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About this book

Fully updated for the third edition, Contemporary Latin America provides an accessible concise introduction to the region. Historical context, the countries and their peoples provides a backdrop to broad-ranging coverage of politics, economy, society and culture and the continent's prospects today.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
Before entering the detailed description of contemporary Latin America’s social, economic, political and cultural development over the past decades I would like to delve into some broader introductory issues. The first of these is ‘Where is Latin America?’ in which I seek to get beyond the platitudes of ‘developing region’ type explanations. Situating or characterizing Latin America is, to my mind, a necessary starting point for any analysis. The second theme we need to broach is that of ‘dependency’ both as supposed conditioning element of development in Latin America and, arguably, as the region’s major contribution to international development theory. Latin America is also, again arguably, quite original in terms of the political movements for transformation it has generated. Why has Latin America produced Eva Perron, Ché Guevara, Hugo Chávez, Lula and Evo Morales? What does this tell us about the politics of transformation? Our fourth and final theme concerns the even broader question of Latin America’s particular path to modernity. If it is not a simply copy (albeit backward) of the West, or just a part of the Third World (as for example Africa) what is Latin America’s particular road to modernity? What might this tell us about global development theories?
Ronaldo Munck

2. Settings

Abstract
This chapter will establish the physical, demographic, social and economic settings within which the subsequent analysis is set. Thumbnail sketches of the Latin American republics are provided along with an outline of their geographical setting. This is important because talking about ‘Latin America’ may obscure the continent’s diversity. Demographic trends are presented next, highlighting diversity in a context in which native Amerindians were joined by Spanish Conquistadores, European settlers and African slaves. Difference and heterogeneity rather than common pattern are key points. Next we outline some of the main trends in social development, setting Latin America in a global context. High levels of social inequality are a dominant feature. Finally we turn to broad economic trends. Again diversity is immediately apparent with Brazil now seen as a major economic power while Central America, for example, is quite stagnant. This is not a story of simple under-development — a region waiting to take off — but a particularly unequal and distorted pattern of economic development.
Ronaldo Munck

3. History

Abstract
To understand contemporary Latin America — in economic, political, social and cultural terms — we need to first set the basic historical context and the parameters it established for subsequent developments. Latin America, more than elsewhere perhaps, is living a present that is very much shaped by its history. We see this for example in terms of inherited land ownership patterns and external economic dependency. After a quick review of the colonial and post-colonial periods, this chapter focuses on the period since the 1930s when most countries began to move ‘beyond oligarchy’, the subject of the first section below. After World War II most countries moved into a phase when democracy was consolidated but in a variant that may be called national-statism, given the importance of the state as a matrix for social change. Democracy collapsed under the contradictions of dependent development in the 1970s (if not earlier) which led to the era of military authoritarianism in many countries. Finally, there was a period from the mid 1980s onwards of re-democratization across the continent, in spite of the constraining effects of the economic programmes of neo-liberalism set by the international economic bodies such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The achievements and contradictions of the democratic period are considered in Chapter 6 which deals in particular with the dominance of left-wing governments in many countries.
Ronaldo Munck

4. Political Economy

Abstract
The political economy of a region is a crucial determinant of the wellbeing, or otherwise, of its inhabitants. Latin America, more often than not, hits the international news when one of its countries experiences a financial crisis — Mexico in 1994 or Argentina in 2001 — but there is also much talk in the international media about the rise of Brazil as a global economic player as well. This chapter traces the broad outlines of the region’s political economy, commencing with an overview of ‘dependent development’ as both a concept and a reality. We then move to the post-World War II phase of state-led industrialization under generally nationalist and populist political regimes. This is followed by the emergence in the 1980s of the neo-liberal economic model based on pushing back the state and opening up to the world market. Finally, we consider whether there are alternative economic strategies to the dominant Washington Consensus model, an issue that has become particularly pressing after the collapse of the neo-liberal economic model in Argentina in 2001–02 and the global economic recession of 2008/09.
Ronaldo Munck

5. Society

Abstract
Having examined the main features of Latin America’s political economy we now turn to its society and the social patterns established between individuals, families and broader social groupings. We begin with some of the most salient social structures in Latin America that pattern the life of the individual and the family. These include social classes, of course, but also a range of other social divisions. People also form social relations based on gender and ‘ethnic-racial’ divisions as well as the ‘informal’ political relationships characteristic of patronage and the compadre (godfather and/or mate) systems. The social transformation of Latin America took place under the twin impacts of industrialization (as we saw in the previous chapter) and urbanization, which is examined here. Finally, this chapter examines the broad parameters of poverty and welfare in contemporary Latin America, which both constrain democratic development and are a measure of its success.
Ronaldo Munck

