One of his acquaintances, Carlos Ramírez MacGregor, was close to some members of the new transitional government of Venezuela, which organized after a popular revolt in 1958 overthrew the dictator Pérez Jiménez, and is named Ambassador to Belgium. MacGregor invites Rangel to become his Cultural Attaché in the Belgian embassy. After the transition, and with a newly installed, democratically elected, government, Rangel returns to Venezuela. 

In his memoirs on Rangel, Gómez[15] recalls their reencounter in the early 60s:

Back here [in Venezuela] once again, Carlos stated to me his change of perspective as to the Cuban revolution, extensive to all of Marxism and the revolution. I listened to him, and I responded:

-        Do you think that is sufficient to end our friendship?

-        No, I only wanted you to know…

A firm believer in freedom of speech and the debate of ideas, during this period he heads the editorial staff of the magazine Momento, which he models as a combination of Time Magazine and Life. He hires his friend Luis Aníbal Gómez and a staff which includes the likes of Gabriel García Márquez, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, the Christian Democrat leader Rodolfo José Cárdenas, and the future president of Venezuela, Luis Herrera Campíns.  But there is a final ingredient that will firmly set the liberalism of Carlos Rangel.

From 1964 to 1968 Carlos Rangel embarks in a political career within the new Venezuelan democratic model; a model and ambitious vison of a great Venezuela, a modern country based on an industrial economy, firmly integrated to world commerce and promoter of the values of representative democracy and respect for human rights, the latter encapsulated in the so-called Betancourt Doctrine, which rejects any form of dictatorship. Rangel wanted to be part of that project, runs and is elected to the Municipal Council of Caracas, the capital city, nominated by the Acción Democrática party, the social democrats. As council member he will live and breathe the toils of a politician and the negative effects of populism on government administration. He walked barrios, gave away handouts, inaugurated public works, debated budgets, and drafted edicts. He was appointed President of the City Council, which led to more petitioners and solicitors of all kinds.

Years later, during a conversation I had with him, Rangel commented that the worst part of public life was having to receive people that constantly flowed into his offices to ask, ask, and ask. He told me in part out of frustration for not being able to fulfill fair requests, in part out of frustration for having to listen to privileged elites that believe they are entitled to national treasure, and in part by his frustration as a political cronyism developed that trained everyone to submit to a paternal state: “it is a depressing spectacle, the line of people in front of a government minister’s home waiting from the predawn hours to try and give him a little piece of paper with their request when he leaves in the morning.” Despite having been offered numerous cabinet posts afterwards, Rangel never accepted again a political appointment or position, except as part of an occasional diplomatic ceremonial delegation.

But what he did learn from his political career experience those years was the cause-effect relationship that democratic systems and effective rule of law have on opportunity for economic and industrial development of a nation and its citizens. This period also served as a profound study (in theory as well as in practice) about the nature of the state, leading him to the conclusion that a limited state is a key factor leading to the prosperity of a country. From here begins his research as to why the territories south of the Rio Grande in relation to their neighbor to the north cannot be characterized as anything else but a failure. That is the fundamental question.

Two eras, two confrontations:
communism vs capitalism / nationalism vs globalism

An ideology’s attractiveness is the conviction that its values and interest structure are the ones that are “right.” Right, broadly speaking, as the one to improve the present and future destinies of a collective. From the beginning towards the middle of the 19th century the ideology of communism arises as an answer to the “dark side” of capitalism. Capitalism had generated a surge in creativity, productivity and the era known as the Industrial Revolution. It also had resulted in an unprecedented technological disruption. This disruption manifested itself in thousands to millions of people left out of this created prosperity –be it by the exploitation of their labor or by their obsolescence within the new economy—located in growing urban centers with insufficient infrastructure for the demographic explosion created by these conditions. The new prosperity also created a great and visible income disparity as the middle class expanded, as well as expectations of the possibility of being part of that growing prosperity.

The conditions of the new working class in Europe from the middle towards the end of the 19th century were miserable, particularly in contrast to those of the new middle class. The political movements that sympathized with that working class were those that fed expectations of participating in the middle-class bonanza and nurtured jealousy and hatred with sarcasm and satirical terms such as “petit bourgeoisie” (the use of sectarian derogatory terms to characterize political enemies is common in totalitarian aspirational practice, to strip the targets of those terms of their humanness and make them "the others")

The Industrial Revolution predates the political and governmental organizations that adapt to the consequences of that revolution. The demographic, economic and social convulsions brought upon a world of isolationist nations with mercantilist elites resistant to change will eventually lead to WWI and the Russian Revolution.

The basic principle of mercantilism and that of its stepchildren, communism and fascism,[16] is that all commercial relationships are zero-sum, while the primary principle of capitalism is that commercial relationships are win-win propositions. The first and second world wars were the outcome of conflicts between countries and social groups stuck in the zero-sum view (including, for example, racial purity and “class struggle”). The most transcendental worldwide action of the second postwar period was the recognition of the need to create a win-win global society. That was the underlying force driving the Marshall Plan and establishing the United Nations and multilateral institutions; a force that generated the longest period of growing prosperity the world has ever known and that would fell the Soviet Union with their zero-sum view based ideology.

Capitalism is the economic interpretation of liberalism, while communism is, in essence, a reinterpretation of mercantilism. At its core, mercantilism is based on the atavist instinct that in a fight between two tribes one dies and the other one survives. That instinct is unerasable, it is human nature; but, as is the case with many instincts and nature, it can be subjected to laws and norms. That is why for a liberal society the rule of law, which begins with contract law, is intrinsic to its nature; and the greatest protection of the rule of law occurs under democratic government with its inherent system of checks and balances. Likewise, states based upon mercantilist principles are strengthened when the rule of law and democracy are weak, that is, under a totalitarian regime. At the fall of fascism, the alternative mercantilist ideology left in the mid-20th century was communism, sustained by totalitarianism, just as mercantilism in its origins was sustained by autarchic monarchies.

