Strategic Reading on Latin America

Strategic Reading on Latin America – Bibliography

Russell W. Ramsey

The quality of strategic literature in the English language on Latin American security issues continues to improve. While the success of democratization and privatization in Latin America is the subject of wholesome debate, there can be little doubt that better books on regional security issues now exist for productive use by the military analyst, policymaker, professor, or entrepreneur than could be found during the Cold War.

Once again, Robert Buckman’s annual entry from the Stryker-Post Series, Latin America, 2000, wins the prize as the one-volume book of choice for the strategic analyst. This is the 35th edition on the Latin American region, updated annually by the professor of journalism from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Buckman is also an Army Reservist with a Joint Chiefs of Staff billet. His thumbnail regional introduction is guardedly optimistic; his country-by-country presentations give historical sketches followed by recent economic, political, and national security trends. Editor Phil Stryker has made this series remarkable for ideological neutrality, factual integrity, and low cost; Buckman’s summary on the Colombian drug war is excellent.

The next book in order of value is Patrice Franko’s unique volume, The Puzzle of Latin American Economic Development. Franko has translated the jungle of economic terminology about Latin America, often distorted by the writer’s own ideological slant, into clear, objective words, showing the humanistic dimension of the various policies. Thus, Raul Prebisch’s import substitution and ultra-nationalistic economic policies are explained as an unsuccessful alternative to economic liberalism in the late 1950s. Professor Franko connects these policies to the dependency theory of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and others, showing how this interpretation led to unsuccessful experiments with Marxist economics in the Western Hemisphere. After detailing the paradigm shift to the neo-liberalism of the 1980s, she revisits her five-point agenda for modernization stated at the outset of the book. These issues are: balance between internal and external economic activity, promoting stability alongside change in economic policy, bal ancing the needs of the poor with those of the entrepreneurial sector, the role of the state in development, and the conflict between contemporary economic success and future strength. For any course or seminar on the economics of regional security in the Western Hemisphere, this is the book of choice.

Professors Michael LaRosa and Frank O. Mora have jointly written and edited Neighborly Adversaries: Readings in U.S.-Latin American Relations. It includes a survey essay by LaRosa and Mora, followed by six sections of readings on US-Latin American relations, each with a summary essay by the editors. The six sections include a philosophical overview, the 19th century, the 20th century to World War II, the early revolutions following World War II, the regional conflict era when the Cold War spilled over into Latin America, and the post-Cold War period. By carefully culling the best and most typical portrayals of US-Latin American relations in each of these eras, the authors bring sunlight and logic to much that has been dark and polemical within the scholarly community. They quote Ambassador George Kennan’s 1950 analysis of communism in Latin America, attempting to tie the region to his earlier Cold War paradigm known as the “Mr. X” article, that great 1947 policy watershed which initiated the era of deterrenc e and containment. They extract the core of President John F. Kennedy’s rationale for the Alliance for Progress, and also a salient critique on why the alliance did not create political democracies capable of withstanding the impetus to military dictatorship during the Cold War assault on several governments by Soviet-sponsored Cuban subversion. This excellent book gives the reader a way to view US relations with Latin America without diving into the murky waters of ideology; Professors LaRosa and Mora show the strengths and the weaknesses of the US national security policies, the region’s governments, and the several kinds of revolutionaries who challenged the existence of some governments. Again, this is the clear choice for a single-volume reader on US-Latin American relations.

John Peeler’s 1998 volume Building Democracy in Latin America examines the elusive question that scholars and policymakers alike have examined so often, namely, the fact that Latin America has historically tried to portray itself as a region of peace-loving democratic republics but has produced several brutal dictatorships and a larger number of partial democracies. He establishes his position early that democracy in Latin America is possible but not inevitable. In the introductory chapter he examines the political theory extant in the establishing of Latin America’s nation-states, concluding that shortcomings of implementation are the cause of Latin America’s departure from the theoretical models of democracy. Professor Peeler’s subsequent chapter on early Latin American democracies concludes that variegated evolution from a “civil oligarchy” into a full democracy occurred in Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela. Choosing Paraguay, Mexico, and Cuba for his chapter on authoritarian regimes, the author suggests that none of these three countries rests upon an inevitable trajectory toward full democracy, yet that each has provided some important democratic features. In his overall evaluation he equates democratic success with strong linkage between electoral choice and public policy, concluding that Latin America’s history of balancing radical reform with governmental stability under a constitution will provide some successful governing systems. But Peeler finds neither populism nor neo-liberalism to be acceptable panaceas, returning again to the paradigm of a successful linkage between voter will and public policy. This book is not comprehensive, save for its superb bibliography, but it does offer vital new ways to evaluate emerging democracy in post-Cold War Latin America.

