The Impossible Courtship

By Donald Collins
Volume 7, Number 3 (Spring 1997)
Issue theme: "Restraining the American brain"

Harrison, a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Studies at MIT, knows his subject first hand, serving between 1965 and 1981 as a director of five missions in Latin America for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In this, his third major book, his purpose is to deal with the very difficult and controversial subject of why extensive American efforts to forge a Western Hemisphere community have not yet succeeded. For example, efforts under both Bush and Clinton have suffered greatly because of Mexico's economic and political crisis. Earlier, JFK and FDR tried an 'Alliance for Progress' and a 'Good Neighbor Policy' which ended in the cemetery of frustrated Pan American dreams.

Harrison, with excellent documentation, outlines why the U.S. and Canada are prosperous First World countries with centuries old democratic institutions, while Latin American countries are poor and, in most cases, experimenting with democratic capitalism for the first time.

The key question Can we reasonably expect to construct a Western Hemisphere version of the European Union (which has been successful, albeit with many traumas) from such different cultural, economic and political backgrounds?

A central contrast between these two very different cultures, Harrison notes, is the Hispanic/Catholic tradition of the one and the English/Protestant background of the other. In the latter case, a few mentioned by the author are a history of work ethic, educational priority, rewards based not on caste or position but on merit, a true sense of community obligation (as reflected in our strong private charities), a high sense of personal ethics, and a healthy competition before granting democratic authority.

In short, says Harrison, if we are to