Kozloff, Nikolas. Revolution! South America Book Report

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Kozloff, Nikolas. Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left. Palgrave-Macmillan,

Nikolas Kozloff's book Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) details the changing political structure of Latin America. The region was once dominated by elites and the legacy of colonization. It has since been transformed in the last twenty years by the rise of the left to political power. The book also attempts to show the American reader what America looks like from a Latin American perspective. Kozloff writes: "For Americans who take pride in their country's institutions and democratic traditions, the idea that the United States may have an overseas 'empire' can come as something of a surprise. Since World War II the United States has enjoyed an enormous amount of political, economic, and military leverage in South America. By backing compliant elites and militaries, the United States was able to secure raw natural resources and other vital interests in the region" (Kozloff 1). Kozloff's book attempts to show that imperialist attempts have lodged in the historical memory of Latin America, and helped contribute to the new upsurge of leftist leaders that have the support of the vast majority of the impoverished populace. The 'old' (socialist) left that was supposed to have been dead after the rise of capitalism was only sleeping.

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Kozloff devotes a considerable portion of his book to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, who has been the most notable 'media personality' of the emerging left. Although many leftist leaders have emerged over the course of the late 20th and early 21st century, no leader has been more irritating to the U.S. In terms of his international posturing. Chavez called George Bush satanic on the floor of the United Nations and embraced Fidel Castro's Cuba.

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Chavez openly spurns the elites of his own nation or making any pretence of sophistication. He often appears on television, joking, ranting, using extreme rhetoric, and staging an effective one-man show, wearing his trademark sweater rather than a conventional three-piece suit. Chavez is very popular because of his challenges to America, a Great Power whose influence was one seen as insurmountable in the region. "South American politicians are trying to reconfigure politics and rethink the relationship of the government to the people" (Kozloff 3). In every current discussion of Latin America's turn leftward, however, all roads eventually lead to Hugo Chavez. Kozloff sees the rising tide of leftism in Latin America as beginning with Venezuela because of Chavez's vehemence, durability as a politician, and undeniable popular support.

Particularly after surviving an attempted coup in 2002, Chavez has grown increasingly determined to create a modern socialized state as an alternative to the Western capitalistic model. Chavez's survival after an unsuccessful overthrow that was partially funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization funded by the American government, has further added to his mythology (Kozloff 5). Chavez was proud to not only have beaten his opponents, but also in his view, to have beaten the American government, which had a strong tradition of enriching itself in Latin America and interfering in Latin American politics, particularly by opposing leftism when it suited its needs. The Bay of Pigs, the ouster of the democratically-elected leader of Guatemala during the Cold War (to be replaced by a right-wing, American-backed dictator) and the continuing opposition to Cuba are all examples of what Chavez saw as America's self-interested misuse of Latin America to further its own interests. By providing a history of the right-wing dictatorships and the bloodshed they spawned (as America, fearing a Soviet-inspired leftist uprising, supported these governments) Kozloff helps the reader understand why Chavez and his ilk are so popular, despite Chavez's somewhat buffoonish personality in the Western media. The people of Latin America saw the West, and particularly America, as motivated by its own economic and political interests, including when the IMF imposed austerity measures.

Chavez was the son of a working man, a true product of poverty who won election to the presidency in 1998 and has since been a thorn in the side of America, the Latin American right, and even more moderate liberals. Dismantling so-called 'New Left' programs was an instrumental part of Chavez's program. These reforms were passed during the 1990s when the hatred of socialism in the wake of the dismantling of the Soviet Union was particularly vociferous Chavez vowed to fight for the disenfranchised and to restore government to an active participant in people's daily lives -- to restore the old new left of socialism. The Venezuelan populace was outraged by the cutbacks in government spending that had been demanded by international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Across Latin America, there was rage at the IMF and the demands that governments slash social services to the poor.

Kozloff concedes that there was a great deal of happenstance involved in Chavez's rise to power. One of the reasons that the ruling party in Venezuela was regarded as failed was due to the dip in oil prices, which forms a critical component of the Venezuelan economy. Venezuela is dependent upon oil revenue any Middle Eastern nation. Chavez's election by 56% of the population coincided with a rise in oil prices. Chavez was able to capitalize upon the ascent of China to power, as it played a critical role in satisfying the demand of the world's largest nation for fuel. "Oil accounted for 90% of the country's export earnings" and fifty percent of government revenue in 2005 (Kozloff 4). Before Chavez, there was a strong drive in the opposite direction towards privatization of the oil industry. This enriched oil executives yet depleted the government of much-needed funds. Today, no private company in Venezuela can own more than 50% of the stock of an oil company, and must instead be tied in a joint venture to the state.

The fearful specter of the rise of a leftist government led by Chavez and emboldened by oil wealth has galvanized many right-wing American politicians. However, according to Revolution, despite all of the negatives of Chavez's rule, overall he remains a popular as well as a populist leader and is genuinely embraced by the masses. Another leader, inspired by Chavez's success is 'Lula,' the leftist leader of that other Latin American economic powerhouse -- Brazil. Brazil had likewise failed to prosper, despite austerity measures imposed upon it by the IMF, and Lula was elected to power to curtail that radical privatization and scaling down of state industries. Lula won with 60% of the vote, much to the dismay of the U.S., and even more to the dismay of the world community. He vowed to redirect debt repayments to poverty alleviation programs, prioritizing the immediate health of citizens (and Lula's reelection prospects) over pleasing the demands of the IMF. While his reforms were ultimately not as sweeping as Chavez's, nor was his style as politically inflammatory, Lula's election showed a clear change in attitude that would affect the entire region (Kozloff 6). Argentina also oversaw the rise of a strong, leftist, popularly-elected leader.

Perhaps the most tragic legacy of the West's opposition to leftism in Latin America was manifested in Chile (Kozloff 60). The dictator Pinochet, while openly befriended by the anti-communist leaders Reagan and Thatcher conducted a systematic imprisonment and state-directed murder of anyone who opposed his authority. The fact that he privatized state-run industries and pursued market-friendly policies was seen as more important than his human rights abuses. Unsurprisingly, a leftist government followed when Pinochet and his cronies were finally overthrown.

Kozloff's book is not simply relevant for students of the region, but all students of international politics in general. It challenges the once-conventional notion that globalization is a panacea for all of the world's ills. In the 1990s, many historians and economists proudly proclaimed the 'end of history' in the sense that it was believed that it had been firmly decided, once and for all, how the world's economy should be structured. The rise of the old-style left in Venezuela and Brazil is significant because it challenges this notion, and suggests that there many not be a 'one size fits all' government.

Kozloff's embrace of the complexities of the different nations -- the love of American culture combined with resistance to New Left forms of uber-capitalism, won him great praise when the book was first published at the height of the recent financial crisis: "There is no glossing over of the problems the people of the countries looked at here face. The balance between indigenous desires for autonomy and the population's fascination with those things U.S. culture beams into residents' living rooms via satellite television is but one. Others involve internal debates and conflicts over the representation of different demographic elements in each society" (Jacobs 2009). Many nations of Latin America are torn apart not just by class and ideological differences but racial divides between indigenous and non-indigenous people which affect the political climate of the nation. Although Kozloff's central theme or thesis is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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