aqlogo_white X
Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
Countries   |   About    |   Subscribe   |   Newsletter |   Videos

From issue: Voices from the New Generation (Winter 2010)

Fresh Look Reviews

Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

In this issue:
Carlos Yescas reviews Migration from the Mexican Mixteca: A Transnational Community in Oaxaca and California

Kissinger e o Brasil by Matias Spektor

Joshua Goodman

These days it seems Brazil can do little wrong in Washington. But what happened the last time the South American giant was in vogue in U.S. policy circles?

This is the subject of Matias Spektor’s Kissinger e o Brasil (Kissinger and Brazil), a fascinating and insightful book by the Argentine-born professor of international relations at Rio de Janeiro’s Getúlio Vargas Foundation. The book traces the short life of an earlier, unfulfilled U.S.-Brazil alliance that reached its high point in February 1976—when U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, greeted like a celebrity, traveled to Brasilia to sign a historic accord committing the Western Hemisphere’s two biggest powers to regular, high-level foreign policy consultations.

The accord capped years of intense diplomacy by Kissinger, who identified Brazil as one of a half-dozen “key” regional powers that could help the United States retain superpower status in the aftermath of its humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam. Kissinger’s aim of “delegating authority didn’t signify abandoning mechanisms of hegemonic control, but an attempt to adapt and reaffirm American power in the Third World using new mechanisms and a new diplomatic vocabulary,” Spektor writes. But the period of intense bilateral diplomacy came to an abrupt halt just one year later when incoming President Jimmy Carter cast a harsher light on human rights abuses by Brazil’s military dictatorship.

Spektor first studied this period for his doctoral thesis at Oxford University, drawing on archival research and interviews with policymakers in both countries, including one in 2006 with Kissinger. He details the degree to which the proponent of American realpolitik and his Brazilian counterpart, Foreign Minister Antonio Azeredo da Silveira, jointly worked to strengthen bilateral ties. The strategizing extended to soccer: Kissinger, an avid fan, asked Silveira to persuade Pelé to play for the now-defunct New York Cosmos.

Underlying the rapprochement then, as now, was Brazil’s economic ascendance. But Spektor argues that the so-called Brazilian economic “miracle” of double-digit economic growth during the 1970s was not as important to the U.S. as the strident anti-communism of the generals who overthrew Brazilian President João Goulart in 1964.

Spektor’s case was strengthened by a Central Intelligence Agency memorandum declassified in August 2009 (shortly after publication of his book) that recounts a 1971 discussion between Presidents Emilio Medici and Richard Nixon on ways to destabilize leftist regimes in Cuba and Chile. The memo is a sharp reminder of the two countries’ startling degree of cooperation—even on larger ideological battles.

Spektor then goes on to detail how the alliance fell short of both sides’ expectations. To Kissinger’s disappointment, Brazil never signed on as an ally against the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which was beginning to flex its powers as an oil cartel. The generals also resisted U.S. pressure to contain nuclear armament. It was not until 1998 that Brazil signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Likewise, even while treating Brazil as a regional and global power, the U.S. proved insensitive to Brazil’s hopes for progress on narrower, bilateral issues, such as lowering tariffs for exports. Spektor nevertheless writes that Brazil’s focus on winning trade concessions from the White House, instead of striking a broader trade agreement, was as parochial as it was misplaced. Unlike industry groups in smaller Central American countries, Brazil never educated its companies on how to lobby the U.S. Congress, the body where trade policy is usually hammered out.

By the end of the 1970s, the partnership unraveled and relations reverted to their normal course of mutual mistrust and estrangement. But even before then, major frictions were emerging. Spektor highlights two telling episodes: Brazil’s first-in-the-world recognition of Angola’s independence from Portugal—a decision reached despite U.S. objections over the possible establishment of a Marxist regime. The divergence reflected the partnership’s limited scope and peripheral importance to the U.S., since Spektor concludes that Brazil’s anti-communist government would have reversed course had it previously known the U.S. position.

The U.S. also took issue with Brazil’s decision to seek a nuclear alliance with West Germany, since it feared Brazilian development of a nuclear weapon. The discovery years later of a clandestine bomb-building program may have justified the extra caution. In any case, Kissinger worked secretly with West Germany to derail the nuclear partnership. “When Silveira found out, he was livid: a deal between Washington and Bonn had run over Brasilia,” writes Spektor.

To Spektor’s credit, he resists the temptation of extrapolating too much from what he calls the “shipwrecked experiment” to apply it to contemporary policymakers. Still, it’s hard not to draw some parallels, and even some lessons, with the lovefest and tensions of today.