The period between 1917 and 1989, from the Russian Revolution to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, was a period when the economic models derived from liberalism and mercantilism clashed directly. Among the defenders of liberalism during that period was Carlos Rangel, who shows up in 1976 with his book, From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary. With this book, Rangel identifies the vices and deficiencies that challenge democracy in Latin America and establishes the global context of the region within the confrontation between mercantilism and liberalism and their economic models at the time: communism and capitalism.

In Latin America this confrontation is well characterized by Rangel as tinged by the history of the region. The legacy of the Spanish conquest, colonization and monarchic regime inserted itself congenitally into the Latin American psyche as a deep affinity with mercantilist principles. Oligarchs since colonial times and throughout the internecine wars afterwards were engaged in elite substitutions with the purpose of taking over perceived natural or class riches. These struggles for power do not contemplate -as Revel suggests in his comments cited above- the creation of wealth, only the distribution (or appropriation) of wealth.

Communism injects itself into this context at the beginning of the 20th century and at the creation of modern political parties. Of these, one that has great long-term consequences is the Peruvian APRA party (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana), founded by Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre in 1924, and which emerges as a tailor-made socialism for Latin America. Because of its geographic and cultural distance, Latin-American communism will be heterodox from the Soviet hard line. That is why, out of this common socialist seedling (typical political parties in the region were modeled after the Soviet CP, with a Central Committee and a powerful Secretary General), true democratic parties will sprout, some keeping their roots, others in opposition but maintaining consensus of the liberal democratic model to which APRA adhered. A consensus on the goal, if not on the means to achieve it.

Many ills of the region can be attributed to the congenital mercantilist deficiency, for example, endemic corruption. To a (mercantilist) bureaucratic official on duty, corruption is justified as a simple exercise of his right to distribute wealth as he sees fit, including to his own pocket. That is why, in ill-structured bureaucracies of “liberal” governments, opportunities for illicit enrichment are taken advantage of by officers justifying their self-dealing with that atavist mentality. Any honest officer is challenged by a prisoner’s dilemma that encourages corruption, where (a) the fool is the one who does not take advantage of his power and position to enjoy ill-gotten gains, (b) is under pressure to complicitly share the feast, and (c) is perceived as corrupt anyway by external agents (press and citizens) even if he is not, because he belongs to a structure “that everyone knows is corrupt.”[17]

When the caudillo Fidel seizes power, the influence of orthodox communist ideology increases, now with a Latin-American flavor, bringing home the Duclos directive to purge the so-called pseudo-socialists. The fertile mercantilist ground in the region finds a great ideological ally with Fidel, the Soviet CP representative (Rangel calls him “consul”), in these territories. The “third-world” construct becomes the explanation as to why the “dispossessed” exist, as Carlos Alberto Montaner writes in his foreword to the 2005 edition of this book. An explanation that proclaims that there exists poor distribution of wealth and power originated by the elites internally and by capitalist countries internationally. This explanation states that rich countries, in particular the northern neighbor, have depredated the poor countries; and within this last category Latin America is included, against all reality, relative to the rest of the world at the time. These themes will be further explored in depth in Rangel’s second book “Third World Ideology.” That is the emotional rhetoric of the times, and emotion drives politics more than reason. Until the pernicious nature of zero-sum mercantilist influence is not recognized, the illusion of the “dispossessed” and the seductive power of communism as a solution will remain, with its consequences of descent into totalitarian rule, repeating history time and time again.

In Chapter 10, Rangel describes the process that Chile went through between the years 1970 to 1973, virtually identical and premonitory of a period nearly 20 years later between the years 1999 and 2002 in Venezuela. Both democratic backsliding processes culminate with an institutional rupture, with the caveat that in Chile, because of the precarious economic situation that country was in, said rupture was accepted by society and consolidates, whereas in Venezuela, amidst an oil boom, the support to the rupture collapsed, with the eventual consequences of entrenching an open and fierce totalitarian dictatorship.

As a final point, it must be pointed out that Rangel identifies another pernicious and universal deficiency with effects intrinsic to “The Noble Savage”: Telurism. Telurism posits that even the most recent arrivals to a region will identify with the historical and indigenous past of their new territory and will consider themselves defenders of the spirit of the place, the “Genius loci.” From this concept the origins of a new convulsion can be traced which, confronting telurism and mercantilism with diversity and liberalism, shakes our contemporary world: nationalism vs. globalism.

Economic globalism seeks to efficiently balance the comparative advantages of the labor, commodity, and consumer markets, and to maximize win-win relationships between all markets. The economic globalism movement is a direct consequence of liberal ideology and the capitalist model. To establish rule of law with supra-national jurisdiction, international treaties, including trade agreements, are an essential part of globalism. As a direct consequence of economic interdependence among nations, the chances of war breaking out are diminished, since no one wants to destroy their customers or suppliers. Because of globalism, barriers and borders between countries go down, creating great disruption in their respective internal markets.

Nationalism, on the other hand, seeks to exacerbate the special, exclusive nature and identity of the inhabitants of a national territory, appropriating the telurist sentiment of said inhabitants and feeding off their atavist tribalism. Nationalism pretends to base its economic success in zero-sum relationships. But the great internal market disruptions brought upon by globalism easily lead to resentments similar to those that fed late 19th century communism. With the ideological collapse of communism, nationalism is the new flag waved, the new anchor of mercantilism which, in its parallel iteration in the early 20th century was known as fascism. Since its commercial relationships are based on zero-sum principles, the chances of totalitarian rule and wars increase when nationalism surges.

Ideologies in conflict are interests in conflict. The end of communism did not represent the end of its archetype, mercantilism. Just as communism surged out of the disruptions caused by the “unbridled” capitalism of the 19th century, a consequence of the ascendency of aspirational reason over atavist emotion, the current surge in nationalism is an answer to the perceived “unbridled” globalism of today.

