Hello, my good dudes! I hope today finds you well, and I suspect today finds you happy indeed that it is (when this goes up) the weekend. Bless.
Today’s review is (gasp!) a nonfiction read! I know, I know: what is the world coming to?! I hardly ever review those! In point of fact, I honestly read just as much, if not more nonfiction than I do fiction, because my primary job at the moment is as a PhD candidate. My life is basically all about The Research. However, because I like to review books that maybe a few more people will like the look of than my random niche reads, I don’t often write about them here. However, after a little poll on my Instagram stories the other day, apparently y’all wouldn’t mind hearing about the research reading that I do as well!
In all honesty, The FBI in Latin America isn’t a title that I would ordinarily pick up. Despite its’ subject matter being an intelligence agency (and yes, the FBI is an intelligence agency), my particular area of research doesn’t focus on Latin America, nor do I have any real affinity with communism/socialism-focused literature. I’m a little too cynically realist for that. However, when this book came up on the review list for the London School of Economics Review of Books (for whom I occasionally review, so yes: this book was sent to me in exchange for an academic review, and no: that does not affect my opinion of the work), I decided to enquire about it because I thought that the content of the book looked intriguing.
I have to say, I was kinda right. Love it when that happens.
Straight up: it takes a lot for me to wrap my head around leftist literature. Not because I take issue with communism or socialism as personal choices or political preferences, but because I personally struggle to accept the validity of the basic tenets in light of both reality and my own research. I do, however, accept that there are individuals who have the same struggle understanding my work and perspective, and these are the differences that make the world go around. Let’s all luxuriate in the freedom to form our own opinions, and also to sympathize with those who don’t have such a luxury.
Now: the book. This is a really, really well-researched book. The basic premise is that the author, Becker, has used the documentary archive of the FBI to piece together a history of the left in Latin America, specifically, Ecuador. This is an approach I don’t think I have ever heard of, but it is actually brilliant because there is an absolutely massive archive of information out there, not just from the FBI but various and sundry agencies, departments, branches, whatever, that has been declassified or was always open source that has been compiled by intelligence agencies that inadvertently charts the history and development of nearly anything that may be of interest to a State official. And let me tell you, back in the nineteenth century (World War One, World War Two, the Cold War) that was just about damn near everything you could think of.
Now, the repository does have some significant drawbacks, which the author is quick to point our and try to mitigate: the FBI personnel doing most of the intelligence gathering were white, male, and of privileged background. Typically, they never really focused on groups like women, peasants, Indigenous peoples, or workers/labourers so the intelligence is fairly one-dimensional. This really kinda sucks because there are enough tidbits about those groups in general and individuals within them that are absolutely tantalizing and make me wish more could be written about marginalized groups in political activism. However, beggars can’t be choosers and considering that the FBI pulled out of Latin America in 1947 after the creation of the CIA and burned most of their records on the way out (my bibliophile soul breaks) we’re exceptionally lucky that Becker has found the depth of information he has.
What he has constructed is a brilliant history of leftist movements of Ecuador in light of the special intelligence service (SIS) of the FBI. In terms of intelligence (which is generally what I study), what this book also teaches is just how extensive American intelligence was even in the 1930s and 1940s, let alone what we know about their capacity today. We almost have to be thankful though, because even as the FBI had a general policy of noninterference in local politics and initiatives, their close surveillance and Director Hoover’s absolute obsession with the potential dangers posed by Latin American communism have provided a fantastic amount of detail for Becker to stick together into a working historical narrative, complete with actors, groups, influences, events, and relationships between them all.
This book wouldn’t be for everyone, and I’m almost certain that the casual reader might not enjoy the density of research and detail with which Becker has written. If you do have an interest in Latin America, Ecuador, political activism, socialism, communism, or the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, this really would be an excellent title for you to get your hands on.
Disclaimer: This title was sent to me by a representative of the LSE Review of Books in exchange for an academic review, which I will link here once it has been published. My opinion, as with every book I review, is my own, honest opinion and is not affected by who paid for/provided the book in question. If you have any questions or concerns, please send me a message through my contact page.
Photo credits: Photos taken by me, with my iPhone.