Neoliberalism, Interrupted

Neoliberalism, Interrupted: Social Change and Contested Governance in Contemporary Latin America. Eds. Mark Goodale and Nancy Grey Postero. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2013. Print.

            During the 1980s, a wave of neoliberal economic reforms swept throughout the globe as a result of the “Washington Consensus,” which promoted deregulated markets, liberalized trade and privatized industries. While some of the world’s regions benefitted from neoliberalism, notably East Asia, other regions suffered. In a number of countries in Latin America, neoliberalism exacerbated existing inequalities by further empowering the elites at the expense of the impoverished majority. In response to this inequality, multiple individuals, organizations, and governments began to rebel against neoliberalism: a rebellion often referred to as “Pink Tide” in current scholarship. Neoliberalism, Interrupted: Social Change and Contested Governance in Contemporary Latin America, edited by Mark Goodale and Nancy Postero, contributes to this scholarship by providing interdisciplinary insight into the effects of neoliberal transformation and transnational capitalism in Central and South America during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This book is the collective effort of several scholars from different fields, and its content would appeal to various researchers, including economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists. The first chapter, written by the editors, provides an overview of recent changes in Latin American history and economics, and previews the remaining eight chapters of the book. After the introduction, each chapter focuses on the specific effects of neoliberalism in a particular Latin American country. The second and third chapters highlight Bolivia and Venezuela’s direct challenges to neoliberalism through the decisive actions of Presidents Morales and Chávez, respectively, particularly the re-nationalization of previously privatized energy sectors. Conversely, the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters illustrate internal resistance to neoliberal transformation in Colombia, Argentina, and México, from rural departments, urban neighborhoods, and nongovernmental organizations. Lastly, the seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters illuminate the varied effects of neoliberalism, which include truth commissions in Ecuador, feminist movements in Chile, and transnational militarism in El Salvador. These eight case studies illustrate the varying degrees of success and failure experienced by these countries during their neoliberal transformations, as well as the unique challenges these countries may have to face in the post-neoliberal era. Finally, the post-script offers global commentary on the Latin American region and stresses the need for cultural autonomy and economic redistribution.

            Neoliberalism, Interrupted has several strengths. It provides original insight into the adverse effects of globalization and transnational governance in emerging economies, which enriches the burgeoning scholarship regarding developmental economics. Among the world’s developing regions, Latin America is one that has been severely affected by these effects, as the transnational capitalist class’ interests frequently supplant those of the popular majority (Robinson 136). In addition to its contributions to current economic literature, the book also engages in an ongoing discussion regarding the future development and sovereignty of Latin American nations. Given that “the promotion of neoliberal policies in Latin America by the United States can be seen as part of a long-term process of expansion, rebuilding, and consolidation of U.S. hegemony” (Margheritis and Pereira 32), multiple Latin American nations find it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain their economic, political, and cultural autonomy. In contrast to other researchers, Goodale and Postero resist generalizing Latin America’s response to transnationalism through its effective use of diverse case studies. Specifically, these studies highlight the “significant variation” present “within and across different policy areas and countries” (Kurtz and Brooks 234), which disproves the Washington Consensus’ assumption that the Latin American region is largely homogeneous.

            While these strengths are important, the most significant contribution of Neoliberalism, Interrupted is its refusal to simplify the post-neoliberal challenge facing Latin America in terms of dichotomies, which includes neoliberalism versus socialism, right versus left, and national versus transnational. For instance, under the leadership of President Morales, Bolivia made strides towards recognizing the indigenous communities’ rights, yet the nation’s economic dependency on resource extraction often conflicts with indigenous land ownership. Similar to Bolivia, Venezuela also depends on energy exports, cultural commodification and global integration, in spite of its staunch stance against transnational capitalism. Interestingly, the book also links neoliberal transformation to governmental expansion. Previously, scholars have noted that “the size of the public sector in many cases has grown with the enhanced international mobility of firms and capital,” but the exact link between the two has hitherto remained unclear (Kurtz and Brooks 231). However, Goodale and Postero provide specific examples to clarify this connection. For instance, Chile, a nation that wholeheartedly embraced neoliberal reforms, witnessed institutional transformation that helped protect the impoverished.

