The Pan-American Dream: Do Latin America's Cultural Values Discourage True Partnership with the United States and Canada?by Lawrence E. Harrison
The initiative of Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to forge a Western Hemisphere community has been staggered by Mexico’s economic and political crisis. Is this latest grand design for the hemisphere destined to follow John Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress and Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy into the cemetery of frustrated
The initiative of Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to forge a Western Hemisphere community has been staggered by Mexico’s economic and political crisis. Is this latest grand design for the hemisphere destined to follow John Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress and Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy into the cemetery of frustrated Pan-American dreams? The United States and Canada are prosperous first-world countries with centuries-old democratic institutions; Latin America’s countries are poor and, in most cases, experimenting with democratic capitalism for the first time. Can a coherent, durable community like the European Union be constructed with building blocks so different?Why are the United States and Canada so much more prosperous, so much more democratic than is Latin America? Why has it taken so long for Latin America to conclude that democratic capitalism and good relations with the United States are in its best interest? And what might be done to enhance the prospects for a dynamic community in the Western Hemisphere?These are the questions Lawrence Harrison addresses in The Pan-American Dream. Central to the contrasts between Latin America and the United States and Canada are the fundamental differences between the Ibero-Catholic and Anglo-Protestant cultures, reflected in contrasting views of work, education, merit, community, ethics, and authority, among others. But, as he stresses, cultural values and attitudes change, and Pan-Americanism can be more than a dream.A Pan-American community depends on shared values and institutions, as the community now embracing the United States and Canada demonstrates. Experiments with democracy andthe free market in Latin America will help strengthen the values that lie behind the success of the United States and Canada, Western Europe, and East Asia. But if Latin America’s political and intellectual leaders do not confront the traditional values and attitudes largely responsible for the region’s underdevelopment—with sweeping reforms in education and child-rearing practices, for example—realization of the Pan-American dream will be painfully slow and uncertain.
Before evaluating whether Central and South American countries can begin to match the economic and sociopolitical successes made by El Norte, Harrison (Who Prospers?, 1992) reviews what he terms the cultural divide. In brief, the author argues that the North's Anglo-Protestant heritage has produced results greatly superior to those of a South burdened by an authoritarian Ibero-Catholic tradition that devalues initiative and mistrusts free markets. Getting down to business, Harrison assesses the blessings democratic capitalism has conferred on Canada and the US while caudillos, clerics, leftist revolutionaries, and assorted others have arrested the development of their New World neighbors. With time out to excoriate intellectuals on both sides of the equator for perpetuating unfounded Marxian myths of Yanqui exploitation, he goes on to provide detailed reports on four bellwether nations (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico) that could make their own way as stable industrial powers in the foreseeable future. Also covered are such sore subjects as the traffic in drugs, immigration (illegal and otherwise), trade imbalances, and the extension of NAFTA. On balance, Harrison concludes, there are grounds for believing that in time many Latin countries can achieve reforms sufficient to make them full-fledged members of a world-class community within the Western Hemisphere.
A savvy observer's perceptive (and optimistic) take on a populous part of the world that remains an afterthought for most North Americans.
Meet the Author
Lawrence E. Harrison directed USAID missions in five Latin American countries between 1965 and 1981. He is the author of Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind: The Latin American Case, and was the U.S. member on the Haiti crisis mission of the Organization of American States in 1991 and 1992.
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