Other Discussions on Latin America


Having travelled by land from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, I can attest to the poverty of most of the people. Much is spoken, but not much is done about it. The very informative Latin American News Syndicate enumerates, with barely concealed irony, the endless conferences at which politicians make speeches, eat fine meals, and enjoy the company before going on to more rounds of the same good life.

Poverty in Latin America was a major theme at the conference of Ibero-American leaders held in Margarita Island late last year. Another conference on poverty in Latin America has just been held in Caracas, with delegates parading down a red carpet to be received. The Pope, whose intellectual baggage consists almost entirely of classical theologians, blames capitalism and neo-liberalism, i.e. the United States.

In all of this there is no stress on the population explosion and its control. Even Castro has just denounced birth control. This is avoiding a key problem, analyzed by the Population Institution and Worldwatch Association as well as a host of specialists.

Private groups can act where governments just talk. Stanford's Center of Latin American Studies (out of which WAIS grew) has received a 200,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to "implement" a two-year interdisciplinary program on "The Ecology of Poverty in Latin America." This may not be action, although the word implement suggests that, but it will be better than speeches. Especially encouraging is the participation of the School of Medicine, and therefore presumably its Department of Health Research and Policy. The medical profession is the one with the best record of public service; witness the international activities of Medicins sans Frontieres. As time goes on, we will report on the activities of this new program.

Ronald Hilton, 12-27-97