Courtesy Reuters

Between Repression and Reform: A Stranger's Impressions of Argentina and Brazil

Latin America is the forgotten part of the world. For all its potential wealth and present predicaments, it attracts neither the world's attention nor its imagination. The world sees a subcontinent with two unattractive poles, Cuba and Chile. It sees a mounting record of repression, of political incompetence and military assertiveness. Unlike Asia, the Middle East or Africa, it is for the moment an area of insulated trouble; the great powers are not actively seeking to upset the present balance. The world is content to have it remain in relative oblivion.

For a very long time, the world's ignorance was mine, too. My professional interests were focused on Europe and the North Atlantic - until my present interest in Europe's lingering or reviving influence abroad gave me a chance to break out of an unfortunate parochialism. In the summer of 1977, for the first time, I visited Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. I set out with the hope that this voyage to new lands, which would once again encompass interviews with wielders and victims of authority, with men and women in public life, business, academe, and the arts, would teach me something about these countries and their relations to the outside world.1 Reality exceeded expectation; I found the three countries not only intrinsically absorbing, but their distress and their prospects suggested general questions about the nature of contemporary politics. Latin America, for so long the object of intellectual condescension rather than of comprehension, could perhaps be seen as a challenge to our prejudices and habitual categories. It is itself full of talent in the realms of political analysis and cultural criticism; perhaps there is some inverse relationship between practical political competence and theoretical acumen. In Weimar Germany, social and political theory flourished even as the polity disintegrated.

I would contend that the present condition of Latin America has much to teach us about the contemporary world, that our political vocabulary, largely European in origin, may not be adequate to present reality, despite the

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