Until the turn of the century, Latin Americaand Sub-Saharan Africa had forged fairly similar paths through world history. Once upon a time (well…500 years ago), thousands of indigenous tribes survived on subsistence farming, scattered across these two massive continents, divided by vast, unsurpassable environmental boundaries, the beneficiaries of bountiful ecosystems that were theirs for the taking. Regional empires had developed – the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas in Latin America and the empires of Mali , Songhai and Zulu in Africa – but these were the exception and not the norm, and millions existed outside the grip of these dominant kingdoms.
Within a century of European exploration, both Latin America and Africa suffered at the hands of European imperialism, first losing their land, then seeing their peoples enslaved and then suffering through centuries of fragmented states created seemingly randomly by colonial masters. Both regions were puppets in geopolitical games orchestrated across oceans, first by the Europeans and then through the Cold War decades by the US and the Soviet Union who vied for absolute obedience of all newly-independent nations. And both regions fell behind in the industrialization race to wealth, seeing their nations used as simply supply and demand hubs for global goods, but never as manufacturing centers where real fortunes could be made.
In recent decades, there appeared few signs Latin America would emerge from colonial rule any better off than did the Africans. In 1969, America’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger dismissed the Chilean foreign minister, admitting that “(Latin America) is not important. History has never been produced in the South…what happens in the South is of no importance.”
Latin America was viewed as merely the unspoken domain of the United States– a hemisphere under the implicit control of their big brother to the north. As long as Latin America did as the US demanded, they would be left alone, but if ever they steered a course that didn’t match the US’s vision of a Western future, they could count on America’s military entering their borders to help clear up any confusion. Subservient to the West, crippled by economic stagnation, governed by a revolving door of military dictators (caudillos) who prioritized expanding and conserving their own supremacy over the dislocation and misery of their own people, Latin America was a lost continent.
But in the 1990s, Latin America started to separate itself from its northern brothers, charting a new path for itself, that although inconsistent and far from solidified, could stand out as the...