We at Americas Quarterly were extremely sad to hear that after four years of battling colon cancer, Bob Pastor passed away on January 8, 2013. For many of the AQ editorial staff, he was a friendly contributor to and supporter of AQ—one of our most prominent. For me, though, he was the quintessential scholar/policymaker/intellectual entrepreneur. Bob represented a particular type in the U.S. Latin Americanist community which—at the risk of glorifying the past—there seem to be fewer and fewer of nowadays.
Bob joined President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council (NSC) as the senior advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean at the ripe old age of 29, as a freshly minted Harvard PhD. While there, he was the author of one of the most important Latin American policy initiatives of the day: returning the Panama Canal to Panama. While for many, the Carter years are marked more by the collapse of the brutal Somoza dynasty, the coming to power of the Sandinistas (about which Bob wrote the brilliant and unequalled policy insider’s story Condemned to Repetition) and the escalation of the guerrilla movements in Central America, the tone set by the return of the Panama Canal and Carter’s human rights policy became a symbol of hope and solidarity for the citizens and activists in the region struggling against autocratic military regimes.
Later, at Emory University’s Carter Center, Bob helped develop and refine the standards for electoral monitoring and observation, not just in the region but around the world. As a professor at Emory and later American University, he became a much-beloved mentor to students, all the while keeping up a torrid pace of publishing. Bob became one of the most thoughtful, original scholar-advocates for the North American community. His vision was as ambitious and powerful—economically and geo-strategically—as it was unlikely, however. Sadly, as much as Bob’s view of North America made sense for the economies and citizens across the continent, it was severely (if not fatally) handicapped by the U.S.’s retrograde, isolationist, even sometimes racist attitudes toward integration with its northern and southern neighbors. It is much to Bob’s credit that he persisted and pushed for a series of practical initiatives—policy, academic, and private sector—that could help promote those ideas (things like establishing academic centers for the study of North America).
Sure, there are contemporaries today who combine scholarship with practice and policy advocacy. But someone who has written a book from their time inside the U.S.-Latin America sausage/policymaking machine? None recently. Nor are there many people today who are as committed and passionate about the big idea and willing to take risks to advocate on its behalf. His memory and spirit will live on in the Latin Americanist community and—I hope—inspire future generations of scholar/practitioners.