Latin America Confronts the United States: Asymmetry and Influence; Latin America in International Politics: Challenging U.S. Hegemony

In This Review

Latin America Confronts the United States: Asymmetry and Influence
By Tom Long
Cambridge University, 2015
274 pp.
Latin America in International Politics: Challenging U.S. Hegemony
By Joseph S. Tulchin
Lynne Rienner, 2016
235 pp.

Long and Tulchin join a growing list of scholars who have challenged the deeply held assumption that hegemonic U.S. power has left little space for Latin American countries to take the initiative in their relationships with Washington. Both authors demonstrate that in fact, when dealing with the United States, capable Latin American leaders have not only successfully defended their interests but also astutely intervened in U.S. domestic politics to alter the way that Washington defines and pursues its interests in the region. Having delved into Latin American archives and interviewed Latin American leaders and diplomats, Long narrates four revealing case studies to demonstrate how apparently weaker states can come out on top in their dealings with larger, seemingly more powerful states. Indeed, smallness can be a source of strength, as governments wrap themselves in the popular banners of sovereignty and justice and rally other states to their cause, which Long dubs “collective foreign policy power.” Smaller states may also be more single-minded in pursuit of their diplomatic goals, whereas a global power such as the United States may be distracted by myriad other matters. Long’s case studies also suggest that Latin American countries can gain more through persistent diplomacy and cooperative solutions than through aggressive confrontation or by pursuing a negative form of autonomy.

Tulchin concedes that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, few Latin American countries sought to define and defend their national interests, beyond pleading for noninterventionism on the part of larger powers. More recently, however, governments in Chile, Costa Rica, and Cuba have carried out more sophisticated forms of diplomacy at both the regional and the global level. Still, Tulchin laments that some Latin American governments remain captives to history, trapped in defensive anti-Americanism. He is also frustrated that the region is too internally divided to create a genuine regional community that could exercise more influence in global affairs. Nevertheless, he is cautiously optimistic that the information technology revolution, the rise of educated middle classes in the region, the emergence of networks of scholars, and, hopefully, enlightened U.S. leadership will allow for more fruitful inter-American relations. 

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