This book presents one of the first discussions held in the United States of representatives of five of the progressive governments of Latin America. The initiative of holding a discussion of this type in New York responds to the almost complete absence of the voice of Latin American people and governments in North American media and public opinion.
The lives, successes and failures, the challenges and the hopes of millions of people and numerous governments of Latin America are normally interpreted for North American society by a handful of journalists and specialists belonging to some of the largest media outlets.
Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president of the Argentina Observatory of The New School in New York, had the idea and the initiative of inviting a group of distinguished and officially-designated representatives of four other countries in the region, to discuss the local experiences and the expectations for the future that currently exist in Latin America. Even though some public events about the Latin American region take place in New York, they do not have the level of this panel and are not usually open to such a diverse and numerous audience. The panel was composed of well-known political and governmental figures, and the audience included members of the academic field, business and non-governmental organizations, including representatives of human rights, environmental, and cultural organizations, as well as various members of the financial sector from Wall Street and companies interested in Latin America.
This book demonstrates the convergence of many of the ideas from these governments about the need to formulate and implement institutional changes and public policy, to generate sustained economic growth, and to extend social justice in their countries. Each of the five representatives has a different focus based on the specific experiences of their respective countries. The conversation, then, offers a rich texture manifested in the similarities or convergence of the problems and challenges, and the diversity of “foci” to face them. The representatives included people with different experiences and roles: a national senator (Argentina), a presidential advisor (Brazil), an ambassador to the United States (Venezuela), a Foreign Affairs Minister (Bolivia) and an ambassador to the United Nations (Chile). Each expresses the different ways and approaches in which their nations face the current problems and prepare for the future in the regional setting.
The presentations included in this book, individual but in intense mutual dialogue, show the different combinations of circumstances and national experiences and ideological orientations. However, they are rooted in the national conditions and the pragmatic foci in the search for solutions.
The realism of these conversations is more informative and substantive than the extensive and heated ideological discussions, so frequently rehashed in the media, about populism or the antagonism between left and right, approaches which do not account for the current complexity.
The conversations included in this book do not refer to the relationship between the United States and Latin America. On the contrary, it is a discussion between Latin Americans about Latin America, providing a new and important dimension by being exposed to both a regional and North American audience.
Notes on the Latin American context
Latin America is receiving renewed attention. New political leadership in 9 countries reflects growing dissatisfaction with political and economic performance over the past decade. The elections of new leaders: Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay, and more recently Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, has highlighted the pressure for change. The election of the first woman and the first indigenous leader as presidents of their countries symbolizes the widening claims of democratic representation. The evident failure of neo-liberal economic policies to generate sustained economic growth and social development has led to extensive political debates and an intensive search for alternative approaches to improve the lives of the people in Latin America. These debates very much relate to the notion of “development” itself as a process of structural transformation of societies, recently well-articulated by Jose Antonio Ocampo, former UN Under-Secretary for Economic and Social Affairs.
Seven key features of these changes define the new environment for understanding Latin America:
1. The frameworks of earlier policy debates and bi-lateral relations are shifting.
There is a sense that the past frameworks have run out of steam and there is an active search for new ways to organize politics and the economy. Phrased differently, the new leaders of Latin America are asking how social democracies can survive and prosper in a neo-liberal world. How can they develop effective new approaches to bring their peoples growth and development with social justice in a period of globalization? These questions have important implications for all of the countries in the region, including Cuba and the countries of the Caribbean. At the same time, they have wider implications for countries in other regions such as in Europe where similar discussions have been underway for some time.
2. Central to these debates is the question of what is democracy.
Many Latin American political leaders are discussing the difference between democracy and good government. This reflects the observation made in some countries that the economic crises, for example of Argentina in 2001 or in Bolivia at various times, have been as much political crises as economic events and that poor economic management cannot be separated from the poor performance of government in many countries. While the values of free elections, human rights, and other democratic norms have spread throughout the region, there is a growing recognition that “democracy”, even if cherished and supported, is not the same thing as good government. In an era when the results of privatization have been generally disappointing, there is broad agreement that government and the public sector are needed to play effective roles to lead and support economic and social progress.
