Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
The modern emergence of Spanish multinational enterprises (MNEs) in Latin America is a story often untold. But it has had profound economic effects both in Spain and in the region.
Following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975 and the start of efforts to liberalize the Spanish economy, Latin America was the first and most obvious destination for Spanish outward capital flows, given the economic and cultural affinities. By 1999, Spanish foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region surpassed that of the United States—a development unimaginable just a decade earlier.
Today, investors who bet on Latin America are considered shrewd by most scholars and industry analysts. But in the 1990s, Latin America was associated with financial crises, banking collapses and political meltdowns. Today, with Spain in crisis, the region, like other emerging markets, looks increasingly like a safe bet for investment. As a result of international decisions made in the 1990s, Spanish multinationals find their incomes and risk profiles relatively well positioned.
Pablo Toral provides us with important context and background for these remarkable developments in Multinational Enterprises in Latin America since the 1990s. He writes that the expansion of Spanish firms was a result of their “market knowledge” and the distinct competitive advantage they brought to their ventures in Latin America. Toral, the Mouat Junior Professor of International Studies at Beloit College, addresses important theoretical issues; but above all, he avoids stereotypes of the region by highlighting the differences among sectors, firms and strategies.
Mexico’s progress continues to be inhibited by resistance to change—a resistance that today, according to Jorge Castañeda, has placed Mexico’s democracy and the country at a crossroads. In Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans, the former Mexican foreign minister (2000–2003) analyzes the Mexican character and spirit and from that develops a roadmap for emerging from the current crisis.
While Castañeda’s intellect shines through the work as he mercilessly points out the many contradictions of the Mexican people, several of his points are opaque or even superficial. Admittedly, changing the national character is a tough challenge. In his view, Mexicans are known for their individualism, their aversion to competition and risk, and an irrepressible impulse to ignore laws.
Mexico’s torturous and stormy history is a continuing burden. It has led to a national penchant for self-victimization and has complicated its foreign relations, particularly with the United States. As the process of economic integration fostered by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) continues, cross-border issues such as crime, migration and border security affect Mexicans’ views of themselves as well as their ability to solve their problems.
For these reasons, Castañeda takes a bleak view of Mexico’s future. “If the national trait[...]implies anything, it is that Mexican political culture, because of its deeply rooted rejection of confrontation, competition, and controversy, remains ill-equipped for democracy,” he writes.
But this conclusion is unfair. The political culture and national character cannot be held principally responsible for the breakdown of Mexican democracy. There are other, equally important causes.
Guatemala is the only Latin American country that suffered genocide in the twentieth century. More than 200,000 people—the vast majority of them indigenous Maya civilians—were murdered, mostly at the hands of the military, during the decades-long civil war that began in the 1980s.
Guatemala’s war officially ended in December 1996 with the signing of a United Nations–brokered agreement. But although political violence has declined, more Guatemalans meet violent deaths each year now than at the height of the conflict. And unlike that conflict, in which most of the deaths occurred in remote areas of the countryside, today’s lethal violence occurs for the most part in Guatemala’s urban areas.
This changing dynamic—the subject of an anthology of essays titled Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala—is a consequence of widespread social violence linked to poverty, inequality and the deep hold of organized crime on the Guatemalan state and society. As Manuela Camus of the Gender Studies Center at the Universidad de Guadalajara points out in her chapter, Guatemala City is now “one of the most violent spaces in one of the most violent countries in the world.”