[Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017. 425 pages]


review / María F. Zambrano

The recent history of Latin America has a lot of progress, although sometimes it only transcends a few steps backwards. In addition to the important changes that have occurred since the 1980s, when the region embraced democracy, began to overcome economic protectionism and tamed the problem of inflation, there has been a more recent period of economic acceleration – the so-called golden decade, due to the commodity boom – which between 2002 and 2012 has led to a B Social impulse: 60 million people escaped poverty in those years, so that, although great inequalities still exist, at least the class average It now extends to 50% of the population. This has generated better educated societies, which have recognized the primacy of law over the paternalism of the caudillo. But the large revenues that many states earned in that golden decade also led to negative rates.

This moderate optimism about Latin America – without ignoring the difficulties, but without ignoring the progress made – is conveyed in the book Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America, by Michael Reid. publisher of Latin America in The Economist, where he writes the column Bello. A correspondent for nearly 35 years in the region, where he has lived most of this time, Reid is one of the best voices in the world. knowledge about the multiple continental reality. Fruit of that experience staff it's Forgotten Continent, which Reid published in 2007 (then under the subtitle "The Battle for the Soul of Latin America") and which he now offers again in a revised and updated edition, with extensive changes from the first version.

What has happened in Latin America in the last ten years for Reid to see the need for a new presentation of your book? Although there are several elements, such as the end of the commodity boom, which has brought economic difficulties to some countries, and certain changes in political orientation (Kirschner for Macri, or Temer for Rousseff), perhaps the most notable thing is that, in democratic terms, Latin America is seen today with less hope than a decade ago. Ten years ago, the new left-wing populism might have seemed like a mere parenthesis in the progressive democratic consolidation of Latin American societies; Today, certainly, Bolivarianism has already shown signs of failure, but it may have greater continuity than expected by inserting itself with the current of populism of various kinds that emerges in many other parts of the world.

Reid notes the failed path taken by Chávez, also followed by other neighboring leaders of the same stripe: "There are lessons for the region in the catastrophic failure of Chavismo. An accident in history – the rise in the price of oil from 2001 onwards – gave for a time spurious plausibility in some places to an alternative course to which Latin Americans seemed to have turned their backs not so long ago. The 'Bolivarian alternative' was based on erroneous premises (...) In their enchantment with Bolivarianism and renewed regard for Cuba, much of the left forgot the abiding lessons of the end of the Cold War: that central planning had failed and that communism was tyranny, not liberation. In any case, the Bolivarian experience has shown that Latin America did not enter an era of assured democracy at the end of its military dictatorships, just as we now see that neither did the rest of the world with the fall of the Berlin Wall, despite the perception at the time. The risk in the region may be greater, due to the persistence of strong social differences: as Reid puts it, Chavismo is "another reminder that extreme inequality offers fertile ground for populism."

Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America

Challenges ahead

In a post-Chávez and post-commodity price boom era, Latin America faces a series of challenges, which certainly go back a long way but in some cases are more urgent. Twice as muchgoal to achieve strong institutions and a development An economic and sustainable approach involves solving important challenges, among which Reid highlights several.

One of them is security. Crime and violence have become an epidemic. In 2013, eight of the ten countries and 42 of the 50 most violent cities in the world, outside of war theaters, were in the region. Reid points to the need for territorial control by the armed forces, the professionalization of police forces, closer cooperation between the police and judges, and clear accountability of these bodies to society.

Other challenge is the consolidation of the new class average. There is progress in the Education primary and secondary, but the preparation of both students and teachers lags far behind their peers in developed countries. In the report PISA in 2015, 15-year-old Latin American students were in the bottom third of the world rankings. If the status does not evolve favourably with an increase in the quality of the teaching In the public sector, Reid warns, private entities would become the first alternative of the new social stratum, which would even be subjected to indebtedness without quality guarantees. It's a phenomenon that also occurs in health care.

In the fight against social inequality, many governments have promoted various formulas of Conditional Transfer of Resources (TCR), which are programs of attendance They seek to raise standards of attitudes, such as the enrolment of children in school, in exchange for subsidies. A number of programmes have rightly contributed to the development But in many cases they transfer resources without achieving long-term progress, as well as becoming in certain countries a clear cultivation of a captive vote. By having two parallel social security systems, the government is taxing the formal sector, while subsidizing the informal sector.


To overcome these challenges, Forgotten Continent raises the need to advance regional integration, the diversification of the Economics and overcoming political dogmatism. Thus, true regional integration would allow for a skill that would stimulate economies of scale and regional supply chains. To overcome, at least in part, the natural barriers to such integration, real investment in infrastructure beyond the current 3% of GDP is needed.

Commodities will continue to be an important economic driver of the region, but they should not be the only one. Agricultural production should provide a added value, derived from the application of innovative technologies, such as the advances that are being made in Argentina and Brazil with "direct seeding" and "precision agriculture". This requires an increase in investment in research and development, which today is only 0.5% of GDP. Latin America also has multiple natural resources that are conducive to the development of the development tourism, or the expansion of manufacturing industries.

The author proposes to break with the discussion between the unfettered free market and protectionism, and stop feeding the corporatist culture of seeing power as a heritage staff. "To get there requires a new subject In the face of the polarization and confrontation offered by populists (and sometimes by their opponents), Latin America needs consensus-building, where the state, the private sector, and civil society work together to set medium-term goals and hold the government accountable for their fulfillment."

These propositional elements of Reid come at the end of a book that is above all a description of the soul of Latin America. This is a continent that has not been poor enough, dangerous enough, or economic enough to attract international attention. Hence the degree scroll of the book. It begins by exposing the structural, geographical and cultural difficulties that the region has had to face in its attempt to establish lasting democracies and overcome its imbalances. It continues with an analysis of political and economic cycles, from independence to the last dictatorships. And finally it concludes with a diagnosis. Although Latin America's problems were already well diagnosed in the first edition, ten years ago, it is in this final part of the book that the author has turned the most pages. His conclusion doesn't vary much, but the tone is slightly more somber; however, Reid prefers to end the story with the same quotation Argentinian liberal Bautista Alberdi: "Nations, like men, do not have wings; They make their journeys on foot, step by step."

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