Thomas Fischer's anthology provides micro-studies of commercial relations, structures and institutions connecting Latin America, Europe and the United States. The book's focus rejects dependency theory and, instead, asks the reader to look at the development and functioning of institutions that manage economic exchange. How did international trade companies and domestic institutions shape commercial relations and how much did intercultural tensions inform their formation and policies? Fourteen authors, most of them from Germany and Latin America, offer new, important insights. The book is a must read for scholars of international economic relations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The book's first segment examines the period from Latin America's independence until the end of the nineteenth century. Ralph Lee Woodward Jr. explores how Central American domestic elites formulated an economic model of development they desired and attracted foreign support that supported its realization. Juergen Mueller provides new insight about the role of German merchants. He emphasizes the role of merchant houses from the city of Hamburg over those from other German areas. In Maracaibo, Venezuela, Heike Haertel proves that German merchants gained an edge over British and U. S. companies by creating a trade network that reached deep into Colombia and Venezuela. It offered better financing, improved transport and local representatives. These relations were socially deepened through marriage into important regional and local trade families. After 1871, the emergence of a Germany under Prussian dominance destroyed this complex, social and commercial tapestry that had been built without centralized German government help. In Colombia, Thomas Fischer discovered that the lack of domestic financial and technological know-how became the key motivating factor to invite a growing presence of foreign investors.
The book's second part covers the period between 1900 and 1970. Peter Fleer examines Guatemala's coffee oligarchy. Between 1920 and 1944 political and economic elites split and conducted export as part of small but vehement regional rivalries. These regional competitions of identity impacted the way business was done as much as general domestic-foreign dichotomies. Jan Suter studies El Salvador's economic, political and elite structures. He pays particular attention to the 1932 military government and the limits it imposed on national elites and foreign companies alike. The Panamanian Canal and the development of Panama's economy between [End Page 726] the two world wars is examined by Holger M. Meding. He chronicles the rise of a dependent service industry, which raised individual living standards but did not create an autonomous industrial base. The development of Chile's saltpeter industry, Stefan Rinke argues, is not the result of a simple foreign-domestic tension. Instead, Rinke emphasizes regional differences. In each region the saltpeter industry creates an ambivalent heritage, part true economic development, but also part of a dependent exchange relationship. Eduardo Saenz emphasizes the importance of understanding the variety of foreign/domestic alliances that existed in the formation of the Colombian state, and how they functioned differently in sectors producing for domestic consumption and export trade.
The third section researches cases unfolding in the last twenty years of the twentieth century. Stefan A. Schirm examines the role of indirect U. S. influence in Mexico's political paradigm shift between 1982 and 1992. U. S. influence came in the form of cultural policy such as business models and education, but also the financial sector. Intercultural management and entrepreneurial ethics in Colombia is the subject of Jochen Ploetz's article. Reinaldo Goncalves focuses on Brazilian elites and their cooperation with transnational companies. Michael Roschmann shows the critical role of the financial sector and foreign banks in the formation of MercoSur relationships. Finally, Marcus Meyer looks at foreign investment in Cuba during the Special Period, when foreign investment remained limited to tourism and mining. At the same time, foreign capital was courted in order to preserve centralized socialist management and to forestall deeper structural change in Cuba's economy.