Legacy of Carlos Rangel

More than four decades since its publication in 1976, this book has become mandatory and essential reading to understand the political history of Latin America.  Any person searching for the reasons as to the differences in the development of the U.S. and the rest of the continent to the south of its border, the rise of “caudillos”, and the embedded populist sentiment in the region needs to read this book that, more than history, in parts reads as a manual. Even if was not widely celebrated or distributed at the time of publication, historical perspective has reclaimed Rangel’s important contribution to the social and political discourse and established him as an important contributor to liberal thought worldwide.

If our focus was limited by Cold War blinders, we would center our answers regarding the hegemony of communist ideology in greater Latin America as a reaction to the obvious success of its great neighbor to the north. This answer is not fully satisfying, however, because the differences between both regions precede the advent of communism. Communism did strike a resonant chord in the mercantilist heart of the region, and communism has been bandied by some as the solution to the region’s failure and by others as the reason for it. But the reason for that failure must be sought for more deeply, and that is what Rangel does in this book.

Rangel was right when he indicted the legacy of the Spanish conquest and colonization as the great culprit of the cultural defects of Latin American people. The fevers from that legacy, manifested in predatory mentality, paternal machismo, autocratic mercantilism, and sectarian classism, have not broken from the political body of these nations. Cultural defects are as hard, or harder, to change than the genetic makeup of a body. That has not kept some from trying and continuing to try to do so. Yet, the context of what is trying to be accomplished must be understood. There will always be a vision for an ideal society, a utopia, which some envision as a communist one, others as a capitalist one; but the mercantilist defect, as a sand tossed into gears, grinds those utopic visions into harsh realities. In the case of communisms, the vision degenerates into a huge state monopoly led by a privileged minority elite, and collective misery under economic, social and political repression. In the case of capitalism, mercantilist distortions can generate powerful oligarchies, great economic inequality, and a high level of frustrated expectations, an exploitable brew for rapacious populists of any ideology.

Self-interest is natural to humans and, when allowed to flourish, favors generalized prosperity. That is a basic premise of capitalism, as posited by Adam Smith and derived from the liberal revolutions of the 18th century. Simultaneously, Adam Smith warned about the danger of monopolies and their capacity to distort prosperity, limiting opportunities and creating toxic inequalities. Both socialist tyranny and mercantilist oligarchy, two sides of the same coin, exercise repression by concentrating political and economic power in one or just a few monopolized sectors. The elements of liberal democracy -freedom of expression, rule of law, representative government, power alternation, multiplicity of interests and equal opportunity- are natural checks to the potential abuse from oligarchies and tyrannies. The purpose of politics is to improve the welfare of society as a whole and, without a shadow of a doubt, history has demonstrated that under the rule of liberal democracy societies have prospered more than under mercantilist oligarchies or socialist tyrannies.

That is the solution Rangel proposed in his writings and public life: greater and better doses of real democracy. It is in this sense that Rangel’s message is clearly current in an alarming manner. His diagnosis about the origins of the fever which has led to Latin America’s failure has yet to be accepted by the patient, which will not heal unless it takes its medicine: big doses of true democracy.




Foreword to the Second Edition (2005):
A book that is also a banner

by Carlos Alberto Montaner


Nearly thirty years ago, in 1976, the first edition of From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary appeared, written by Carlos Rangel, an author then hardly known outside his Venezuelan borders. I remember that I received one of the first copies in my office in Madrid, sent by his wife Sofía Imber, an extraordinary woman about whom I had very good references conveyed by certain mutual friends living in Caracas, who admired and described her, in all fairness, as “an authentic force of nature.”

I confess that I opened the book fearing I would receive one of the typical ideological diatribes of the undemocratic left. Somehow, the misleading title promised another brutal attack on Yankee imperialism, ruthless colonialism, or voracious multinationals and deceptive formal democracy. Those were the language, adjectives and approach commonly used in those post-Vietnam times, in which the USSR seemed to be the glorious and inevitable destiny of the planet, and in which Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution were the revered reference for the Latin American continental left. Simply put, at that time the communists and their allies were winning the Cold War that had begun after the Nazis and fascists were defeated in 1945.

Wonderful confusion. As I read, my eyes lit up with joyous surprise. Beginning with Jean-Françoise Revel's brilliant prologue it was evident that I faced a very well written text targeting the pernicious Latin American self-victimhood tradition. Rangel denounced the false essence of the theory of dependency (something that years later Fernando Henrique Cardozo, one of its most devoted apostles, would humbly accept when he stopped being a Marxist sociologist to become the serious and moderate president of Brazil), placed the responsibility of our relative failures upon ourselves, revealed the doctrinarian contradictions of Marx's followers, trashed the childish view of a good guys and bad guys’ story, and dared to passionately defend Western ways of life -including democracy and the market economy- that had transformed some nations into the richest corners of the planet, while openly criticizing the totalitarian barbarism of the left, without ignoring, of course, the authoritarianism of the right, which also disgusted the Venezuelan essayist.

After the hasty reading of the book -hastened by my enthusiasm- I wrote to Rangel a letter full of praise and asked permission to include as a portico to a book of mine on the subject of the two centuries of the founding of the United States, which was about to about to be published in Madrid, “200 Years of Gringos,” (Sedmay, Madrid, 1976 / University Press of America, Landham, MD, 1983) a phrase in his book that seemed especially provocative and audacious: “And who can doubt that if this democratic power, guardian of the hemisphere had not existed (out of self-interest, but that It is another concern) Latin America would not have been a victim in the 19th century of the European colonialism that Asia and Africa knew; and later, in our own time, of the even worse imperialisms that the twentieth century has seen? But none of this is taken into consideration when formulating the fashionable hypotheses about the causes of the Latin American backwardness (and the North American advance), but rather it is affirmed without nuances and without contradiction that the North American political, economic and cultural influence has caused our underdevelopment.”

