Inside South America
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Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil
There can be no such person as a “Latin American Expert,” if we mean by this someone who is well acquainted with all the Latin American countries. For Latin America is vast, encompassing twenty independent states and several dependencies of foreign powers. Even if a writer decides to limit himself to a treatment of the Latin countries of the South American mainland, he is still faced with the problem of having to deal with ten separate countries, all different from one another. It would take a scholar about five years to become reasonably well acquainted with the history, literature, and politics of any of them. To study them simultaneously, to prevent one’s knowledge from becoming superannuated, one would have to devote about fifty years to become an expert on all of South America alone.
There are some experts on limited aspects of the Latin American scene, the trade union movement, for example, or agriculture, or financial policy. But a person recognized as a Latin American expert usually knows between two and four countries well, has superficial knowledge of perhaps half a dozen more, and knows very little about the rest. When called upon to write a book on the whole area, he will be irresistibly tempted to draw general conclusions from this small base. That is why so many books on Latin America are full of impermissible generalizations. What is even worse, one frequently finds elementary factual errors in books by specialists of high repute. I know of no other discipline of which this is so often true.
That is why some of the best books on Latin America have been written by travel writers, who did not claim infallible expertise, but have at least collected their material on the spot. This is more than one can say about some academic writers. John Gunther, who has a lifetime of experience as a political observer, is particularly well-qualified to write about a region whose interest is largely political. Mr. Gunther’s new book Inside South America avoids the pitfalls that have been the undoing of so many writers on the subject. Mr. Gunther is not afraid of the delicate subject of anti-Americanism. He readily admits its strength, while not exaggerating its extent. He does not feel compelled to defend every aspect of United States policy, nor does he fall into the opposite error of naïvely accepting the strictures of professional Yankee-baiters. While condemning dictatorship, he acknowledges that in Latin America democracy is often used as a device by which an oligarchy maintains its rule through manipulation of elections. He is not horrified by corruption and inefficiency; he has seen worse elsewhere. Moreover, he is neither deluded by the superficial resemblance of Latin American institutions and customs to those of Europe and the United States, nor antagonized by the underlying fundamental differences.
Although his statement that South America is “on the brink of revolution” is not quite borne out by his reports from the individual countries, one can certainly say that …
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