Political Science Quarterly – Robert Pastor Reviews Carlos Gustavo Poggio Teixeira’s “Brazil, the United States and the South American Subsystem: Regional Politics and the Absent Empire”


From the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 to the present, most students of inter‐ American relations have assumed that there is a “Latin America” and that U.S. policy has been directed to the whole region. In this important new book, Poggio Teixeira, a Brazilian scholar, argues that there never was a single U.S. policy on Latin America, because “Latin America” as a geo‐political entity does not exist. Instead, there are two regional subsystems: North America (including Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean) and South America. The United States has pursued an “imperial policy” in North America while being an “absent empire” in South America. The main difference in the two U.S. policies, according to Poggio, was the role of Brazil. To test his 

thesis, Poggio focuses on three cases: the Monroe Doctrine, intervention in Chile in 1973, and talks on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The United States applied the Monroe Doctrine with interventions in North America but was largely absent in South America. He describes the U.S. role in the coup against Salvador Allende as much less forceful than it was in North America and marginal as compared to the role of Brazil. Regarding the FTAA, which was launched in 1994, he argues that U.S. and Brazilian interests BOOK REVIEWS | 583 diverged, and that Brazil effectively stalled the FTAA while constructing Mercosur. The result was a different U.S. trade policy toward each regional subsystem. The evidence, however, does not quite support his thesis. In all three cases, the United States had an overall policy toward all the Americas—against recolonization and communism and for freer trade—though it did apply the policy differently in each case and country. It intervened more in the 

Caribbean Basin because the countries were unstable and closer to the United States and the Canal than were those in South America. To counter communism, the United States chose different methods, but it always preferred to rely on other countries, like Brazil. While Poggio acknowledges that the term “imperialism” is often used inappropriately, he repeats the mistake by applying it only to the United States, even while noting that Brazil and Cuba pursued similar policies. The term does not apply to any of these countries, and the book would have been better by omitting it. The third case—the FTAA—shows the importance of Brazil’s leadership, but it also provides the best evidence for an alternative theory to explain some of the differences in U.S. policy toward South America. Similar to Great Britain’s role in Europe in the nineteenth century, the United States used its weight on the margin to affect the balance of power in South America. When Argentina was the principal protagonist, Brazil 

and the United States had a natural alliance. As Brazil’s power trajectory rose, Argentina turned to the United States. When Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela all allied against the FTAA, the United States turned to bilateral deals with Chile and some Andean countries. But in truth, the United States as a nation was ambivalent about free trade with South America for domestic reasons and because it is a relatively small market. North America represents roughly 90 percent of the gross product and the trade of the Americas. Brazil represents about 6 percent of the product and less than 5 percent of the trade. Poggio has written a significant book that makes two compelling points that should chart a new path for scholars in inter‐American relations. He asserts that the Americas should be viewed as two regional subsystems and that U.S. policy should be directed at each. That point is truer now than ever before. Secondly, he recommends that students of inter‐American relations shift their focus from the United States as the only “agent” of influence to other states in the region. In that, he joins a new generation of historians who seek to balance the U.S. perspective by looking more closely at the policies of Latin American states. The result will be a clearer picture of inter‐American relations.

-ROBERT A. PASTOR American University

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