Naturally, Rangel responded with a joyous telegram that sealed our friendship forever, authorized me to quote his text, and a short time later asked me to present -"baptize," the Venezuelans say- his volume in Madrid, a task which I carried out with immense pleasure, among other reasons, because in Spain after the then recent death of Franco, we were transitioning towards democracy and the confusion about Latin American reality was almost absolute. Although a good part of the Spaniards had abandoned the Third World mentality, the worst stereotypes and political prejudices about that region of the world still circulated, and Rangel's work would help clarify the panorama to some extent.

Three decades later, the unavoidable question is why Venezuela, the country in which the entire ruling class read or knew of Rangel's work, voluntarily fell (at least in its beginnings) for the trappings of Chavismo, a quintessential manifestation of the third world ideology denounced in this book. And the answer points to several reasons: unfortunately, the essay was perceived as an ideological argument disconnected from the national reality. Very few people saw it as something it also was: a stern warning against political adventurism by the collectivist anti-Western left. In that fabulously rich Venezuela of the mid-seventies, when the country grew exponentially, becoming the destination and dream not only for half of Latin Americans, but also for quite a few Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese, almost no one realized that a society that harbors mostly wrong ideas or absurd judgments ends up committing serious mistakes. As the gringos often say: "if you don't know where you’re going, you’ll end up in the wrong place."

Venezuelans, like the rest of Latin America, without excluding almost the entire ruling class incardinated in the two great political formations of their country, had a populist vision of power and society. They assumed that the role of government was to plan and command, not to obey laws and institutions. They thought that the purpose of governing was to distribute the existing wealth, without enhancing the conditions for society to create wealth. They promoted dependency, not individual responsibility. They cultivated the political patronage of a citizenry expecting gifts and privileges from the ruling party, reiterating to the crowd from all platforms, classrooms, and in many media, a message affirming that it had been victimized by the evil dispossessing of some goods that supposedly it was entitled to by right and of which it was iniquitously deprived, a sensation summed up in a curious word the poor began to be called: "dispossessed." Someone - the bourgeoisie, capitalism, the middle classes, "the Americans" - had apparently taken what was rightfully theirs from the vast majority of poor Venezuelans.

In this rarefied ideological atmosphere, when the price of oil fell for a prolonged period -coupled with the poor management of a legendarily inefficient public sector- a substantial part of the population felt frustrated and cheated by the democratic era that emerged after Marcos Pérez Jiménez fell in 1958. Very few people stopped to reflect that, with all its defects and flaws, that criticized Venezuela, that victim of corruption, improvisation and public mismanagement, had nevertheless exhibited the longest period of peace, prosperity and development the country had ever known since the establishment of the republic. There is no doubt that it was a nation that suffered from certain problems, but there was not even one that could not have been corrected within democratic norms and political rationality.

It was at that time that the so-called puntofijismo[18] consensus began to disintegrate into a blur. It was then that citizens increasingly and (unconsciously) began to dream of the revolutionary solution. What was that? It was to trust the inveterate superstition that a well-intentioned caudillo, surrounded by archangelic and dedicated comrades in arms, oblivious to the conventional corrupt political leaderships, would seize power to correct mistakes, punish the guilty and bring wealth and collective happiness. Hence, in 1992, when Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez and other military coup leaders tried to overthrow President Carlos Andrés Pérez by force and left several hundred dead lying in the streets, the popular reaction instead of indignation was one of complacent acquiescence. According to polls at the time, 65 percent of Venezuelans said they sympathized with the coup. The message was transparent: at that point in history, a significant number of Venezuelans were unaware that the essence of democracy and the rule of law is not the periodic electoral rite, but humble compliance with the law, even when we feel deeply dissatisfied with a government's achievements.

Carlos Rangel's suicide in 1988 was a severe blow not only for Sofía, his family and his friends, but also for Latin American thinking and for all Venezuelans. When the Berlin Wall was brought down just a year later, I remember that I couldn't help but think how much Carlos would have enjoyed the disappearance of communism in Europe and the total discrediting of Marxism: history had confirmed his best reasoning and intuition. However, I am sure that he would have suffered terribly from the 1990s onwards, when Venezuela placed itself on a dangerous incline and began an irresponsible slide into the abyss. In any case, this new edition of From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary is a good starting point to begin an in-depth examination of the reasons that led Venezuela to the deplorable state it is in today, and to the seek formulas contributing to rescue the country from the growing oppression it suffers precisely because of the imposition of ideas that were painstakingly demolished by Rangel. When almost no one dared to defend individual responsibility and Western values, Carlos Rangel had the courage to write this landmark work. Yesterday this was a very important book. Today it must serve as a banner for Venezuelans who are not resigned to losing their freedoms.




Foreword to the First Edition (1976)

by Jean-François Revel


This book you are about to read is the first contemporary essay on Latin American civilization that provides a truly new and probably accurate interpretation. That is (first condition of an accurate interpretation), the author begins by dispelling false explanations, dishonest descriptions, and complacent excuses. From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary is indispensable not only for understanding Latin America, but of a good portion of the contemporary world where the same failures, the same impotence, the same illusions are to be found. Beyond his immediate object and specific case, Carlos Rangel's work constitutes a broad reflection on the discrepancies between what a society is and the image such a society has of itself. At what point does this dissonance become so wide as to be incompatible with a grip on reality? This is the question we seek to answer as we examine the history of Spanish America to confront its "myths" with its "realities".

Testimonials from foreigners, particularly Europeans, are chiefly responsible for the myths of Latin America. In this regard, Europe has been a most prolific fabulist, naturally, since it was the colonizing power and cultural shaper of Latin American society. Today, lacking soldiers and priests to spare, it sends its self-obsessed delusions.

That is because we Europeans have persistently used, much more so than trying to know, the two Americas to satisfy our own needs. Economic, imperial, abd ideological cravings; appetites for adventures, dreams, and exoticism; desires to convert, to stimulate or to hate… How many false fantasies has our narcissism fostered this way!