            Not only does the book dismantle dichotomies regarding the current post-neoliberal era, it also highlights the uncertainty that characterizes the region’s future. Latin America is “at a crossroads between paradoxical and conflicting logical systems in the process of building a cohesive economic region” (Cárdenas 5). This crossroads could entail either “the rise of global fascism founded on military spending and wars to contain the downtrodden” or “a reassertion of productive over financial capital in the global economy and a global redistributive project” (Robinson 150). The book provides examples of both scenarios: in El Salvador, militarism increased dramatically with the United States’ assistance, notably after 9/11; however, in Argentina, the increasingly vocal populace succeeded in securing rights for the downtrodden and placing union representatives, particularly those from the General Federation of Workers, in key governmental positions. Regardless of which scenario becomes more powerful, “Latin America will surely play a vital role in this unfolding stage of global conflict and change” (Robinson 150). Neoliberalism, Interrupted echoes and solidifies this sentiment with concrete case studies.

            In terms of potential gaps, only two of the eight case studies focused on a Central American country despite the fact that virtually every Central American nation underwent a neoliberal transformation beginning in the 1980s. Additionally, many nations suffered similar adverse results with privatized industries, increasing prices, and liberalized trade generating the most discontent, but were not included in the study. For example, in response to widespread discontent, several Costa Ricans embarked on a series of protests, including one against privatized electricity and telecommunications in 2000 and another against the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2003 (Almeida 8). While other Central American nations experienced several years of neoliberal structural adjustment (Almeida 13), Costa Rica would have been a fascinating case study, particularly since research and development expenditures comprise a substantial percentage of its GDP, relative to other Central American nations. In addition, Costa Rica also exemplifies the hybridization of nationalization and privatization, or strong connections between the government and the private sector, particularly through the Costa Rican Coalition of Development Initiatives (CINDE), which is credited with “attracting massive investments, most notably from Intel corporation” (Kurtz and Brooks 243). In short, including an additional case study from Central America would have further solidified Goodale and Postero’s principal argument.

            Despite this small gap, Neoliberalism Interrupted is a worthwhile, engaging read for various scholars, in particular those interested in economic development and Latin America. As the global economy continues to become increasingly interconnected, Latin American nations will face additional challenges when it comes to balancing citizens’ needs with remaining globally competitive. One of the biggest challenges that Latin America faces is its increasing interaction with Eastern nations, particularly since the recent “extraction push in Latin America has been driven by the energy and resource needs of emerging global powers such as China, Russia, South Korea, India, and Indonesia” (Renfrew 584). China’s immense growth “is having both direct and indirect effects on the Latin American and Caribbean region,” and these impacts are relatively unexplored in current scholarship thus far (Jenkins, Peters, and Moreira 235). In less than a decade, China’s outward direct investment (ODI) in Latin America has increased tenfold, and it is currently the third-largest investor in the region (Lin 274). Given that Western multinational corporations significantly affected the economic development of Latin America, Eastern companies are likely to produce their own effects in the region. Neoliberalism Interrupted largely focuses on Western nations’ hegemonic influence in Latin America; in the future, Goodale and Postero might consider revisiting the same themes within the context of Eastern nations and their own transnational corporations.

Elizabeth Joy Gillespie
Florida Atlantic University



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Jenkins, Rhys, Enrique Dussel Peters, and Mauricio Mesquita Moreira. “The Impact of China on Latin America and the Caribbean.” World Development 36.2 (2008): 235-253. Print.

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Margheritis, Ana and Anthony W. Pereira. “The Neoliberal Turn in Latin America: The Cycle of Ideas and the Search for an Alternative.” Latin American Perspectives 34.3 (May 2007): 25-48. Print.

Renfrew, Daniel. “The Curse of Wealth: Political Ecologies of Latin American Neoliberalism.”Geography Compass 5/8 (2011): 581-594. Print.

Robinson, William I. “Global Crisis and Latin America.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 23.2 (2004): 135-153. Print.