Latin America Articles - Feb 01-07, 2004

David Crow writes: "Why all the alarmism at a possible leftward shift of Latin America? First, the radical left no longer exists. No political parties are advocating nationalization of industries or debt moratoriums, to say nothing of armed revolution. On the contrary, all have accepted private property and elections as the only legitimate road to power. At most, the left undertakes mildly redistributive measures.

Second, the election of Lula and Kirchner were not products of some talismanic sway that Chavez and Fidel hold over Latin Americans. Rather, two decades of export-oriented economies have benefited only a handful of entrepreneurs, decimating agricultural production and leading to stagnant or declining real wages. The true reason for the lurch to the left (if it exists) is failed economic policy.

Third, there is no reason to assume that election of center-left leaders will lead to social instability. Neither Lula nor Kirchner has provoked massive capital flight, realizing that a native capitalist class is a necessary evil. If instability comes about, it will more likely be the result of a tragically misguided U.S. foreign policy that preaches democracy abroad but undermines it when the results are deemed inconvenient. Incidents abound under the Bush administration: CIA support of the failed coup attempt in Venezuela and the Bush snub toward Lula in sending a fourth-rate attache to the inauguration. (The diplomatic hack took advantage of the occasion to threaten that Brazil's only trading partner would be Antarctica if it backs out of FTFA.)

Fourth, Mexican immigration to the U.S. is due to the extraordinary disparities that exist between the two economies, not the political orientation of the government in turn. The possible election of current Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) as President will have very little effect on migratory trends--unless the U.S. undertakes vengeful, punitive economic measures to express disapproval of a mild leftist.

Finally, I'm not sure how comments like "[Latin Americans] like it that way" contribute in scholarly fashion to the debate over the Latin American left. What is the empirical foundation for this comment? Does its author seriously believe that Latin Americans enjoy living in poverty? Rather than a comment on Latin American political culture, it is a reflection of the author's penchant for facile, stereotypical generalizations that border on racism".

RH: "The radical left no longer exists"? What about the Andean region, in particular the dream of re-establishing a communistic Inca empire? Remember "the wind that swept Mexico"- All seemed quiet when suddenly all hell broke loose, The dream of Aztlán may seem crazy, but so did Hitler's ideas when he first propounded them. There is an ironic Spanish phrase "Aquí no pasa nada" (there's nothing going on here) to ridicule those who accept uncritically the surface appearance of a country. The other extreme is excessive alarmism.

I have just received a note from WAISer John Brademas, former congressman and president emeritus of NYU. At the bottom he scribbled "I'm off to Cuba". He must have arrived in Havana just before the Greek patriarch. Since John is among other things the spokesman for Greek Americans, it is an extraordinary coincidence. In fact, I think it is more than a coincidence. I hope he sends us a report on his visit. Please keep your eyes open. Harry Papasotiriou is especially well-placed to check the Greek news.


John Wonder was criticized for saying "Latin America is hopeless. They like it that way". While we hopè he is wrong, I can understand his feelings after watching a superb documentary on "Organized crime: Colombia". When I first went to Colombia in th 1940s, Bogotá boasted of being "the Athens of Colombia". There was indeed an elite reminiscent of that of the 18th century, speaking beautiful Spanish and engaging in intellectual conversations. Yet it was an illusion. When in a talk I criticized as ignoring the reality of Colombia Guillermo Valencia's poetic call to "sacrificar un mundo oara pulir un verso" (sacrifice a world to polish a line of poetry), Conservatives were infuriated. Unfortunately my warning was right. The documentary about Colombia showed an impoverished country at the mercy first of the Medellín carte, then of the Cali cartel and now of the FARC. A principal narrator in the documentary was an American member of the DEA working in Colombia who finally resigned, saying "I see no end to all this" (Latin America is hopeless). While government forces were pursuing the leader of the Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar, he was currying favor with the impoverished masses with all kinds of gifts. They loved him and even proclaimed him a saint (They like it that way). While we hope that the US/Colombian effort to end the violence succeeds, it is remarkable that the headily equipped Colombian armed forces have not succeeded in routing the FARC.

The problem is not just in Colombia. Eight on our border is the crime-ridden city of Tijuana, headquarters of the Arellano Felix gang. While some dream of transforming California and the Southwest into a utopia alled Aztlan, it could just as easily become a megaTijuana. While John Wonder is excessively pessimistic, it is easy to see how he developed his views. Yet the danger of a megaTijuana means that we must not follow his advice to ignore Latin America.