A New Look at Latin America

Professor of economics at Yale University, CHARLES E. LINDBLOMhere considers some striking aspects of Latin American political and economic development and takes a look at United States policy toward our neighbors to the south. Professor Lindblom has based his findings on his research ventures in the different countries of Latin America.

THROUGH the Alliance for Progress, we are gambling heavily that we can bring about reforms in Latin America; our strategy is to make domestic reform in each country a condition of its receiving aid. Our eyes are on the now-familiar revolution of expectations which has created disturbing new political demands from the bottom. We fear that these demands will create support for what will turn out to be coercive settlements of issues, as in Cuba, with a high probability that the coercing authority will be allied with Communism. We hope, however, that the demands can be met with a minimum of coercion in the form of concessions, if large enough and fast enough, by the dominant groups presently supporting the more and less democratic governments that exist in Latin America. Our stake in Latin American reform is therefore enormous.

But if, through the alliance, we seek to induce Latin America’s governments to undertake reform, a pertinent question is, have they the political capacity to do so? We may doubt it. Latin Americans themselves tell us that many of their governments cannot function as instruments of reform because they are perverted into elaborate systems for an exchange of favors. Public office is not a public trust but a public trough. And if there are groups in the population powerful enough to demand more reform and less spoils, they appear to be divided into the lethargic and the stubborn. Some will not stir themselves; they already have received from government the favors that they wash. Others will stir, but only to suppress reforms that challenge the continuation of their favors.

Still, some countries — Mexico, for example — manage to combine reform with corruption. On the other hand, where an able President, such as Lleras in Colombia, does clearly put the national interest above private gain, reform does not necessarily follow. Corruption is a major obstacle to reform, but it is apparently not an insuperable one; nor does it appear to be the principal one. So also is lethargy. By any reasonable test, most Americans are apathetic citizens, but a minority of the politically active, together with a core of leaders deeply committed to political careers, somehow saves the United States from the worst consequences of apathy. If the outcome is different in Latin America, we should perhaps stop wringing our hands over apathy itself and look instead into the performance of the politically active and their leaders. How have they failed?

One is tempted to answer, by their obstinacy. But this is too simple an explanation. Latin America suffers no shortage of able political leaders who are willing to bend, because they see the handwriting on the wall, or eager to move, because they see a political career in reform. If obstinacy is a serious obstacle, it is the obstinacy of some of the dominant groups in the population. Is it not, then, a possibility that leaders have somehow failed to lead? Has leadership in Latin America failed to demonstrate that stubborn resistance conserves less than concession?

It appears that corruption, apathy, and obstinacy each point to a more fundamental disability in Latin American politics, a disability somehow related to the way in which leadership practices its role. By focusing on the role of leadership, we may be able to throw new light on Latin American capacities for reform.

A FIRST striking fact about leadership is that in many Latin American countries political leaders lack essential information about the conditions and terms on which peaceful reform might be possible. I suspect that many of us here in the United States have never stopped to reflect on the richness of information in our own country and its relative paucity in Latin America. The fact gatherers in the United States are an army with many divisions: research institutes, pollsters, journalists, professors, public administrators, and fence-mending politicians.

In some of the Latin American countries, by contrast, they are a very feeble small force. Central banks have led the way in the accumulation of certain kinds of necessary information for policy makers: quantities of imports and exports, balance of payments, bank deposits, number of unemployed, and so forth. Even so, many of these countries cannot even satisfactorily estimate the gross national product, describe the distribution of income, or determine whether the price level is rising or falling. Nor, typically, can they answer questions with such explosive political implications as: Who owns the land? How much of it is fertile? How much new land can be brought under cultivation? What kinds of land reforms, if any, are talked about among the peasantry? What kinds of peasants are moving into the cities, and with what frequency do they come in contact with what political movements?

Latin American political leaders are therefore ill informed about how the various sections of the population might be satisfied and how conflicting demands could be reconciled without repression or revolution. Often they do not even know what the rural electorate is being offered by local leaders, including the Castros, outside the relatively homogeneous group of leaders who cluster in the capital; how the countryside is responding to those offers; and what offers would win it away from movements antagonistic to developments that in the long run could be called democratic. Such ignorance would be unbelievable in the United States, where journalists, academic researchers, and politicians thrive on uncovering our political movements.