Fantasies of ourselves projected onto ourselves, in fact, since it was Europe that populated the American continent, ruled and administered it directly for centuries, deported African slaves to America, exterminated, separated or ruled over (depending on whether they were more or less dense) indigenous populations. We pretend to forget that American civilizations, as they exist today, are the result of European imperialism, either from conquest, or from that which we could qualify as “flight” imperialism: millions of migrants expelled from Europe to America fleeing misery or persecution.

Whatever the mixture of aberrant guilt, competitive spirit, inferiority complexes or blissful paternalism that guides our concepts of the two Americas, it must be recognized that this mixture primarily engenders myths; that a powerful mental self-censorship filters our perception of most information, even the most elementary, that comes to us from these countries. In the 20th century, these myths have crystallized (simplifying) around two main beliefs: North America is reactionary; Latin America is revolutionary.

Now, while the "myths and realities" of North America are, in spite of it all, objects of constant debate in which a small part of reality manages to surface, our perceptions of Latin America fall almost exclusively into the realm of legend. From the beginning, the inclination to know these societies, to understand them or simply to describe them, was overwhelmed by our need to use them to buttress our own fables.

It would not be so bad, if only our legends had not become, over the years, poisons that the Latin Americans themselves imbibe. The latter are not guiltless, let us be precise, of fabricating and propagating their own myths. But they find a prodigious stimulus to do this when the mirages in their imagination, those excuses they have forged, are certified as authentic by the universal conscience from abroad.

My embarrassment, in writing this prologue at the author’s friendly request, is that I owe most of what I now think about Latin America to his book. It is common that prologues are written by masters, not by disciples. So, more illuminating than my own Eurocentric comments, here are some extracts and paraphrases from letters that Carlos Rangel wrote to me while he was working on his book so that we can immediately grasp his key themes:

“As I said to you at the time of our meeting in Caracas, a de-mythologizing job needs to be done. Not that all that is said about Latin America is false, but the sum of it creates a false idea. In part this is because for centuries, distorted images of the reality of this continent have been used as ingredients for controversies, anxieties, and daydreams of European civilization. Columbus himself laid the first stone of that building of myths, both by the motivations of his adventures and by the reports he made of them to the Catholic Monarchs, in which he claimed to have perhaps discovered the Earthly Paradise. Later, Father Las Casas and other friars completed the image of the “noble savage”, very much alive today, and launched the “dark legend” about the supposed absolute evils of Spanish colonization, a legend that was amplified by England, France and Holland -rival powers- to undermine Spain all the more easily since the latter did everything possible up to the 1800’s to keep its American provinces isolated from the rest of the world.”

Whatever its abuses and crimes may have been, it is not true that Spanish colonization was exclusively an accumulation of outrages over three centuries. During his voyage throughout various regions of the Spanish Empire in America on the eve of its dissolution, Baron Alexander von Humboldt was surprised by the degree of progress, culture, and knowledge that he found in a city as insignificant as Caracas at that time. This explains why there, as well as in other parts of the continent, exceptional minds such as a Bolívar or a Miranda arose whom, Carlos Rangel demonstrates when analyzing their thinking, were at the level of the most remarkable contemporaneous theorists and statesmen from Europe or North America. However, and contrary to what happened almost naturally in North America and, for better or worse, in Europe the ideas of these men failed in Spanish America to insert themselves into their institutions, customs or methods of government.[19]

How to explain this failure? Because make no mistake: the history of Latin America since the early 19th century, in contrast to the history of North America, is a history of failure. Why? This is the question this book seeks to answer, since that failure and its causes are perpetuated to this day even as the myths that surround it may evolve as, for example, in the transformation of the myth of the Noble Savage into the myth of the Noble Revolutionary.

Several reasons for this failure, far or near, can be considered. The North Americans did not have to integrate the sparse indigenous people they found in the territories they occupied: they segregated or exterminated them. In contrast, the need to integrate the much more numerous and better organized indigenous peoples of the southern civilizations was a key factor and persists in being the cancer of the "America-that-has-failed", that is, Latin America. In North America the locals were marginalized. In Spanish America they became, in contrast, the bulk of the workforce and the engine of the economy.

In a different letter, Rangel highlights, in effect:

 “The colonizer who came from Spanish Europe created a society in which the Indians reduced to servitude were an organic and indispensable part, the men provided their work, the women their sex. Hispanic Americans are at the same time descendants of conquerors and of conquered people, of masters and slaves, of rapists and raped women. For us, the myth of the Noble Savage is a mixture of pride and shame. At our extreme, we will not recognize ourselves except in him, and even children or grandchildren of recent European immigrants, will identify as “Tupamaros”, (from Túpac Amaru, a descendant of the Incas who in the 18th century led an Indian revolt against the Viceroy of Peru). Thus, the Noble Savage is transformed into the Noble Revolutionary, the redeemer, the one whom the New World must give birth to, the "New Man" our Promised Land carries in its womb: the Che."

Contrary to the 1776 revolution from which the United States resulted and in which North Americans, even while rejecting political tutelage from England, never ceased to recognize themselves as beneficiaries and continuators of English civilization, Latin America mythically wanted to eliminate completely the legacy of what was, however, its only culture:

“In Latin America, the War of Independence was a flare of anti-Spanish hatred, a violent anger of children who were too long subjected, a ritual sacrifice of the father. It was also a civil war (very few peninsular Spaniards participated in the fighting), as if the two halves of the Latin American soul had come out to confront each other on the battlefields…”

But this "revolutionary" society fails. Neither at decolonization nor later has it managed to become a modern, dynamic, rational community. Having rejected and destroyed the structures of the Spanish Empire, it was unable to create any others that were both stable and somewhat human. The history of Latin America in the 20th century extends those contradictions begat at its conception. It continues to gyrate around false revolutions and anarchic dictatorships, corruption and misery, ineffectiveness and exacerbated nationalism.