As in the 1970s, natural wariness persists today even in the face of renewed optimism at the highest level about closer ties. Indeed, while Nixon’s insight that “Brazil is the key to the future” is now accepted as truer than ever, the U.S.-Brazil bilateral agenda remains short on substance. Personal rapport helps, and former U.S. President George W. Bush laid much of the groundwork, developing an unexpected relationship with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and initiating a series of initiatives with the Brazilian government. But for President Barack Obama’s fast-forming friendship with President Lula to lead to lasting cooperation, institutional forces must leverage progress so that it can be sustained when disagreements emerge.

The burden is on the U.S. to find ways to reinvigorate and deepen ties. Barriers on Brazil’s agricultural and ethanol exports have reinforced ideological elements of Brazil’s Southern Hemisphere-focused foreign policy—a strategy that helped China displace the U.S. as Brazil’s largest trading partner last year. Brazil wants and should play a bigger global role on everything from energy and the environment to the Middle East. But heated words over Brazil’s welcome of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in late 2009 and fallout over the U.S. decision to recognize the November 2009 Honduran elections point to the risk of clashing visions.

Harnessing that enormous potential for collaboration—both geostrategic and economic—requires careful statecraft that even as skilled of a statesman as Kissinger might find a little daunting. Making the task easier, we have Spektor’s insight to shine some light on the path forward.

Political Competition, Partisanship, and Policy Making in Latin America Public Utilities by Maria Victoria Murillo

John Echeverri-Gent

International markets, in today’s inter-connected world, play an increasingly important role in shaping domestic economic policy. In Latin America, the impact of economic globalization is especially apparent.

But while Latin America scholars have long assumed connections between international political economy and domestic politics, they have only now begun to rigorously explore the linkage. Maria Victoria Murillo’s superb new book, Political Competition, Partisanship, and Policy Making in Latin American Public Utilities, is a welcome contribution to the developing literature on the subject.

Murillo, an associate professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, examines the impact of partisanship and political competition, and she provides novel explanations behind reforms in the electricity and telecommunications sectors. Her work also offers broader insight into the overall formulation of public policy.

Globalization, with all its incentives and sanctions, is often seen as encouraging countries to undertake market-oriented reforms, with Latin America’s neoliberal reforms being a case in point. The capital intensiveness and technological complexity of the electricity and telecommunications sectors should further increase the possibility that intertwined markets and U.S.-trained technocrats would help to usher in market-oriented reforms. However, Murillo documents a substantial variation in both the timing and content of reforms to Latin America’s public utilities.

The powerful impact of globalization is seen in the fact that pragmatic populist converts were as likely to initiate liberalizing reforms as right-leaning, true believers in the “free market.” But this does not mean that partisan orientation is irrelevant. Murillo finds that, throughout Latin America, credible political competition from left-leaning political parties reduced the chance that privatization would be initiated in the electricity and telecommunications sectors by at least 75 percent. It diminished the likelihood of establishing regulatory agencies by 70 percent.

Partisanship also shaped the content of reforms. Right-leaning reformers initiated “market-conforming” policies that reduced the regulations for businesses to enter the market, established few obligations for market participants and encouraged weak regulators. At the same time, populist reformers—who pragmatically converted to liberalization in light of international and domestic economic incentives—implemented “market controlling” reforms, including foreign capital restrictions, obligations for new investors and the establishment of independent regulators.

Beyond her econometric study of the timing of reforms, Murillo uses detailed case studies of Argentina, Chile and Mexico to analyze post-reform politics. In particular, the book examines how institutional legacies, policy responses and feedback continue to shape reforms. Interviews with key policymakers and an analysis of local press reports make these case studies especially convincing.

The key issue of post-privatization politics is the design of regulatory institutions and the distribution of costs and benefits among providers, sectoral rivals and consumers. When a sector received high public attention, usually in connection with a crisis, Murillo finds that electoral competition motivated policymakers to redistribute in favor of consumers. This occurred most frequently in the electricity sector because providers had fewer competitors and serviced a greater share of the public.

When sectors do not have a high profile or there is little electoral competition, regulatory outcomes were determined by the interests of private providers in interaction with the preferences of political leaders. Domination of the market by powerful providers was more likely when an industry is concentrated and the original reformers remained in power.

Murillo’s study is essential reading for those interested in the politics of public utility regulation. However, it also provides valuable insights about the policy consequences of partisan competition in Latin American democracies. It is a groundbreaking examination of the causal mechanisms connecting globalization with domestic policy reform.