The consequence of ignorance of the terms which would make reform possible is that more or less democratic political leadership in many Latin American countries is paralyzed. In the case of the political figure who is committed simply to shoring up the old order as long as possible, hoping to preserve for himself, and perhaps for his sons, the privileges of a favored position, ignorance is a satisfactory excuse for refusing to yield to pressures from below. He can hope the masses will remain leaderless, uninformed, and inert, as they have for centuries in some countries. In Peru, for example, millions of illiterate Indians, who scarcely realize that a national government exists, share neither language nor culture with their Spanishspeaking countrymen. Ignorance shields the established political leader from having to respond to growing signs of unrest, permits him to assure himself that inaction is, after all, as sensible as misguided reform, and leaves him without any capacity for leadership when reform is violently demanded.

More disturbing is the consequence of inadequate information for the kind of leader who brings intelligence, foresight, and goodwill to reform — a Lleras, a Quadros, or a Betancourt, among others.

If, for example, the President of Venezuela wants to start his country along the path of reform, avoiding the path of Castro, he will find that he does not know what the critical demands of the underprivileged are. To be sure, more food, more land, more money, more of many things are urgently demanded; but some demands are more urgent than others. Some must be met on pain of revolution; others can be deferred. He does not know which is which. Nor does he know how far he can go in demanding concessions from the elite, or in what areas they would yield.

He does not know enough even to offer, as a political bargain, an assurance to the elite that a concession today will soften rather than stir up additional demands for concessions tomorrow; hence, he is deprived of a means of payment with which he might buy a few reforms. Soon he decides not to try at all for any fundamental reform; he is then reduced to a policy of admonishing his compatriots on the need for the reforms that he dares not attempt.

Furthermore, relatively few Latin American political leaders are experienced in the task of mutual adjustment of demands; therefore, they lack the required political skills. Politics is a struggle for office. In the United States, the struggle is a competition in the exercise of skills in the adjustment or harmonizing of the diverse demands of the citizenry. In Latin America, by contrast, the struggle has been a competition in the exercise of skills, which Latin Americans unquestionably possess, in negotiating private alliances with other politicians, including the military. Today, leaders find themselves called upon to reform, a specialized task of large-scale mutual adjustment for which their experience has not prepared them. Their lack of experience with adaptation and adjustment explains in part their disinclination to ferret out the information they need before reform is possible. But this is a vicious circle, for their ignorance continues to discourage them from experiments in the practice of the required skills.

In their inexperience, they throw another obstacle in their own path. Many Latin American political leaders do not even conceive of policy making as a task in mutual adjustment of citizen’s demands, but see it instead as a technical process of applying correct solutions to well-defined problems. The passion for the technical — for the economist, engineer, or agricultural expert — is strong in Latin America. If there is inflation, there must be a technical solution for it; never mind the more fundamental political problem of too many conflicting demands for a share of the national income, which lies behind the immediate problem. If there is unrest among small laborers, send the agricultural technicians to raise output; forget the demands for land redistribution that press on the great landowners. If there must be tax reform, call in the technical experts who know how to construct a tax system; forget that the inadequacy of tax revenue is fundamentally a reflection of the elite’s refusal to surrender their own claims on income.

Problem solving so conceived is appealing in Latin America on several counts. It has all the prestige of the scientific method. It is up-to-date and appears to be the practice of the more developed nations. It is also, for the impure of heart, a dignified way to let George do it. Wait for the technicians, even if they must be found abroad, and even if there will not be enough of them to go around for at least a decade or so.

If leaders had the necessary information, skill, and appreciation of the need for a politics of adjustment and accommodation, would they find that the time for mutual adjustment has already passed? Have positions been too firmly taken; are demands already intransigent? It seems clear that for the most part the masses in Latin America have not settled fixedly on specific demands. They are willing to consider a wide variety of reforms; they are not anti-West or anti-American; and they are heavily dependent on leadership for advice on what to press for, so much so that we see them endorsing in one country after another the program of almost any vigorous leader who appears to be committed to them.

