Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Central America is receiving more attention in the U.S. news media and from the U.S. government than at any time since the region’s civil wars and domestic insurgencies three decades ago. Unfortunately, the attention is negative. The focus has shifted from the 1980s Cold War battles of President Ronald Reagan’s administration to the violence associated with organized crime, drug cartels and street gangs (maras).
In Drug Trafficking and the Law in Central America: Bribes, Bullets, and Intimidation, Julie Marie Bunck and Michael Ross Fowler—professors of political science at the University of Louisville—provide those interested in Central America, the drug trade and U.S. foreign assistance in the region with an invaluable tool for understanding the causes and implications of drug trafficking through an analysis of what they term the “bridge countries” of Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. The authors intentionally do not include Mexico, which they argue (correctly) involves a different dynamic both in terms of the strength or weakness of the state, and the nature of the drug trade.
A flurry of new books dedicated to understanding the implications of China’s expanding global influence across the developing world has appeared in recent years. La silenciosa conquista china (The Silent Chinese Conquest), written by two China-based journalists, Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araújo, stands out for the investigative journalistic approach the authors have brought to the phenomenon.
Cardenal, who has worked for the Spanish newspaper El Economista, and Araújo, then with the Mexican news agency Notimex, set out to uncover the effects of China’s global expansion and its pursuit of raw materials, energy sources and new export markets. Their work is the product of five years of on-the-ground research across 25 countries and interviews with 500 people. While scholarly work has tended to focus on China’s relations with separate regions, Cardenal and Araújo bring together empirical evidence of the Chinese presence throughout the “Third World” in a single volume.
Apart from its own merits, the book has aroused wider public attention after the Spanish Embassy in Beijing denied the authors the use of its diplomatic facilities in April to present the work, arguing that “to do so could anger the Chinese government.” The Mexican embassy offered its own premises, and the controversy has helped the book’s sales. La silenciosa conquista china has now been published in five Spanish-language editions, and is being translated into other languages.
Mexico is not the first country that comes to mind when the issue of Afro-descendants in the Americas is discussed. Unlike the better-known cases of Brazil and Colombia—with 91 million and 15 million Afro-descendants, respectively—Mexico’s national statistics agency recognizes only an estimated 500,000 citizens as Afro-descendant, less than 0.5 percent of the total population. However, the accuracy of that number has long been questioned.
But the lack of attention to Afro-Mexicans, concentrated largely in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Chiapas states, is slowly being remedied. In September 2012, the National Forum on Afro-Descendant Populations in Mexico City explored the long-neglected heritage of the country’s Afro-descendants. The forum built on the Mexican government’s Nuestra Tercera Raíz program of the 1990s, though the results of both efforts have been mixed.