The Latin American critique of population control

Material Information

The Latin American critique of population control
Fraile, Lydia M
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vi, 95 leaves : ; 29 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Political Science, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Political science


Subjects / Keywords:
Population policy ( lcsh )
Birth control -- Latin America ( lcsh )
Birth control ( fast )
Population policy ( fast )
Population policy -- Latin America ( lcsh )
Latin America ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 91-95).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, Department of Political Science.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Lydia M. Fraile.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
16860037 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L64 1985m .F7 ( lcc )

Full Text
Lydia M. Fraile
Attorney at Law, University of Salamanca, Spain, 1983
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Department of Political Science

This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by
Lydia M. Fraile
has been approved for the
Department of
Political Science

Fraile, Lydia M. (M.A., Political Science)
The Latin American Critique of Population Control
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Joel C. Edelstein
In the last two decades, a heated controversy has
surrounded the issue of population control, especially
in Latin America. This controversy is the primary focus
of this paper. After reviewing the region's experience
with population programs, and comparing the contemporary
controversy with the nineteenth century Marx-Malthus
debate on population. Three major lines of criticism of
population control are discussed: the instrumentalist
argu ment, which denounces population control as a form
of imperialist aggression; the structuralist position,
which describes the mechanisms that create a structural
need for population control within imperialism; and the
feminist argument, which emphasizes the role of
patriarchy in shaping reproduction and the right to
reproductive freedom. Finally, an assessment of the
impact of the critique of population control and its
shortcomings is made.

A Maria Luisa Soto Perez
mi abuela.

I wish to thank my advisor, Dr. Joel C. Edelstein
and the other members of my committee, Dr. Jana Everett,
Dr. Lawrence Mosqueda and Dr. Richard Ogles for their
support and consideration. Their encouragement and
interest has made this thesis a fascinating learning
Dr. Carol Andreas offered many valuable insights,
and Dr. Suzanne Helburn helped me with an especially dif-
ficult part. Judy Price, of the Graduate School, kindly
offered her advice on format and specifications. For
this I am grateful.
Thanks are also extended to the Human Rights
Institute of the University of Madrid for financial sup-
port, and to Dr. Jose Luis Cascajo, who encouraged me to
undertake the project.
I also wish to thank Lynn Holland for her camara-
derie, and Bert Spector, who typed the final manuscript
and offered her outstanding command of the English
language to assist a poor foreign student, often striving
to find an impossible word. Finally, I give thanks to my
husband, Martin Spector. Without his constant help and
support, this work would never have found the light at
the other end of the tunnel.

I. INTRODUCTION .................................... 1
THE OLD MARX-MALTHUS DEBATE .................... 12
STRUCTURALIST APPROACH ......................... 39
VI. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS ........................ 79
BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................... 87

During the period following World War II, the
focus of attention of population studies shifted from
mortality to fertility, and from the demographic density
of developed countries to high population growth rates in
the Third World. Population control emerged as an issue
of the post-war era under the aegis of the rising
imperial power, the United States.
The 1950's represented more than anything else an
educational stage on the population question. The Ford
and Rockefeller Foundations among other private
organizations, took upon themselves the task of purifying
the idea of population control of eugenic-racist
connotations at a time when the Nazi horrors were still
fresh in the collective memory, and of convincing both
the government and the public of the urgent need for
drastic measures in order to curtail the "population
explosion" problem. This educational campaign was
largely successful, and by the turn of the decade, both
the operative structures and the ideology of population
control were ripe for action. During the 1960's,
population control became an integral part of U. S.

foreign policy. The involvement of the state along with
the private sector made it possible for the first time to
launch a massive population control drive all over the
Third World.
Latin America's experience with population
control goes back to depression times in the case of
Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico had a privately promoted family
planning program as early as 1925. The state stepped in
during the 1940's, and by 1949, an estimated 21% of
Puerto Rican women of childbearing age had been
sterilized, and the procedure, innocuously labeled
"la operacion", was practiced in 18 of every 100 hospital
deliveries on the island (Mass, 1977). Therefore, U. S.
concerns arising in the 1950's already had, in Puerto
Rico, a successful precedent for population control
programs in the region.
In many respects, population control in Latin
America paralleled the course followed in the United
States. During the 1950's, U. S. private organizations
carried out an educational campaign aimed particularly at
local elites. They sponsored research on reproductive
behavior, demographic data collection, training of
medical personnel, marketing surveys of contraceptive
methods, and experimental population control programs.
These activities set the stage for more systematic action
in the future. Generally speaking, the 1960's marked a

period of accelerated U. S. penetration in the region, as
private investment aggressively accompanied the activism
of Alliance for Progress policies. In the aftermath of
the Cuban revolution, the Alliance for Progress searched
to reassure U. S. investors of the viability of doing
business in the- sub-continent. In addition to providing
U. S. corporations with local infrastructure and other
incentives, the Alliance included a number of social
programs aimed at guaranteeing political stability.
However, while being a complete success at stimulating
U. S. investments in the area, it failed to raise the
standard of living of the local population. The
"demographic explosion" was blamed for this failure, and
population control, which was from the beginning a
component of the Alliance for Progress, was increasingly
advocated as a substitute for most development programs.
It was in this context that Lyndon Johnson made his
famous statement before the U. N. General Assembly in
1965: "$5.00 of birth control is worth $100.00 of
economic development" (as quoted by Mass, 1976). This
political perception was reflected in the foreign aid
budget; in the following years, the share of population
control kept growing steadily, while total U. S. aid to
Latin America declined in absolute terms. This tendency
is even more disturbing when considering the ever
shrinking health allocations to countries in the region

(Mass, 1976). Latin America became a prime target for
population control. Even in 1980, public per capita
expenditure on population programs, including domestic
and foreign funds, was $0.96 in Latin America, while
amounting to $0.71 in East Asia and to $0.34 in India
(World Bank, 1984).
Did Latin America have a pressing demographic
problem? It is true that by the mid-1960's only
Argentina, Cuba, and Uruguay had crude fertility rates
approximating those of developed nations. However, Latin
America had the lowest crude fertility rate in the Third
World (World Bank, 1984). On the other hand, it also had
one of the highest population growth rates, due to lower
levels of mortality.
While these two rates are closely connected, it
is important to draw a distinction between them because
of their different implications on the nature of the
population problem. High fertility rates refer to the
pressure that numerous children bring to bear on family
and state expenditure; the higher the rate, the greater
the problem. By contrast, high population growth rates
refer to the pressure of total population on the habitat,
therefore implying a ratio between population and natural
resources. Demographic density gives us an approximate
measure of such a ratio. However, the Latin American
countries were not densely populated when compared with

Asia, Europe, and the United States. Even when only
arable land is considered, most Latin American countries
were not over-populated, and some of them could support
considerably more people (McCoy, 1974). Finally,
consideration must be given to the fact that this region
has traditionally been an exporter of raw materials to
the developed world, rather than a beneficiary of its own
natural resources. One cannot but conclude that, by any
standard, Latin America did not have the most acute
demographic problem in the world.
Nevertheless, Latin America became a prime target
for population control during the 1960's because of its
relatively greater importance for imperialism at that
time. Being a high priority area for the U. S. in terms
of direct investments, access to natural resources, and
other strategic reasons, it became a high priority area
for population control programs as well. Like the
Alliance for Progress, of which it was an integral part,
population control also responded to the concern aroused
by the Cuban revolution. However, this greater U. S.
involvement in the region damaged the image of population
control, which was identified in Latin America, more than
elsewhere in the world, with U. S. interventionism.
What have been the results? What could be
considered a positive decline in fertility is often
considered insufficient by policy-makers. Certainly,

Latin America's performance record has been less than
impressive when compared to the success stories of East
Asian countries. According to the World Book Report on
Population, since 1965, birth rates have fallen by more
than 30% in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, The
Philippines, and Thailand and in Indonesia and elsewhere
by 20 to 30%,j "showing that a demographic transition to
lower fertility is clearly underway." In Latin America,
only Cuba, Colombia, and Jamaica reached equivalent
levels. A rather modest decline took place in some key
countries such as Mexico, with a 23.8% decline, or
Brazil, with 18.6%. But in the poorest areas of Central
America and the Andes, rates of decline are substantially
under 20%, and even under 10% (World Bank, 1984).
The influence of the Catholic Church has often
been pointed to as a cause of this relative failure of
population control in Latin America. The doctrine of the
Church, in this matter as stated in the Humane Vitae,
incorporates the concepts of responsible parenthood and
family planning, but condemns all contraceptive methods
other than abstinence and the rhythm method.
Subsequently, it leaves room for a limited practice of
birth control. In fact, CARITAS (the Catholic Church
Relief Agency) has been running family planning programs
compatible with these guidelines in countries such as El
Salvador (Bronstein, 1982), and Peru (Andreas, in press).

Moreover, the document establishes the principle of
responsible parenthood while permitting only those
methods which, in addition to being unreliable, require
male cooperation. This underlying contradiction may
raise problems of interpretation when applied to a
particular case. Indeed, the variance of
interpretations, both by individual Catholics as well as
by their priests, has lead to greater or lesser degrees
of adherence to the rule. Counting on these facts,
population control agencies have actively tried to create
among the clergy a consciousness of the population
problem. Outreach programs of this type have been
implemented in El Salvador (Singer, 1973) and Brazil
(Mass, 1976), among others. On the other hand, the
Church's attitude towards the ideology or, more properly,
towards the philosophy underlying population control, has
been one of clear opposition. At the First World
Conference on Population which took place in Bucharest in
1974, the Catholic Church joined the socialist block and
many Third World Countries in the denunciation of
population control, calling for a more equal distribution
of wealth, both between and within countries (O'Brien,
1983). Pope John Paul II's message to the subsequent
Conference on Population, the 1984 Mexico City Conference
was: "Have confidence in humanity" (Population: UNFPA
Newsletter, July 1984).

The actual influence of the Church's opinion on
Latin American governments, is, however, very difficult
to assess. It has been important in countries such as
Bolivia, and it might help to explain certain differences
in population policy between Cuba and Nicaragua, for
example. But in the case of Mexico, where the Catholic
Church is powerful, the government has been,
nevertheless, actively committed to population control.
Lack of government support has often been pointed
to as another cause of Latin America's poor performance
in population control. By 1979, 14 countries,
representing 40% of the region, had no official policy
for reducing population growth, nor did they support any
family planning activities. Another 11 countries
representing 31.4%, did support family planning for
health considerations, and as a human right of the
couple, but did not endorse population control for
demographic reasons (Nortman & Hofstatter, 1980).
According to the World Bank's 1984 Report on Population,
"in much of Latin America, political support for family
planning is ambiguous" (World Bank, 1984). For more than
a decade, Brazil was a curious example of such ambiguity,
supporting family planning for health considerations
while holding an official pro-natalist policy. Finally,
in 1979, Brazil shifted to a direct population control
policy. This change of policy could be interpreted as a

result of the economic crisis beginning in 1974 (O'Brien,
1983). However, the same crisis, in Chile, produced the
opposite effect. Since 1966, Chile had been a strong
supporter of population control. Not only did the
government actively promote family planning, but Chile
was the site for major research facilities and the host
of various regional conferences on population. After the
1973 coup, the military Junta continued this policy. But
in 1979, the government announced a pro-natalist policy
and renounced support for family planning activities.
(SALA, 1983). By the end of the decade, only ten
countries, representing 28.5% of Latin America, did have
an official policy to reduce population growth rates
(Nortman & Hofstatter, 1980), and this despite the fact
that population control stipulations had been attached to
foreign aid and multilateral loans since the mid-1960's
(Mass, 1976).
What might lie behind this governmental
resistance or ambivalence towards population control?
One reason might be the pressure of the Catholic Church,
whose actual influence on population policy is, as
discussed above, difficult to estimate. But besides the
religious factor, population control has certainly won
for itself a dubious reputation in Latin America. The
extent of direct U. S. involvement in the region caused
population control to be considered a mandate from abroad

