November 15-16, 2023
The New School
New York

The Observatory on Latin America of The New School, together with Universidad Torcuato di Tella from Buenos Aires, the Colegio de Mexico from Mexico City, and the Universidad de los Andes from Bogota, organized a two-day conference on “Latin America in a Multi-Polar World” at The New School in New York.

The conference included speakers from 3 Latin American universities, 5 universities in New York, and three ambassadors (the Argentine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations, and the Argentine Consul-General in New York). The event was attended by 75 people on November 15 and 50 on the following day.

The Conference was opened by Mary Watson, Executive Dean of the New School of Public Engagement, Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, Vice-Provost of Universidad Torcuato di Tella, and Michael Cohen, Director of the Observatory on Latin America. It was divided into four sessions composed of the speakers listed below.

Panel One: Latin America in Multi-Polar World: Global and Regional Roles in an Era of Conflict, Competition, and Multiple Crisis

Moderator: Ambassador Maria del Carmen Squeff, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations

Panel Speakers:
Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, Vice-Rector, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires
Ambassador Arlene B. Tickner, Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations
Peter Hoffman, Director, Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School

Sanjay Reddy, Chair, Department of Economics, The New School

Juan G. Tokatlian

The major substantive focus of the session was on the definition of what is meant by “mutli-polar”. Juan Gabriel Tokatlian noted that the world was in a transition to a new non-hegemonic order. The current post western world is lacking a leader, there no longer is the bi-polar situation of the Cold War or the US role of the single major power. Tokatlian argued that, in its place is a world of 2 Norths: North 1 (the US and EU) in symbolic decadence and North 2 composed of China, and Russia. There is no longer a single “global south” but rather a diverging set of countries which are closer to each other and consolidating in their own positions. He also noted the great differences in the economic strength of countries, for example noting that the investment in research and development of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico is around $60 billion while Amazon by itself is about $72 billion. In 1956 Latin America accounted for 12% of global commerce, but by 2019, that share had dropped to 6%. He also remarked that Latin America is also less present in key debates and processes in the United Nations. He concluded by noting what he called “triangulation dynamics” and a deepening rift between North 1 and 2.

Arlene Tickner noted that multilateralism is crumbling and that global shifts are visible at the UN. She emphasized that there is a lot of diversity of among the 193 member countries. She asked whether consensus is possible or should it be accepted that there is no consensus. She described Latin America as in between old and new and could play a helpful role in this transition. She suggested several key points in this new global environment: There is a need to agree to disagree; there is a need to address common problems such as debt and finance; there is a need to accept action from below; and to acknowledge that there is no power to create or replicate what happened in 1945 with establishment of UN after WWII.

Peter Hoffman asked what is the meaning of multi-polarity? Does it recognize the asymmetries of power and new groupings, such as the case of MINT: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey? He asked whether it includes states, markets, and civil society. He referred to three downward spirals he perceived at the United Nations: Capacity and resources; Credibility, and Irrelevance. He quoted Tacitus’s observation “They make a wasteland and they call it peace”. He asked “What is nature of multi-polar engagement with Latin America? What are the issues?” He noted that Russian engagement in the region is mostly political, while China is more economic and financial.

Panel Two: Latin American Democracy, Right and Left Wing Populism, and Prospects for Regional Collaboration

Moderator: Ambassador Santiago Villalba, Consul-General of Argentina in New York

Carla Yumatle, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires
Maria Victoria Murillo, Chair, Department of Political Science, and Director, Institute for Latin American Studies, Columbia University

Nidhi Srinivas, Professor of Management, The New School

The substantive focus of the panel was on the meaning of Latin American democracy and the theoretical debates about how political systems overlapped with or subsumed social systems. Carla Yumatle focused her remarks on these distinctions, noting that democracy was a social order, while Maria Victoria Murillo presented empirical data demonstrating that polls showed that Lain Americans were more interested in the socio-economic outcomes of democracy than in the supporting democracy per se. She noted that in Latin American countries there was government power but without consent, and domination without hegemony.

Panel Three: Reforming the Interamerican System to be Relevant for Present Problems

Moderator: Renata Segura, Deputy Program Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, International Crisis Group

Guadalupe Gonzalez, Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City
Sandra Borda, Universidad de las Andes, Bogota

Kevin B. Funk, Lecturer and Fellow in Global Thought, Columbia University

This session devoted much less attention to the notion of the “inter-American system” itself than to the many issues where “systemic institutional behavior” was not having significant effects on specific problems such as migration, drugs, or climate change. Guadalupe Gonzalez cited the example of the 2023 Summit of Latin American leaders in Los Angeles as having been ineffectual in generating significant outcomes. Sandra Borda spoke of other issues where the “system” was not a significant determinant of social or political outcomes.

Roundtable Discussion: Policies for Migration, Human Rights, and Global Change

Moderator: Juan G. Tokatlian

Enrique Desmond Arias, Marxe Chair of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Professor, Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Alyshia Galvez, Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, Lehman College and Doctoral Program in Anthropology, Graduate Center CUNY
Michael Cohen, Director of the Observatory on Latin Americ

The substantive focus of the session was divided into three parts: 1) a presentation by Enrique Desmond Arias on the incidence and distribution of violence in the region, citing the different sources of this violence, from the military, the police, or civil society actors; 2. a presentation by Alyshia Galvez on the obstacles to mobility within the region and their resulting injustices; and 3) an effort by Michael Cohen to link these issues by observing that US and its cities shared many of the problems facing Latin American countries.

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