Latin America's Turbulent Transitions
Book Review by Rebecca Short, April 2013
Roger Burbach, Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes
Latin America's Turbulent Transitions is the new book by three prominent left wing academics on Latin America: Roger Burbach, Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes.
Following the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez at the beginning of March, the authors make a timely contribution to the discussion about the future of the left in the region. As US hegemony across Latin America seems to be weakening they look towards social and indigenous movements such as CONAIE in Ecuador and the EZLN in Mexico, the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia, the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) in Brazil and los piqueteros in Argentina.
The book also deals with the legacy of the new left governments and what they call "neo-extractivist" trading policies.
The authors all agree that under the leadership of the so-called pink tide of left governments, through continental projects to strengthen economic independence from the US, the region is forging its own path forwards and entering a phase of "21st century socialism".
The first chapter of the book, which looks at globalisation, begins by giving an introduction to the political economy of the region and the impact of neoliberalism throughout the 1980s.
It goes on to give a careful analysis of the social movements that have challenged such policies. While the explanation is interesting, some of the conclusions in line with the post-Marxist philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are arguable.
Chapter two looks at "the pink tide and the challenge to US hegemony". They argue that in response the the US's "imperial overstretch" Latin America has been allowed to embark on a complex process ultimately leading to more independence.
The discussion of "neo-extractivism and 21st century socialism" is extremely interesting. The authors argue in favour of the policy of neo-extractivism, which has been widely adopted by the new left governments. The state aims to expand the extraction industry and use the revenue gained to invest in social programmes. But, as authors such as Guillermo Almeyra have pointed out, extractivist economies geared towards export (as in Bolivia) have resulted in repeated clashes with indigenous communities rising up in defence of natural resources, forests and water.
In the second half of the book the authors look at the situation in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Cuba as they claim to be making attempts towards 21st century socialism.
Although written before the death of Chávez, the book examines the key role he played as the leading figure of the revolution and proponent of 21st century socialism. Looking at the increasing political tensions in Venezuela and the economic impact of the recession it concludes that the country will face three main challenges: the United States and their continued opposition to Chávez's government, corruption and bureaucracy within Venezuela, and the necessity of a collective leadership. It is this last point that will now be paramount following Chávez's death.
Overall the book is well written and accessible. While I would disagree with some of the reformist arguments I would recommend it to anyone following the transitions in Latin America over the coming years.
Latin America's Turbulent Transitions is published by Zed Books, £16.99