Written by one of the leading editors of Economist magazine, Michael Reid's Forgotten Continent exalts the relative triumph of the free market and democracy in Latin American. His thesis follows that these successes (Brazil, Colombia, Chile etc.) however are in danger from far left populism in the region: Chavez's Venezuela and Morales' Bolivia. Further, Reid argues that contrary to popular opinion, most of Latin America's existing problems are combination of firstly historical factors linked to the continent's colonial past, and secondly the inability of its recent governments to manage their economies sufficiently. Rejecting that the United States has had much input into the direction of Latin America in recent years, he departs from the writings authors like Uruguay's Eduardo Galeano who remain deeply sceptical of capitalism.
His interpretation is somewhat refreshing, but there are a number of issues with this book:
1) Reid's admiration of Colombia. On page 277 (hardback) Reid even goes so far as to say, "[Colombia's] generals tenaciously resist submitting their officers accused of human rights abuses to civilian courts. They argue, plausibly enough, that they are fighting an internal war - one on a scale that none of the dictatorships faced."
This is utterly shocking. Is the author really saying that the argument used to justify the barring of officers from being held accountable for human rights violations by the army is a plausible one?? If Reid indeed means this, then he is de facto admitting that he believes human rights violations by the army in Colombia are justifiable.
Perhaps he would do well to read some Human Rights Watch reports on this topic.
2) On page 304 Reid flatly states, "Alongside old-fashioned farm protectionism, concern over climate change is adding a new version: opposition to 'food miles'. Yet growing food efficiently is good for the environment; the idea that food should not be traded internationally is no more logical than opposition to 'manufacturing miles'."
Here Reid appears to twist words a little bit. Indeed, GROWING food efficiently may be good for the environment, but Reid fails to mention that 'food miles' also include exports such as beef, poultry, pork and so on which contributes to environmental degredation. His argument falls flat because on the previous page (page 303) he boasts that Brazil is one of the world's largest exporters of precisely these things! Reid cannot really believe what he is saying.
3) The question of sources. For a book about Latin America, surprisingly few Latin American sources are cited in the bibliography. There are a few (mostly journal articles) But the majority of the sources used are English; produced in Europe or the United States. I do not understand why Reid has not drawn more material from Latin American academics themselves. Further, Reid makes frequent reference to Samuel Huntington and the latter's more or less defunct 'clash of civilizations' theory. Whether he agrees with this idea or not is unclear, although he writes that Huntington believes Latin America to be a separate civilization.
4) On page 108 Reid states that the argument that the United States helped organise the military coup in Brazil which brought twenty years of dictatorship to that country is "[not] well founded." He does not explain exactly why it is not well founded, but merely describes the (very real) internal political situation at the time. Reid's assertion runs contrary to the ample evidence that exists illustrating that the United States did play a significant role in the coup.
These are the biggest issues I have with the book, although there are plenty more. It's nicely written and easy to read, and the view is somewhat refreshing. But Reid's biases are clearly visible and I cannot deem this an especially reliable book.