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The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean

Peter Winn (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 715 pages
ISBN: 9780520245013
January 2006
$34.95, £24.95
Stunning in its sweep, Americas is the most authoritative history available of contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean. From Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, and from Cuba to Trinidad and Tobago, Americas examines the historical, demographic, political, social, cultural, religious, and economic trends in the region. For this new edition Peter Winn has provided a new preface and made revisions throughout to include the most up-to-date information on changes and developments in Latin America since the last revised edition of 1999.
Peter Winn is Professor of Latin American History and Director of Latin American Studies at Tufts University and a senior research associate at Columbia University's Institute of Latin American Studies. He was academic director of the PBS series Americas: Latin America and the Caribbean, for which the first edition of this book was a companion volume.

"Rare is the book in English that provides a general overview of Latin America and the Caribbean. Rarer still is the good, topical, and largely dispassionate book that contributes to a better understanding of the rest of the hemisphere. Peter Winn has managed to produce both."—Miami Herald

"This magisterial work provides an accessible and engaging introduction to the complex tapestry of contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean."—Foreign Affairs

"A clear, level-headed snapshot of a region in transition…. Winn is most interesting when he discusses the larger issues and to his credit he does this often."—Washington Post Book World

"Balanced and wide-ranging…. After canvassing the legacies of the European conquerors, Winn examines issues of national identity and economic development…. Other discussions survey internal migration, the role of indigenous peoples, the complexity of race relations, and the treatment of women." —Publishers Weekly


Historical events are like foam on the ocean: the foam appears and disappears on the visible surface of the sea, but it does not alter the direction of the tides. Americas was intended as an account of the historical tides that have shaped contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean, not as a recounting of the succession of events that dot the region’s history. In surveying the events that have punctuated the history of the area since the original edition of Americas was published in 1992 and the second edition was published in 1999, I am struck by how well the book’s arguments have stood the test of time.

Many of these events have confirmed the direction of my original analyses, such as a growing democratic trend in Latin America and the Caribbean, once a region notorious for dictatorship and armed conflict. El Salvador is a good example. The real end to its long civil war was not the signing of peace accords in 1992, but the elections of 1994. Subsequent elections have consolidated both peace and democracy, with the Salvadoran left doing well enough in congressional and local elections to reinforce its commitment to both, and the right demonstrating to itself that it could win presidential elections without repressing its opponents. In the years since 1994, Rubén Zamora was elected to congressional leadership and the left won control by ballots of cities it had once disputed with bullets. As Zamora himself has stressed (see Chapter 13), Salvadoran leftists took up arms in 1980 because the political space for democratic politics was closed to them. That space is now open and recent elections have confirmed both the left’s commitment to contesting that democratic terrain and the right’s readiness to allow it. Ironically, the violence in El Salvador making news now is that of gangs formed by the children of returning exiles or deported immigrants, modeled on the youth gangs they joined while in the United States.

Elections elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean—whether in Chile, Brazil, Jamaica, Guatemala, or Panama—also confirmed the democratic trend in the region. In Mexico, where 1994 began with an armed rebellion in Chiapas that harked back to Zapata’s peasant revolution of eight decades before, Indian leaders demanded democracy as well as land, and electoral reform as well as ethnic autonomy.As a consequence of the reforms that followed, subsequent elections were freer and fairer than in the past. In 2000, the opposition elected Vicente Fox as the first non-PRI president in eight decades, ending the oldest one-party rule in the world.