Meanwhile, the insolent success of the USA, has become a factor seeding additional bitterness, and not just because of the concrete results of the North American hyperpower, since:

"It is an unbearable scandal that a handful of Anglo-Saxons, which arrived in the Hemisphere much later than the Spanish, devoid of everything and in a climate so severe that they barely survived the first winters, have become the world's leading power."

If the history of Latin America is that of a failure Rangel states, while presenting his thesis, what is needed then is,

“an inconceivable collective psychoanalysis of Latin Americans so that Latin America can face the true causes of the contrast between the two Americas. This is the reason why, knowing well it to be false, every Latin American political leader is forced to uphold that our evils find sufficient explanation in North American imperialism, which of course has existed and still exists, but came afterwards as a consequence, not as a cause of our helplessness. As Schumpeter says, even robbery, as morally hateful as it is, raises the question of the origin of the thief's strength and the weakness of his victim.”

Despite its economic laggardness, characterizing Latin America as part of what for thirty years we have called the Third World has never been fair. To begin with because Latin America is essentially Western, regardless of its pre-Columbian past, given its languages, its vision of the world, its culture and its population. In addition -and this is a lesson I have personally learned from Carlos Rangel's book- because Latin American underdevelopment is political before it is economic. More precisely, in Latin America its economic underdevelopment is a consequence of its political underdevelopment, and not the opposite, as happens in the true Third World.

Be that as it may, this double underdevelopment has precipitated the "revolutionary" vocation of Latin America, since "revolution" is seen as a shortcut to overcome a situation characterized by the inability to build modern democratic states and prosperous economies capable, for the same reason, of reducing foreign domination. But the Latin American “revolutions” have either been of such virulence that they have ruined what they tried to save, like the Mexican Revolution of 1911, which lasted ten years and still kept in poverty those it sought to save: the peasants; or conceal under a verbose “social language” an incompetence that generates sudden disaster, as in the Peruvian “socialism” of 1969-74; or the “justicialism” of Perón, who twenty years ago ruined at an astonishing speed, and it seems irredeemably, the most prosperous economy in Latin America; or the Cuban Revolution, which has done nothing more than transfer a country from North American domination to Soviet satelliteization.[20] In another work note, Rangel wrote to me:

“The Cuban Revolution has given new virulence to all the misunderstandings about Latin America. Fidel Castro filled with joy the hearts of all those who felt humiliated by America’s strength. Just as when the "Noble Savage" was fashionable, the eyes of Europe have turned towards us, not to discover scientific truths, but to find validation of entirely European prejudices, myths and frustrations. Disgusted by Stalinism, and victim of an inferiority complex to North America, Europe was delighted to discover Fidel, and continues to see in ‘Che’ the ‘Noble Revolutionary'. We Latin Americans receive this rhetorical flood with a degree of pleasure, but at the same time with irritation. The attention paid to us is flattering, but originates from great frivolity, great conceit and great condescension.”

It would have been presumptuous of me to try to summarize in this prologue the conclusions of a book whose merit lies, precisely, in making us aware of the complexity of a subject in which, until now, simple views have prevailed. I preferred, aided by some preparatory texts that do not appear in the work, to help the reader follow -hopefully with the same deep interest I had- the progress in Carlos Rangel’s reflections as they unfolded; and to articulate the great questions which Rangel responds brilliantly with From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary.

I reiterate in closing, that the scope of this book goes well beyond Latin America. Since, even if Latin America is in itself an interesting and important field of study, its problems and its delusions are mirrored in other continents. Its resentments and fears towards the US are an exacerbated version of passions that Europe also holds and knows well. Its difficulties in acclimating to liberal democracy, the failure of Chilean “democratic socialism” and the rise of a “national-militarist socialism” that serves to mask and make new forms of caudillismo acceptable, are parallel to those also found in other parts of the world. If Latin America, with its western cultural heritage and its relatively favorable situation, cannot find a path without relinquishing the ideals and achievements of the Liberal Revolution, it would be a very bad omen for the rest of the planet, since it would mean that the greatest part of humanity cannot be governed except by authoritarianism and terror.












From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary






Spanish, not Latin

Latin Americans are not satisfied with what we are, but at the same time have not been able to agree on what we are or what we want to be. What exactly does this Latin American essence we share from the Rio Grande to Patagonia consist of? One possible answer is to say that there is not one Latin America, but 20 (title of the well-known [1962] book by Marcel Niedergang), and even throw Brazil (and even Haiti) into the bag. But every Hispanic American knows, when meeting a Brazilian, that he is facing him, not next to him; that both of them look at the world from different and eventually conflicting perspectives.

On the other hand, the ten thousand kilometers separating northern Mexico from southern Chile and Argentina are a geographical distance, not a spiritual one.

Of course, there are, in such a vast territory, marginalized human groups inhabiting in one or other of these countries who do not partake in the dominant Hispanic culture. The fact that these groups are vestiges of the pre-Columbian inhabitants, of the “legitimate owners” of the territory, their ancestors who were (and themselves continue to be) victims for them of a foreign conquest and domination; and the additional fact that the blood of these slaves flows, mixed, within the veins of an enormous proportion of Hispanic Americans, are facts that tend to confuse the conscience of the continent, injecting into it elements of undefinition, mythology, racism, guilt and inferiority complexes, etc.

But simplifying, for the moment, one of the most anguishing and fundamental debates among the many that have tortured Latin America, I will say that it is precisely Spanish America itself the one that, from the conquest to this day, has posed this problem as an active subject in which aboriginal cultures and the human beings protagonists of those cultures are passive objects. The so-called Indians, because of their presence in America at the time of discovery; because of what from their culture could not but help but become part of the Hispanic societies forged in their conquest, colonization and evangelization; because of the immense tragedy of their defeat, massacre and slavery; because of their participation in the process of miscegenation; and because of their persistent presence, have contributed to a very important part of Latin American consciousness (and also its guilty conscience). But, in spite of all fashionable indigenist talk, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Uruguay and Venezuela add up to a single culture, the Hispanic American culture, implanted in 18 independent nations and are one nation politically subjected to the United States.

