Tannenbaum, the radical labor activist who owed his Columbia University education to the benign intervention of a farsighted benefactor, had an enormous influence on several generations of Latin Americanists. He was firmly convinced that political change preceded social change, that the stratification of Latin America must yield to political and economic democracy, and that it was very much in the interest of the United States to support change and not the status quo in the region. He was quick to see through Fidel Castro, who, he argued, was an old caudillo with a new vocabulary. Yet he strongly criticized the Cold War-inspired neglect of political rights by the United States in its Latin American policies, and argued that "democracy requires local self-government and local power independent of the center and beyond its control." For Tannenbaum, Latin America remained very largely the rural Latin America he had known so well in the years following the Mexican Revolution, and there is little anticipation of the rapid urbanization of the past 20 years.
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