Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering; Leftist Governments in Latin America: Successes and Shortcomings

In This Review

Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering
By Hal Weitzman
Wiley, 2012
288 pp. $25.95
Leftist Governments in Latin America: Successes and Shortcomings
Cambridge University Press, 2010
224 pp. $25.99

Not every journalist who spends time overseas should write a policy book. From 2004 to 2007, Weitzman was the Financial Times' correspondent for the Andean region, based in Lima, Peru -- a country on a continent that he had never before visited. Weitzman's well-written, colorful stories of indigenous protests against plundering multinational resource companies illuminate the appeal of leftist populists such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. But Weitzman conflates these Andean outliers with all of South America, which in fact is typified by more temperate, realistic governments. Most disconcerting, Weitzman begins by sympathetically portraying the Andean leftist populists and excusing their resource nationalism and state interventionism, then suddenly shifts to condemning their profligate economics and confrontational politics. Weitzman seems to have changed his mind on discovering that Chávez has stoked anti-Semitism to fuel social division. Weitzman ritualistically lambasts U.S. diplomacy for not paying more attention to Latin America and for being overbearing when it does. But he fails to prescribe a coherent strategy for addressing the challenge posed by astute leftist populists. 

The social scientists assembled in Leftist Governments in Latin America distinguish sharply between the moderate, pragmatic leftist governments of Brazil and Chile and the bolder "contestatory" ones of Bolivia and Venezuela. Noting that none of these regimes is nearly as radical as the earlier Marxist-inspired state socialisms of Cuba under Fidel Castro or Chile under Salvador Allende, the editors consider the core dilemma of the modern left: the tension between ambition and realism in an era of globalization. Chávez and Morales can act on their ambitions because they came to power in states with brittle institutions yet rich in natural resources at a time of high commodity prices. Ruling leftists in Brazil and Chile have been constrained by stronger political institutions and by the relative success of market-oriented economic reforms. This study thoughtfully examines not only its subjects' intentions but also their performance. Its findings are unambiguous: "the moderate left has performed better in economic, social, and political terms than the contestatory left, especially in a long-term perspective."


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