The Spaniards found a variety of cultures and even aboriginal civilizations in those territories. Afterwards they imported black Africans. Immigrants of various origins later integrated in various proportions into each country. The Anglo-Saxon, hemispheric and world hegemony has had a profound impact, more pronounced in some countries than others, but globally generalized. However, a bit surprisingly if you will, but in a palpable way, Spanish America exists and can be examined without the need to divide it into twenty or even three or five.

It would be clearly abusive, instead, to generalize about a “Latin America” which included Brazil as a component. Brazil is different from Spanish America not because of its Lusitanian origin and its Portuguese language, but also because of the way the territory was conquered and colonized, and for having been the Seat of the Portuguese Empire for many years after which, instead of suffering a traumatic rupture with Lisbon, it achieved independence by an act of government, by edict, keeping intact the political and administrative structures of the Empire.

To summarize, there are points of contact, similarities, and relationships between Brazil and Spanish America, but the sum of the differences is more important than those of the similarities, since it also includes the spectacular consolidation of Brazil into one single gigantic nation, bordering all the other countries in South America, except Ecuador and Chile; and this in contrast to the fragmentation of Spanish America into 19 pieces.

It goes without saying that this continental scale is in itself of defining importance, and being undoubtedly the consequence of different antecedents, it carries within itself the seeds of increasingly pronounced divergence, and even confrontation. In trying to understand Latin America, you cannot ignore Brazil (just as you cannot ignore the US); but for Spanish America, Brazil appears as a either a potentially or currently dangerous, or a potentially or currently friendly, neighbor; in any case different, other.

On the other hand, Spanish America, despite its geographical immensity and its apparent heterogeneity, is an identifiable set, with enough common features, for it to be useful to generalize about it, a “clear and distinct” subdivision of the world in which we live in.

This distinction of Spanish America obviously comes from the imprint that its conquerors, colonizers, and evangelizers gave to it. It is one of the most amazing feats in history, but it is evident, irrefutable. There is controversy over the exact number of "Travelers to the Indies," but in any case they were only a handful of men, adding all the sailors, warriors and friars. And those few men, in less than sixty years, before 1550, had explored the territory, had conquered two empires, had founded almost all the urban settlements that still exist today (plus others that later disappeared), and had propagated the Catholic faith and language of the culture of Castile in a manner not only lasting but, for better or for worse, indelible.

Spanish, then, and not "Latin" is the America, whose myths and realities I propose to expose; But the name “Latin America”, a construct by the French or the Anglo-Saxons, is so prevalent that to renounce it, or to insist every time when using it that Brazil is methodologically excluded, would be an awkward and difficult complication, even pedantic. Let the reader understand, then, that unless otherwise stated, the Latin America addressed in this book is the America that speaks Spanish.

From Failure to Compensatory Mythology

From 1492 to 1975 almost five hundred years have gone by, half a millennium of history.

If we were to qualify those almost five centuries of Latin American history in the most succinct way, beyond all anecdotes, all controversies, all distractions, and going to the heart of the matter before breaking it down, the most accurate, truthful and overarching statement that can be made about Latin America is that up to this day it has been a failure.

This assertion may seem outrageous, but it is a truth that we Latin Americans keep quietly buried in our conscience, usually because it is painful, but that comes out and becomes apparent every time we have lucid moments of sincerity. In other words, it is Latin Americans themselves who qualify our history as a disappointment. The greatest hero of Latin America, Simón Bolívar, wrote in 1830: “I have been  in command for twenty years and from that time I have obtained but a few certain conclusions: 1. (Latin America is ungovernable for us; 2. He who serves a revolution plows at sea; 3. The only thing to be done in Latin America is to emigrate; 4. This country (La Gran Colombia, later fragmented between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador) will unfailingly fall into the hands of maddened rabble and then pass on to almost insignificant tyrants of all colors and races; 5. Devoured by all crimes and snuffed by our own ferocity, the Europeans will not deign to conquer us; 6. If it were possible for a part of the world to return to primitive chaos, such would be the final time of (Latin) America.”

In these six points Bolívar condenses succinctly Latin American pessimism in its extreme form, the extreme adverse judgment of Latin Americans about our own society. But we must underscore that at least some of these desperate prophecies of Bolívar were completely fulfilled, which is why they cannot be attributed solely to the depressive state of an aging, disappointed and bitter man, but are judgements, rather, exemplifying all the sociological perspicacity and all the political vision of the Liberator.

Since 1830 other data and points of reference have accumulated, in addition to those available to Bolívar when formulating his judgment on the future of Latin America:

1. The great success of the USA, in the same “New World” and within the same historical timeframe.

2. The inability of Latin America to integrate its population into reasonably coherent and cohesive nations in which, even if not absent, social and economic marginalization has been at least mitigated.

3. The incapacity of Latin America to exert external action, war, economic, political, cultural, etc., and its consequent vulnerability to foreign actions or influences in each of these areas.

4. The notorious lack of stability of the Latin American forms of government, except for those based on caudillismo and repression. [21]

5. The absence of notable Latin American contributions in the sciences, letters, or the arts (even though exceptions may be cited, which are none other than that).

6. Unrestrained population growth, greater than that of any other region on the planet.

7. That Latin America does not feel indispensable, or not even too needed, so that in moments of depression (or sincerity) we come to believe that if the whole of it all just sank into the ocean without a trace, the rest of the world would only be marginally inconvenienced.

