Review: Gringo–A Coming of Age in Latin America

3 Star, Country/Regional

GringoBest of Intentions (and Marketing), Light Reading, June 5, 2009

Chesa Boudin

I bought this book at the same time that I bought Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent–the latter the book Hugo Chavez is reported to have given to Barack Obama.

It has been brilliantly marketed, and I applaud the initiative and the integrity of the self-made author, but in the larger scheme of things this is very light reading, in no way comparable to any of the works of Robert Kaplan or Robert Young Pelton, to take the two who are best in class in this particular writing domain. I list books I recommend instead of this one at the end of the review.

A few details that stayed with me:

Of the ten chapters, three are on Venezuela, with one each on Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Equador, and Guatemala. He visited but has left for another book Cuba, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

Hugo Chavez certainly comes out of this book looking very well, and I wonder somewhat unkindly if the Cuban intelligence service had anything to do with the crafting of the book. They are wonderfully subtle, as is this book. I do, however, share the author’s views on Venezuela and Chavez and the need for an alternative model for Latin America, so I endorse and praise his take on the situation, including:

+ Chavez is now ten years in power, early on he slammed those who wrote about the end of history, the triumph of neoliberalism, and the Washington Consensus. See Confessions of an Economic Hit Man for more substance.

+ Media is in and out of Venezuela, they get it wrong and communicate a false picture of Venezuela.

+ Winning the election is only the beginning, then there is a very long fight to change the “system” that is deeply entrenched.

He corssed 25 borders and spent over 150 hours on bus rides.

In Colombia he found human rights being trampled by global economic imperatives, with massive internal displaced persons (see the genocide chapter in The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption

He is by nature an anti-imperialist progressive, and speak of shame in seeing the impact of US policies and CIA interventions up close, but in the single most valuable sentence that I found in the entire book, he observes that indigenous corruption at the local level is what really hurts those at the bottom of the pyramid, they do not see or even feel the direct effects from CIA interventions or predatory capitalism at the national level. I share Lawrence Lessig’s view that corruption is the scourge of all, and I also beleive that the sooner We the People can follow ALL of the money and reveal all “true costs,” the sooner we can demand and receive honest government at all levels.

This is a very fast read, especially if you have lived in Latin America, this is a wonderful book for those who wish to read lightly about the fine combination of a young man making a great deal of himself from very austere beginnings, and one person’s perceptions on Latin America over the same period, but at root, this is a travelogue, not an analysis.

Other books to consider:
Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition (Robert Young Pelton the World’s Most Dangerous Places)
The Hunter, The Hammer, and Heaven: Journeys to Three Worlds Gone Mad
The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia–A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy
The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War
Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change