Evolution or Chaos: Dynamics of Latin American Government and Politics.

Karl M. Schmitt and David D. Burks. Frederick A. Praeger, 17s. 6d.

This book was designed to influence President Kennedy’s thinking on Latin America. While the authors ‘regret’ the events of April 1961 and have ‘strong reservations’ about the Punta del Este Conference of January 1962, they support ‘wholeheartedly’ Kennedy’s expanded aid programme, ‘particularly its social aspects, and his insistence that it be predicated upon agrarian, tax, and other internal reforms undertaken by the recipient countries. We recognize that both the aid and the reforms involve risks. They may even be the catalysts of violent and uncontrollable social revolutions in some of the countries. But also we believe that there is no real alternative to this policy; because without aid and reform—both on a large scale—violent social upheaval is a foregone conclusion for almost every country of the area.’

This is as good an expression of the general theme which runs through Evolution or Chaos as we can expect. While the authors give a certain amount of information on that almost unknown area of the Third World, Latin America, it must also be stressed that a considerable amount of this information is biased, especially for the reader who does not know the facts. This is particularly the case when the authors refer—or fail to refer—to the extent of us participation in crucial Latin American issues. Their treatment of the overthrow of the Arbenz régime in Guatemala in 1954 is a flagrant example. While they refer to this frequently, it is not until p.210 that we get a hint that this was carried out with ‘us support and encouragement’; and even then there is no mention of the planning and assistance afforded by the us State Department, the cia and the monopolistic United Fruit Co, let alone President Eisenhower’s consent without which the slender ‘rebel’ mercenary forces under Castillo Armas would have been powerless to overthrow the Arbenz administration. This is by now a well-documented event.

The recent history of Guatemala is not the only instance of the authors’ failure to tell the whole story. Their insistence on labelling both the Communist and Castrista movements as ‘extremist revolutionary political movements’ is a failure to understand that Latin American Communist Parties have in the main tended to concentrate on a campaign for legality (when they were underground) or else on the formation of ‘democratic coalition’ governments. While there are exceptions—the Venezuelan cp is an example— this can be seen in the Argentinian cp and in Chile, where the Communists are the moderate element in the frap (Frente Revolucionario de Acción Popular) coalition with the Socialist party.

The frequent praise lavished by the authors on Mexico, which they claim the rest of Latin America should use as its model for social and economic development, shows up the fear contained in the choice of their book’s title. For is it a mere coincidence that Mexico happens to be one of the countries economically and commercially most dependent on the us? It is worth recalling that Lázaro Cárdenas, the last important figure of the Mexican revolution, is a strong supporter of the Cuban régime which he sees as a contemporary realization of the principles of the Mexican movement which began in 1910.

The alternative to ‘evolution’ is not necessarily chaos. In Latin America we have the example of a revolution that is providing a third way out of poverty, ignorance and disease. It would surely be better to try to understand this social phenomenon rather than to misquote some of the vital facts of history.