Migration from the Mexican Mixteca: A Transnational community in Oaxaca and California edited by Wayne A. Cornelius, David Fitzgerald, Jorge Hernández-Díaz, and Scott Borger

Carlos Yescas

Indigenous people have been migrating to the U.S. from Oaxaca for nearly a century. The first documented large-scale migration began in 1942, when the Bracero Program opened the U.S. border to temporary agricultural workers from Mexico. Although that program ended in 1966, the flow northward continues. But there have been few academic studies exploring how the movement of indigenous peoples across the U.S.-Mexico border has affected the culture and politics of their communities.

Migration from the Mexican Mixteca: A Transnational Community in Oaxaca and California
attempts to fill that gap. It provides a detailed look at the settlement patterns and the social integration of migrants from San Miguel Tlacotepec in Oaxaca who now reside in San Diego County, California. Drawing on interviews and other field work conducted in 2007–2008 by 32 graduate students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the book provides useful empirical information and data, as well as an analysis of the link between immigration, transnationalism, international relations, and economics. This is the fourth in a series of studies on Mexican migration conducted by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, with oversight from Wayne A. Cornelius, David Fitzgerald and Scott Borger of UCSD and Jorge Hernández-Díaz of the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca.

According to the book, an estimated 30 percent of Tlacotepec’s 3,307 residents have left town, having migrated to more economically developed parts of Mexico or to the United States. The community is therefore an excellent choice for analyzing both the indigenous experience of migration and the transnational forces that connect sending and receiving communities.

Initial chapters cover the economic, social and political push-and-pull forces in the Tlacotepec-San Diego migratory process. But the book’s most important discussion comes in the chapter on the civic, political and cultural participation of indigenous migrants in both their places of origin and destination. Here, researchers often grapple with how the indigenous migrant experience differs from that of the non-indigenous.

UCSD students Elizabeth Perry, Nishma Doshi, Jonathan Hicken, and Julio Ricardo Méndez García attempt to shed light on this question by analyzing the customary rules (of collective decision making and communal leadership) that structure  indigenous civic and political participation and how those are affected when migrants return home.

Despite strict rules of eligibility that limit candidates for municipal posts to those who have previously served in public office, the authors discover that many migrants in San Diego continue to play a leadership role at home, even if not officially elected. “Out-migration has compelled Tlacotepenses to modify the system of political, religious and social cargos [positions] in their town,” the researchers conclude. New initiatives lower the requirements to hold office, allow community members to carry out migrants’ leadership duties and limit the expectations that absent townspeople will actively participate in local decision-making bodies. One political by-product of the prolonged absence of fathers, husbands and sons is that more women now participate in town committees.

What remains to be studied is the importance of other factors—besides maintaining political and civic connections at home—on preserving migrants’ ethnic identity. The authors suggest that prolonged disconnection from their roots makes it increasingly difficult for indigenous peoples to remain culturally distinct from other Latino migrants to the United States.

Another insightful chapter focuses on the role of technology in migrant networks. UCSD students Leah Muse-Orlinoff, Maximino Matus Ruiz, Chelsea Ambort, and John E. Cárdenas survey the use of public telephones, private landlines and videoconferences among migrants involved in hometown associations and local leadership committees. Not surprisingly, the authors find a rise in the use of the Internet and other technologies among youth, predicting that services like Skype and instant messaging will gain importance in the transnational community.

Migration has also affected lifestyles within the Tlacotepec community. The chapter written by Clare Appleby, Nancy Moreno and Arielle Smith suggests that stronger border control has affected women’s decisions about when to migrate. Marriage and pregnancy are also generally postponed until settling in San Diego.

On the health front, Whitney L. Duncan, Laurel Korwin, Miguel Pinedo, Eduardo González-Fagoaga, and Durga García find that although the use of traditional and alternative healers is embedded in the cultural practices of some non-migrating Tlacotepec residents, most seek treatment for serious illnesses at a government clinic. In turn, migrants then seek similar care in San Diego. However, California’s undocumented population has limited access to services, which contributes to high rates of non-life threatening illnesses such as depression and anxiety and problems of alcohol and drug abuse.

Overall, the book is an excellent resource for immigration practitioners and researchers. But it would have benefited from a conclusion that better summed up the research and tied together the individual chapters. A consolidated bibliography and an overview of data analysis methods would similarly help academic readers identify new avenues for study. Still, considering the minimal amount of scholarly attention paid to indigenous migration, this book represents a major addition to the literature.

Like what you're reading?

Subscribe to Americas Quarterly's free Week in Review newsletter and stay up-to-date on politics, business and culture in the Americas.