Latin America in the World Economy: Mercantile Colonialism to Global Capitalism

By Frederick Stirton Weaver | Go to book overview

1
The Changing World
Economy: Introduction
and Early History

For more than five hundred years, international economic and political forces have profoundly and continuously influenced Latin America. And there is no single, homogeneous "Latin America"; the experiences of the people in the Western Hemisphere south of the United States have varied enormously by nation and within nations. These are two of the few general statements that can be made about Latin America and its history that will not immediately provoke sharp responses from anyone familiar with the region.

Yet, there are definite tensions between these two statements. For example, foreign influences were definitely factors in the beginning and end of colonial rule in Latin America, the export economies of the late nineteenth century, post-World War II industrial growth, and the debt crises of the 1980s, each of which occurred around the same time throughout the region. This sounds like quite a bit of commonality, so what happened to heterogeneity?

It is alive and well; these general categories of events obscure highly divergent processes among locales and social groups in Latin America. Despite a long tradition that represents Latin America as passive in respect to world events, 1 the extent to which foreign influences became local influences depended mainly on the varying configurations of social power within Latin America that underlay local responses to the opportunities provided and limitations imposed by external pressures. The recognition of active agency within Latin America does not deny that decisive power was often located elsewhere, but outside circumstances have not been simple determinants of Latin American history.

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