On the Move in Latin America: The Politics of Social Change


210 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55111-872-7
DDC 306.2098'09048



Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish at Queen’s University.


With the 2008–9 recession in full swing throughout the world, there is much gnashing of teeth and finger-pointing as to how the 1930s type of economic malaise could have come about. Clearly many of the failures are due in part to poor government and banking management at the national level. However, many critics and economists are looking beyond the current foreclosures, bankruptcies, and bad mortgages to something more fundamental that prepared the way for the present economic disaster. Buzzwords like globalization and neoliberal capitalism, which were supposed to create a new world economic order, are now perceived to be at the root of the current tragedy. From the beginning the poor and the marginalized were excluded from this so-called new capitalist deal.

From Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1970s up through the democratically elected governments of the 1980s (Argentina, Brazil, Peru), neoliberal policies and free market capitalism were to be the panacea and the way of the future. Organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund preached the message of globalization, which unfortunately did not include in Latin America the peasant farmers, landless rural workers, and indigenous communities—hence Veltmeyer’s message on the necessity of the dynamics of social change, and the role played by those disadvantaged sectors throughout the 1980s and 1990s in the face of the steamrolling neoliberals and the persuasive apostles of globalization.

This is the stuff of Veltmeyer’s important study, very much a scholarly work, dense and opaque at times, but timely in the face of growing economic depression in Latin America and elsewhere. On the Move is divided into eight uniform chapters, outlining the background, the causes, the effects, the problems, the need for change, and how that change is to come about. The methods of effective social change can be achieved by electoral politics (Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador); the revolutionary route to socio-economic change by active force against those who control economic and political power; local development in the form of micro-projects to improve the socio-economic conditions of the poor and disadvantaged. The message is clear: the necessity of a new way, alternative development, and the corresponding buzzwords to achieve the opposite of the failed globalization and neoliberal policies—social liberalism, social consensus, structural adjustment, alternative development, based on de-globalization, decentralization, and the active participation of the previously dispossessed, disadvantaged, poor, and landless.

This is an important study that demands re-reading and further study in the light of today’s economic problems. The significant chapter headings capture succinctly the abovementioned themes of Veltmeyer’s thesis, as I have tried to summarize here. On the Move is rounded out by a useful introduction, a very valuable glossary which defines all the key words of the author’s argument (capitalism, neoliberalism, globalization, and many more), and an up-to-date bibliography. The last word on globalization, development, and social change has not yet been written, given the present state of the world economy, but this volume will be of great use to political scientists, economists, sociologists, and not least to government functionaries. There is something too for the interested layperson, if nothing concrete for the poor.


Veltmeyer, Henry, “On the Move in Latin America: The Politics of Social Change,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 1, 2022, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28974.