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Gold, Oil, and Avocados

A Recent History of Latin America in Sixteen Commodities

The past decade has seen major political upheaval in Latin America–from Brazil to Chile to Venezuela to Bolivia–but to understand what happened, ask first where your quinoa and lithium batteries came from…

The dawn of the 21st century was full of promise for Latin America. After military dictatorships and CIA-backed coups plagued South and Central America throughout the Cold War, a new set of leaders took control as history came to an end, armed with programs to reduce poverty and reclaim national wealth.

Today, those leaders have fallen like dominos–Brazilian Lula is in prison with his political heir deposed, Evo Morales fled Bolivia as a mob descended, and a protracted coup in Venezuela unseated Hugo Chavez’s heir. Where did the dreams of this “pink tide” go? Look no further than the original culprits of Latin American disenfranchisement: resource-rich land and unscrupulous extraction.

Joining the old staples like gold and bananas that underscored the original plunder of the Americas are a new generation of valuable resources to power new technologies and eco-friendly lifestyles: coltan for smartphones, lithium for electric cars, and avocados for guacamole to name a few. Roving reporter, Andy Robinson, takes readers from the salt planes of Chile to the depths of the Amazonian jungle to stitch together the story of Latin America’s last decade, showing how the imperial plunder of the past carries on today under a new name.

ANDY ROBINSON is a roving reporter for La Vanguardia. A graduate of the London School of Economics, he moved to Catalonia at the end of the eighties, and began a career in journalism with a series of articles about the United Kingdom that were published in El Mon magazine. He has also contributed to Business Week, City LimitsThe Guardian, Ajoblanco and The Nation.