Chasing Che and the New Global Latin America

This post is published in conjunction with the American Historical Association conference in Denver, taking place January 5-8.When sharing this post on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AHA17!


The opening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and continued changes to current Cuban sanctions is just an example of how Latin American countries can impact our global culture, economy, and politics. Yet the impact is usually not so apparent.

Matthew C. Guttmann and Jeffrey Lesser–editors of Global Latin America, part of the new Global Square Series–introduce how Latin American countries have, for quite some time, been global players.

The puzzle that inspired Global Latin America was, Why did we find Che Guevara’s image everywhere we went in the world? Why was a Latin American revolutionary of the 1950s and 1960s so popular among so many people around the globe in 2016? Why was Che easily the most famous Latin American outside the region? Sure, images of the bearded face and beret were often devoid of deep meaning, but there was his image, and we wanted to make sense of it. Trying to understand global Che led us to the larger meanings of global Latin America. …

Che Guevara image on man's cap, Shanghai, 2013. Photo: Matthew Gutmann.
Che Guevara image on man’s cap, Shanghai, 2013. Photo: Matthew Gutmann.

We are often more familiar with the impact of the world on Latin America than with the impact of Latin America on the world. The three C’s Conquest, Colonialism, and Christianity provide a tortured, if better-known story, about how some parts of the world have exercised control over other parts. … Although the significance of Latin America for the rest of the world is not new or sudden, it is ever more apparent. The impact that Latin America has had in the other direction, even though unmistakable, has never been as familiar a narrative. This volume, like the others in the Global Square series, seeks to remind us that regions are not just victims but also global players.

Latin America in 2016 is home to emerging global powers. In 2016, even despite massive downturns economically, Brazil had the seventh largest economy in the world and Mexico was poised to break into the top ten. Latin America is tightly bound to regions from Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to Europe, through commerce and trade, migration, and the arts. In political and economic terms, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are world leaders, part of the Group of 20 (G20) countries that have greatly expanded membership beyond the old geopolitical leadership of Europe, Japan, and the United States.

In Realpolitik, Latin American leaders from Argentina’s Carlos Menem to Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez have proposed that they are uniquely able to help to resolve global problems, from conflicts in the Middle East to energy to climate change to participatory democracy. Heavy manufacturing in Latin America is reshaping global auto, weapons, and airplane industries. Environmental measures in the enormous Amazon region, positive and negative, are central to global discussions of climate change. Truth commissions formed to document the abuses of past dictatorships in Latin America have become vital reference points for similar efforts from South Africa to Rwanda to Cambodia. …

GutmannLesser.GlobalLatinAmericaGlobal Latin America is for students, business leaders, policy makers, and global travelers interested in better understanding Latin America’s deep entanglements with and influence on our interdependent world. Chapters by academics, politicians, activists, journalists, scientists, and artists shine light on Latin American history, society, and culture. For those who want to appreciate the diversity and global relevance of Latin America in the twenty-first century, this volume collects some of the top scholarship and social analysis about global Latin America today and historically.