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Volume 55 / Social Sciences


PAUL H. LEWIS, Professor of Political Science, Tulane University

THE THREE LA PLATA COUNTRIES are gradually turning their attention from the horrors of military dictatorship to the challenges of building stable democracies and reforming their antiquated State-dominated economic systems. In all three countries civilian politicians have discovered that there is no going back to the old populist economics, but the bitter medicine of neoliberalism is causing widespread social discontent.

Argentina's former military regime still elicits studies, most of them polemical and written from the viewpoint of the left such as in Andersen (item bi 93007239) and Hodges (item bi 93021362). Curiously, Argentine writers seem better able to analyze the "Dirty War" with more objectivity than their US counterparts. Alicia García's compilation of documents on the national security doctrine (item bi 94002497), Acuña and Smulovitz's monograph on the trial of the ex-Junta leaders (item bi 94002795) and Terán's history of the rise of Argentina's "New Left" are important contributions to understanding that period (item bi 93021338).

Building democracy in an era of controversial but unavoidable economic reform is an even trickier subject. Argentine politics have been characterized for decades by a gridlock among intolerant, intransigent interest groups: see, for example, Lewis (item bi 94002086), Manzetti (items bi 93009028 and bi 94005236) and Smith (item bi 93004840). The Alfonsín Administration fell foul of this same gridlock and gave up on reforming the economy after a half-hearted attempt called the Austral Plan. By 1989 inflation and shortages were so bad that his party was defeated in the elections and he was forced to turn over the presidency early to his successor, Carlos Menem. Alfonsín's failure fostered a spate of books and articles, most of them blaming the Argentine upper classes and international capitalism (items bi 94002445, bi 94002431, bi 94002444, bi 94002484 and bi 94002496).

Menem has so far avoided Alfonsín's fate by actually privatizing the economy and opening it to foreign capital, all of which contradicts his peronist past and leads to bitter debate. Bertín (item bi 94001076) and Repetto (item bi 94004140) support this program on the grounds that the new world economy allows no other choice: a position that Smith (item bi 93021941) also adopts, but more reluctantly. Manzetti (item bi 94001108) concentrates on the technical problems involved in privatization. The left is unforgiving, however, and the gross corruption permeating Menem's government presents them with a fat target (items bi 93021317 and bi 93021303).

Uruguay's recent return to democracy has prompted some interesting studies of how the military was forced to hand over power. Charles Gillespie's work (item bi 92002040) is a model of scholarly research, while Luis Eduardo González (item bi 94002850) makes the interesting point that Uruguay's democratic traditions actually made the military surrender the government, once they realized how truly unpopular they were.

The most fascinating development in Uruguay recently occurred with the 1989 elections, which gave the traditionalist Blanco Party control of the national government and the leftist Frente Amplio control of the capital city of Montevideo, where a third of Uruguay's population lives. This has given rise to speculation that Uruguay's traditional two-party competition between the Blancos and Colorados may be breaking down and that a whole new party system might emerge (items bi 93004894 and bi 94002852). There are a couple of really good articles on the Frente Amplio's ambitious attempts at improving Montevideo (items bi 94002464 and bi 94002363) which should be read in conjunction with Arana and Giordano's work on the city's decay under the military government (item bi 94002578).

Like Argentina, Uruguay is struggling with the challenge of neoliberal economic reform (items bi 94002488 and bi 94002466), but so far the Uruguayans have resisted biting the bullet. President Lacalle's referendum on privatizing certain State corporations was defeated in Dec. 1992 (item bi 93023930). Strong labor unions form the backbone of popular resistance, but it appears likely that the relentless logic of the world economy will force changes (item bi 94002488).

As usual, the literature on Paraguay is relatively sparse. Most of it concentrates on the struggle to establish (not reestablish) democracy, although there are still some backward glances at the stronato. Mella Latorre and Ortellado (items bi 94002438 and bi 94002442) both spent time in Stroessner's prisons and have written about their experiences. Carter's article on Catholic Church politics (item bi 93017237) and Segura Covalón's on the peasantry (item bi 93022146) start in the Stroessner period but carry their development forward to the present.

The really significant drama, however, revolves around the gradual evolution toward a democratic regime. This is a process that has its ups and downs, and is still incomplete. One of its more fascinating aspects is the emergence of new political movements which, as in Uruguay, challenge the traditional two-party rivalry of the Colorado and Liberals. Arditi (item bi 93004393) describes the triumph of "Asunción Para Todos" in the 1991 municipal elections in Paraguay's capital. Two years later, the "Encuentro Nacional" election transformed Paraguay into a three-party system. Riquelme's work (item bi 94005813) relates the story of that campaign and stands as the best available description of the contemporary Paraguayan scene.

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