another U. S. dictate. Within this context,
nationalism has often been an important force behind
governmental resistance to population control.
Similarly, the negative image of an administration too
closely identified with the U. S. in this sensitive issue
has often advised against unconditional endorsement, in
favor of an ambiguous support of population control.
Indeed, the singularity of Latin America's
experience with population control lies in the heated
debate that surrounded it. As a matter of fact, in no
other part of the world has the opposition to population
control been so often and so strongly articulated. In
this sense, Latin America has played an important role in
shaping the ideological context for population control in
the international arena. To the extent that ideology
involves questions of legitimacy, priorities, strategies
of implementation and the like, it affects actual policy.
For all these reasons, I chose the Latin American
critique of population control as the subject of this
Chapter II will briefly discuss the contemporary
controversy over population control as compared with the
nineteenth century Marx-Malthus debate on population.
Chapter III will explore the concept of population
control as imperialist aggression, as it was coined in
Latin America. A number of instrumental purposes that

population control might serve for imperialism will be
examined and supported by evidence from Latin America.
Chapter IV will discuss the existence of a structural
need for population control within imperialism. The
functioning of the principle of the reserve army of labor
in the era of the TNCs, and the structural mechanisms
which perpetuate under-development (with special
reference to the Latin American dependency school), will
be examined. Finally, semi-proletarianization and the
economic forces conducive tb high fertility among the
poor will be considered. Chapter V will incorporate a
feminist perspective which emphasizes the role of
patriarchy in shaping reproduction, as well as women's
demand for birth control. The impact of capitalist
development on women of the popular classes, their
political strategies (with special reference to Latin
America), and the close relationship between production
and reproduction will be discussed. Chapter VI will
assess the impact of the critique of population control
and identify some of its shortcomings.

Central to the debate over population control has
been the question of the relationship between demography
and economy or, in more fashionable terms, between
population growth and economic development. That
economic and demographic factors are related is a
statistical fact. The problem arises when trying to
establish the nature and meaning of such a complex and,
in many ways, contradictory relationship. In the last
century, Malthus and Marx developed opposing theories of
population based on conflicting interpretations of this
relationship. The controversy has been so long lasting
that, in a sense, the contemporary debate over population
control is but a revival of the old Marx-Malthus
encounter. Ronald Meek has made a thorough study of the
content of that classic debate and its influence on
current views on the issue of population control (Meek,
1971). For the purposes of this work however, I will
limit myself to briefly stating the basic positions

Malthus formulated a universal law of population:
that population grows geometrically while food supply
grows arithmetically, producing periods of starvation,
disease, and war, which eventually check population
growth, restoring the balance between people and
resources. Marx refuted Malthus by arguing that an
absolute law of population does not exist for humans:
that demography and economy relate to each other in a
historically specific way, both being a function of the
mode of production. Every society has its own law of
population according to its mode of production. Marx
also formulated the "principle of the reserve army of
labor" as being the law of population specific to
capitalism, according to which capitalism creates over-
population (see Chapter IV for a more in depth
explanation of this point).
Perhaps, the best way to understand how
diametrically opposed these two positions are is through
their respective views on poverty. In Malthuss view,
poverty is caused by over-population. In Marx's, it is a
product of capitalist relations of production. For
Malthus, poverty is a necessary mechanism to maintain
balance. On one occasion, Malthus advocated the
abolition of England's aid-for-the-poor laws on these
grounds. Against poverty, Marx prescribed revolution.
It is in this light that Engel's denunciation of

Malthusiansism as "bourgeois apologetics" must be
This ideological struggle has been at the core of
the contemporary debate as well. The population control
drive of the 1960's was based on the assumption that
over-population is the cause of mass poverty in the Third
World. Correspondingly, family planning has been
promoted as the key to economic development. From a
Leftist perspective, Third World poverty is seen as the
result of imperialist domination. Hence, in order to
overcome poverty it is necessary to overcome imperialism
itself, in favor of socialism and a new international
economic order. It is in this context of North-South
dialectics that population control has been denounced as
an imperialist ideology which blames Third World people
for the poverty they experience, while obscuring the
issues of imperialism and under-development.
The ideological confrontation over population
control had its climax at the First World Conference on
Population that took place in Bucharest in 1974. More
specifically, controversy has focused in more recent
times on the relationship between population growth and
economic development. Patricia 0'Brien has summed up the
current debate into three basic questions concerning this
relationship: Does population growth hinder economic
development?; Does population growth stimulate economic

development?; Are population growth and economic
development both effects of a common cause? (O'Brien,
Does population growth hinder economic
development? This potentially broad question has too
often been formulated from a new-Malthusian standpoint.
As a matter of fact, the message of the population
control drive of the 1960's was that economic development
won't proceed unless population growth is checked, and
population grows at a slower rate than the economy. In
other words, rapid population growth is preventing Third
World countries from catching up with the developed
world. Moreover, the efforts applied to check population
growth were increasingly considered far more effective in
promoting economic development than any other development
programs, or than economic aid itself (see Chapter I on
the evolution of U. S. foreign policy concerning
population control). The original question, "Does
population growth hinder economic development?"
eventually degenerated into the view of population
control as a substitute for economic development.
Does population growth stimulate economic
development? This has been the opinion of a number of
nationalist governments of the Third World striving to
gain independence from colonial or neo-colonial ties
(O'Brien, 1983). At the Bucharest Conference, some of

these nations rejected the recommendation to stabilize
their population, arguing that their countries needed a
growing population in order to be able to develop their
own resources and achieve national independence. This
was the case of under-populated Argentina and Brazil.
Certainly, issues such as foreign control over natural
resources or the targeting of sparsely populated or
colonized areas for population control programs have
influenced this analysis (see Chapter III for a more
detailed discussion of these issues).
The question, "Does population growth stimulate
economic development?" has also been formulated from an
historical perspective. A look at the demographic
history of capitalism shows that the process of
capitalist development in Europe was accompanied by rapid
population growth, and that fertility declined once a
certain level of economic development was reached. This
type of analysis crystallized into the "demographic
transition theory," which has been an important argument
in the controversy over population control. According to
this theory, the so called "Demographic explosion" is but
a typical feature of the process of capitalist
development which will die down when that process is
complete (Ovsienko, 1973). Thusly, economic development
will eventually produce the desired effect of reducing
fertility and stabilizing population growth at replace

ment levels. Independent of this historical approach,
mainstream empirical research on demography has made some
contributions which seem to reinforce the thesis that
economic development will take care of the population
problem. I refer to the identification of a number of
factors conducive to lower fertility, such as low infant
mortality rates or high levels of education among women,
which are in and of themselves fruits of economic
development. Historical and empirical research has thus
called attention to the influence of economy upon
demography, emphasizing the need to promote economic
Are population growth and economic development
both effects of a common cause? The Marxist position has
been that the mode of production determines both economic
development (or under-deve1opment) and population
processes, which in turn relate to each other in a
dialectical way. The contemporary debate over population
control has inspired the development of an updated
version of the Marxian thesis of the "principle of the
reserve army of labor" which incorporates imperialism and
the emergence of the transnational corporation into the
analysis of the population question. Important progress
has also been made in illuminating the ways in which
capitalist development in the periphery affects
population, producing demographic contradictions which

create what has been called a "structural need for
population control" (See Chapter IV). However, as long
as the mode of production is left untouched, population
control represents a manner of attacking the symptom
(over-population) rather than the root of the problem
(imperialism). In this line, the Cuban delegate to the
Bucharest Conference defined population control as "a
maneuver of imperialism to obfuscate the issues of true
development" (as quoted by Mass, 1976 p. 68). The
socialist block denounced population control as
ideological. China even called for the withdrawal of the
term "population explosion" (not surprisingly, since
China has often inspired paranoid fantasies of the
"yellow tide" type).
General criticism of population control rhetoric
concentrated on the twisted view of birth control as a
substitute for economic development, as promoted by the
population control establishment. As a matter of fact,
the final declaration of the Conference denounced this
view and affirmed the need to consider population and
development together. Only then was a degree of
consensus reached and a "World Plan of Action" adopted.
In addition to this, several amendments to the Plan
incorporated a series of recommendations concerning
issues such as the need to improve the status of women,
migration problems, and rapid urbanization, which

emphasized the complexity of the relationship between
population growth and economic development.
It can be said that the controversy over
population control reached its peak at the Bucharest
Conference of 1974. Since then, the debate has cooled
considerably and population policy has been less of a
polemic issue. Nevertheless, the debate has stimulated
the development of different lines of criticism which, as
we will see in the following chapters, have produced
invaluable contributions to the understanding of
population and economic development processes, and that
have to a certain degree influenced population policy as

Perhaps the most unique contribution of Latin
America to the population control debate has been to take
it beyond its nineteenth century boundaries. However,
because capitalism continues to use population control
for ideological purposes today, the denunciation of
population control as ideological continues to play a
central part in the Latin American critique.
Without doubt, the capitalist world of the
present is a very different place from the loose, highly
decentralized, competitive system in which Malthus and
Marx lived. Two major changes have occurred which are
relevant to the population question. First, the
contemporary capitalist world is a highly integrated
system in which transnational corporations increasingly
have the power to organize production globally and to
determine and manipulate supply and demand on the world
market for goods, capital, and most important, labor.
Second, technological advances in contraception have
resulted in new birth control techniques unavailable in
the past. As a result, population control is designed to

actually manipulate fertility, in an effort to curtail
rapid population growth caused by capitalist development
in the Third World. This gives contemporary population
programs a material dimension that was absent in the last
century. Instrumentalist critics of population control
deserve credit for introducing this new aspect of the
population question into the debate which they did under
the concept of "imperialist aggression." Because of
their emphasis on the material dimensions of population
control, instrumentalists have tended to focus on the
implementation of population control programs in the
region as their subject of attention, and criticism. For
this reason, it is worthwhile to include in this chapter
a brief history of some key features which, according to
instrumentalist critics of population control, have
characterized the implementation of population programs
in Latin America.
In particular, I am referring to an element of
coercion (upon the nation and upon the individual) which
has accompanied population programs in the region,
contributing to a general perception of population
control as "imposed from abroad." For instance, Latin
American critics often point to the fact that population
control strings have been attached to development
assistance since the I960's. Multilateral credit
institutions such as the World Bank and the Interamerican

