An expert in the region makes the case for the rise of Latin America.
“We are gold-eaters,” said Hernán Cortés to Moctezuma’s priests. It turned out that the conquistadores and their imperial successors were eaters of all Latin America’s riches, including silver, fruit, rubber, cacao, copper, sugar, lumber, oil and more. In the best passages, Guardiola-Rivera (International Law and International Affairs, Birkbeck College, Univ. of London; Being Against the World: Rebellion and Constitution, 2008) captures the greed of the conquerors, how their lust for gold stimulated world capitalism at its inception and how their drive for power choked off the enslaved Amerindians’ dream of a life centered on the collective welfare. That dream, he argues, is set for revival. With America’s political identity transformed as it becomes primarily Latino by 2040, with formerly subjugated nations emerging from the nightmare of colonial exploitation and countries like Brazil taking its place on the world stage and with the challenge of climate change and the global financial meltdown forcing reconsideration of political, social and economic models, the world will look to Latin America for instruction. The continent’s cultural lessons emerge from a tradition of rich social relations, environmental sensitivity, legal racial equality, antimilitarism and common access to and ownership of life’s essentials. Relying on archival documents and his own travels and interviews with government ministers, journalists and activists, Guardiola-Rivera assembles a richly allusive, if idiosyncratic history of the European conquest and the continent’s subsequent struggle against dependency. He easily mixes history’s familiars—e.g., Atahualpa, Columbus, Balboa, Bolívar, Murrieta, Guevara—with tales of lesser knowns like the adventurer William Walker and the entrepreneur Charles Flint, who fomented and profited from private wars against sovereign nations. The author manages far less successfully to persuade us that Latin America will assume such a prominent global leadership role. In a narrative marred by professor-speak, wordiness, leftist cliché and assertions masquerading as argument, the effect is ultimately wearying rather than convincing.
Grist for a graduate seminar, but a slow grind for everyone else.