The True External Debt

Ned Seidler captures the first interactions between Cortez and Montezuma. He was well dressed, as if entering a bank to ask for a loan.

In 2002, the poet Luis Britto Garcia wrote a fictional letter from Guaicapuro Cuauhtémoc, a leader of a Native American tribe. Guaicapuro was surprised to know about the existence of a debt by his descendants and composed this reply to the leaders of the European countries:

Here am I, Guaicaipuro Cuauhtémoc, and I have come to meet those who celebrate the Discovery of the Americas. Here am I, a descendant of those who populated America 40.000 years ago, and I have come to meet those that met us 500 years ago. Here we all gather, brothers: we all know who we are, and there is no need for further introductions.
The European Customs brother asked me for a written document, a visa, in order to discover those who discovered me. The European moneylender asks me to pay a Debt contracted by Judas, whom I never authorized to sell me. The European shyster brother tells me that all debt is paid with interest, even if it means selling human beings and whole countries without their consent. And now I am finally discovering them.
But I can also claim payment. I can also claim interest. It appears in the General Archives of the Indies, paper after paper, receipt after receipt, signature after signature, only between the years of 1503 and 1660 arrived at Sanlucar de Barrameda 185 000 kgs of gold and 16 million kgs of silver from America. Pillage? I cannot believe, as it implies that our Christian brothers would be violating their seventh commandment. Spoliation? Tonatzin forbid to figure that Europeans, like Cain, kill and then deny their brother’s blood. Genocide? That would mean giving credit to slanderers like Bartolome de las Casas, who equated the Discoveries to the destruction of the Indies, or to extremists such as Dr. Arturo Uslar Pietri, who claim that the success of capitalism and advancement of the current European civilization was due to the flood of precious metals.
So much gold available in Brazil that the most expensive item here was the 50kg silver candelabra in front of the altar.
No, these 185 thousand kilos of gold and 16 million kilos of silver must be considered as the first of several friendly loans granted by America for Europe’s development. Otherwise, it would presuppose war crimes, which would mean not only demanding immediate return of such sum, but compensation for damages. I, Guaicaipuro Cuauhtémoc, prefer to believe in the least offensive hypothesis. Such fabulous capital exports were only the beginning of a Marshalltzuma Plan to guarantee the reconstruction of the barbarian Europe, ruined by its deplorable wars against the Muslim cults, advocates of algebra, polygamy, the daily bath and other superior achievements of civilization.
Therefore, as we approach the Fifth Centennial of the Loan, we can ask: European brothers have made a rational, responsible or at least productive use of these resources so generously advanced by our International Amerindian Fund?
We deplore to say no. Strategically, they squandered it on battles of Lepanto, Spanish Armadas, Third Reichs and other forms of mutual extermination, with no better result than ending up occupied by the US American troops of NATO, like Panama (but without the Channel). Financially, they have been unable, after a moratorium of 500 years, of paying their debt, the interest, or even of becoming independent of the net income, raw materials and cheap energy that they still import from the Third World.
This deplorable picture corroborates Milton Friedman’s assertion, in which a subsidized economy can never function. Hence it forces us to claim, for your own good, the payment of the Debt’s principal and interest which we have so generously delayed all these centuries. In saying this, we clarify that we will not lower ourselves by charging our European brothers with the vile and bloodthirsty floating interest rates of 20% and up to 30% that the European brothers charge the peoples of the Third World. We only demand the return of all the precious metals advanced, plus a modest fixed interest rate of 10% annually accumulated over the last three hundred years.
On this basis, and applying the European formula of compound interest, we inform the Discoverers that they owe us, as the first payment of the debt, a mass of 185,000 kilos of gold and over 16 million kilos of silver, both raised to power of 300. That is, a number which would require more than 300 digits, and that far exceeds the weight of the Earth. Very heavy are these piles of gold and silver. How they weigh calculated in blood?
To argue that Europe, in half a millennium, failed to generate enough interest to cancel this modest wealth, would be tantamount to admitting its absolute financial failure and/or insane irrationality of the assumptions of capitalism. Such metaphysical questions, of course, do not disturb us Native Americans. But we demand the immediate signing of a Letter of Intent to discipline the debtors of the Old Continent, and force them to fulfil their commitments through privatization, or to restructure the European continent to allow them to use it entirely as the first payment of this historic External Debt.

I know that this letter in itself is not new, but through my recent travels to Greece and Brazil, and also conversations that I had with Dr. John Slight, a post colonialism historian here at Cambridge, I started to wonder: when did countries decide to wipe the slate clean?

Over many years all the historical heritage from Greece was stolen, and today one could argue that the British Museum and Louvre combined have more statues than the Parthenon itself, which had its pediment repeatedly desecrated with religions and countries. How much would heritage cost?

Many Africans were taken from their homes by European countries, where Brazil alone was the destination of 50% of all African slaves traded in the world! I am not sure if Portugal is proud of this feat now, but how much workforce Africa lost on this enterprise? How much money these workers would have brought back to their countries if they were properly paid? How much does a life cost?

I know that I am just ranting here, but I am sure that most of us, while reading about a tough crisis in a “messed up” country, label them “lazy” or “incapable” and blissfully forget that some have more now because others had theirs taken away.

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