Even in Argentina, whose severe economic crisis and failure of leadership detonated in 2001–2002 a political crisis in which the country was “ruled” by five presidents in one fortnight, the end result was a reaffirmation of democracy. Notably, even in the depths of the crisis, there was no military coup and no call for the armed forces to intervene as there had been in past crises. Argentines lost faith in their leaders and parties, but not in democracy, which flourished in civil society at a local level. In 2003, they voted for Nestor Kirchner as their next president, and by 2005 his approval ratings were among the highest in the hemisphere. The crisis was the trial by fire that demonstrated that democracy was consolidated in Argentina—although the neoliberal policies that led to the crisis were discredited, part of a growing disillusionment with neoliberalism in much of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Several leaders in the struggle for democracy who were featured in the original edition have gone on to play major roles in the democracies whose restoration they had helped bring about. In Brazil, for example, the two leading candidates in the 2002 presidential elections were labor leader Lula and economist José Serra, both important figures in the 1992 edition. That edition told the story of the 1989 election, in which an elite, Fernando Collor, used class prejudices to defeat Lula, a rural migrant and former metalworker who left secondary school to work. Lula’s election as president in 2002—after three successive defeats—symbol-ized the incorporation of the rural and urban poor into full citizenship in Brazil.

Lula is the first Brazilian president who has been a rural migrant, a blue collar worker, or a school leaver. His election was a profoundly democratic event, one which signalled the transformation of Brazil’s elite democracy into a democracy “of the people” as well as “for the people.” It is significant that accompanying Lula on the night of his election was Benedita da Silva, a black, evangelical woman from the slums of Rio de Janeiro featured in the 1992 edition, who had been elected a deputy in the Congress and lieutenant-governor of her home state. As president, Lula has pursued neoliberal economic policies rather similar to those that Serra had advocated as far back as 1992, including tax and pension reforms that the preceding Cardoso government (in which Serra had been a key minister) had been unable to enact.

In 2004, Serra himself was elected mayor of São Paulo, the largest city in South America. The trajectories of Lula and Serra suggest both that democracy is alive and well in Brazil and that Brazil is close to the policy consensus that Serra stated, in the 1992 edition, was the precondition for Brazil to fulfill its potential.

If Brazil does succeed in becoming “the country of the future” in the twenty-first century, it will be in a context larger than even its extensive national boundaries suggest. The trend toward regional integration noted in the 1992 edition has accelerated during the intervening years. In the United States, most are aware of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, which went into effect in 1994. Since then, Washington has signed other free trade treaties, including one with Central America in 2004. In South America, these same years saw the formation in 1995 of the Mercosur, uniting Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay in a customs union of over 230 million people, and in 2004 of the South American Community of Nations. Brazil has emerged as the leader of both of these groups, which some see as counterweights to NAFTA and U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere. The Lula government has embraced the role of regional leader, along with an innovative “South-South” diplomacy that is creating links with China, India, and South Africa, that may challenge U.S. policies at a global level, as I suggest in Chapter 12.

These regional arrangements may be stepping-stones—or alterna-tives—to a hemispheric free trade association (the Free Trade Association of the Americas, or FTAA) that would dwarf the European Union in size and significance. This larger American union, endorsed in 1994 by the heads of state of the Americas, could still be a prominent feature of the twenty-first century. Its advance, however, was slowed first by political opposition within the United States and then by the reluctance of both Washington and Brasilia to sacrifice national economic interests of political importance on the altar of hemispheric integration. The result has been an agreement to pursue, at a slower pace, a less ambitious “FTAA-Lite.” But the commitment to greater hemispheric integration remains and is likely to grow in the years to come.

Another trend discussed in the original edition of Americas, the growing size and significance of communities of Latin American and Caribbean origin within the United States, has also been confirmed. Hispanic-Americans have now become the nation’s largest ethnic/racial minority and are expected to comprise a quarter of the population by 2050. They are being courted as voters and consumers, played a major role in the 2004 elections, and elected two Hispanic-American U.S. senators in the process. President George W. Bush appointed the first Hispanic-American attorney general in 2005 and is expected to name the first Hispanic-American Supreme Court justice during his second term in office.

At the same time, events since 1992 have underscored that Latino communities are still viewed with unease by the wider society. Issues like bilingual education, affirmative action, and social services for immigrants have played major roles in election campaigns in California and elsewhere. The harsh immigration law of 1996 was another sign that the United States has yet to come to terms with its growing Latin American and Caribbean communities, a theme of the original edition. In addition, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean have become victims of tightened national security and immigration controls. These increased security measures have not stopped a growing number of illegal migrants from crossing the

U.S. border from Mexico, although they have shifted this migration to more difficult and dangerous crossing places than those highlighted in the 1992 edition.

