VIC HINTERLANG Los Vueltas, near San Salvador wonder that the 1970s were a period of unprecedented popular mobilization, both within and outside the conventional political arena. Moving beyond the individual histories of nations, Booth and Walker skillfully refute many of the tired theories offered up in recent years to explain Central America’s economic and political troubles. One basic notion they reject is that the region is inherently and inexorably poor. “Poverty in CA,” they write, “is neither natural nor inevitable.” Although they concede that the “natural resources of CA are not remarkable,” they suggest that regional economic integration, like the CACM of the 1960s or the EEC of Europe in the 1990s could help put Central AmeriCa on more equal footing with larger, more important markets. They add the important caveat, however, that such integration will be impossible until some of the lopsided economic conditions in the region are somehow resolved. The authors also lay to rest the now largelydiscredited “dependency theory” the idea, popular until the late 1970s in academic circles, that the Third World is politically and economically “underdeveloped” because small nations’ export-oriented economies are completely dependent on the economic and political whims of major metropolitan powers like the United States. Booth and Walker point out that true dependency stems from two factors: an externally-oriented economy and a socially irresponsible political elite. They suggest th _that it is the second of these factors which creates true “underdevelopment”; one needs only to compare a nation such as Japan or Korea, both of which have export economies, with nations like Guatemala and El Salvador to understand the difference. In the final chapter, which went to press in late 1989, Booth and Walker make a number of prognostications about Central America’s future. In the opening paragraph of this chapter, they admit that both authors have been “burned” when they have attempted to predict the future. Since the book has gone to press, they have been burned again. Most of Booth and Walker’s predictions are based on the assumption that, due to George Bush’s lack of affection for the contras, it is, in their word, “unlikely that the Sandinistas [would be] overthrown.” Apparently they did not envision that the revolution, of which both authors are quite supportive, would be voted out in the 1990 elections. Nonetheless, in an earlier chapter in which they discuss the 1988 Salvadoran presidential elections, the authors do provide an insight which might help explain the Nicaraguan case. Referring to the election of Alfredo Cristiani, the candidate of the ultra right-wing ARENA party, Booth and Walker write that people who are victims of “demobilization campaigns” though terror, civil strife, or in Nicaragua’s case, outright war tend to “vote overwhelmingly for what they perceive to be the focal point of power.” People vote for the locus of power, the authors conclude, regardless of whether or not it is actually in their own better interest to do so. Booth and Walker admit that their interpretations of Central American affairs reflect their own biases. Both authors have studied the region for years, and they are unapologetic in their sympathy toward the Sandinistas, their abhorrence of military regimes, and their disgust with Reagan-era meddling on the isthmus. Even so, this is one of the most balanced and reasoned books to come out about Central America in a long time. If anything, the authors overcompensate for their own biases by using statistics \(often supplied by the local United States embasaccepted, even when the higher figure would better prove their arguments. It is the authors’ caution and their attention to detail, however, that make this such a solid study. Although apparently written for a mainly academic readership, it is also entertaining, well-written, and concise. If you read only one book on Central America, this is the book. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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