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New Left Review I/173, January-February 1989


Bruce Cumings

The Abortive Abertura: South Korea in the Light of Latin American Experience

I wish in this essay to peer through the Latin American looking glass, or abertura, to see what light may be shed on the ongoing struggle to democratize the South Korean political system. In Latin America the richest literature on the problems and prospects of democratization emerged along with a more successful decompression of authoritarian regimes (with exceptions, like Chile) than has yet occurred in Korea or Taiwan. So, it is a literature that may hold comparative insights for East Asia. Moreover, the Latin American field has been a model of world theory merging with home-grown theory and practice, each influencing the other. This is a relief to someone from a field whose leading lights describe the economic prowess of the people they study as miraculous (that is, unbelievable) and who find episodic democratization equally odd, and worthy of yet more self-revelatory genuflection. I will first assess the rise and apparent demise of the Latin American dictatorships, then question the diagnosis and cure suggested by several prominent Latin Americanists, and finally proffer an alternative explanation that I think illuminates both the Korean and Latin American cases.

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