How South America Stopped Listening to
the United States and Started Prospering
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012, Hardcover, 288 pages
153 Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering by Hal Weitzman
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South America has been one of the rare pleasant surprises on the global economic scene in
recent years. While developed countries struggle with debt and recession,
much of the region maintains stability and impressive economic growth.
Income is largely on the rise, and unemployment and poverty are on the
decline. This is quite a change for a
region that used to catch pneumonia whenever the developed countries caught a cold.
In Latin Lessons: How South America
Stopped Listening to the United States
and Started Prospering, Hal Weitzman,
former Andes correspondent for the
Financial Times, explores recent political and economic trends—mainly in
the Andean countries—to analyze the
developments that shaped present-day
Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and, to a
lesser extent, Peru. His highly readable book begins with a good review of
South America’s long and often sad history as a commodity-producing region.
The author’s central argument is
more nuanced than the title suggests.
Much of South America is prospering,
including the countries that are politically closer to the United States.
The region has evolved to the point
where it is increasingly shaping its
own destiny and pursuing its own
blend of economic policies and a foreign policy that is less centered on
the United States.
Weitzman provides a concise summary of the momentous changes
in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela,
where the radical Left came to power
and implemented policies very different from the market-oriented economic approach of the Washington
Consensus. As he shows, the rise of
charismatic leftist leaders, such as
Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in
Ecuador, was no accident. Their success reflects the failure of previous
leaders and previous economic policies to meet public expectations. The
ground for radical change (including
steps to politically incorporate marginalized communities) was set before these three leaders took power.
The nationalism that led Andean
leaders to expel or restrict the role of
foreign and private firms in the natural resources sector reflects local experience as well as changing global
trends. The persistence of abject poverty in places with a long history of
mineral or oil production contributed,
rightly or wrongly, to public support
for nationalizations. “As the value of
their [resource] exports rose dramatically, the people of the region naturally became impatient to experience
the benefits,” Weitzman writes.
At the same time, the rise of
China—a massive consumer of South
American commodities and source of
external government funding—has
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LARS KLOVE
153 Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012