Development Bank have considered high fertility rates as
a cause of a bad business climate and included
stipulations to reduce them in loan contracts (Mass,
1977). Also, population control has been considered a
form of self-help, i.e. a pre-condition for U. S. aid.
Since the 1966 Food for Freedom Act, population control
has been a condition for sale of U. S. food surpluses in
foreign currencies. Population control has often been
attached to maternal/child health services as well (Mass,
1977). Finally, according to the 1975 International
Development and Food Assistance Bill, the AID has the
right to withhold food and health allocations from
countries which have not instituted national population
control programs. In addition to this, no less than 67%
of all funds made available through AID must be used for
population control (Mass, 1977).
At the implementation level, U. S. population
control programs in Latin America have suffered from what
has been called "a desperate haste to achieve results"
(Mass, 1977). This promotes a preference for the most
effective contraceptive methods which can dramatically
reduce the day-to-day choice-factor, even if unsafe.
According to this logic, sterilization stands out as the
optimum method, being irreversible. Statistical data
neces- sary to assess the extent to which sterilization,
as opposed to other methods of birth control, has been

practiced at the regional level is difficult to obtain.
Either there is no differentiation as to method, or when
it exists, data on sterilization is missing for most
countries. Record-keeping practices must be one reason
behind this lack of information. Given current policy
guidelines, only those methods which rely on regular use
for their effectiveness require detailed records and
follow-up procedures. Contrarily, sterilizations are
often performed irregularly, and sometimes are not
recorded. Because of this, sterilizations tend to be
under-represented in most available statistics, which are
based on official records. Nevertheless, scattered
information drawn from a variety of sources, suggests
that even when not the most favored method, sterilization
is at least a very important component of U. S. programs.
U. S. agencies such as the Population Council or Cornell
University's International Population Program, which is
particularly active in Latin America, have constructed
family planning models centered around post-partum
sterilization (Berelson, 1969, Stycos, 1973). Following
these models, post-partum sterilization has been
implemented on a large scale in Colombia, Costa Rica,
Panama, Honduras, and Brazil. Expecting mothers who
arrive at these clinics in search of free maternal/child
health care are pressured to accept post-partum
sterilization at their periodic visits during pregnancy

and lactation. In addition to this, community outreach
workers or motivadores and radio campaigns keep up the
pressure in the home. As a result, in the case of
Panama, by 1968, an estimated 25% of married women of
childbearing age in Panama City had undergone
sterilization (Population Council, 1974).
Sterilization has also been medically prescribed
in cases of poor health condition linked to malnourish-
ment and to infectious chronic diseases such as malaria.
Puerto Rico is a show case of how far such practices can
be taken. Chronic dietary deficiencies and epidemic
diseases among the poor of the island, have allowed a
medical profession already inclined to think that contra-
ceptive methods other than sterilization were too
complicated for lower class people (Stycos, 1954), to
"carry out this policy in a liberal spirit" (Tietze,
1947). According to Puerto Rico's Department of Health
figures, by 1965, 35% of women of childbearing age on the
island had been sterilized, two thirds of whom were
still in their 20's (Mass, 1977). By 1975, the Pratt
study showed that 36.4% of married women of childbearing
age had been sterilized. However, sterilization is now
more common among women aged over 35, as the pill is
becoming the number one method. On the other hand, men
started being sterilized in the 1970's. By 1975, ten
women for every man had been sterilized in Puerto Rico

(L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980). In other cases, health
campaigns have been used as a pretext for sterilization.
In 1969, a malaria control program on the coast of
Ecuador was denounced as a camouflage for a massive
sterilization program of local peasant women (L.A. &
Caribb. Women, 1980).
Sterilization abuse is an implicit theme in
practically all denunciations of population control as
"imperialist aggression." Abusive practices have ranged
from extracting consent during labor, to holding back
information on the irreversibility of the procedure, to
performing the operation without the woman's knowledge,
to outright coercion, or a combination of some of these.
Occasionally, reports of sterilization abuse have even
reached parliaments in Latin America. The Peace Corps
was expelled from Bolivia following revelations that it
was surgically sterilizing women in the highlands without
their knowledge. In 1974, it was expelled from Peru for
similar reasons (L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980). In 1967,
members of Colombia's legislature accused a Ford Founda-
tion backed experiment of sterilizing 40,000 indigent
women. The women, reportedly, had been enticed by
promises of lipstick and artificial pearls (Mass, 1977).
Parliamentary committees repeatedly investigated the
activities of BENFAM, the Brazilian branch of the IPPF.
Between 1965-71, BENFAM was accused of having sterilized

a million women in the state of Guanabara. It was
accused also of inserting IUDs and then cutting off the
strings without consent of the women involved (Mass,
1977). Also in Brazil, in 1968, the Pires study
disclosed the fact that contraceptive substances had
been added to U. S. made powdered-milk, which was later
freely distributed among young mothers in the Northern
region of Minas Gerais (Slutzky, 1970)* Even several
cases of castration of indigenous children were reported
in Ecuador in July 1974 (L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980).
Another controversial source of sterilization
abuse is to offer a prize, in cash or otherwise, in
exchange for the willingness to undergo the procedure.
The Ford Foundation and the AID were conducting pilot
projects of this kind in the Dominican Republic and Costa
Rica in the early 1970's. Under the euphemism of "Family
Planning Insurance Plan," the programs offered a few
dollars per month for the rest of the acceptors' lives
(NACLA, 1973). As critics have pointed out, given the
striking poverty in which most Latin Americans live,
truly free consent is lacking in these sterilization
programs. Finally, the 1982/83 Foreign Assistance Act
prohibited the use of U. S. funds "to pay for the
performance of involuntary sterilizations as a method of
family planning or to coerce or provide any financial
incentive to any person to undergo sterilization."
I do

not have information in order to assess whether this
provision against sterilization abuse has been obeyed in
Latin America. In June 30, 1984, The Nation reported
that AID was skirting the law in Bangladesh by calling
the incentives "compensation payments" for the cost of
transportation, food, and lost wages. Even the new saris
and lungis that people received, were justified as
"surgical apparel." This illustrates how easily the law
can be circumvented, and therefore how much monitoring
and control of population programs by popular and women's
organizations are needed, both at the local and the
international levels.
But abuse has not been limited to sterilization.
According to Mass's data, Latin American women have
served as guinea pigs for almost all new birth control
methods. The pill in its many variations, most of which
were later discarded, was extensively tested on Puerto
Rican, Haitian, and Mexican women. Different kinds of
IUDs, coils, and spirals were inserted in a massive
number of women from Chile, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Peru,
Haiti, and Mexico while still in the experimental stage.
Unsafe methods such as the one-month pill, Depo-Provera,
DES (now used as the morning-after pill), and prota-
glandins, have been and are still used in Latin America
in spite of having been banned in the U. S. market.
Moreover, these products are often purchased by AID to

export to other nations. Probably the best known case of
all is Depo-Provera, a three-month injectable associated
with trombo-embolism and cervical cancer, and particu-
larly dangerous for malnourished women. It has been
widely used in Mexico, Colombia, and rural areas of
Bolivia and Peru. Despite being harmful to the health of
the women and even fatal, these contraceptives are
considered appropriate for the Third World because they
can either be self-administered or do not require medical
professionals to do so, and because of their long-lasting
effects which dramatically reduce the day-to-day choice
factor, increasing effectiveness. Finally, some of them
can be used as a substitute for abortion which is still
illegal in many Latin American countries.
It is in this historical context of coercion and
abuse that instrumentalists have identified population
control as a form of "imperialist aggression." According
to their approach, population control serves a number of
instrumental purposes for imperialism. Several elements
can be clearly distinguished within the concept of
"imperialist aggression:" a) population control as an
instrument of imperialist penetration; b) population
control as genocide; c) population control as counter-
insurgency; and d) the the "conspiracy" element.
Population control as an instrument of
imperialist penetration: Probably the bottom-line of

this notion is the stigma of foreign intervention.
Population control is seen as being forced upon Latin
America by the U. S. in accordance with the interests of
imperialism, rather than following the interests of the
Latin American people.
It is a form of control imposed from abroad, and
applied at home by each country's dominant classes,
under the pretext of supposed overpopulation" (Latin
American and Caribbean Women's Collective, 1980).
Even for those who would admit the need for some kind of
demographic policy, imperialist manipulation remains an
issue. The same women's collective put it clearly: "Of
course, we are not denying the importance of demographic
policies worked out according to a country's needs and
The imposition of population control programs
upon Latin American governments responds, according to
instrumentalist critics of population control, to a basic
imperialist concern about access to natural resources.
As they have pointed out, in a region with a long history
of deprivation of its natural wealth, nationalist
governments will tend to resist such coercion. Bolivia
has traditionally resisted population control, and might
well illustrate this process. In 1953, shortly after
nationalization measures, the World Bank threatened to
refuse loans unless population control was instituted.
The reply of the Bolivian government was as follows:

Bolivia has one of the lowest per capita incomes
in Latin America. What the president of the World
Bank cares about is that Bolivia pays to Gulf Oil a
just indemnification because of the nationalization,
and that a country of a.population density of four
inhabitants per square kilometer impose birth control
(quoted in Mass, 1977).
The connection between population control and control
over natural resources often underlies more subtle forms
of resistance, such as the relative ambiguity towards
population programs shown by some Latin American
governments. Indeed, behind pro-natalist policies of
countries such as Brazil or Argentina lay the concern for
being able to develop their own natural resources
(O'Brien, 1983).
Population control as genocide: Those who
denounce population control as "imperialist aggression"
tend to link the abusive practices that have historically
characterized the implementation of population programs
to genocide. Supporting this belief is the fact that
population control programs are steadily reaching into
sparsely-populated areas where only Indians and peasants
live, and that the most flagrant abuses have been
committed upon indigenous peoples. According to this
thesis, indigenous populations which stand in.the way of
multinational corporations trying to penetrate their
territory are singled out for population control. The
most extreme example of this has been the outright policy
of genocide practiced in the Amazon jungle, where native

populations represent an obstacle to oil and mining
corporate interests (Greer, 1984). Population control
has been an integral component of such policies. In
1967, for instance, the Brazilian University of Goias
denounced the fact that Presbyterian missionaries were
carrying out a massive campaign of insertion of IUDs
among native populations in strategic places along the
Belen-Brazilia highway (Slutzky, 1970). Latin American
women denounced the fact that foreign immigration has
been encouraged in order to colonize those same areas
which are being depop ulated (L.A. & Caribb. Women,
1980). In the case of the jungle, such paradoxical
policies have been implemented in Ecuador, Peru, and
Brazil. Even in Puerto Rico, according to Pratt's study
of the census, between 1960-74, foreign immigration,
mostly originated in the U. S. and U. S. overseas
territories, accounted for 60% of the population growth
on the island (L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980).
However, Latin American critics of population
control often refer to this element of genocide in a
wider, less restricted sense. According to this thesis,
population control is designed if not to eliminate, at
least to hold back the reproduction of vast sectors of
the population, which are singled out as targets of
population control programs. Such sectors include
indigenous peoples, peasants, and the urban poor.

