A Fragmented Continent: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change; American Crossings: Border Politics in the Western Hemisphere

In This Review

A Fragmented Continent: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change
By Guy Edwards and J. Timmons Roberts
MIT Press, 2015
304 pp.
American Crossings: Border Politics in the Western Hemisphere
Edited by Maiah Jaskoski, Arturo C. Sotomayor, and Harold A. Trinkunas
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015
248 pp.

Taken together, these two books help reveal a paradox of Latin America: although its governments disagree sharply on many things, the region enjoys low levels of interstate violence. A Fragmented Continent expertly explores one issue that produces sharply divergent attitudes: climate change. American Crossings intelligently considers why Latin America is a region substantially at peace with itself. 

Latin American nations’ positions on climate change have been all over the map, from urging international cooperation and advocating the adoption of quantitative targets to refusing to work with rich nations unless they agree to cover the costs of mitigation. Edwards and Roberts explain these differences among countries by pointing to four factors: diverse resource endowments, competing economic development models, distinct foreign policies, and ineffectual civil society organizations, including those focused on climate change. The preface, by Ricardo Lagos, a former president of Chile, suggests a fifth factor: varying quality of national leadership. At the country level, however, A Fragmented Continent does find some valuable initiatives: Costa Rica has led the way on carbon neutrality, cities in Brazil and Colombia boast sustainable transportation systems, and Cuba is an exemplar of hurricane preparedness. 

The editors of American Crossings celebrate the region’s progress, from the nineteenth-century practice of conflict resolution through war to the current approach of settling disputes through bilateral negotiations, confidence-building measures, and international judicial arbitration. Impressively, Latin America boasts a higher incidence of territorial arbitration processes than any other region in the world. Governments still saber-rattle over border claims, but they stop short of war: diplomacy has become the preferred policy option, in part because Latin American militaries are too poorly financed to sustain combat for very long. Notably, some democratic governments have purposefully defused border conflicts in order to reduce the political power of their militaries and enhance the influence of elected civilians. Inevitably, there is a downside: underresourced borders create openings for the illicit trafficking of goods and people. But the editors warn against a fortress strategy, which would risk reigniting interstate tensions, and argue that collaborative border management will yield better results.

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