The North American population — US and Canada — is about 370 million. In contrast, Central and South America’s population is nearly double, more than 600 million. And yet North America dominates the world’s focus. Why?
Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story, by Maria Arana, may offer some answers. This 2019 book is very well-reviewed. “Against the background of a thousand years of vivid history, acclaimed writer Marie Arana tells the timely and timeless stories of three contemporary Latin Americans whose lives represent three driving forces that have shaped the character of the region: exploitation (silver), violence (sword), and religion (stone).”
Tom Gjelton, Washington Post: “Five hundred years ago, before the Spanish conquista, the region we now call Latin America was home to some of the most advanced civilizations on the planet,” the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans. “Today, the region is impoverished, dysfunctional and violent. Of the 50 cities with the highest rates of homicide on the planet, 43 are in Latin America. The level of income and wealth inequality, though diminishing, remains the highest in the world.” Author Arana seeks to explain what happened through history. “In the territory that became the United States, native tribes were largely displaced or exterminated, their history erased. Not so in the lands colonized by Spain. There, the encounter between conqueror and conquered was so momentous and cataclysmic as to resound across centuries. “Latin America,” Arana writes, “still lives with its colonial and post-colonial scars.” “What has gone wrong in Mexico, Cuba, Central America, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia, Arana sadly concludes, is “what always went wrong: the dictators, the rapine, the seemingly insurmountable indigence, corruption, inefficiency. It’s just our nature.”
Carrie Gibson in The (UK) Guardian, a critical review: “All the Americas, including Canada, experienced a shared history after 1492: the arrival of Europeans, the destruction of indigenous communities, African slavery, political revolution, endemic violence, corruption and inequality. Certainly this varied in scope and degree but it is difficult to argue any sort of Hispanic exceptionalism in an entire hemisphere shaped by similar forces. This leads to the second knot in Arana’s argument. She says greed, violence and religion have uniquely shaped Spanish America. But they have affected much of the rest of the world. Such places can be found wherever European powers stepped ashore. The story Arana tells could apply to much of the postcolonial “global south”, from the Congo to India to Cambodia. The most worrying aspect of her book, however, is the repeated claim that violence is somehow in the blood of all Latin Americans. This is dangerously reductive and essentialist thinking, bordering on calling all Latinos “bad hombres”, to borrow the words of Donald Trump.” Gibson is the author of El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten History of Hispanic North America.