Structuralists, as we will see in Chapter IV, emphasize
the fact that these populations are marginal to the
capitalist mode of production. In contrast,
instrumentalists tend to emphasize the fact that these
sectors of the population are marginados, i.e. marginal
in a rather socio-economic and political sense. They are
those who fill the ranks of the dispossessed of Latin
America, the discontented masses that will bring about
the revolution. In the words of a staff member of the
Latin American Demographic Center (CELADE):
It isn't hard to see that their basic concern
[that of population control programs] is the fact
that increasing masses of Latin Americans are living
below the poverty level, while pressuring for a
better standard of living, and that in face of the
system's inability to grant it, they might end up
questioning the very existence of a system that
engenders inequality (Fucaraccio, 1970).
Population Control as Counter-insurgency: In
Latin America, in contrast with other regions of the
Third World, population control has been vehemently
denounced as an imperialist attempt to prevent
revolutionary change, and family planning programs have
been deplored for hampering or delaying the revolution
from taking place. The perception of population control
and even of family planning as reactionary or counter-
revolutionary has deeply infiltrated the grass-roots of
popular movements, at least among males and male-
dominated organizations. In fact, this argument of
population control as counter-insurgency is practically

omnipresent in the Latin American critique of population
control. On the other hand, abundant evidence suggests
that this might well be the case in Latin America.
As instrumentalists have pointed out, the belief
that over-population is a primary factor behind popular
uprisings in the Third World has been a concern of U. S.
businessmen and political leaders since World War II.
The early literature on the "population explosion"
portrayed a terrifying picture of global warfare and
destruction by desperately starving mobs. Toward the end
of the 1950's, the Draper Commission on foreign military
assistance, the first official body of the U. S.
government to advocate neo-Maithusian policies,
recommended population control activities as part of a
"mutual security program" (Mass, 1976). U. S. military
concern was particularly acute in relation to Latin
America during the 1960's, reflecting a fear that other
Latin American nations would follow the path of the Cuban
revolution. In 1966, the Alliance for Progress's Office
on Population produced the following equation (Mass,
population growth
-------------------- = political instability
economic & social
In the same tone, a pamphlet published by the
Population Reference Bureau in the early 1960's, to be

distributed in Latin America, described family planning
as the "bloodless revolution" (Mass, 1976). Population
growth was charged by the General Secretary of the OAS to
have caused the brief border war that took place in 1969
between El Salvador and Honduras, known as "The Soccer
War". The New York Times proposed to call the war a
"demographic conflict". Although migration of Salvadoran
peasants to work in Honduras was one of the reasons
behind the conflict, the land tenure system in El
Salvador, rather than mere demographic density was
largely responsible for migration. Eventually, the
incident was used as a pretext to introduce new
population control programs into the area (Slutzky,
Population growth allegedly leads to popular
unrest via the masses of the unemployed in over-crowded
cities, or of a disenchanted youth. In the words of a
leading figure in family planning in Latin America (Viel,
1969 as quoted by Slutzky):
A revolution brought about by the masses of the
indigent and the illiterate cannot but be the logical
consequence of the simple demographic fact that
reflect our current statistics. More than half our
people is less than 20 years old, while it is totally
impossible to incorporate into the labor force all of
those who reach that age every year.
It is in this sense that an instrumentalist
critic of population control argued that "the true danger
for those current population policies is not the

"population explosion," but the "revolutionary explosion"
(Slutzky, 1970). Perhaps the most pungent denunciation
of population control as counter-insurgency was expressed
by an Uruguayan writer (Galeano, 1973): "In Latin America
it is more hygienic and effective to kill guerrilleros in
the womb than in the mountains or in the streets."
Those who denounce population control as counter-
insurgency, often point to recent Latin American history
to prove their case in that population control programs
appear to be suspiciously connected to counter-insurgency
campaigns. Either both types of programs target the same
areas for operations, or are carried out by the same
governmental bodies, or are implemented simultaneously.
For instance, Colombia was selected during the early
1960's as a test ground for the first nation-wide family
planning program. During that Same period, Colombia was
considered by U. S. intelligence sources as one of the
weakest and most likely points for "Castroism" to
infiltrate the Latin Artierican subcontinent. In fact,
population control programs seemed to be particularly
eager to reach those areas where guerrilla forces have
been operating up to recent times (Mass, 1976). In the
case of Ecuador, the military has a steady record of
involvement in population control and has reportedly
implemented compulsory family planning campaigns in areas
of popular unrest (L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980). In Puerto

Rico, sterilization programs escalated during the years
of nationalist upheaval that followed the Ponce Massacre
(Mass, 1977). Perhaps, the most scandalous instance of
mingling between population control and counter-
insurgency occurred in Chile, following the parliamentary
disclosure of Project Camelot in 1965. Findings showed
that Cornell University's International Population
Program had been conducting population surveys in the
same area and at the same time that U. S. intelligence
counter-insurgency operations were being carried out to
study revolutionary and social disturbances (Mass, 1977).
The "conspiracy" element: Bonnie Mass's work,
alongside that of NACLA's are without doubt the most
exhaustive and detailed studies of the interlockings
between the population control establishment and U. S.
corporate and military interests. Latin Americans often
use these materials in their own criticism of population
control, and extend the analysis to cover the networks of
interests operating within their own respective
countries. It has been argued also, that the process of
internationalization undergone by the population control
establishment since the 1970's is simply an attempt to
diffuse popular antagonism against U. S. programs, and
that, to a certain extent, this represents a victory for
Third World peoples.

This element of "conspiracy" represents in my
opinion, the most vulnerable part of the instrumentalist
theory. As structuralists have pointed out,
instrumentalists rely too much on the subjective
determinants of population policies. Indeed, the very
term of imperialist "aggression" denotes a subjective,
almost an intentional, component. Because of the
specific conditions that have surrounded population
control in Latin America, Latin American critics have
tended to emphasize the subjective aspect sometimes
without looking for under-lying structural reasons. On
the other hand, it is extremely difficult to sustain the
view that neither the counter-insurgency, nor even the
genocidal element are not present in the Latin American
experience. But for the same reasons, it would be very
difficult to describe population control as an instrument
of imperialist penetration in a different situation where
some or all of these elements were missing, in the same
way that instrumentalist theories of the State fit the U.
S. reality but are rather difficult to apply to European
social democracies.
In other words, instrumentalists rely too much on
the subjective element of population control and do not
provide an ultimate explanation for the structural need
for population control under imperialism. Nevertheless,
structural needs and mechanisms need to materialize in

historical, concrete forms of expression, which take
place not in a vacuum, but in the midst of subjective
class struggle. Ultimately, population control policies
are designed by people on one side of the imperialist
spectrum of power, and resisted by other people at the
opposite side of it. Only because Latin America has been
going through such an intense level of class confronta-
tion, have these subjective aspects of population control
been more obvious there than in other regions of the
world. Indeed, population control as counter-insurgency
seems to be the most popular among the elements
integrating the "population control as imperialist
aggression" argument and seems somehow to be implicit in
the work of some structuralist critics of population
control as well. In fact, as we noted in Chapter I,
there is a quite a lot of overlapping between different
lines of criticism. Despite its shortcomings, the
instrumentalist critique of population control has been
largely responsible for keeping the debate and the
resistance to imperialist-dominated population programs
alive in Latin America.

Like the instrumentalist critics of population
control, structuralists saw the need for going beyond the
old Marx-Malthus debate and for updating it, while taking
into account present conditions under imperialism.
Without underestimating the role that the ideology of
population control continues to play today, both
approaches called attention to the material dimensions
that the population question assumes in the present time.
However, while instrumentalists focused on the actual
conditions of implementation of population control
programs in Latin America,,structuralists tried to
elucidate the complex relationship between population and
capital accumulation at the imperialist stage of
capitalist development, as applied to Latin American
social formations.
As we saw in Chapter III, the instrumentalists'
focus on population programs leads them to denounce
population control as a device of imperialist penetration
and social control. From the Latin American experience,
they concluded that coercion, counter-insurgency, and

even genocide, are typical ingredients of population
control programs, which are carried out according to the
dictates of an intricate network of imperialist
interests. Structuralists have criticized instrument-
alists in general for relying too much on this subjective
"conspiracy" thesis, which almost implies an intentional
element on the part of imperialism. Instrumentalist
explanations of population control have also been
criticized for remaining at a superficial level by
concentrating on the implementation of population control
programs without looking for the underlying mechanisms
that trigger the very need for such policies. In other
words, a systematic analysis of the interactions between
demographic and economic processes in dependent
capitalist societies is lacking among instrumentalists.
Within the structuralist approach, the focus of
analysis shifts from population control to the
demographic contradictions created by capitalist
development on the periphery, which cause both the
system's need for population control and the relative
failure of most population programs.
The following words by a structuralist scholar
(O'Brien, 1983) serve to illustrate this, while denoting
a clear desire to purge the analysis of any
"conspiratorial" traces:
I am not suggesting that there is a conscious
scheme to oppress the Third World. I am merely

positing that there are structural tendencies
inherent in the present global economy that per-
petuate economic under-development. To the extent
that population policies aimed at containing popula-
tion growth and directing population distribution are
often adopted in response to such underdevelopment,
it is not surprising that they are less than adequate
as a national response to a global problem.
Structuralist critics of population control not
only denounce Malthusianism and Neo-Malthusianism as
unscientific and apologetic bourgeois ideologies, but
actually attempt to develop an alternative theory of
population. In this sense, they go beyond the Marx-
Malthus debate by deepening and updating the Marxian
position and developing a comprehensive Marxist framework
of analysis for population under imperialism (Gimenez,
1977). Because of this, the structuralist critique of
population control remains within the boundaries of the
Marxist tradition, while instrumentalist criticisms of
population control need not come from the Left, and in
fact are often voiced by advocates of nationalism and
other petty-bourgeois ideologies.
The Marxian principle of the reserve army of
labor or relative surplus population under capitalism is
the starting point for any structuralist approach to the
population question. According to this principle, the
process of capital accumulation is accompanied by a
qualitative transformation of the organic composition of
capital. Constant capital (capital advanced for
buildings, machinery, raw materials) keeps growing at an

accelerated pace, while variable capital (capital
advanced for wages) increases at an ever decreasing rate.
As a result, a constantly accelerating pace of
accumulation is required in order to absorb additional
workers, and even in order to maintain existing jobs.
Conversely, the logic of capitalist accumulation implies
the creation of a relative surplus population of workers,
who are superfluous to capital's average needs of
exploitation. This relative surplus population of
workers is both a consequence of and a precondition for
capital accumulation. It constitutes the industrial
reserve army of labor that provides capital with
flexibility to adjust to market fluctuations and business
cycles and that helps to keep wages down and worker
discipline up, assuring increasing surplus-value
extraction and therefore further capital accumulation.
The principle of the reserve army of labor has
two important implications for a Marxist theory of
population under capitalism. First, it postulates that
the level of employment is not primarily determined by
the size of the population but rather by the profit needs
of the capitalist class manifested in the organic
composition of capital invested at a given time (Gimenez,
1977). And second, it establishes that capital
accumulation and unemployment are inextricably linked and
therefore that unemployment is inherent in capitalism.

As a result, relative over-population exists under
capitalism, independently of actual biological population
Essential to a Marxist theory of population is
the understanding that human reproduction is not the mere
biological reproduction of the species but involves the
reproduction of labor-power as well. Thus human
reproduction is a factor affecting the supply of labor.
On the other hand, capital accumulation is the primary
factor determining both the quantity and the quality of
the demand for labor. It also shapes the social division
of labor and determines the location of investments, thus
having a strong influence on migration shifts from
abandoned to developing areas. Through these structural
channels, capital accumulation is a basic factor in
shaping population distribution, social stratification
and even population structure, in that the demand for
labor in a given area helps to shape the age and sex
composition of its population (e.g. the almost
exclusively male composition of oil-field settlements in
Latin America). Mediated through these structures,
capital accumulation determines "in the last instance"
fertility rates among the working masses. Similarly, the
mode of production is a basic factor in shaping
nutritional and sanitary conditions, and thus in
determining infant mortality as well as life expectancy

rates. The fundamental significance of all this can be
postulated as follows: while population growth and the
labor supply are largely determined by the process of
capital accumulation, capital's demand for labor,
according to the principle of the reserve army of labor,
is relatively indifferent to the size of the population
and its growth rate.
Capitalism's tendency to create redundant workers
has been exacerbated under imperialism. In its most
restricted sense, the concept of imperialism means that
the mutually-reinforcing processes of capital
accumulation and transformation have reached such a
momentum as to inflict a qualitative change, representing
a new stage of development of capitalism. At this
advanced stage, accumulation proceeds sometimes at
unprecedented levels, while the tendency to centralize
and increasingly substitute variable capital with
constant capital is exacerbated. This can be illustrated
by the historical emergence of the global corporation as
an advanced form of centralization and concentration of
industrial and financial capital, as well as by the fre-
quency with which technological revolutions take place in
our time. Referring to nineteenth century England, Marx
observed that: "The intervals during which accumulation
results in a simple increase of production using existing
technology are increasingly shorter." In our time, the

