Fresh, unique perspectives on recent books from across the hemisphere originally published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Ricardo Lagos has been a central figure in creating the Chile we know today—a prosperous democracy and a model for much of the region. Whether as an academic, an activist in the struggle for democracy, a minister of education (1990–1992) and of public works (1994–1998), a president (2000–2006), or once again, a major figure in the opposition, Lagos has been almost omnipresent in the country’s major policy decisions.
By any measure, he has had an extraordinary career in public service.
In The Southern Tiger: Chile’s Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future—written with Foreign Policy magazine managing editors Blake Hounshell and Elizabeth Dickinson—Lagos retraces some of those steps and reflects on the impact of his policies both at the time and today. The former president makes it clear that he too views himself as a central player in Chile’s democratic and economic transition.
Two themes emerge in The Southern Tiger. The first, now a cliché in studies of Chilean politics, is that of continuity and change; the second is Ricardo Lagos standing up to authority.
On the first theme, Chile is a very different country from the one that Lagos’ coalition, the Concertación, inherited from the regime of General Augusto Pinochet in 1990. Although the foundations of today’s economic model were laid by the dictatorship, the Concertación opened up the economy, reinserted Chile into the international community, instilled and expanded basic social services in areas such as health care, and expanded access to primary, secondary and postsecondary education. By almost any measure—GDP, household income, poverty, education, health, government spending, infrastructure, connectivity, international trade, or corruption—Chile has made great progress in the last 20 years.
Few would disagree with the notion that Albert Fishlow is the right person to write the book on Brazil’s transformation over the past 30 years. He has followed the country since the early 1960s and contributed personally to its economic policy debates—both in Brazil and in the United States. He helped train a legendary cohort of Brazilian policy analysts and even helped establish one of Brazil’s most influential economic research institutes, the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA).
Fishlow’s new book, O novo Brasil: as conquistas políticas, econômicas, sociais e nas relações internacionais (The New Brazil: Political, Economic, Social and International Relations Achievements), lives up to expectations. A detailed analysis of political, economic, social, and external change in the turbulent years of Brazil’s “New Republic,” it is also a painstakingly documented, factual and critical presentation of Brazil’s journey from the days of Tancredo Neves (elected president in 1985 but too sick to take the oath of office), through the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995–2003), to the meteoric rise of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–2010). It takes as its starting point the Diretas Já—Direct [Elections] Now—movement in 1983, which began to bear fruit once military rule ended in 1985.
Despite boasting the second largest economy in Latin America, a noteworthy record of fiscal and economic management in the midst of global turmoil, and envious commercial ties to the United States, Mexico has failed to take its rightful place as a global powerhouse. Many observers wonder why Mexico has not achieved its true potential. What, for instance, has prevented Mexico from joining the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and—now—South Africa)?
In El país de uno: Reflexiones para entender y cambiar a México (My Country: Insights to Understand and Change Mexico), Denise Dresser concludes that Mexico has no one to blame but itself for its lackluster performance. Dresser, a distinguished professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, columnist at Proceso magazine and editorial writer at Reforma, offers a sharp, unflinching and penetrating analysis of today’s Mexico that traces much of the problem to the failure to live up to expectations raised by the 2000 electoral defeat of the single-party state led by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) for most of the previous century.