Security concerns and racial attitudes have also affected the migration of Haitians, who in the 1990s were arriving in makeshift boats in large numbers. These refugees were driven by a mix of political, social, and economic motives typical of migrants in the hemisphere, as the original edition of Americas argued. Most of the poor Haitians who tried to escape their island in rickety boats were fleeing the political terror unleashed against the supporters of leftist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he was overthrown by a military coup in 1991. Aristide was restored to power by a U.S. military intervention in 1994, but ousted again by a paramilitary rebellion with shady ties to Haiti’s past and U.S. complicity in 2004. Haiti’s continuing troubles underscore that it remains deeply divided along the lines of class and color analyzed in the original edition. These divisions must be transcended in order for Haiti to consolidate the democracy that its people want and secure the economic development that they need.

A healing process accompanied by reform and democratic incorporation is also needed in countries with large indigenous populations such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Guatemala. In Ecuador, the struggles of the indigenous movement chronicled in Chapter 7 have accelerated since1992, bringing more victories than defeats and a growing recognition of their importance. In both Ecuador and Bolivia, political movements with indigenous bases have played central roles in the ouster of unpopular presidents, and in placing indigenous leaders in high political office and indigenous issues on national agendas. Even in Guatemala, where, as the original edition of Americas chronicled, genocidal civil war claimed more than one hundred thousand indigenous lives during the early 1980s, the completion of a long peace process in 1996 opened up new possibilities for its indigenous peoples. The awarding of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize to the Maya activist Rigoberta Menchú was a sign that the struggle of indigenous people in the Americas had won international legitimacy. Her recent appointment as an internal goodwill ambassador on behalf of the peace accords by an elite ladino president is a sign that it may be winning legitimacy within Guatemala as well. Throughout the hemisphere, indigenous movements remain on the cutting edge of change, as do the struggles of women for equality and the changing face but constant strength of religious experience in the region, described in earlier editions.

Another Nobel Prize awarded in 1992—the prize for literature, which went to the West Indian poet Derek Walcott, featured in Chapter 11— honored the richness and vitality of the cultures of the Caribbean and in particular its peoples of African descent. It celebrated the vibrant culture they have created in the lands of their involuntary diaspora, drawing on the many strands of their heritage and experience with a creativity that has continued during the past decade.

Important events have also taken place since 1992 that require more than an acknowledgement in a preface. In preparing this new edition of Americas, I have tried to update its stories wherever that was necessary and possible. In some cases, I have added significantly to the original text, as in the account in Chapter 4 of Argentina’s crisis of 2001 and 2002. In others, such as the discussion of Peru’s Shining Path movement, revision meant recognizing that a story had reached its end. In most cases, my task has been to update ongoing stories, while leaving them open-ended, as with Brazil’s efforts to reform its economy (discussed in Chapter 5) or the efforts of the Colombian state to deal with the challenge posed by the country’s decades-old guerrilla movements (in Chapter 12). But even when dramatic events have grabbed headlines, I left them out of this new edition if I judged them surface events that would not alter the tides of historical change. I have, however, written a new epilogue for this edition focusing on the main challenges facing the region in the early years of this new century.

Inevitably, during the lifetime of this edition, new events will occur and new figures will take the stage. No book can remain up to date. My hope rather is to reveal the underlying dynamics of change that will shape those events and structure that stage.

As it confronts a new century and a new millennium, Latin America and the Caribbean remains one of the most dynamic regions in the world, whose face will continue to change in the future, as will that of the increasingly globalized world around it. In the end, the increasing importance of the complex interrelations between the Americas and the rest of the world—a central thesis of the first edition of Americas—is perhaps the most important trend to have been confirmed by subsequent events, as the ricochet effect of the Asian crisis of 1997–1998 on first Brazil and then Argentina demonstrated. The coming years are likely to reinforce this tendency, and the twenty-first century should witness an unparalleled degree of regional and global integration, whose contours and consequences for the Americas we are only beginning to discern.

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