dynamism with which computer technology is developing
serves to illustrate this point.
The overall position of labor has become still
more vulnerable with the rise of the global corporation.
Capital has gained access to the labor-power of the whole
planet, while labor continues to be attached to national
and other fragmented labor markets. In addition to its
lack of control over capital accumulation, labor lacks
the mobility available to transnational capital. The
phenomenon of the "run-away shop" is but a dramatic
example of the comparative weaknesses of workers vis-a-
vis the giant corporations.
As a result, the principle of the reserve army of
labor is now operating on a global scale, although some
of its implications are most acutely felt by workers in
the periphery of the capitalist world system. In
disarticulated economies, in which the sphere of
production and the sphere of circulation are not
interconnected and surplus value is largely realized
abroad rather than in the domestic market, labor does not
have the contradictory role that characterizes it in
articulated economies (being at once producer and
consumer), and becomes no more than a cost for capital
(De Janvry, 1980). This results in the chronically low
wages which are typical of the Third World and in an
exacerbation of the tendency to eliminate jobs. The

tendency to favor capital-intensive over labor-intensive
technology is particularly acute in the Third World where
it results in massive unemployment and in the emergence
of large "marginal" and impoverished sectors. However,
the way in which the principle of the reserve army of
labor affects workers in dependent countries is becoming
more and more recognizable in the core as well as it
moves towards disarticulation.
Latin American critics of population control have
applied this analysis to the process of capitalist
development in Latin American social formations, in order
to illuminate the structural requirements for population
control in the region. In doing so, they have emphasized
two closely related issues: a) that the process of
capitalist development is in fact causing the "population
explosion;" and, b) that nevertheless, capitalist
development creates surplus population through structural
The process of industrialization followed in
Latin America has been pointed out by structuralists as
an example of the creation of structural unemployment.
Industrialization took the form there of "import
substitution." In its early stages, the process was
labor-intensive and aimed at the production of wage-goods
for domestic consumption. But a shift towards capital-
intensive production of consumer durables and industrial

goods aimed at external or limited internal markets took
place in the mid 1950's. At that time, as the early
hopes for economic development began to fade, many Latin
American governments opened their doors to foreign
investment, particularly that of TNCs. TNCs brought high
levels of technology and low labor requirements, creating
structural unemployment in industry as well as
technological and social dualism.
In the words of a Latin American author (Galeano,
1973), "the system vomits men," the proportion of workers
in manufacturing relative to the total of Latin America's
economically active population has fallen rather than
risen. While at 14.5% during the 1950's, it dropped to
only 11.5% in the early 1970's (Galeano, 1973), although
it rose again to 13.7% in the late 1970's (SALA, 1984).
The industrial sector has been unable to absorb the
increasing masses of potential workers pouring into the
cities, causing the rise of the urban informal sector.
Between 1950 and 1980 the proportion of workers in the
urban informal sector rose from 15.3% to 22.3% in
Colombia, from 12.9% to 22.0% in Mexico, and from 16.9%
to 23.8% in Peru (SALA, 1984). The existence of this
huge reserve pool of workers keeps wages low. According
to the ILO, in 1973, wages in the industrial sector in

Latin America were an average of five times lower than
those in the U. S.1
Despite the goals initially intended, the
strategy of "import substitution" resulted in further
dependency for Latin America. Ironically, "import
substitution" industrialization has actually been import-
intensive. Every 1% of increase in GDP during the years
of the "Brazilian miracle" was accompanied by 2% increase
in imports (Evans, 1977). Even in those cases where a
policy of backward-integration has been developed and
domestic raw materials are used when possible for
production, a number of industrial inputs and capital
goods still need to be imported. In addition to this,
the costs associated with the use of high technology such
as payments for patents, and royalties, put a constant
strain on the balance of payments.
The capacity to produce is therefore seriously
restricted by the ability to generate foreign-exchange
earnings. On the other hand, since most of the produce
is aimed at the external rather than at the internal
^This gap exists in spite of the fact that the
productivity of labor in manufacturing is equivalent to
that in the center. Indeed, increases in productivity
need not translate into wage increases. Between 1966 and
1974, labor productivity in manufacturing increased in
the U.S. by 17% while real wages of industrial workers
increased by 5%. By contrast, in Brazil during the same
period, labor productivity rose by 91% in manufacturing,
while real wages in that sector actually decreased by 12%
(De Janvry, 1980).

market, that ability is in turn seriously restricted by
fluctuations in world market prices. The resulting
periodic booms and busts along with the sluggishness of
the majority of Latin American economies have meant
rising unemployment and underemployment in the region
(O'Brien, 1983).
Vital foreign exchange earnings have become
increasingly difficult to obtain, given the deterioration
of the terms of trade for most Latin American
agricultural products, and the growing competition of
manufactured goods coming from export-platforms located
in other areas of the Third World where labor costs are
even lower. This has resulted in chronic deficits in the
balance of payments that have lead the region into the
external-debt trap. The external debt of Latin America
has drastically increased from $10 billion in 1965 to
$150 billion in 1980 (O'Brien, 1983). While Latin
America nets on the average only seven cents for every
dollar made available through foreign banks (Stavrianos,
1981), in 1980 the external public sector debt service
took away 36.1% of Brazil's export earnings, as well as
33.5% of Panama's, and 33.2% of Mexico's (SALA, 1984).
In search of foreign-exchange, export-crops have
been favored over staple-crops for domestic consumption.
In Brazil, for example, the larger farms moved from
production of black-beans which were the national staple-

food, to production of soy-beans, which are purchased by
the U. S. and used for animal feed. Overall, between
1964 and 1974, per capita output of export crops in Latin
America increased by 27%, while per capita output of
domestic crops dropped by 10% (Stavrianos, 1981). Latin
America has become a major supplier of the "global super
market" while neglecting to feed its own people. One
major line of criticism of neo-Malthusianism.postulates
that land use by agribusiness rather than population
growth is to blame for malnutrition and famine in the
region (De Castro, 1969; Mass, 1976).
The shift towards export-crops has been largely
accompanied by the penetration of Latin American
agriculture by transnational agribusiness. Once again,
the mechanism of favoring capital-intensive over labor-
intensive technology comes into play, creating structural
unemployment in the countryside. Moreover, unable to
resist abribusiness' expansionist pressures,
minifundistas, i.e., small farmers and tenants, are
increasingly being displaced to less productive plots or
entirely off the land.
Mexico, which shows a high level of penetration
of the agricultural sector by multinational corporations,
may well illustrate this process. Following the arrival
in 1943 of the Rockefeller Foundation's Green Revolution,
priority was given to large-scale production using labor-

saving technology. As a result, agricultural produc-
tivity, as well as land-ownership concentration
increased. Correspondingly, the number of Mexican
landless peasants rose from 1.5 million in 1950 to 5.0
million in 1980 (O'Brien, 1983). Migration to urban
centers has since then been massive. According to recent
estimates, more than 2,000 people arrive daily in Mexico
City coming from rural areas (O'Brien, 1983). Meanwhile,
the giants of transnational agribusiness have taken hold
of the largest productive units in the countryside and
exploited them for the export market. Currently, 55% to
60% of all winter and early spring produce sold in the U.
S. comes from Mexico, while fruit and vegetables are
harder to find in Mexican markets (O'Brien, 1983).
Luxury foods for export are given priority over much
needed nutritional staples for domestic consumption. For
instance, Mexico is rapidly becoming the strawberry
producer for the U. S. (O'Brien, 1983), despite the fact
that seven of every ten Mexican children under age 12
suffers from malnutrition.
By sacrificing the consolidation of an internal
market to a profitable partnership with transnational
capital, the Latin American ruling classes did in fact
deny the vast majority of the population the opportunity
to benefit from development. Contrary to promises of a
"trickle-down" prosperity, income distribution has

deteriorated in Latin America. The share of income
received by the poorest 20% of the population declined or
remained constant between 1960 and 1970 in all Latin
American countries for which data are available except in
Colombia, where the increase was virtually insignificant
(De Janvry, 1980). Data from Brazil covering the same
period shows that the relative income position has
deteriorated for all income strata except the top 10% (De
Janvry, 1980).
Being only a "cost for capital," more and more
Latin Americans are becoming redundant for a model of
development dominated by transnational capital. Driven
off the land by agribusiness as well as by oil and
ranching interests, peasants continue to pour into the
cities where industry is designed not to absorb them. As
a region, Latin America has the highest index of
urbanization in the Third World. The percentage of the
population living in cities rose between 1960 and 1980
from 46% to 65% in Brazil, from 51% to 67% in Mexico, and
from 67% to 83% in Venezuela (World Bank, 1981).
Urbanization has taken place without industrialization --
without a structural transformation of the composition of
the labor force from agrarian to industrial.
In other words, it is inherent to the present
model of development to create surplus people, as well as
surplus regions. Global corporations, with their high

levels of technology and their low labor needs, "have
marginalized not only present generations, but also
future generations of workers out of the job market
entirely" (Mass, 1976). As a Latin American poetically
expressed it, the development of dependent capitalism is
"a voyage with more shipwrecks than navigators" (Galeano,
Since exclusion is the nature of dependent
capitalism, any rate of population growth will in fact
create a structural need for population control. Yet
this need is exacerbated by the demographic mechanisms
triggered by the development of capitalism in the
periphery leading to the so called "population
The very essence of the transition to capitalism,
or period of primitive accumulation, is the separation of
the masses of peasants and artisans from their means of
subsistence, i.e., proletarianization. However, of the
two structural reasons behind proletarianization, the one
being the creation of a market and the other the supply
of an available labor force for capitalist production,
only the latter operates in the periphery (De Janvry,
1980). As a result, only a semi-proletarianization takes
Labor costs can be dramatically lowered by
perpetuating precapitalist subsistence economies which

bear part of the cost for maintaining and reproducing the
labor force. In the case of Latin America, the capitalist
sector in agriculture uses minifundistas for this
purpose. Capital is able to pay these workers below-
subsistence wages because their daily bread comes from
the tiny plot of land worked by their families. Capital
is even able to employ them only on a seasonal basis,
since they manage to survive from their plots during the
months that they are not needed. Hence the perpetuation
of pre-capitalist modes of production assures the
capitalist sector cheap labor in the agrarian sector.
A similar arrangement takes place in the cities,
where the subsistence urban sector, or informal sector,
subsidizes capitalist production in modern industry.
Cheap food is an additional requirement of cheap labor in
urban areas. However, dualism in agricultural production
results in relatively high food prices since productivity
in the subsistence and feudal sectors is low. Cheap food
is nevertheless guaranteed through the import of
surpluses from the center and the imposition of internal
price controls. As a result of such policies, only
agricultural production for export flourishes, while
production for internal consumption stagnates and fails
to meet the domestic demand. In the process,
technological dualism is perpetuated further.

