Latin America: At War with the Past


74 pages
ISBN 0-88794-146-X





Reviewed by Greg Turko

Greg Turko is a policy analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and


In this pamphlet Carlos Fuentes, a noted scholar and a former Mexican diplomat, examines the broad sweep of Latin American society, beginning with the historical origins of colonization and moving to the subsequent evolution of social structures, mores, and institutions. For the benefit of his North American audience (the text was presented as a Massey Lecture in Toronto in 1984) he directly contrasts Latin American history and society with North American history and society through a series of examples and observations. In broadest terms Fuentes sees Latin America as having struggled, and continuing to struggle, with its past while North America has looked, and continues to look, to the future.

This profoundly different perspective translates into a serious misunderstanding between North America (chiefly the United States, for Fuentes) and Latin America. This theme is the underlying purpose and concern of this book.

The need for change in Latin America is vital if the numerous social problems are to be solved. But change in Latin America is often seen as a security threat to North America, the current situation in Nicaragua being a good example. Change, in the North American view, must be resisted at all cost. The only change that is tolerated is that which is approved of and con-trolled by the United States. The real danger, for Fuentes, is not “subversive’ change, but lack of change. If it is to avoid chaos, Latin America must solve problems in its own way, on its own terms, with material help from North America.

This book is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to gain an appreciation of events in Latin America that goes beyond the current preoccupation with the debt crisis or the more durable issue of political instability. Its depth and insights also make it worthwhile reading for anyone with a more developed interest in Latin America.


Fuentes, Carlos, “Latin America: At War with the Past,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,