September 25, 2007

Democracy vs. National Security: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America

by Paul W. Zagorski, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1992, 217 pp., $35.00 (cloth), $16.95 (paper).

In this interesting-if somewhat over-simplistic-study of political behavior, Zagorski examines civil- military relations in Latin America's recent transition to civilian rule. What makes this academic study interesting is the concrete detail the author provides about the wide ranging civilian military conflicts which eventually weakened military regimes and led to civilian rule in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. The over simplicity lies in the reduction of these conflicts over human rights, national security, military reform and a variety of political reforms to conflicts between civilians and the military. While Zagorski is aware that the military frequently represents more than "military interests," only those military interests are subjected to behavioral analysis.

Television, Politics, and the Transition to Democracy in Latin America

edited by Thomas E. Skidmore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 188 pp., $25.00 (cloth).

Over the past several decades, television has become the primary medium of communication in much of Latin America. In the new democracies, TV is a key purveyor of political information and provides one forum where political candidates do battle in election campaigns. But just how decisive is TV in electoral outcomes? The book's contributors grapple with this question in case studies of the 1988 plebiscite in Chile, and the most recent presidential campaigns in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. The varying conclusions they arrive at about the power and limitations of television make for interesting polemic.

Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the "Dirty War"

by Martin Edwin Andersen, Westview Press, 1993, 412 pp., $59.00 (cloth), $17.95 (paper).

This book immerses us in one of the terrible chapters of recent world history-the Argentine "dirty war." Anderson gives us a perceptive and chilling account of the awful years from 1976 to 1983 when Argentina suffered under the rule of the Generals. Andersen quotes a survivor of both the Nazi holocaust and the dirty war: "The only difference was that there they cremated people and here they threw them in the river." Andersen makes a convincing case that by the late 1970s, the military-to justify its violent suppression of labor, religious and student groups-invented guerrilla confrontations (often riddling already dead bodies with bullets and carefully arranging them in shoot-out positions), and even gave material support to what was left of Argentina's guerrilla movement. Most of the media attention the book has received focuses on Andersen's compelling (though not proven) allegation that Montonero guerrilla chief Mario Firmenich worked as a double agent throughout the entire period. Equally disquieting is Andersen's claim that the military's brutal decimation of the Argentine labor movement consciously paved the way for subsequent neoliberal economic policies. Unfortunately, the story doesn't take off until page 135. The first third of the book tries to put events in historical perspective, but instead of capturing the broad sweep of Argentine/Peronist history, it becomes bogged down in a litany of names, places and events that has the reader constantly referring back to the previous few pages to keep the story straight.

The Rush to Development: Economic Change and Political Struggle in South Korea

by Martin Hart-Landsberg, Monthly Review Press, 1993, 352 pp., $ 18.00 (paper).

South Korea, together with Taiwan, Singapore and Hong-Kong, has been put forward over the past decade as an example that Latin American countries striving for industrialization and exportled growth would be wise to follow. Mixing facts with ideology, advocates of neoliberal economics have presented Korea as a success story that makes the case for market supremacy over inefficient state intervention. Hart-Landsberg's careful study shows that it was the state, much more than the marketplace or private business initiatives, that was responsible for Korea's economic success. South Korea's economic growth and transformation have largely been the result of highly centralized state planning and control over credit allocation, invest- ment, and trade decisions. The state forged close relationships with a small number of "chaebol" huge financial/ industrial concerns based upon kinship relations (such as Samsung, Hyundai and Daewoo) and its highly repressive authoritarian rule over more than two decades squelched worker and student protests. The book emphasizes the South Korean state's autonomy vis-a-vis the domestic bourgeoisie. Due to Korea's neocolonial dependence on Japan, the country's ruling groups were comparatively weak and highly dependent on government agencies to compete in the marketplace. In addition, agrarian modernization reduced the economic and political power of tradi- tional landowners and freed peasants for urban labor. These particular factors gave the Korean state the autonomy to determine economic strategy and ensured support from the business elite. According to Hart-Landsberg, agrarian modernization, state autonomy, and authoritarian rule underlie South Korea's economic performance from the "supply side." The "demand side," on the other hand, is influenced by a mixture of U.S. political and economic interests related to the Cold War in South East Asia, as well to Korea's proximity to the Japanese market. Hart-Landsberg insightfully reexamines the Latin American experience with, and the frequent failure of, exportled industrial growth strategies. Certainly, a number of Latin American countries among them Argentina, Brazil and Chile have shown impressive economic growth under authoritarian military regimes. In such cases, however, state autonomy was limited, allowing traditional agro export elites to assert their interests on public policy particularly on tax and credit issues, as well as on exchange rates. Broad state intervention at the micro, entrepreneurial level in the form of state ownership of firms and subsidies to private corporations has been coupled with relatively inefficient macroeconomic regulation, thus reinforcing the traditional rentier behavior of business groups. In addition, the early association of domestic business groups with multinational corporations partially redirected profits to an international market whose leading actors did not support Latin American manufacturing efforts as decisively as they had in South Korea. Finally, neoliberal modernizers in Latin America view kinshipbased internal structures as an obstacle to be removed, thus depriving business of a powerful means of promoting solidarity.

- Carlos Vilas Unless otherwise indicated, all reviews are written by NACLA staff.


Read the rest of NACLA's Sept/Oct 1993 issue: "Peril And Promise: The New Democracy in Latin America."


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