Being at once a source of cheap (semi-
proletarian) labor and the producers of cheap
(underpriced) food, peasants are being squeezed for the
sake of capital accumulation. Facing increasing poverty,
peasant households try to maximize their resources
through increased labor. As critics of population
control have pointed out (Mamdani, 1973), additional
children contribute to a more intensive exploitation of
the family plot or, in the case of tenants and
sharecroppers, they allow more land to be contracted by
the family. Children can also participate with the rest
of the family in seasonal work during harvest time, or
help with petty-trade, or engage in other forms of
informal or wage work. As the age of migration continues
to drop, support from children working away from home may
become an additional source of income for the family
(Folbre, 1977). Finally, children are the only form of
social security available. For all these reasons,
peasant households tend to maximize family size according
to the resources and options available to them. High
infant mortality rates, mean that more pregnancies are
needed in order to produce enough surviving children,
thus resulting in even higher fertility rates.
Similarly, households in the urban subsistence sector
tend to maximize reproduction. As the folk saying goes
in Spanish: "Every child is born to the world with a

loaf of bread under his/her arm," or "Children are the
gold of the poor." Children are indeed a major component
of the urban as well as the rural subsistence sector.
Data for 1975 shows that 3.3 million children under the
age of 15 were in the labor force in Latin America
(O'Brien, 1983).
However, what is rational for the individual
household might not be so for the peasants and poor
shanty-town dwellers as a whole. Their high fertility in
fact exacerbates the unemployment created by the
dominance of capital-intensive technology both in
agriculture and industry. Their large numbers expand the
reserve army of labor, driving wages even lower.
Intensive exploitation of tiny plots leads to declining
productivity, land erosion and depletion, thus
contributing to the expulsion of peasants from the land.
In the cities, migrants occupy vacant land and establish
settlements where drinkable water, sewage, electricity,
schools, health-care centers, transportation, etc., are
High rates of population growth make more
difficult meeting the basic needs of the population
living in slums and rural communities. In this sense,
population growth represents a burden upon the "social
capital" of the country, i.e. upon the ability to provide
the basic infrastructure and services that are necessary

in order to maintain and reproduce the labor force
according to minimally satisfactory standards. The human
cost borne by exhausted women and malnourished and
overworked children is indeed enormous. Its longlasting
effects on the quality of the labor force contribute to
perpetuating an international division of labor within
which Third World people are doomed to be a cheap source
of unskilled, dispensable labor. As Marta Gimenez points
out, demographic and economic processes interact in a
dialectical way, and "the demographic structure in its
turn exercises a determination of its own upon the
possibilities open to capital accumulation" (Gimenez,
This leads us to the interesting conclusion that
structuralist critics of population control are quite
ready to admit that a "population problem" does in fact
exist in Latin America, but with a number of
a) Dependent capitalism and not population growth
is responsible for underdevelopment and mass poverty in
Latin America. It is inherent in the current model of
development to create surplus people, independently of
actual biological population growth.
b) The development of dependent capitalism,
rather than cultural or religious factors, is responsible
for population growth as well. Population growth is the

result of high fertility levels among subsistence
producers whose precarious position within the mode of
production causes them to maximize reproduction.
c) The process of capitalist development is
stimulating population growth, while making an increasing
number of people redundant for capitalist production,
thus creating an structural need for population control.
In fact, "this is one of the most important internal
contradictions of capitalism today" (Editors of Siglo
XXI, 1969), and accounts for the relative failure of
population control programs in the region.
By revealing the existence of a basic
contradiction between household and social rationality
concerning reproductive behavior, structuralists are in
fact considering the negative effects of rapid population
growth on the welfare of the people. In some cases, it
has been argued that current rates of population growth
are creating a problem for the post-revolutionary
society, where the capitalist logic of exclusion will be
substituted by one of participation and the new system
will be committed to meet the basic needs of the entire
population (Gimenez, 1977). Some structuralists are even
ready to consider rapid population growth as being a
problem under present conditions of dependent capitalism.
This point can be illustrated by the following words of
an orthodox Marxist (Guzevaty, 1966):

Marxism-Leninism has been accused of giving
absolute value to economics while ignoring demo-
graphic factors. This isn't accurate at all . .
whether in the midst of daily ideological struggle
some Marxists do underestimate the real problems of
population they are falling into a dogmatic and sim-
plistic interpretation of the most basic Marxist-
Leninist principles.
However, most structuralists leave the question
open. This is so, in my opinion, because their basic
concern gravitates around the structural contradictions
of capitalism in the periphery while the issue of
population control in itself is rather tangential to
their analysis. That's why no closer examination of
actual population programs is ever attempted, and no
strategies for action vis-a-vis such programs are ever
suggested. Once the structural requirements for
population control have been illuminated, many
structuralists adopt a passive attitude towards
population control programs, leaving their implementation
to imperialist interests while denouncing their
ideological nature. Others join instrumentalists in
their condemnation of population control as a form of
counter-insurgency or genocide. But in neither case,
actual organizing for popular control of population
programs is advocated.
Like structuralists in general, structuralist
critics of population control tend to describe a self-
perpetuating, mechanical system, where there is little
room for human action or class struggle. Nevertheless,

they have been successful in elucidating the demographic
contradictions generated by capitalist development on the
periphery which create a structural need for population
control independent of the instrumental purposes that
concrete population programs might serve for imperialism.
In this sense, their contribution to the critique of
population control is still valid, and essential.

The feminist contribution to the population
control debate has been centered around the need to bring
the viewpoint of women into consideration, and this
basically for two reasons: first, because the women's
side has been systematically ignored; second, because
women are the party most affected and interested in the
Feminists have pointed out the willingness of
women to limit their offspring, despite family and social
pressures not to do so. After interviewing poor women
all over the Third World, Perdita Huston concluded
(Huston, 1979):
I found that although many of the women I inter-
viewed wanted to limit the number of their preg-
nancies, for both economic and health reasons, they
said that they were not free to make the decision on
their own.
Women often face opposition from husbands and in-laws
against their practice of birth control. As early as
1915, the Ligas de orientacion femenina (Women's
Orientation League) of Yucatan, Mexico, included birth
control among their basic demands, "at a time when the

most radical women's movements in developed countries had
not gone that far" (L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980).
However, when asked in 1979 if the men of her village
would permit their wives to use birth control, a Zapotec
woman from Southern Mexico laughed and said: "Heavens,
no! They say terrible things about women who want to.
Some say 'the only reason you want birth control is so
you can go with other men'" (Huston, 1979). This
testimony illustrates how husband opposition is linked to
patriarchal control over female sexuality and reproduc-
tive capacity. Major concerns among Mexican men were
that their wives would become sexually permissive or that
sterility might result from birth control practices.
Also, they perceived birth control as a threat to their
virility, giving to their wives the control that was
formerly exclusively theirs (Huston, 1979). Referring to
the increasing demand for birth control among women from
all parts of the world, Lourdes Beneria asserted:
Women face a basic contradiction between the need
to reproduce themselves -an objective they share with
men- and the control exercised over them as a result
of their role in reproduction . the conflicts are
much sharper whenever women become conscious of the
connections between their reproductive role and their
subordination. This has been the case during the last
few years in which women in all regions of the world
have demanded greater control over their own
reproductive power. (Beneria, 1979)
The inability to obtain their partner's
cooperation and even their consent, forces women to
accept birth control methods which are either easy to

conceal, or permanent. This helps to explain why Depo-
Provera and similar injectables continue to be so popular
among third world women despite their causing a number of
side-effects and representing a serious risk for the
health of malnourished recipients (Greer, 1984).
Sterilization abuse apart, husband's opposition might be
a compelling reason behind those women choosing
sterilization. Carmen Elu de Lenero suggests this rather
disturbing explanation for the frequency of steriliz-
ations in Latin America:
Family planning programs insist always that the
couple should act as a decision-making unit . but
a much more frequent model is that in which the woman
decides on her own not to have more children. In
these cases, which are in the majority, there has
been no real planning of fertility, but a desire to
stop all births. (Elu de Lenero, 1979)
But perhaps the most clear proof of unwanted
pregnancy, and thus of the disparity between desired and
actual family size on the part of women, is abortion. In
Mexico, according to the National Population Council,
over one million "home-made" abortions are performed each
year (Huston, 1979). In addition to the risk of
complications, which in the case of "home-made" abortions
could be fatal, Latin American women face fierce
condemnation by the Catholic Church, and in some
countries, several years in prison. Demographers often
discard the influence of religion on reproductive
behavior by pointing to the fact that Catholic countries

tend to have higher abortion rates than others. Germaine
Greer provides an interesting alternative explanation
(Greer, 1984): because of religious conflict, birth
control is more problematic for catholic women and tends
to be practiced with more stress and inconsistency,
resulting in more abortions.
Although, as we saw in Chapter I, the Catholic
Church has not significantly shaped population policies
in most Latin American countries, that does not
necessarily imply that the Church lacks any influence on
the reproductive choices of women in the region. Of
course, the influence of the Church can be
counterbalanced by other existing cultural traditions.
This is particularly true in Latin America where the
Catholic religion is of relatively recent implantation
and has been resisted or transformed in different degrees
by indigenas and mestizos, as well as by women and men
within those groups. Finally, religious constraints upon
reproductive behavior are most directly exercised by the
local priest and thus subjected to individual and parish
variations. In the Huston study (Huston, 1979), Mexican
women identified opposition by local priests along with
their husbands' opposition as the main obstacles to
family planning. One of them said: "The only thing I
don't do is go to confession, because then I would have
to confess that I take the pill, and the priest would say

'Leave the Church.'" Confession is the ultimate
instrument of control by the Church, but women are
occasionally able to circumvent it, showing their
determination to practice birth control. In Catholic
northern Spain, rural women pass around valuable
information about "understanding" priests in neighboring
villages and towns and travel miles to get this or that
particular Jesuit for a confession (personal
After being in Peru for an extended period of
time, studying and sharing the struggles of poor women,
Carol Andreas concluded:
In both the countryside and the city, issues of
birth control and health services are paramount in
women's minds. This is true in the countryside
because of the need for children's labor and the
danger to women's health and life that continual
childbearing produces, and in the city because of the
harsh punishment enacted against women who abort, and
the pressures of church and society that make birth
control unavailable, hazardous, or traumatic."
(Andreas, 1984)
By showing the existence of a conflict between
Third World women and men over birth control, feminists
have demystified economistic views of reproductive
behavior which emphasize either the value of children as
consumer durables (as among main stream demographers), or
the value of children as sources of labor (as among
Marxists). Feminists have denounced these views for
failing to consider the existence of conflicting

interests and asymmetric power relations within the
household. In other words, they have emphasized the
importance of patriarchy in shaping fertility rates.
The feminist argument is reinforced by the
existence of situations in which partriarchal ideology is
clearly a reason behind high fertility. The cultural
preference for some is often pointed out by feminists in
this sense. In the case of China, the implementation of
"the one-child policy" in the early 1980's resulted in an
increase of female infanticide to the point of requiring
government intervention (Charlton, 1984). In India, the
use of amniocentesis has resulted in massive abortions of
female fetuses. Machismo also affects fertility through
the perception, very common in Latin America, of large
families as a sign of virility (Bronstein, 1982).
While feminists advocate birth control as a
fundamental right of women, they have nevertheless
opposed manipulation of Third World and colonized women
by population control programs. A consensus is slowly
emerging among feminists around the notion of
reproductive freedom, which is broader than that of birth
control. Reproductive freedom refers to the right to
have, as well as not to have, children. Its implications
go far beyond women's access to safe contraception.
Issues such as sterility and sterilization abuse, minimum
health standards for mothers and infants, child care

services, etc., need to be addressed. Feminists have
joined efforts to end sterilization abuse as well as to
stop the experimentation and commercialization of
hazardous contraceptives on poor and Third World women.
Another expression of the consensus has been the
successful international boycott against Nestle
corporation which unscrupulously advertised baby-formula
as a substitute for mother's milk in the Third World,
contributing to infant malnourishment and vulnerability
to infectious diseases.
Yet feminists differ as much in their ways of
approaching the issue of population control as they do
in approaching the question of women and development.
Liberal feminists see birth spacing as a basic need of
women. Their approach to population programs is to make
sure that women benefit from them, implying control by
women of programs and agencies. This corresponds to
their general approach to the question of women and
development. They explain the deterioration of the
situation of women in the Third World both absolutely
and relatively to that of menin terms of discrimination
caused by a pro-male bias either enforced or reinforced
by Western colonization and by development programs
(Boserup, 1970). Their strategy is to compensate for.
that discrimination, allowing women to benefit from