One of these medium-term challenges is the strengthening of governance- gobernabilidad. This challenge has been recognized as a high priority in many countries and indeed at the regional level as well, for example in regional organizations such as the Organization of American States, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America, and the Inter-American Development Bank. This issue has received increasing attention in part due to the relative lack of experience of the new governing groups.
3. The economic and political future of the Latin American countries is also greatly, even though not exclusively, related to the productivity and the social justice of their cities.
It is important to note that the discussion of these issues is happening in a context of continued urbanization in Latin America, currently the most urbanized region in all of the developing world. In these countries more than 70% of their GDP is generated by urban economic activity. At the same time, a clear process of urbanization is taking place with an increase of poverty and continuous growth of slums lacking infrastructure and social services, sites of unemployment, and growing crime and violence related to drugs. The success of progressive leaders will depend largely on their response to these urban problems.
4. These views about governance also have a regional dimension.
The shared policy experiences of the last two decades have generated disappointing outcomes. This regional dimension is also under-analyzed, with observers noticing the breadth of the debate, but unable to understand not focusing on how and why these reflections and ideas are being communicated across countries within the region. Regional awareness of course has an important historical dimension. Many of these countries share common historical origins and are slowly becoming aware of the coming of the Bicentennial of various countries in 2010: Argentina, Chile, Mexico, with Uruguay, Venezuela, and Paraguay in 2011, and others coming soon after. The common quest for change therefore also fits within a shared historical perspective.
5. National and regional challenges are complicated by uneasy relationships with the United States.
Facing foreign policy problems, terrorism, and the war in Iraq, the United States has largely ignored Latin America over the last three years, although five major issues have received public and U.S. Government attention: immigration, free trade, drugs from Colombia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and Cuba. These subjects remain important “hot button issues”, which generate more heat than light and are usually considered within a short-term US foreign policy framework. Rather than address such issues through multi-lateral diplomacy, the US seems to pursue a more narrow bi-lateral approach. As a result, it is not surprising that these issues remains problematic and “solutions”, i.e. constructive,
medium term approaches to these issues, have not been identified, much less adopted. The greater tragedy is that these issues seem to receive the majority of attention by the U.S. Administration rather than collaborating to accelerate and sustain economic and social development in the region. There is compelling evidence that economic and social progress at home would alleviate the external pressures generated by these five issues.
6. An important dimension of this situation is the lack of a plurality of informed narratives available to the United States media about change in Latin America.
In the popular media, Latin America remains captured by a handful of reporters: Larry Rohter of The New York Times, Andres Oppenheimer of The Miami Herald, and Lucia Newman of CNN in Havana, who frequently seem to have specific political or journalistic perspectives which limit their analysis. Indeed, there is probably too much attention to rhetoric and not enough to practice. For example, more attention needs to be devoted to the content of the fiscal and social policies of Lula and Chavez rather than their rhetoric.
During 2006 mainstream magazines and journals have also begun to focus on the so-called “Turn to the Left of Latin America”. A stream of articles has appeared, but the depth and quality of analysis varies considerably. The Economist has opined about “The Return of Populism”, lumping together six leaders and countries into a single category, failing to acknowledge the differences between these countries, from Chile, hailed as the model country for the Washington Consensus, to impoverished Bolivia with a GDP a fraction of that found in the other countries. Applying the term “populist” fails to appreciate the diverse political origins and policy agendas being developed by these new governments. A more nuanced, but also still simplistic perspective is outlined by Jorge Castaneda, political scientist and former Mexican Foreign Minister in Foreign Affairs, who argues that there are “two lefts”, dividing the new leaders in two categories. Castaneda, however, relies on his historical analysis of 15 years ago and ignores the important differences in areas such as fiscal policies or debt management between Bachelet, Kirchner, Lula, and Morales. Nor does he seem to appreciate the changes in the level of sophistication and depth of discontent in Latin American countries as a result of several decades of disappointed expectations. The weaknesses of these recent articles suggest the importance of undertaking serious comparative analysis.
