A Tale of Two Continents

By Nampiaparampil, Devi | Journal of International Affairs, Spring-Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Two Continents


Nampiaparampil, Devi, Journal of International Affairs


Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering

Hal Weitzman

(Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 260 pages.

Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering critically examines the long-term effects of colonialism, imperialism, and extractive activities in the Latin world. The author, Hal Weitzman, proposes strategies to ameliorate current diplomatic relations between the United States and Latin America in order to protect U.S. interests. In twelve chapters, Weitzman probes the War on Drugs, the Cuba embargo, the expansion of free trade, and other issues that govern the relationship between the two regions.

Latin Lessons suggests that the War on Drugs is more effective at fueling Latin American resentment than at decreasing drug-related crime and mortality. Weitzman explains that coca leaves, the precursor to cocaine, are often cultivated to make tea, which in South American culture is analogous to wine in European culture. He proposes that the United States abandon its injunctions against the export of coca leaves, and focus instead on decreasing U.S. demand for cocaine. Weitzman raises excellent points, but his argument is tenuous. It is unlikely that the drug trade, which is closely intertwined with arms trafficking and homicide, would be significantly weakened by the legalization of coca growth. Rather, there may be a redistribution of wealth. If the world supply of coca leaves significantly increased, the mechanics of the trade might change, but the cocaine industry would most likely boom. One should consider the case of prescription opioids.

The book defines the Cuba embargo as a Cold War relic. Latin Lessons is correct in asking why we continue to punish a country that poses almost no threat to us. Weitzman persuasively argues why Latin America regards Cuba's relationship to the United States as that of David and Goliath. He notes that in 2008, Cuba sustained $5 billion worth of hurricane-related damage, and the Cuban president asked the United States to lift the embargo so Cuba could buy reconstruction materials. The embargo was never lifted, and Cuba never received U.S. aid, provoking more hostilities at the height of the recent U.S. economic downturn. It is unsurprising that government bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, in addition to the buyout of General Motors, inspired President Hugo Chavez to joke, "'Fidel, careful or we are going to end up to [Obama's] right." (1)

Throughout the book, Weitzman describes the United States' dogged pursuit of expanded trade in South America, driven by U.S. demand for Latin American commodities and dependence on Venezuelan oil. In the last chapter, the author notes that Bolivia has 70 percent of the global supply of lithium, a mineral used to make batteries for electric cars. He posits that the U.S. search for alternative technologies may be fruitless if our goal is to avoid relying on leftwing, anti-American Latin American leaders. Here, Weitzman makes a compelling case.

Latin Lessons also thoughtfully examines the social aspects of Evo Morales' administration in Bolivia. He explores how Morales bartered oil for a ready-made social welfare system from Cuba. …

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