A longer book of edited readings with commentary is Larry Diamond, et al., Democracy in Developing Countries: Latin America. For Central America the authors address Mexico and Costa Rica; the Dominican Republic is the Caribbean entry; and the South American continent is represented by essays on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. Although not written to a precise format, each essay includes historical trends, recent economic development, recent political evolution, and evaluation of overall political-economic integration. Some include a discrete section on US policy toward the subject country, and some include a prognosis for future democratic performance. The introduction is, in essence, an essay on what constitutes a democracy in Latin America. It follows the methodology and contents seen in Professor Seymour Martin Lipset’s 1981 classic Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. (While Lipset, the nation’s professor emeritus of socio-political integration, is one of the editors of t his collection, none of the essays appears under his by-line.) The introduction and nine country analyses are strong, but the book fails in not having a final essay that synthesizes the trends. Each essay, nevertheless, is a stand-alone gem, written by an acknowledged national expert. The book would serve well for a course on comparative politics in Latin America, and as background reading for national security professionals who will work in the countries analyzed.

Joseph S. Tulchin and Ralph H. Espach are coauthors and coeditors of Security Cooperation in the Caribbean Basin. This region is the maritime front door of the United States, over whose stability and control a century ago the United States became a world-ranked naval power. Following the authors’ joint introductory essay about the region’s strategic importance, there are three topical sections: the post-Cold War Caribbean security agenda, nontraditional threats to that region, and cooperative security measures extant or planned. “Drugs and the Emerging Security Agenda in the Caribbean,” by Professor Ivelaw L. Griffith, is one of the finest essays available on the topic. Item by item, Professor Griffith names a condition pertaining to the illicit drug problem, derives the security threat it imposes, and then connects it to Caribbean and US society. At essay’s end, the reader can see how comprehensive and overwhelming the illegal narcotics plague really is, yet can also see the sectoral linkage behind both the threat and the possible solutions. “A Call for the Redefinition of Regional and National Interests,” is a short essay by Dominican Republic General Jose E. Noble Espejo. He points out that most security measures in the Caribbean have traditionally been taken bilaterally between the United States and each of the small countries, and calls for the adoption of a truly regional anti-narcotics strategy. The summary essay by Tulchin and Espach posits that the Caribbean Economic Community (CARICOM) and a Caribbean anti-narcotics strategy cannot succeed independently, and that each must be coordinated politically with the other. They also opine that the United States’ “anachronistic stalemate with Cuba” is counterproductive to overall regional security. This book should be mandatory reading for any college course on the Caribbean region and is a model for short, excellent texts in regional security studies.

MERCOSUR: Regional Integration, World Markets is a 1999 study authored and edited by Professor Riordan Roett. MERCOSUR is the world’s only regional trade agreement under the World Trade Organization concept which uses a Spanish acronym–for Mercado Comun Sureno (in English, “Southern Common Market”) based on its primary members Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, with Paraguay and Uruguay in an affiliated status. The issue is vital to Western Hemisphere security, for the so-called “ABC” countries (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) anchor the South American continent, and upon them depends the region’s stability and future growth. Following an introduction by Roett, there are essays by experts on trade, Brazil, industrialization, membership, and relationships with the European Economic Union. The chapter on Brazil is critical to any study of regional security, for the South American giant conducts 70 percent of all MERCOSUR’s trade and is the world’s 9th-ranked economic power. In his summary essay, Roett shows how part isan squabbling and petty nationalistic posturing in the United States damages MERCOSUR as well as US interests in that potentially powerful region. This book provides invaluable readings for a course on Latin American economics, as well as for studying regional security.

While other excellent English-language books exist, this collection will take the serious student of Latin American security issues deeply enough into the milieu to formulate solid policy ideas.

The Reviewer: Dr. Russell W. Ramsey, Ph.D., D. Min., was Professor of Latin American Security Affairs, US Army School of the Americas (USARSA) from June 1992 through August 2000. In September, he retired from the Civil Service and returned to the School of the Americas as Visiting Professor of Latin American Security Affairs from Troy State University, a role in which he will assist in the transition from USARSA to the new congressionally authorized configuration.


Buckman, Robert T. Latin America, 2000. 35th ed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post, 2000.

Diamond, Larry, Jonathan Hartlyn, Juan J. Linz, and Seymour Martin Lipset, eds. Democracy in Developing Countries: Latin America. 2d ed. Boulder, Cola.: Lynne Rienner, 1999.

Franko, Patrice. The Puzzle of Latin American Economic Development. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

Henderson, James D., Helen Delpar, and Maurice P. Brungardt. A Reference Guide to Latin American History. Armonk, N.Y.: M. B. Sharpe, 2000.

LaRosa, Michael, and Frank O. Mora, eds. Neighborly Adversaries: Readings in U.S-Latin American Relations. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

Peeler, John. Building Democracy in Latin America. Boulder, Cola.: Lynne Rienner, 1998.

Roett, Riordan, ed. MERCOSUR: Regional Integration, World Markets. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1999.

Tulchin, Joseph S., and Ralph H. Espach. Security Cooperation in the Caribbean Basin. Boulder, Cola.: Lynne Rienner, 2000.

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