"One of a very small number of studies on the history of survival strategies in peasant communities in Latin America. . . . The transformations Rudolf has witnessed <i>as they occurred</i> in the course of the many visits she has made to Loma Bonita . . . [provide] a window onto the social, political, and economic dynamics in the community and their relation to national and global processes."--Hans C. Buechler, Syracuse University
"An excellent long-term, in-depth study of a rural community in Panama. It is essential reading for scholars interested in rural Latin America and the forces which shape it."--John R. Bort, East Carolina University
Examining the impact of global economic forces on a small rural community in the rugged mountains of central Panama, <i>Panama’s Poor</i> illustrates peasant survival strategies and their cumulative effects on patterns of change throughout Latin America.
When Gloria Rudolf began visiting Loma Bonita 25 years ago, most residents lived as poor but relatively independent subsistence farmers. Today, most are paid workers who experience greater economic insecurity, dependence, and inequality than before. Nonetheless, Rudolf says, they are agents of their own destiny as well as victims, an argument that challenges the commonly held view of peasants as passive victims of history. Although they have not been able to reverse their general course of poverty, they sometimes have managed to improve their immediate life circumstances by undertaking small-scale, undramatic actions in the course of their daily lives. Over time, the cumulative effects of these actions occasionally have influenced larger historical developments—sometimes to their benefit. Throughout, Rudolf shows how economic and gender differences within the community play a critical role in determining people’s choices for action and the course of short- and long-term change.
In writing that is both lucid and sophisticated, Rudolf describes the four generations she came to know during frequent visits to Panama, from elders who were raised as farmers to their great-grandchildren who live today in squatter settlements near Panama City--conveying respect for the complex lives of the poor and a sense of their successes and failures.
In one of the few existing studies of a non-indigenous peasant community in Panama, Rudolf sets her work in the context of national and global political and economic history. Her 25 years of research in a single community enable her to trace how people have responded to and shaped the major events that have characterized Latin American society during this time: population explosion, rural-urban migration, colonization of new regions, debt crisis, U.S. economic and political involvement, liberation theology and "reformed Catholicism," trends in development, the rise of large-scale industrial agriculture, and structural adjustment policies.
Gloria Rudolf teaches anthropology and development studies at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. She is the author of articles on economic development and political and religious movements in Panama and rural Latin America in journals including <i>Urban Anthropology</i> and <i>Cultural Survival Quarterly.</i>