- The State and the Private Sector in Latin America: The Shift to Partnership by Mauricio Font
The Director of the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies and Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center and Queens College, CUNY has a birds eye view of the Americas that geographers and other Latin Americanists will appreciate. Some of the finest scholars passing through the Bildner Center participate in rich debates, film festivals, and lectures. The volume here draws on Mauricio Font’s expertise in Brazilian politics, Latin American culture, development policy, and insights into his native Chile. Font knows the political movers and shakers of the region—including former Presidents of Chile and Brazil as well as key stakeholders in some of the largest public and private corporations in the Americas—that have always informed the author’s published research.
Six chapters, a conclusion, and four appendices organize this volume, which “focuses on an area of state action where government and the private sector actually work [End Page 173] together—forms of public-private collaboration to enhance infrastructure and development” (p. 1); were the latter terms (infrastructure and development) added to the subtitle, they would proffer a more accurate description of the book’s contents.
The first chapter summarizes the economic and political dimensions of globalization in the North Atlantic, and to what extent the larger Latin American economies match that trend. Chapter two provides a succinct overview of the development from within (desarrollo desde adentro) and the CEPAL doctrine that shifted the terms of economic development after WW II. It is crisply written and presents concepts and important milestones deftly. The backlash to liberalization is considered in the following chapter, and includes a review of Polanyi, Marx, Keynes, and other economic thinkers. The alliances heralded by Chávez of Venezuela, Morales of Bolivia, the Kirchner-Fernández team of Argentina, Correa of Ecuador, and Mújica (among others) from Uruguay, are succinctly summarized as a counter-force to neoliberal reforms.
Chapters four and five address Brazil and constitute the bulk of the case-study material, which, as noted above, reflects Font’s expertise. This is perhaps both the book’s greatest strength and weakness, because generalizing from Latin America’s most populous and resource-enhanced country, to the entire region, demands more caveats.
The final substantive chapter explores the ‘transantiago’ transportation project in the Chilean capital. Santiago carefully collapsed the city’s air-polluting lievre and micro buses into a more ecology-friendly network that runs less often than its predecessor. However, it drew a contentious set of unions into its partnership. In addition to a metro (subway) expansion, the project marks one of the most impressive public transportation enhancements anywhere in the world in the new millennium. Notwithstanding, the project still enjoys a hefty public subsidy, which begs the question about the extent to which this example could prosper in Latin America and Caribbean nations that have smaller economies, and a relatively smaller tax base.
One of the conclusions of the book is that the region buffered the 2008 global downturn better than Africa and Asia because Latin American reforms (de-statization) had already begun, and the Asian demand for the Latin American primary products remained strong. Not surprisingly, civil society, education, clearer property rights, and more dialog amongst political and economic actors must be nourished if the shift to partnerships is spread and sustained throughout the hemisphere. Font argues that the “transborder sharing of models” (p. 180) can be encouraged through the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Andean Development Corporation, among others. Solutions called for include more open communications with stakeholders and competent project managers. Chile is regarded as a model of consensus with its concertación political-party alliance whereas Brazil embraced public-private partnerships with considerable timidity, and to the country’s detriment.
Geographers will likely situate this book more along the lines of Gwynne and...