Burnett and Johnson have teamed together with 17 contributors to provide beginning students with a textbook in Latin American politics. Their approach is both traditional (country by country) and in line with a modern tendency to compare politics through analysis of structures (institutions) and their respective functions and dysfunctions. The introductory and concluding chapters, written by the editors, establish this book’s central focus on political instability and stability. Symptoms of instability are related to three considerations: entrepreneurial deficiencies, a lack of role specialization, and accelerated urbanization and overpopulation. The editors see also that a social stalemate or equilibrium of groups contending for power may contribute to instability.
The editors opt for stability, although they acknowledge that it may lead to dictatorship and stagnation. They advocate consensus among political forces and an end to radical ideology and insurgency. Much attention is given to entrepreneurial use of “development capital” to correct “market imperfection” and meet “mobility expectations.” Burnett and Johnson view foreign capital as a historical catalyst for change and a challenge to traditional order, but they do not probe deeply into the political interests of economic groups or the impact of capital formation among the banking, financial, and landowning segments of society. Nor do they examine how economic stagnation and political instability are related or how and to what extent development is impeded. They touch only lightly upon the rise and decline of populist and social movements in the under-industrialized urban complexes. Nor are they concerned with the emergence of the peasant-based movements and guerrilla forces in rural areas and in their relationship to working class areas of political radicalization.
Each chapter on an individual country is divided into the political environment (geography, economic determinants, demographic and social considerations, historical perspectives), political structures and roles, processes of function and dysfunction, and a concluding prognosis of stability and instability. Several contributors emphasize aspects of societal change as well, and John Martz recasts his analysis in a dichtomy of stability and change. As might be expected, there is some imbalance among the essays. The best chapters, by Martz (Venezuela) and Burnett (Chile), reflect insights and an intimate familiarity with subject matter. Chapters by Donald Bray (Uruguay) and Jordan Young (Brazil) are imaginative contributions. The former is neatly organized for student use, while the latter synthesizes information and ideas on relatively unexplored subjects such as ideology, political socialization, mobilization, and decision-making. The chapters on Argentina and Colombia are also good. As to other chapters, why ignore the notion of a ruling Mexican revolutionary elite (explored elsewhere by Frank Brandenburg), and why is there only brief mention (and no analysis) of the lengthy guerrilla struggle in Guatemala? One is disappointed also by the weak chapter on Cuba, in which Castro’s coming to power is oversimplified and his “betrayal” of the revolution is misinterpreted. Further, the author obscures his review of the revolution’s institutionalization, and he is unaware that Castro’s statement in 1961 that he had always been a Marxist-Leninist was based on an erroneous news service dispatch, later retracted. There is no explanation why Costa Rica and Panama are treated separately while the other Central American republics are together. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are separated without synthesis in the same chapter.
Lastly, why has Johnson included his chapter on Latin American political thought? With a focus on democratic liberalism, authoritarian idealism, democratic utopianism, and democratic progressism, he emphasizes the thought of Lleras Camargo and excludes such thinkers as Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and José Carlos Mariátegui. On Brazil, Gilberto Freyre’s significance is exaggerated, while Euclides da Cunha, Caio Prado Júnior, and all contemporary nationalist writers are omitted.