Nearly a century and a half after Bolívar, one of the first Hispanic-American intellectuals (Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012) would write: “For Latin America the outlook is much graver: as the widening gap between the geometric and technocratic development of the world and the arithmetic development of our ancillary societies becomes gigantic, Latin America becomes an expendable world for imperialism. Traditionally we have been exploited countries, soon we will not even be this: it will not be necessary to exploit us, because technology will be able -to a large extent it already can- industrially replace our mono-productive offerings. Will we be, then, a vast continent of beggars? Will ours be a hand stretched out in expectation of the crumbs of American, European, and Soviet charity? Will we be the India of the Western Hemisphere? Is our economy a mere fiction maintained by pure philanthropy?”[22] Just as Bolívar's, Fuentes’ pessimism is unbearable for Latin American self-esteem. Fuentes himself goes from those terrifying reflections to postulating revolutionary action, an indispensable rupture for rescuing or creating a less pitiful Latin American entity, a modest but proprietary and viable project which allows us to be a part of the world, if not indispensable or distinguished, at least independent.

In any case, from Bolívar to Carlos Fuentes, every Latin American, profound and sincere, has recognized, at least, at times, the failure –until now- of Latin America.

Human collectives, faced with the realization that others formulate enviable projects and carry them out successfully, can try to either emulate or reject the values ​​implicit in those projects and coveted success. It is also possible (and this is the case in Latin America) to try emulation and, not having achieved the expected success, to take refuge in a mythology that explains its failure and that becomes a magical invocation for its future reparations.


[1] In early 2019 – This introduction is adapted for the new English language edition and is also included in a new Spanish Language edition published in Caracas, Venezuela in 2021.

[2] “Mémoires : Le voleur dans la maison vide”, J-F Revel, Éditions Plon (1997).

[3] Upon being contracted by Éditions Robert Laffont, Rangel moved to London, England, for a year to work and research the book, away from the daily fray he was writing about.

[4] This passage in Revel’s memoir, published in early 1997, reflects the continuous idealization about the “revolution” of many European and Western opinion makers. What Revel describes is an intelligentsia in search of an idol, of an archetypal David, noble and feeble, to vanquish the evil and powerful Goliath. Shortly after the skirmishes with the EZ in Mexico, the Venezuelan Hugo Chávez burst onto the world stage, a democratically elected leftist in one of most powerful and irrefutably democratic countries in Latin America. The redeemer of the revolution had arrived.

[5] Chávez presented himself to the electorate as a center left “anti-party” candidate, accepted by the business and political elites of the time. Even so, the 1998 elections had one of the highest abstention rates in the history of Venezuelan elections. Chávez attained his victory with only 33.34% of the electorate.

[6] In late 1977 the English language edition appeared as a Helen & Kurt Wolff imprint, of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. The book was also published in Portuguese (1976) and Italian (1980).

[7] The full text of this speech, titled “The Crisis and its Solutions”, is included in his third book: “Marx and the real socialisms and other essays” (1989).

[8] «Carlos Rangel - Última vuelta de tuerca», Luis Aníbal Gómez, 2017 (unpublished)

[9] A methodology clearly laid out in Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto.

[10] On October 22, 1964, Sartre will be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature. This generated great controversy because when Sartre found out he was being considered he sent a letter to the awards committee requesting that he not be nominated for the prize. Unbeknownst to Sartre, the committee had already decided the award in September, an irreversible decision. Upon the announcement, Sartre published an essay in Le Figaro, on October 23rd, in which he describes his correspondence with the Academy rejecting the prize. He expands about rejecting institutional awards, in particular those considered as an acceptance of the bourgeois model, and of his solidarity with the socialist-communist model. Curiously, this essay includes a mention about his sympathies towards the “Venezuelan revolutionaries” (the guerrilla fighters of the Armed Struggle at the beginning of the democratic era in Venezuela), essay that Rangel will reference in a section of his book.

[11] The “adecos” are members of the Acción Democrática party (AD), which self-identified as social democrats.

[12] As an interesting factoid, one of the first military campaigns conducted by General Gabaldón was to repel in the early 20th century (1901 – as reported by the by the NYT and SF Call) an invasion from Colombia led by Carlos Rangel’s grandfather, who was opposed to the dictatorship of Cipriano Castro and which Gabaldón defended. Cipriano Castro would be toppled a few years later by Juan Vicente Gómez, leading to the repression against Gabaldón and the rehabilitation of Carlos Rangel’s grandfather.


[13] Gómez, Op. Cit.

[14] The last essay of his last book is an appreciation of Unamuno.

[15] Gómez, Op. Cit.

[16] Of course, communism and fascism take it a step further, postulating that social relationships (and all its derivatives) are also zero-sum.

[17] This expectation of corruption makes for a convenient political weapon, from campaign rhetoric to judicial prosecution of political enemies throughout the region.

[18] TN: Puntofijismo was the outcome of an agreement between three of the major parties at the time of the democratic transition after the dictator Pérez Jimenez was overthrown in 1958 by a popular revolt. Those three parties (which excluded the other political player at the time, the Venezuelan Communist Party) agreed to work together to strengthen institutional democratic mechanisms. They also agreed to include members of all three parties in any resulting government after the elections were held in late 1959, as a unity coalition. The agreement was known as “Pacto de Punto Fijo” (Punto Fijo Pact), named after the house belonging to one of its signatories at th e time, the leader of the Christian Democrat party (COPEI), Rafael Caldera, where it was signed.

[19] Repeatedly, Carlos Rangel uses the notion of Spanish America, and Latin America, since the latter includes Brazil, whose history is different, while all the legacy countries of the old Spanish Empire share fundamental features.

[20] NT: Of course, the “Chavista Revolution” in Venezuela 20 years later will continue this pattern.

[21] NT: Rangel expanded analysis of this and the previous “point of reference” in two internationally published essays: “Mexico and Other Dominoes,” (Carlos Rangel Commentary Magazine, June 1981), and “La Névrose Latino-Américaine,” (Carlos Rangel, Commentaire, Janvier 1980).

[22] Carlos Fuentes, The New Hispanic American Novel, Mexico, Joaquin Mortiz Publications 1969

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