modernization, i.e. "to incorporate women into
Related to this liberal feminist approach is the
development of a new policy within some population
control agencies which seeks to "ameliorate the status of
women" in order to reduce population growth. A new trend
began in the 1970's towards integration of population
control within maternal/child health care programs,
nutrition and literacy campaigns, skills-development
projects for women, credit programs, and women's
cooperatives and associations. Finally, in the 1984 World
Conference on Population of Mexico City, the United
Nations Fund for Population Activities included "to
improve the status of women" among its guidelines.
Feminist concerns can indeed be easily identified in some
of the current activities of the UNFPA. For instance, the
term birthsspacing is increasingly being used in its
publications, while insisting on the need for safe and
acceptable contraception for women and the promotion of
traditional alternatives to modern birth control.
Perhaps the most promising sign of all is that the Fund
has recently engaged in a campaign to curb the extremely
high incidence of sterility in Central Africa.
However, beneficial this new trend might be for
women, it could be argued that, since the goal of the
programs is to reduce fertility rates and not to

emancipate women, there is a certain instrumentalism on
the part of population control agencies. While this is a
problem for some feminists, other feminists still see in
such programs a potential to improve the living
conditions of poor women in the Third World. Considering
that radical change is not an immediate alternative, and
being skeptical about the improved situation of women in
existing post-revolutionary societies, they advocate
incremental changes which would benefit and empower
women. Reflecting the dialectical tension between reform
and revolution, liberal feminists have tended to trade
off feminist "purism" for concrete, tangible reforms.
This policy focus has committed them to work within the
framework of existing institutions (Staudt £. Jaquette,
1983). In doing so, they are even ready to appeal to
non-feminist agendas such as population control with the
hope that the programs will nevertheless benefit women.
The following words by Kathleen Newland are a good
example of such an attitude towards population control:
For most women, purpose and accomplishment have
been defined largelyand sometimes almost
exclusively--by motherhood ... if policies and
programs can be designed to help women achieve their
goals by means other than motherhood, two very impor-
tant objectives can be met at once: raising the
status of women and lowering the birth rate.
(Charlton, 1984)
By contrast, for third world women, who are the
targets of such programs, the question of reproductive
freedom has been complicated by the issue of

overpopulation and the opposition to imperialist-
dominated programs of population control (Beneria & Sen,
1981). The virulence with which these issues have been
discussed in Latin America have put Latin American women
in an even more difficult and complex position to
vindicate the right to control their bodies. As
Salvadoran women expressed it:
While in the developed countries there is a
struggle for contraception and abortion, in Latin
America we must also fight against forced steriliza-
tion and certain birth control projects which some
governments have agreed to under pressure from the
United States. (Salvadoran Women's Association, 1982)
In addition to this, reproductive freedom in
Third World societies requires broader social reforms,
without which such a right would be meaningless. In
regard to Latin American women:
Any struggle aimed at securing free access to
the various forms of contraception and greater con-
trol over our own bodies must begin by raising the
educational level of the population, so that all
women may decide rationally as to which method of
birth control they wish to use. The legalization of
abortion in countries where social security benefits
are non-existent or grossly inadequate would only be
a measure of liberation for a small minority of
women, unless of course it was part of an overall
struggle for a better health and sanitation service,
available to the population as a whole. (L.A. and
Caribb. Women, 1980)
However, since most required reforms are not viable under
dependent capitalism (for reasons mentioned in Chapter
IV), the advancement of genuine reproductive freedom
requires the overthrow of such a system. The premise

that the liberation of women is inextricably linked to
the liberation of the rest of the population from the
yoke of imperialism is dominant among women's
organizations in Latin America (See Marysa Navarro's
report on the First Feminist Meeting of Latin America and
the Caribbean in 1981). This gives Latin American
feminism a revolutionary character which might contrast
with, and even conflict with, standard expressions of
feminism in the U.S. and other developed countries.
The liberal feminist approach to population
control and to the question of women and development has
been criticized for ignoring two fundamental issues on
the oppression of Latin American women: a) the issue of
imperialism; b) the issue of class barriers among women,
a) Liberal feminists have thoroughly documented the
degrading economic condition of women in the Third World
but have failed to provide any other explanation for it
than that of Western male-chauvinism or a vague
technological and/or demographic determinism (Beneria &
Sen, 1981). Questions such as how capitalist penetration
and multinational corporations have affected women (and
men) of the popular classes are foreign to their
analysis. Yet their strategy of incorporating women into
development as equal partners with men becomes
meaningless in the context of a system based on
inequality and exploitation. Being at the crest of a

national struggle to end this inequality and
exploitation, Salvadoran women have stated the issue
We think that the integration of women into capi-
talist society, the offer of a bigger piece of the
pie, does not constitute liberation. Nobody can be
free in a system that destroys everything human in
both men and women ... to postulate our insertion
into development, without determining what kind of
development, resolves nothing. (Salvadoran Women's
Association, 1982).
b) The issue of class is a recurrent theme in
Latin American feminism. Without doubt, interclass
"sisterhood" must seem rather ephemeral in a context of
sharp inequality and mass poverty. Especially in Latin
America, the intensity of class struggle makes it more
difficult for women of the privileged classes to
transcend their class interests and join poor women in
their struggles. The destabilizing effects brought upon
the Allende Regime by the "marches of the empty pots"
organized by upper-class Chilean women are often referred
to as the best example of this.
Similar contradictions separate women from
developed and underdeveloped countries. Commenting on the
split between feminists from developed and Third World
countries over the issue of imperialism that took place
in the International Woman's Year Conference in Mexico in
1975 and in the Wellesley Conference on Women and
Development in 1977, three representatives of the Third
World block made the following reflections on the liberal

feminist version of "sisterhood" (El Sadawi, Mernissi &
Vaj arathon, 1978):
The notion of united power is based on the false
belief that the mere fact of being women is a binding
enough characteristic to create instantaneous inter-
national sisterhood above and beyond political dif-
ferences and unequal power distribution. The basic
assumption in this naivete is that women are not
political beings.
While asserting their right to combat imperialism
vis-a-vis their feminist peers in the North, Latin
American women must defend as well their right to fight
patriarchy vis a vis their male companeros. In the heat
of class struggle and responding to their vested
interests, Latin American men have delegitimized feminism
either as a stratagem of imperialism to divide the
working class or as a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois
ideology despicable in women of the popular classes.
Commenting on the First Feminist Meeting of Latin America
and the Caribbean that attracted women students, working-
class organizers, professionals, peasantsand shanty-
town dwellers to Bogota, Colombia, in 1981, Marysa
Navarro said (Navarro, 1982):
There, for the first time, feminists were not
shouted down and called tools of Yankee imperialism
or misguided petites bourgeoisies. And no one felt
the need to preface her remarks with the statement,
'I am not a feminist.'"
Poor women in the Third World are at the cross-
roads where imperialism and patriarchy converge. This
accounts for the depth of their oppression as well as

their revolutionary potential. As peasant women in
Colombia put it: "We don't want to be the slaves of
slaves" (L.A. & Caribb. Women, 1980).
Perhaps, there is no other area where class and
gender intersect in such a palpable and yet contradictory
way as in that of population control. As we have seen in
previous chapters, Latin American critics of population
control have illuminated the instrumental and structural
purposes that population control serves for imperialism.
However, both instrumentalists and structuralists seem to
have overlooked the simple fact that women are the ones
that bear (and rear) children.
By denouncing population control as a form of
counter-insurgency, instrumentalists tend to fall into
the vicious argument that increased poverty will advance
the revolution. Because men do not bear to the same
extent the human cost that mass poverty represents for
mothers and children, they easily identify birth control
as a reactionary evil. Besides being cruel, this kind of
reasoning is absolutely at odds with the Marxist theory
of revolution which requires human praxis (class
consciousness and class struggle) to act upon existing
material conditions. In the words of Martha Gimenez:
Those that would argue that population control
is-unnecessary because of geopolitical reasons join
hands with the most backward elements in the polit-
ical right and would sacrifice human welfare to
power-seeking goals . birth control is not

contradictory with political objectives as some
writers would like to believe, unless they are
willing to substitute Durkheimian demographic deter-
minism for the Marxist-Leninist theory of revolution.
(Gimenez, 1977)
On the other hand, structuralist critics of
population control have demonstrated that the precarious
position of peasant and urban households in the semi-
proletarianized, subsistence sector, has forced them to
maximize family size as a strategy for survival.
However, by focusing on the household as their unit of
analysis, structuralists tend to obscure the existence of
conflicting interests (between men and women, and to a
lesser extent between adults and children), as well as
relations of domination within the household. In regard
to reproduction, child-bearing decisions might affect the
welfare of the entire household, yet the most immediate
burden falls upon the mother. Maximizing family size
under conditions of high infant mortality often implies
continuous pregnancy, which when added to chronic
malnourishment and Overwork, takes away the health and
youth of the woman. Since child-rearing is socially
assigned to women along with most domestic chores, taking
care of infants and young children puts serious
constraints upon the kind and amount of productive work
that the woman is able to do. For these reasons, the
ability to space births is vital for women in the
subsistence economy whose position at the articulation of

the modes of production would otherwise force them to
"resolve class contradictions through their own bodies"
(Beneria & Sen, 1981).
This failure to consider the point of view of
women corresponds to the general approach of traditional
Marxists to "the woman question": that household
relations are marginal to and a reflection of the
relations of production, and thus women's oppression will
fade away in a socialist society. In the short run, the
incorporation of women into social production is proposed
as the strategy for women's emancipation. Two basic
facts contradict this position: a) that to fully
incorporate women into production is an unrealistic goal
under conditions of massive structural unemployment; b)
that as the experiences of socialist countries prove,
being part of the active labor force does not constitute
in itself liberation for women.
While pointing to the issue of class, traditional
Marxists tend to overlook that of gender, thereby
"treating the processes of production and accumulation as
sex-neutral" (Spalter-Roth & Zeitz, 1981). Marxist
feminists have tried to overcome this failure by using
the Marxist framework of analysis to approach the
question of how poor women on the periphery have been
affected by capitalist development. Not surprisingly,
much of this work has been done in Latin America.