Hugo Chavez has received the most press and journal attention, reflecting his provocative attacks on the United States, his relationship with Cuba, and his activist role in Latin America. Coverage of Chavez varies considerably in quality, but two serious portraits have appeared recently, adding some depth to the generalized image of Chavez as out of control. While Chavez receives a disproportionate share of media attention Ðparticularly after his attack on George Bush at the United NationsÐ he may actually be of much less significance for the future of Latin American development than the internal substantive debates in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile in which significant political and institutional issues are being debated and resolved.
7. While these and many more articles appear in the US press, it is important to note that there are few if any real opportunities for the new Latin American leadership to communicate directly to audiences in the United States.
The major exception is the Inter-American Dialogue, a longstanding NGO and think tank which has historically sought to foster a dialogue with Latin American leaders as well as to carry out research. The Dialogue, however, is based in Washington and is somewhat captured by the Washington political environment and does not have the independence of analysis possible in a university setting. It is hoped that the OLA can provide a wider platform of interaction with Latin American leaders, institutions, and universities at all levels.
The lack of a plurality of well-grounded narratives leaves US decisionmakers and the public without the information and knowledge about the intentions and approaches of individual governments to address the problems facing their countries or their perspectives on their place in the region. There is an urgent need for new voices in the media to communicate the unfolding stories across the region to a global audience. While
some leaders, such as Chavez, make frequent statements about Latin America as a whole, others such as Lula or Kirchner are much more preoccupied by the domestic political challenges of advancing their national policies for social and institutional reform, or by developing approaches to trade, either within the region, or sub-region such as Mercosur. This has given rise to a debate captured in the title of a new book by Javier Santiso, Latin America’s Political Economy of the Possible: Beyond Good Revolutionaries and Free Marketeers. There are important stories waiting to be told.
What these elected leaders do have in common is a deep concern about how to make their domestic economies less vulnerable to the volatility of the global economy. Many countries have taken advantage of high world commodity prices, have reduced unemployment and external debt, and managed to record outstanding rates of economic growth in 2005-2006: from 9% in Argentina and Venezuela, to 7% in Uruguay, 6% in Peru, to a disappointing 2% in Brazil. Others, including the Central American countries and Cuba, seem trapped within a complex set of ineffective policies and limitations of scale and geography, including frequent impacts of natural disasters. Appreciating these differences in performance and the “policy space” which they permit is essential if U.S. decision-makers and the public are to make informed judgments about the region. Applying crude categories such as “the left” or “populism” to these significant differences is analogous to the frustrated and unconstructive search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Michael Cohen – Margarita Gutman
Buenos Aires-New York, October 2005
Jose Antonio Ocampo, speech at The New School conference, “Has Economics Failed the Challenge of Development”, April 20, 2006.
See Jose Nun, “El Bicentenario como festival”, in Margarita Gutman (editor), Construir Bicentenarios: Argentina (Buenos Aires: The New School and Caras y Caretas, December 2005), pp. 193-202.
The Economist, “The Return of Populism”, April 15, 2006, pp. 39-40. Jorge Casta–eda, Utopia Unarmed: Latin America’s Left After the Cold War (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993).
Jorge Castañeda, “Latin America’s Left Turn”, Foreign Affairs, May-June 2006, pp. 28-43.
See Franklin Foer, “The Talented Mr. Chavez”, The Atlantic, May 2006, pp. 94-105, and
Michael Shifter, “In Search of Hugo Chavez”, Foreign Affairs, May-June 2006, pp. 45-59. Javier Santiso, Latin America’s Political Economy of the Possible: Beyond Good Revolutionaries and Free Marketeers, (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 2006).
Bear Stearns, Emerging Markets: Sovereign Quarterly, April 18, 2006.
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