What if Latin America Ruled the World? How the South Will Take the North Through the 21st Century

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

Bloomsbury Press




464 Pages



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For too many, Latin America exists "below the fold," an echo barely heard beyond the roar of U.S. economics, politics, and culture; the source of little more than dance steps, mesmerizing soccer, spicy food, and questionable politics.

But Latin America has been a vital part of the global community since the seventeenth century, when the Spanish silver peso became the world's first global currency instrument. Today it is home to six hundred million people and some of the fastest-growing economies on the planet. Latin America may not outshine or outspend the United States on the world stage anytime soon, but its voices will be heard. Its consumers, resources, and emigrants are already affecting us; they will be even bigger factors in the future.

What if Latin America Ruled the World? deftly braids together the histories of North and South America from the exploits of Hernán Cortés to the political showmanship of Hugo Chávezand Evo Morales. Scholar Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is an ideal guide for a portrait of the Latin America that most Americans rarely see.


Praise for What if Latin America Ruled the World?

"Guardiola-Rivera's What if Latin America Ruled the World? is as broad in its historic sweep as Galeano's classic."—The Washington Post

"Prodigiously researched . . . Guardiola-Rivera picks up where Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America leaves off. He explores the Spanish conquest, ponders the development of European capitalism, recalls the indigenous inhabitants of Colombia who created extraordinary irrigated agricultural systems, and posits that their communities of mutual aid hold relevant lessons for today . . . One of the book's most interesting themes revolves around a demographic forecast: by 2040 the US will have a Latino majority. The US's future is therefore more linked with Latin America than many think. What if Latin America Ruled the World? is at times a radical academic tract, at others a beat travelogue. It is hard not to like an author who listens to Iggy Pop while driving south on the 29,800 miles of the Pan-American highway, riffing about Túpac Amaru, Simón Bolívar and Pablo Neruda."—Financial Times

"Remarkable, stimulating and illuminating, What if Latin America Ruled the World? is unlike anything I've ever read. It makes the reader feel as if they are spinning in a time capsule through a kaleidoscopic virtual reality from one seminal event to another, from one Latin American country to another, and from there to London, New York, Los Angeles and Miami. This is the kind of book the world needs now, and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is the perfect man to write ita breathless rollercoaster ride that also offers a brilliantly creative approach to history and geography."—Gerald Martin, author of Gabriel García Márquez: A Life

"Oscar Guardiola-Rivera has written a smart, original, provocative, and timely book. He analyzes and pushes beyond the recent leftward turn in Latin American politics and in so doing he offers a hopeful new genealogy of the globalized present."—Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History

"Part historical reconstruction, part travelogue, part socio-political prognosis, this book is the single best work I have read on why the 21st century will be the "Century of the Americas," and why the United State is undergoing a quiet and non-violent revolution that is remaking its demographics, as well as its political and economic institutions. Here you will read the history that you were never taught, and why Latin American economies and societies are some of the most vibrant and promising, notwithstanding centuries of exploitation, and why Hispanics are slowly unifying the continent with their post-racial-transnational-cosmopolitan citizenship. This book should be placed next to those of Arciniegas, Galeano, Paz, Ureña, and Zea. Next time Obama, or for that matter any head of state, visits Latin America, this is the book they should be given as a gift. It is certainly one that Hispanics should read if they are interested in why they should not think themselves, or allow themselves to be portrayed, as a problem, but rather as a promise, as a solution, as indispensable forgers of the "America" that is being fashioned for a new century."—Eduardo Mendieta, Stony Brook University, author of Global Fragments: Latinamericanisms, Globalizations, and Critical Theory

"Guardiola-Rivera captures the greed of the conquerors, how their lust for gold stimulated world capitalism at its inception and how their drive for power choked off the enslaved Amerindians' dream of a life centered on the collective welfare . . . Relying on archival documents and his own travels and interviews with government ministers, journalists and activists, Guardiola-Rivera assembles a richly allusive, if idiosyncratic history of the European conquest and the continent's subsequent struggle against dependency."—Kirkus Reviews

"As the Great Recession rolled across the globe in 2008, the economies of Latin America proved unexpectedly resilient—a happy occurrence that legal scholar Guardiola-Rivera credits to the majority of Latin American societies veering away from the neoliberal paradigm and the shadow of the empire to the north. Guardiola-Rivera puts this remarkable trend among Latin American countries—a category into which the U.S. is destined for inclusion, with its projected Latino majority by 2040--into the historical context of enduring pre-Columbian values and popular resistance to imperialism among the dispossessed of North and South America ."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

  • Oscar Guardiola-Rivera teaches international law and international affairs at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has served as an aide to the Colombian Congress and as a consultant to the United Nations in South America. He has lectured in law, philosphy, and politics on three continents.