They, like politically inexperienced people all over the world, are easy prey to Communism because they are easy prey to anything. They will turn to Communism not so much because of the strength of its call as because of the absence of other voices. They want someone to lead them, but the international ideology of a potential leader is less important to them than the position he takes on their immediate problems and the slogans he espouses. Most of them do not know what Communism is, but will accept any leader or ideology that holds promise for them. And they will not turn away from any leader or any ideology that holds promise for them simply because, from a more sophisticated view, he or it is inimical to some such abstraction as freedom.

If leadership could play its role, there would be many possibilities for peaceful adjustment of demands. The masses are still uncommitted, and the dominant groups are now willing to explore politics as a task in conciliation; the situation is not yet beyond hope.

WHAT, then, can the United States do? The most cautious inference is that we can do nothing, except to continue economic aid and technical assistance in the hope that it will lighten the burdens on promising political leadership where, by good luck, the right kind of leadership arises.

But we might explore the problem of developing appropriate political skills in Latin America. Sensitive to the charge that political democracy cannot be exported to people whose culture or political habits do not support it, we have tended to abandon, and perhaps rightly, any frontal attack on the baffling problem of how to make democracy flourish. The problem of developing political leadership skilled in mutual adjustment is, however, much simpler. It can be solved to a tolerable degree long before the institutions of political democracy reach a high level of development, as the case of Mexico seems to suggest. Genuinely free elections, a fair competition between parties, and a legislative body with a very large degree of independence on major decisions — these and some of the other attributes of political democracy are not yet established in Mexico, even though leaders there have achieved, as an alternative to tyranny, a peaceful, if not wholly secure, working relationship with one another.

For the time being, the United States needs only to encourage the extremely restricted kind of political democracy that is embodied in the practices of such leadership as the Mexican. We make our problem unnecessarily and impossibly difficult if we proceed as though the only alternative to Communism were democracy in some such form as we know it at home. We dissipate our energies on one hand, or succumb to apathy on the other, if we confuse the smaller problem, which may turn out to be manageable, with the larger one, which is not.

If we accept the task of encouraging a new style of politics in Latin America, we shall probably see the need for identifying and encouraging various forms of leadership. First, there are the highlevel politicians already discussed. Beyond that, however, are two other kinds of leaders who can accomplish a harmonizing function, often without so intending.

One is the demander, the leader of some group in the society whose shared interests are a source of strong — and in some societies, dangerous — demands on the political system, the counterparts to our labor leaders, lobbyists, and certain congressmen and senators who represent a sectional interest. In the United States, of course, we count on these leaders to express group interests that must be satisfied if we are to enjoy domestic political peace. But, more important, we count on them also to find ways of channeling group demands so that their satisfaction is not intolerably costly to other groups in the society.

The other kind of leader is the communicator, the disseminator of information. He is often identified in the United States as a specialist: journalist, editor, researcher, professor, author, or lecturer. In fact, however, in the United States much of the information that is brought to bear on policy making is assembled and distributed by parties to disputes, not solely by the specialists. This is, of course, conspicuously the case where policy is made through litigation, as in the Supreme Court decision on desegregation of public schools; but the close connection between advocacy and information is everywhere notable. In public controversy, congressional hearings, and discussion among political leaders, the desire of the activist to make his view prevail motivates much of the communication of information. Thus, some of the communicators are identical with politicians or demanders.

That communicators in Latin America will be partisan even more commonly than in the United States seems highly probable. For only a wealthy society can afford to support, in addition to partisan communicators, a host of institutions which gather and disseminate information free from any political alliance. In many Latin American countries, we would therefore do best to nourish, as the most vigorous plant in the garden, the partisan collection and dissemination of information, although we should not neglect impartial research and communication.

BY IDENTIFYING, specifying, and lacing the problem, we shall work our way to fresh new policies that are not yet apparent to us as possibilities. For the mere identification of a new or reformulated public problem in the United States often taps sources of policy-making creativity in our society.

