Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is This Truly Latin America’s Decade?

Fuente: The Economist
By Robert Valencia 

Chilean writer Raúl Rivera Andueza, founding president of Innovation Forum, recently began a trip throughout Latin America to promote his book “Nuestra Hora (Our Time) Latin Americans in the XXI Century,” which offers an view of a region with a major presence in the international arena thanks to its vast resources and human capital, regardless of its everlasting problems such as poverty and underdevelopment. The book, according to several sources, has garnered wide support, chief among them Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who has called this literary work a “masterpiece.”

Per Rivera’s viewpoint, the open veins Eduardo Galeano once wrote about are healing: Latin America has managed to close the poverty gap and now it positions itself as a middle-class society, where the poor don’t live South of the Border any more—contrary to what’s happening in Asia and Africa. Additionally, there are no failed states due to violence and drug trafficking and the presence dictators or populist governors were or are nix. Rivera even mentioned that his book is not based on mere optimism but rather in reality, and he worries that Latin Americans get rich without being acknowledged of the role they play in the world, and calls for greater region-wide unity.

Rivera adds that, in comparison with other geographic realms, Latin America has not been a cradle of dictatorships, and defends this theory by saying that the greatest dictators in history were Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Franco and Milosevic, to name a few. Even though he talks about Argentina’s military junta and Fidel Castro, he underscores that the amount of deaths or assassinations committed by these governments do not add up to the crimes perpetrated by other non-Latin American regimes.

Of course, Latin America’s progress in the last couple of years is unquestionable—where Brazil has turned into an economic juggernaut, coupled with other remarkable economic growth from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia. It is important to note the role some of these countries play in summits and organizations like the G-20 and OECD, let alone the advent of world-class events like the World Cup and the Olympics in Brazil, and the way the region wisely handled the Great Recession thanks to its fiscal management (something that the “First World” has always told the Third World what to do, yet they did not apply the same rules). What’s more, the region has produced a breed of multimillionaires who rank high on the Forbes list, with Carlos Slim Helu at the helm. And, most recently, the integration of the Bogotá, Lima, and Santiago stock markets might offer a hint that regional unity could be feasible.

Notwithstanding, it’s imperative to avoid falling into the triumphalism trap—a very common characteristic of all Latin Americans—and take these achievements with a grain of salt. As Andrés Oppenheimer said months ago, the latest numbers surrounding Latin American economy from the World Bank present a grim outlook: Several countries, save Brazil, seldom allocate a budget for Research and Development, one of the pillars of economic growth that has transformed the South Korean and other Asian economies into technological powerhouses. The share Latin America possesses in the world economy barely surpasses seven percent, as opposed to China that has eight percent. Never mind the educational system: no university from the region is ranked on the top 200 list from QS World University, student exchange is a rare commodity compared to China and India, and the registered patents from Latin American institutions pale if compared to those of the United States, Japan, and Europe.

Saying that dictatorships were not as bloody as those in Africa or Asia is almost exonerating the unclenching iron fist of Trujillo, Pinochet and the Brazilian military dictatorship, as well as the rejection of caudillismo, a true Latin American phenomenon where a candidate is elected president to later turn his administration into totalitarianism. [A side note: it’s interesting how the same Vargas Llosa, who lauded Rivera’s work, once mentioned that Mexico’s PRI party was the ‘perfect dictatorship.’ See video (in Spanish)]

Neglecting our past or our current problems is not an option. In effect, Latin America is a sleeping giant that has begun to awake, and it’s a region that possesses vibrant democracies and a largely young population—these achievements were even recognized by The Economist. But one must require to remember our dubious past and recognize current problems in order to put ourselves on the threshold of progress; otherwise we might as well fulfill George Santayana’s pragmatic ethos: “Those who cannot remember their past are destined to repeat it.” 

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