Bossa Nova

Invisible Latin America

by Samuel Shapiro
Beacon, 160 pp., $3.95

Professor Samuel Shapiro, now teaching at the University of Notre Dame, came into prominence toward the end of 1960 when he published a long and impassioned defense of the Castro regime in The New Republic. He reported that Communism did not exist in Cuba and that American reactionaries were attempting to destroy Castro’s revolution by painting the island red. Mr. Shapiro made several more trips to Cuba in the following years, and though shedding each time a bit more naiveté, he continued to take a favorable view of many aspects of the Cuban dictatorship. Now he has written a slim book of warning and prophecy about the future of all Latin America, and it is clear that only a residue of his old sympathy for the Cuban experiment remains. A pity in one sense: his writing was much livelier when he still believed in the revolution.

The thesis of Invisible Latin America is that all the lands south of our border may follow the way of Fidel Castro unless their social and economic systems are radically altered in the shortest possible time. The book attempts to be a contemporary companion volume for John Gunther’s Inside Latin America, written some twenty years ago. While Gunther analyzed the inroads of fascism, Shapiro emphasizes the gains of Communism. The big difference is that John Gunther detested fascism, while Samuel Shapiro, though presumably anti-Communist, often seems fascinated by the possibilities of totalitarian socialism. A great many examples could be quoted to illustrate this, but a few will have to suffice. Discussing the failure of liberal democratic regimes, Professor Shapiro charges that these nations “have suffered for years from strikes, terrorist bombings, and armed uprisings,” and that their military establishments are much swollen. But this is equally true of revolutionary regimes, and Cuba has the largest military force of all. The most “peaceful” country—no strikes, no terrorist bombings, no armed uprisings—is Paraguay, the worst rightist dictatorship of the lot.

Writing on Venezuela, Professor Shapiro holds it against the Betancourt regime that the resettlement of all landless families will take fifteen years at the present rate; he warns that the country may not have that much time before the coming of the revolution. Then, turning to Cuba, he tells us that it may take decades before farm workers will be housed, “but the homes already built are a positive sign of the regime’s concern for the well-being of the long-neglected guajiro.” What is described as “concern” in Cuba is considered an ineffective delaying action in Venezuela. Referring to the failure of the large U.S. capital investments in Bolivia—and many experts would disagree with Shapiro as to the extent of the failure—he states wearily that “not even another $250 million will keep the Cubans, the Russians, and the Chinese out of La Paz.” But he does not mention anywhere the complete fiasco of the greater Russian investment in Cuba. This tendency to select facts without putting them in perspective …

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