When problems become urgent enough, policy making often becomes inventive; our own history is full of examples. The fifty-destroyer deal and lend-lease were in their time new and imaginative policy responses; so, also, in domestic policy was the maintenance-of-membership rule in industrial relations, a formula that satisfied both union demands calling for the union shop and employer insistence that the war not be used to support a union organizing campaign. Somewhat later, the organization of the atomic energy industry through contractual relations between the AEC and private corporations illustrated again a capacity for inventiveness in policy making.

Examples of creativity in policy making are harder to find in the post-war period, and part of the explanation is to be found in our failure to diagnose carefully the problems to be solved, as well as in strong tendencies, more marked in some years than others, to deny the very existence of the problems. But the Alliance for Progress is evidence that inventiveness is, even if somnolent, not dead.

Inventiveness often has the appearance of frivolity. One might propose, for example, to encourage a new style of political leadership in Latin America by overturning existing leadership through the more vigorous application of methods unsuccessfully applied to upset Castro; or by fomenting internal revolution through the services of a host of paid agents in Latin American countries; or by socializing American enterprises whose stakes in Latin America lead them to influence American policy in ways antagonistic to reform in Latin America; or by a general abandonment of any policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of those countries, followed by relatively uninhibited interference, such as the Soviet Union practices in, say, Hungary.

These proposals, it ought to be noted, are discredited as soon as offered, not because we have studied them and find that they will not work, but because we are not willing to consider them. They are dismissed as frivolous because they fall outside the ordinary range of discussion of possible American policies. But, then, it is a real possibility that they are rejected not because of their flaws but because of flaws in the character of public discussion. For example, at one stage in the public discussion of U.S. foreign policy in the late thirties, lendlease would have been summarily rejected.

TO BE taken seriously, inventiveness must spring from a kind of interchange of ideas among many leaders of opinion, including political leaders, in which what is politically feasible is seriously reconsidered in the light of the diagnosis of the particular problem at hand. This being the case, we shall not begin to create innovations in U.S. policies toward Latin America until large numbers of our own political and intellectual leadership reconsider the range of possibilities that might be appropriate for the encouragement of the required leadership in Latin America. And when they do so, new policy possibilities will come to light.

We might, for example, try to adapt the idea — once novel, now ordinary — of the county agent to the service of budding young politicos in the Latin American countryside. How to get in touch with one’s clientele, how to enter into that relation through which a leader influences followers and is influenced in return, how to mobilize political power for effect in the national arena — for that matter, how to collect a crowd, operate a mimeograph machine, or raise funds — all are questions on which inexperienced young leaders need help, and it should be possible to find ways, beyond anything we now do, of bringing such help to them in the field.

If a swarm of county agents in the United States can increase the yield of wheat, cannot a counterpart swarm, for politicians rather than farmers, raise the political productivity of the Latin American grass-roots politician? The agents in Latin America will be from the United States. To be sure, this poses some delicate problems of who they will be and what they will pretend to be if, as might be wise, they do not acknowledge what they are; but these complications are not sufficient grounds for rejecting the proposal out of hand.

Or we might consider supporting a large number of training institutes for young would-be politicians. The Institute of Political Education in Costa Rica may be a prototype. I am not here proposing to train public administrators, economists, or engineers for government services; many institutions have already responded to the need for such technical experts, as, for example, Yale’s program in International and Foreign Economic Administration. There seems also to be a clear case for institutional training in political skills — skills for the politicians, demanders, and communicators.

In strengthening the skills of young political leaders scattered about each country, we make a double contribution to the politics of mutual adjustment. We train a new generation of leaders and at the same time increase the pressures on established national leadership to play the game of mutual adjustment. For the immediate result of improved leadership at the grass roots is to make the demands of the grass roots more specific, more skillfully adapted to the possibilities, hence, more constructively pressing on established national leadership.

Still further, we could stimulate the growth of the necessary political skills by some shift of our intelligence operations in Latin America from espionage to research - perhaps it would describe the shift more precisely to say, from private intelligence to public information. We could help identify the terms and conditions of possible reforms if we put money and energy in substantial amounts into the kind of organized fieldwork that would help Latin American politicians, as well as our own, discover what the populations there believe, fear, want, expect, and intend to resist or fight for.

