Courtesy Reuters

Urgencies in Latin America


BOOKS on Latin America written ten years ago called attention to two parallel developments in the region. The major countries were industrializing, and urban-based parties were cementing their hold on national politics. It was natural to conclude that the two trends were related-that the economic dislocations of the depression and war had broken the back of the old order, leaving national policy firmly in the hands of groups identified with democracy and all-out industrialization. This was the "twilight of the tyrants" and the noonday of "the middle sectors." Recent observers are less sanguine. They see middle-class politics proceeding apace and the cities dominating the economic scene, but what (they ask) has become of all-out industrialization? Somewhere on the way from light to heavy industry, from an urban-circumscribed to a truly national market, key nations of the continent have begun to drift. While the cities swell with rural migrants escaping the static hinterland, economic growth seems mired in bogs of inflation, inefficiency and vacillating policy.

The disillusionment arises not so much from a comparison of economic performance today with that of twenty years ago as from the discrepancy between present performance and past expectations. The immediate postwar years promised so much, not only in terms of new political alignments but in terms of the tractability of economic problems. Today, when the obstacles to economic development appear to be innumerable and elusive, it is easy to forget that ten years ago we tended to assume that "takeoffs" followed automatically upon the fulfillment of a few specific preconditions, such as the achievement of an ample level of investment. Latin America appears today to be doing far better in creating demand than in supplying jobs, housing and mass-produced goods. While the economies of the region are keeping ahead of population they seem to be losing in their race with "rising expectations."

Dissatisfaction with present trends is widely apparent in Latin America: both major contestants in the Chilean election of 1964

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