6. Politics

Abstract
Radical democratic politics are now thriving in Latin America as never before. Free elections, a free press and vibrant political parties all signal the consolidation of democracy. There is a unique situation when the vast majority of the continent — with the exceptions of Mexico, Chile and Colombia — has left-of-centre governments. The first section of this chapter examines current political processes through a number of key case studies that can be seen as indicators of more general trends. However, there is also a possibility of disenchantment with democracy, which might be seen to not deliver social and economic advances in many cases. Then we turn to what many observers have called a ‘left turn’ in Latin American politics with the rise of Hugo Châvez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, for example. Finally, we focus on the very serious challenges faced by democratic politics in contemporary Latin America, including dealing with income inequality and with corruption.
Ronaldo Munck

7. Social Movements

Abstract
Latin America is in many ways the continent of social movements par excellence. From Zapata to the Zapatistas, from Ché Guevara to the Sandinistas, from Allende to Comandante Camila, revolutionary social movements seem synonymous with Latin America. This chapter takes a broad historical view of social movements to place these evocative names in their rightful context. First, we examine the impact of nationalist movements from Peronism onwards conscious of their continued importance given the condition of dependency analyzed above and the recent revival of populism. We then turn to the urban labour movements and their rural counterparts that have had, and continue to have, a huge impact in a number of Latin American countries. Finally we turn to the ‘new’ social movements, with which readers will perhaps be more familiar, such as the women’s movement, the environmental movement, various ‘ethnic’ movements and the human-rights movement that assumed a critical role during the period of the dictatorships.
Ronaldo Munck

8. Governance

Abstract
Government in the era of globalization is more complex than it once was: from the ‘outside’ powerful economic forces constrain decision making and from the ‘inside’ the state finds itself ‘hollowed-out’ by the neo-liberal reforms (see Chapter 4). We thus increasingly refer now to ‘governance’ that implies a process of steering (rather than dictating) society and the economy. This chapter thus addresses, in the first instance, the elements and contemporary forms that the electoral and political party systems have taken across Latin America. We next address the way the law has operated, or not operated, to govern society and to provide the ‘rule of law’ deemed necessary for democracy to prosper. We turn then to the role of the state bureaucracy in administering society, from the state-led industrialization period onwards. Finally, we critically examine the role of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that, to some extent, have filled the gap created by the ‘hollowing-out’ of the state in the era of free-market rule.
Ronaldo Munck

9. Culture

Abstract
In Latin America, perhaps more than elsewhere, culture is political and politics are cultural. This chapter takes culture to mean more than the arts and the theatre, and to embrace the whole process whereby we make sense of our lives and produce the meanings that configure our social worlds. Culture is taken to mean cultural politics and refers to the struggles individuals and social groups engage in over meanings and representations. Cultural politics is, above all, about identity, the ways in which we constitute our sense of ourselves. This chapter begins with a broad overview of the ideologies for change and transformation that have influenced post-war Latin America. It then turns to the role of religion in society, focusing particularly on the influential ‘Theology of Liberation’ and recent religious trends. Then we turn our attention to the so-called literary boom of the 1970s (Gabriel García Márquez, among others), which helped put Latin America on the world cultural map. Finally we examine various facets of contemporary popular culture, from the famous telenovelas (TV soaps) to the carnival.
Ronaldo Munck

10. International Context

Abstract
Latin America, like other regions outside the affluent and secure global north, is impacted on in a whole series of ways by the international context within which it exists. This chapter begins with a broad review of the international context of economic and political development in Latin America from the age of colonialism to the present era of globalization. Particular emphasis is placed on the massive changes that took place after the end of the cold war. We then turn to security issues, understood in the broadest sense to include wars and border conflicts but also the debt issue and the increasingly important drugs question. Next there is a shift to the regional dimension with an evaluation of the impact of NAFTA and MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South), which are transforming the north and south of the subcontinent respectively. Finally, we examine the role of Latin America in the world today in terms of international organizations such as the UN (United Nations), the OAS (Organization of American States) and the global social movements concerned with the environment. Our objective is to set the continent firmly within the international context as a conditioning situation for internal developments.
Ronaldo Munck

11. Futures

Abstract
It is now 200 years since political independence was gained in Latin America in a long drawn out process between 1810 and 1822. Are we now embarking on a process of economic independence for the region perhaps led by Brazil? Is Latin America, a region that emerged relatively well from the 2008/09 recession, now a new engine of global growth? Then, if this is a global region moving ‘beyond dependency’ is it also moving ‘beyond democracy’ in the sense of consolidating political democracy through genuine social democratization? After examining the various economic, political, social and cultural facets of contemporary Latin America we need to look to the future in an open-ended way.
Ronaldo Munck
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