Friday, February 26, 2016

Inevitable revolutions in Central America

I just finished a book called Inevitable Revolutions, by Walter Lafeber.  It is an exhaustive review of US-Central America relations from the early 1800s to the 1990s.  It has two theses that it argues throughout the length of the book:

  • The United States, despite its revolutionary birth, has since at least the 1820s been an anti-revolutionary power in Central America, prizing stability over all else.
  • The very insistence of the US on promoting stability over revolution or even democracy in Central America has in fact created time and again the basic conditions for revolution.  In trying to avoid revolution (through military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on Central American countries), the US has in fact been the prime driver of it.
One thing that leaps out at me from both this book and from my recent exposure to Central American reality is that, while the entire world and Latin America in particular speaks of and denounces US imperialism, Central America is a totally different case from anywhere else.  Mexico has been too big, strong, and nearby for direct US intervention in much of the 20th century, and South America has been too far away (the Allende coup notwithstanding).  But Central America is the only place that I've ever seen where the US actually plays a role like France does in West Africa.  The cities in Central America are built on the mid-century US model, the food and culture (and the cheapening of both) and the commercial establishments are like in the US, even the gang violence seems modeled on the US.  Most strikingly, elites in Honduras emulate and identify with US culture in the same way that elites in francophone Africa do with France.  They speak to and educate their children in the colonial tongue, they send their children to study and live in the dominant country, they are more familiar with many parts of the metropole than with most of their own city and country, their clothes and vacations and cultural consumption are all from the colonial mother power.  It's really uncanny.  My wife, upon getting to know a bit of Honduran culture, said something to the effect of, "Everyone in Colombia moans about gringo neocolonialism, but we haven't seen what neocolonialism really is!"

Inevitable Revolutions is a very well-researched book, and is organized at multiple levels (chronologically, thematically, and by country) to make for easy reading and a coherent understanding of the subject matter by the reader.  It has certainly illuminated many of my questions about Central American history, economy, culture, and present-day politics.  I would highly recommend it.  The latest edition is from 1993, so it covers the 1980s very well, but obviously gives no updates since then.  I'd love to hear Lafeber's take on the countries' trajectory since then.

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