Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
China’s expanding role in Latin America has sparked a cottage industry among academics and think tanks that are focused on the potential for geopolitical competition with the United States. R. Evan Ellis’ China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores represents an important—although in some aspects, overly alarmist—contribution to the growing literature in the field.
Ellis, an assistant professor at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington DC, has produced a remarkably detailed compendium—nearly encyclopedic in scope—of China’s diplomatic, economic, military, and cultural activities in the region. He also draws on extensive field research and interviews (including with Chinese diplomats) to explore the reasons for China’s interest and to examine why Latin American countries are increasingly receptive to Chinese overtures.
The relatively recent trend of tourism in the favelas, the huge slums of Rio de Janeiro, perplexes many middle-class Brazilians who would rather leave the reality of poverty hidden from the eyes of foreign visitors. Gringo na laje: Produção, circulação e consumo da favela turística (Gringos on the Rooftop: The Production, Circulation and Consumption of Slum Tourism), a short book by sociologist Bianca Freire-Medeiros focusing on tourism in Rocinha (the largest favela in Rio), is a welcome and fresh look at the subject. Through interviews conducted by the author and her team of sociology students with residents of Rocinha and their foreign guests, the book shows how slum visits are more than a passive experience for both favelados (the locals) and their visitors and can actually challenge stereotypes.
But while the book provides Brazilians with an inside look at urban areas seen mostly as hotbeds of crime and violence, it fails to offer much insight beyond what would be gleaned by a casual tourist.
Its main shortcoming is the repeated claim that crime and violence in the favela is just a “spectacular media-centric representation,” blaming the media for depicting only the slums’ negative sides. Freire-Medeiros writes that the recent phenomenon of “tourism in Rocinha has deconstructed the logic that associates favela and violence.”
On April 26, 2004, the municipality of Ilave, Peru, a town with a majority of indigenous Aymara people in the Peruvian altiplano (highlands), was the scene of a tragedy that sent shock waves through the nation and abroad. Then-mayor Cirilo Robles Callomamani, elected less than two years earlier, was beaten to death by a mob of angry citizens. His bruised and tortured body was dragged through town and dumped near a bridge that his administration had failed to repair—and which was apparently one source of the crowd’s fury. The incident raised many questions about the underlying causes of the violence, and most particularly, about its relationship to the contemporary political and socioeconomic environment of Andean Peru.
Some intriguing, and troubling, answers are provided in “No hay ley para nosotros…” Gobierno local, sociedad y conflicto en el altiplano: el caso Ilave (“No Law for Us…” Local Government, Society and Conflict in the Highlands: the Ilave Case), by Ramón Pajuelo Teves, a researcher at the Colegio Andino del Centro Bartolomé de las Casas in Cuzco, Peru. The book, co-published by Peru’s Asociación Servicios Educativos Rurales (SER) and Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP), brings together two separate studies done in 2005 by researchers at the organizations, when the incident at Ilave was still fresh in the collective memory. Together, the lucid, well-researched studies place the murder against the larger context of the profound changes affecting the highlands in recent decades—changes that have dramatically affected the indigenous population and structure of power in the region.
Bolivia captured international attention with the 2005 election of President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. Since then, many books and articles have explored Bolivia’s place in the regional turn toward new Left politics—with some defining the election as part of a broader global struggle against the excesses of neoliberalism, and others celebrating the rise of indigenous political power as a new form of postcolonial liberation. Much of the literature, written by outsiders, rarely focuses on the ideas, principles and choices of those actually shaping Bolivia’s new politics.
Las vías de la emancipación: Conversaciones con Álvaro García Linera (The Paths of Liberation: Conversations with Álvaro García Linera) is an exception. This small volume is the record of nine conversations (held between September 2005 and August 2008) with Álvaro García Linera, Bolivia’s vice president and the intellectual architect of Evo Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) government. The conversations, conducted by Argentine journalist Pablo Stefanoni, Ecuadorian sociologist Franklin Ramírez and Argentine sociologist Maristella Svampa, reveal the thinking of Bolivia’s new political elite in a way that other books on the new regime have failed to do. In particular, they offer a fascinating portrait of one of Bolivia’s most prominent leftist intellectuals.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.