New book reveals economic and political power of Latin American elites

York University politics Professor Emerita Liisa North released a new volume on the continuity of elite power in Latin America, titled Dominant Elites in Latin America. From Neo-Liberalism to the ‘Pink Tide’ (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018).

Liisa North
Liisa North

Six authors contributed unique case studies from Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala, which were edited by North and Timothy D. Clark, principal at Willow Springs Strategic Solutions. The volume has been enriched by long periods of residence by the authors in Latin America and the strong working relationships between York’s Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) and the research and teaching institutions with which it has collaborated in the various countries of the region.

“The volume is unique with regard to the great depth of research, based on years of local experience, that each of the authors brings to his or her chapter,” said North, who co-authored the volume’s introduction and conclusion. She brings decades of life experience in Latin America, from her childhood years in Venezuela to her work as a researcher and teacher in Ecuador, Peru, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Three of the cases summarize the principal findings of field work-based doctoral dissertations on Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala that were completed in York’s Department of Politics by Clark, Carlos Velásquez and Professor Simon Granovsky-Larsen, respectively; one was written by a Brazilian-born politics faculty member Professor Simone Bohn; another by an Ecuadorean graduate of York’s doctoral program in Social and Political Thought, Professor Carlos Larrea; and the sixth came out of years of human rights monitoring and doctoral dissertation field work in Colombia by Professor Luís van Isschot from the University of Toronto.

All the authors, including van Isschot, have been and continue to be associated with CERLAC, the centre that provided links to host research institutions for Canadians in Latin America.

Clark’s chapter, “The Paradox of the Neoliberal Developmentalist State,” analyzes Chile’s state-led capitalist revolution, spearheaded by the military dictatorship (1973-90). Clark’s research is contextualized by the author’s more than seven years of residence and work in Chile.

Similarly, Granovsky-Larsen’s chapter, “Land and the Reconfiguration of Power in Post-conflict Guatemala,” was informed by the many years he spent acting as a human rights observer with peasant community leaders threatened by violence.

Velásquez, the son of refugees from El Salvador’s decade-long civil war, returned in 2009 to the country from which his family had been exiled. His chapter, “The Reconsolidation of Oligarchic Rule in El Salvador,” is based on the archival research and in-depth interviews that he conducted under the auspices of FLACSO-El Salvador, a Latin American regional teaching and research institution.

Larrea founded and directs the climate change graduate program at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar (UASB) in Quito, Ecuador, where he is head of the graduate program in climate change, a program he set up together with colleagues, including his co-author Natalia Greene, an environmental activist. In his chapter, “Concentration of Assets and Poverty Reduction in Post-neoliberal Ecuador,” Larrea analyzes the degree to which asset distribution was de-concentrated or further concentrated during the 21st century in Ecuador.

Similarly, Bohn, who teaches in the Department of Politics at York, analyzes the extent to which land and corporate assets continued to be steadily concentrated in fewer hands, including under the government of the Workers Party of Brazil. For her chapter, “Quasi-post-neoliberal Brazil: Social Change Amidst Elite Adaptation and Metamorphosis,” Bohn was able to access data through the websites of government agencies. Nevertheless, with access to public information becoming more difficult during the past two years, the type of data analysis that she conducted may not be possible in the near future.

Van Isschot’s chapter, “Rural Colombia: The Architecture of State-Sponsored Violence and New Power Configurations,” emerges out of many years of experience in that country, including as a human rights observer for Peace Brigades International in 1998-99.

The research presented in Dominant Elites was also made possible by the support of three Canadian public institutions: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the International Development Research Centre and the now-dissolved Canadian International Development Agency.