For two decades - more or less since the Falklands War, and the end of the military dictatorships that had become an international byword for counter-revolutionary ferocity - South America has been largely forgotten by world politics. Recycled democratisation, debt and dependency offered few conflicts and yielded no consequences to compare with dramas in Eastern Europe or Russia, the Middle or Far East, even domestic convulsions in North America. The days of the Cuban Missile Crisis might have belonged to another eon. Today, there are once again tremors in these backlands of the larger arena. At one end of the continent, Argentina has seen a social breakdown, amid the largest sovereign default in history, that is the equivalent for neo-liberalism of the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union. At the other, Venezuela teeters day by day on the brink of civil war. Till very recently, these were the two richest societies of the region. In between, American gunships swarm over Colombia as guerrillas shell the Presidential Palace; desperate Indian populations loft a radical colonel to power in Ecuador, where the dollar - thousands of miles from Washington - is now the official currency, and in Bolivia have come close to electing one of their own as President, a militant farmer of coca, the other currency of the area. Under weak rulers, Peru and Paraguay are seething with discontent. Everywhere, economic crisis is biting hard.
LRB 12 December 2002 | PDF Download