To discover these essential facts, it is not enough that an embassy employee or visiting social scientist ask for opinions about these facts from Latin Americans who, however well informed, cannot be well enough informed. What is required is organized fieldwork of the type better understood by social scientists than by intelligence agents. And the more widely the results are known, the better. The dissemination of such facts as could be gathered both permits a politician to make a career out of reform and compels him to do so. Without such facts, he does not know how or what to attempt; with these facts, he does not dare fail to try.

As an example of very small changes in policy that are worth considering, we might try never to send a technical mission to Latin America (except on a narrow and precisely defined purely technical problem) without a politician at its head. Such a move would make the point that important Latin American problems require political skills to which technical skills are only supplementary. Moreover, it would permit a demonstration of the politician’s approach to a problem and of his employment of the technical expert as an aide rather than as a substitute. It would also enlarge opportunities for Latin American politicians to observe our kind of politician, to see in what respects he has attitudes, dispositions, and habits of action that they might themselves find useful.

I can make no claim of general superiority of North American ways. But I acknowledge that the hypotheses from which these recommendations spring recognize one point of superiority, and it is not to be disguised or modestly minimized: our politicians, whose brains and morals are not a whit superior to those of politicians in Latin America, have learned a set of skills that Latin American politicians have yet to learn. One can gladly grant that, by accident of history, learning has been much easier in this country than in Latin America; one need not therefore find fault or draw any distinction as to personal capacities.

The range of fruitful innovation in American policy toward Latin Americans is limited, however, by our inability to work out in the United States certain prerequisite adjustments of our own. We have so far failed to reconcile here at home a continuing tradition that we minimize interference in the domestic affairs of foreign governments with a growing demand that we come to the aid of Latin Americans, even if a nonrepresentative government objects. That is to say, we confuse Latin American interests with the interests of Latin American ruling minorities. We have also so far failed to reconcile the demands made on American policy by American firms in Latin America with a variety of other American interests in that area, and here the prerequisite adjustment must presumably be on terms less favorable to the American companies than now exist. We have also failed to reconcile traditional American interest in capitalism with our urgent national self-interest in supporting socialist reforms in Latin America. I return therefore to the point made earlier: a farreaching reconsideration of American policy is more to be urged than arc any of the particular proposals that have been here presented to illustrate policy possibilities.

As to the limits on our policy that might be set by irremediable incapacities in Latin America, they are less binding than might be thought. In Latin America there is, of course, no shortage of men able enough to learn the game of mutual adjustment. Furthermore, there appears to be developing a new generation and kind of popular leader. Still further, as already noted, intransigence among the existing elite is on the decline; they sometimes see the necessity of concession and conciliation if they are to win anything at all from the political struggles of the next decade or two.

Still another favorable factor is the greater freedom Latin American military groups are giving to their governments; in some cases, the army’s primary demand on a government — the condition of the army’s consent to that government — is that the government make some progress in the direction of harmonizing competitive demands. Finally, when, as even in Peru, for example, national leadership comes to be increasingly drawn from the middle class rather than from a landowning aristocracy, it is not blind to its own stake in accommodation.

To be sure, any effective proposals will deeply offend many members of dominant political groups and classes who are not yet willing to admit that they must concede. But we need not fear bearing their ill will, for they have no place to go. As is not the case with the more numerous poor, our failure to ally ourselves with the rich and the powerful does not drive them to Communism.

Let me finally now put much of the argument of this paper in a simple formula. We and the Russians are competing for Latin America. They can and do offer solutions to problems because their adherents do not shrink from coercively imposing them. We can offer no solutions because the kind of noncoercive solution we favor has to be worked out in the politics of each country.

What, then, do we have to offer? Assistance in the development of Latin American political competence. That is about all. To those Latin Americans who want a solution right now rather than the competence to find a solution next year, we cannot appeal. But to those of them who realize that political competence is to be prized both as a practical virtue in economic, development and as the foundation for political independence, political competence is priceless. We can therefore appeal to proud Latin American hopes that Latin American peoples can exploit their own potentials and that each Latin American nation can be, as much as is possible for any nation, its own master.