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Articles – Special Issue ‘The Liberal International Order and the Global South’: A View from Latin America

Establishing the limits of the liberal international order: Latin America and the demand for development

Pages 680-697
Received 01 Dec 2020
Accepted 02 May 2021
Published online: 15 Jun 2021


Using a historical analysis based on archival research in Mexico, the United States, and Great Britain, this article argues that as Latin American negotiators waged campaigns for reforms to rules for trade, investment, and development lending in the twentieth century, they came to inadvertently illustrate what was acceptable and what was impossible within the terms of the Liberal International Order (LIO). In each of the three episodes examined, US government officials actually acquiesced to the demands of experts and political figures from the developing world, agreeing to broad international frameworks that were intended to scale-up the welfarist vision of ‘embeddedness’ to the international arena. But in each of these cases, those government officials subsequently saw their concessions vetoed by the action of powerful capitalist interests fearful of what the limits to power might mean for their bottom lines. It was in this struggle unfolding over time—as representatives from Latin America and elsewhere in the industrialising world tried to build an infrastructure of development that would meaningfully embed US capital in a framework of rights and obligations, and as capital organised to respond, rallying business associations and allied government representatives—that the limits of the LIO came to be defined.

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No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Christy Thornton

Christy Thornton is an assistant professor of sociology and Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (Oakland: University of California Press, 2021). Email: christy.thornton@jhu.edu

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