According to this approach, women have suffered a
deterioration in their status due to their
marginalization from the dominant capitalist mode of pro-
capitalist penetration has increasingly relegated women
to the subsistence sector, while creating few
opportunities for them in wage work. Trapped in the
subsistence economy, women are in fact subsidizing
capitalist production in the modern sector through their
supply of cheap food and services necessary to semi-
proletarianization (see Chapter IV for a more detailed
discussion of articulation of modes of production in the
periphery) in addition to being the main reproducers of
the labor force. As Carmen Deere points out (Deere,
The articulation between non-capitalist and the
capitalist mode of production rests on a division of
labor by gender, which is the the extraction
of surplus from the non-capitalist mode of
This implies an even higher rate of exploitation and a
dramatic decline in women's welfare. Simply stated.
Third World women of the lower classes are carrying the
heaviest burden of capitalist development. However, most
Marxist analysis of the question of women and development
fail to explain why the condition of poor women has
deteriorated more than that of men of the same class. As
Jana Everett suggests:
This question illustrates the fundamental weak-
ness of a Marxian perspective in the analysis of

women's oppression. While it can show how capitalism
and capitalists opportunistically utilize various
aspects of sex inequality, it does not really
illuminate the basis of sex inequality. To do that a
wider focus is necessary: examining the impact of
capitalism on the relations of production as well as
on the relations of reproduction. (Everett, 1982)
Standard Marxist-feminist analysis has been
criticized by other feminists for ignoring the importance
of patriarchy in shaping the condition of women under
capitalist development. Some feminists have suggested
the need to operate within a more comprehensive framework
of analysis which would include the relations of
reproduction within the concept of the mode of
production. Indeed, production and reproduction are
"inextricably intertwined" (Everett, 1982). Both classic
Marxists and mainstream demographers have called
attention to the influence of production in the
reproductive sphere, in that female participation in the
labor force has a negative effect on fertility.^- But the
relationship works both ways. Women's productive work is
in turn affected by the patriarchal organization of
reproduction which helps to shape the division of labor
However, this correlation does not apply to
all situations, specially when subsistence economies
are considered. Contradictory statistical data from
Latin America suggest that eoncomic need forces women
with many children to enter the labor force, joining
the ranks of the informal sector (L.A. & Carib. Women,
1970). This demonstrates the complexity of the
relationship between production and reproduction.

by sex. According to Lourdes Beneria, this takes place
through three basic mechanisms (Beneria, 1979):
a) Women's work must be compatible with reproduc-
tion and child care. In the absence of child care
facilities, this puts serious constraints upon the
location and type of work in which women can engage. It
also determines the variation of women's occupations
corresponding to different points in their life-cycle.
b) Women's productive work is considered an
extension of domestic work and women's wages only a
complement to men's wages, resulting in a concentration
of women in the least permanent and less paid jobs.
c) Women's activities are subordinate to men's.
This explains, for example, why women's plots are the
most vulnerable to capitalist expansion.
Production and reproduction interact in a
dialectical way. Changes in the organization of
production might cause some forms of patriarchal control
to be substituted by others. Carmen Deere and more
recently Carol Andreas have showed how the introduction
of capitalist relations of production in Peru gave women
of the highlands more autonomy from absent men, while
bringing new hardships into their lives along with a new
dependency on males for vital cash (Deere, 1976; Andreas,
in press). While their general situation has
deteriorated, increased autonomy has propitiated new

forms of consciousness among women, as the emergence of a
powerful popular feminist movement in Peru shows
(Andreas, 1984).
This leads us to the last point to be discussed
in this chapter. Both liberal feminists and Marxists
feminists have tended to fall into a functionalist rather
than a dialectical view of the question of women and
development. In the words of Jana Everett (Everett,
If we focus on what functions women serve for men
or for the ruling class in a particular society, we
may forget that women are also active agents in spite
of being constrained by a variety of social forces.
Without doubt, the process of capitalist
penetration has hurt poor women in the Third World more
than any other social group. However, by dissolving
traditional societies, capitalist development has
provided women with new forms of consciousness and
opportunities for organization and struggle. It is
necessary to bring the study of women and development
beyond its present focus on the "victimization" of women
in order to include women as actors creating their own
Population control is, in my opinion, an
excellent example of this. While manipulating poor Third
World women for imperialist purposes, it has nevertheless
opened for many of them the possibility of achieving

control over their own reproductive power. Struggles
over reproductive issues such as the right to abortion on
demand and to safe birth control are already taking place
in the Third World. Moreover, conditions for social
reproduction are so precarious on the periphery as to
give women's struggles over reproductive issues a much
broader character. In rural areas and city slums, women
are organizing to supply their communities with
unpolluted water, communal kitchens, health care
dispensaries, and schools. These struggles are valuable
strategies for survival, while providing women with
experiences of participation and self-management which
could be extended to the area of population control. But
these activities are also subversive, because they make a
series of demands that the system is unable to meet under
present conditions of dependent capitalism. Thus, by
organizing around reproductive issues women are in fact
fighting both imperialist and male domination. At a
moment when an increasing number of people in the world
are being excluded from capitalist production, organizing
around reproductive issues might be of vital importance
for these popular movements.

In the last two decades, a revival of the old
Marx-Malthus debate on population has stimulated the
development of a comprehensive critique of population
control. The critique emerges as a synthesis of various
lines of criticism which in this work have been
identified as instrumentalist, structuralist, and
feminist, according to their approach. As we have seen,
Latin America has often inspired or served as a catalyst
in this process. This has been particularly so in the
case of the instrumentalist line of criticism.
Confronting U. S. interventionism, Latin Americans have
occupied a structural location suited to denouncing the
instrumental purposes that population programs have
served for imperialism: guaranteeing access to natural
resources, counter-insurgency, and elimination of
marginal populations. Besides serving a number of
instrumental purposes, population control has been shown
to respond to a structural need of imperialism. The
process of capitalist development, in particular the
articulation of capitalism with pre-capitalist modes of
production in the periphery, causes families in the

subsistence sector to maximize reproduction, resulting in
rapid population growth. Simultaneously, the low labor
requirements of the modern sector force an ever
increasing number of people to become a "surplus
population." Thus, capitalist development creates
demographic contradictions which call for population
control. Finally, the existing patriarchal organization
of reproduction has been shown to reinforce economic
pressures conducive to rapid population growth, by
forcing women to maximize reproduction at the cost of
their health.and welfare, as well as their children's.
But what has been the impact of the critique?
Certainly, the denunciation of the instrumental purposes
that population programs have served for imperialism was
a serious blow for the legitimacy of population control.
This lack of legitimacy prompted a number of reforms.
One of them has been the increasing internationalization
of the population control establishment. Another has
been the adoption at the international level of the
principles of respect for national sovereignty and
reproductive freedom. The feminist line of criticism has
been decisive in the recent formulation of reproductive
freedom as a basic human right. The recognition of this
right has in turn opened doors to the possiblity of
expanding population policy beyond its present and almost
exclusive interest in reducing fertility rates. Existing

projects aimed at curbing sterility, as well as high
maternal and infant mortality, are timid steps in this
direction. A feminist concern has also been at least
partly incorporated into population policy with the
acknowledgement of the "need to improve the status of
women," as expressed by the final declarations of the
World Conferences on Population that took place in
Bucharest, in 1974, and in Mexico. City, in 1984. This
recommendation might materialize in concrete policies
benefiting women, especially in the fields of health and
education. However, it is always difficult to assess
whether these principles are being implemented and fully
developed in practice, rather than having a mere symbolic
On the other hand, ideological confrontation over
the issue of population control reached its climax at
Bucharest Conference, crystalizing in the slogan:
"population control is no substitute for economic
development." The impact of this slogan has undermined
the ability of population control rhetoric to function
both as a smoke-screen and as a blame-the-victim ideology
of imperialism in the international arena. This is
because it voices a refusal to accept a neo-Malthusian
view of the population question, while reaffiriming the
right of all peoples to economic development. Without
doubt, both structuralists and feminists have been

influential in creating this consciousness. Both lines
of criticism have addressed the fact that demography and
economy are closely intertwined, both being determined by
the modes of production and reproduction. In other
words, they have emphasized the complexity and the
spuriousness of the relationship between population
growth and economic development. Such complexity has
also been stressed by the findings of an important body
of research in demography, which from a mainstream
perspective, has flourished on the sidelines of the
controversy, (e.g. Anker et al, 1982; or Ward, 1984).
This leads us to a major conclusion of this work:
that the contemporary critique of population control has
generated from a number of sources such a tremendous
amount of information about economic and population
processes and their mutual relationship as to make
Malthusian determinism appear to be unfounded and
unscientific. Perhaps the greatest impact of the
critique has been in its role in disqualifying a neo-
Malthusian over-simplification of the population issue
which was the rule only twenty years ago.
This hypothesis is supported by the new
orientation adopted by population control advocates in
the late 1970's and early 1980's. Of course, some
recalcitrant neo-Malthusians continue to prescribe traige
politics, and to get published. But for the most part,

population control has abandoned its initial grandilo-
quence. Within this new orientation, overpopulation is
not presented any more as the cause of underdevelopment.
Instead, rapid population growth is believed to exacer-
bate some of the problems of underdevelopment,
inflicting a toll on the welfare of the people. Far
from claiming the elimination of poverty, population
control contents itself now with reducing the number of
the poor.
Certainly, this is a much safer position, and one
that could be agreed upon by many critics of population
control. Feminists for instance, would support
population programs which provide women with the ability
to control their own reproductive power. Even
structuralists might be open to this version of
population control. From their analysis of semi-
proletarianization, structuralists concluded that there
is a conflict between individual rationality, which tends
to maximize reproduction, and social rationality, which
advises against rapid population growth. In addition to
the human cost for mothers and children, rapid population
growth promotes ecological devastation and contributes to
expelling peasants from the land to join the masses of
the urban unemployed and under-employed. Moreover, rapid
population growth puts great pressure on a society's
ability to meet certain basic needs of its population

(e.g. education, health care, housing). This in turn
might slow down economic development from the moment in
which the fulfillment of such human needs becomes a
national priority. With this in mind, structuralists
would support population programs as a means of
alleviating the present suffering of the masses, or of
facilitating the task of the post-revolutionary society.
Even the question, "Does rapid population growth hinder
economic development?" could still be pertinent once neo-
Malthusian over-simplification has been cast out.
These considerations lead us to an exciting
possibility: has a consensus been reached? The recent
experience of the Mexico Conference seems to suggest so.
In contrast to Bucharest, controversy in Mexico focused
mainly around tangential issues (such as abortion or
disarmament). In only seven days, (the shortest
conference every held by the U.N.), it produced a
declaration that in many respects resembles the moderate
view of population control described above. However,
whether a significant convergence of views is actually
taking place or not, the fact remains that the basis for
a consensus is still precarious. This is because many of
the reasons for opposing population control are rhetoric
for ideological purposes at international forums, it can
still be easily done at the program level. The example
comes to mind of family planning brochures which entice

poor peasants and slum-dwellers with promises of Western
comfort and happiness if only they'd plan their families.
Similarly, the indiscriminate use of economic incentives,
sterilization, and other abusive practices are still
matters of concern, and will be as long as economic
conditions make large families a rational choice.
Population programs might manipulate women, reducing
rather than helping their strategies for survival (e.g.
inflicting hazards on their health, or causing permanent
sterility). Finally, population control might be
implemented as a form of counter-insurgency or otherwise
serve particular needs of imperialism.
The answer to this problem is nothing but popular
control of population programs. Grassroot participation
would put in jeopardy both abuse and propaganda. It
would guarantee as well that progressive principles such
as reproductive freedom or the "need to improve the
status of women" are materialized in actual policy and
practice. Of course, popular control would be achieved
through struggle. This leads us to the final conlclusion
of this work: the critique of population control failed
to recognize the need for politcal mobilization around
reproductive issues. This happened for a number of
reasons. First, the battle over population control was
largely perceived as an ideological one, which did not
require the actual involvement of the masses. Most

critics were more concerned with establishing the correct
line on population than with the fight over population
control programs. Second, in their zeal in describing
the determinant role of imperialism or patriarchy, most
critics tended to perceive people as victims of these
structures, ignoring their ability to react and struggle.
Third, within most popular organizations of the Left,
reproduction is still considered a "private" matter, and
reproductive issues are discarded as "women issues,"
unworthy of being fought for.
The failure to recognize the need for political
mobilization around reproductive issues has lead the
critique into an impasse. Once ideological confrontation
over population control has receded, and the need or at
least the desirability of some kind of population policy
becomes apparent, the critique is destined either to a
consensus or to silence. Meanwhile, all over the Third
World, women of the popular classes are beginning to
organize around reproductive issues, and to vindicate the
importance of their struggle for the popular struggle.
Perhaps, as in many other questions, the answer must come
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