Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
During the early 1990s, many Latin American and U.S. analysts expressed concerns about an Asian giant that was buying Brazilian iron ore and investing in Mexican manufacturing, while at the same time showing signs of out-competing Latin American and U.S. firms in the region. That giant was Japan.
Hysteria heightened and academic research accumulated. But today few people worry about Japan’s role in the region—despite the fact that it is a top-five trading partner and has a large diaspora that includes Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, a former (now jailed) Latin American president.
Is history repeating itself? The new source of hand-wringing in the region is China, which, like Japan years earlier, is portrayed by many as stealing Latin American jobs, plundering the region’s resources and creating diplomatic alliances that could erode the rule of law. At the same time, some U.S. observers see China’s inroads as a threat in the U.S.’s backyard.
How do we make sense of China and Latin America? Are China’s ever-expanding ties a significant threat to Latin American development and/or U.S. strategic interests in the region? These are the questions that a burgeoning group of scholars are beginning to ask. Among them are the editors of China Engages Latin America: Tracing the Trajectory—Adrian H. Hearn of the University of Sydney and José Luis León-Manríquez of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City. This is a must-read for those seeking to better understand Chinese engagement in Latin America.
Not only is their book one of the broadest and most balanced in a steady stream of volumes dedicated to the topic; it truly breaks new ground. It does so by presenting the latest and most dispassionate economic analyses of the China–Latin America relationship and anthropological evidence on how this relationship is playing out in communities.
The abrupt resignation in mid-March of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico—just as President Barack Obama was embarking on a five-day friendship mission to Latin America—is a stark example of the delicate, often irascible bilateral relationship. A diplomatic cable unearthed by WikiLeaks, in which Ambassador Carlos Pascual characterized Mexican security forces as ineffective and riddled with infighting, had ignited President Felipe Calderón’s wrath.
Despite public assertions that U.S.–Mexico ties are stronger than ever, the Pascual affair exposed the underside of a thorny bilateral relationship that unfolds on multiple fronts such as the drug war, border security, trade, and migration—each with different political fault lines.
That a Mexican president would dare to openly excoriate a sitting ambassador and publicly criticize the U.S. government reflects—in part—Mexico’s increased capacity to leverage the inherent asymmetry with its powerful northern neighbor since 1980. It appears that Mexico has found its voice in negotiating with the United States. At least that is what Alexandra Délano argues in Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848.
Délano, an assistant professor of global studies at The New School in New York City, completed her book well before the Pascual affair, but she bases her conclusion on an analysis of U.S.-bound migration over the past 160 years, which she uses to chronicle the evolution of the relationship and argue that U.S.-bound migration is no longer simply a safety valve for Mexican underemployment. Focusing on emigration policies, she methodically documents how Mexico changed its posture toward the exodus of its citizens from indifference—dubbed “the policy of having no policy” by Manuel Garcia y Griego—to strategic, proactive engagement.
In the first decade of the 2000s, Uruguay unsuccessfully tried to sign a bilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. These efforts were pursued first by the administration of President Jorge Batlle (2000–2005) of the center-right Partido Colorado and then by President Tabaré Vázquez (2005–2010) of the center-left Frente Amplio coalition. Many observers believed the drive to enact a U.S.–Uruguay FTA reflected Uruguay’s dissatisfaction with the structure and benefits of the regional trading bloc Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), which many Uruguayans believe never lived up to expectations. It also demonstrated Uruguay’s willingness to defy regional powerhouses Argentina and Brazil—MERCOSUR’s two biggest partners—which both opposed unilateral Uruguayan efforts to negotiate with the United States.
But why didn’t the two parties succeed in getting an agreement that fit Uruguay’s needs and was seemingly aligned with U.S. trade policy?
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.