The tensions – and future – of Latin America

BRLSI attracts authoratitive speakers from around the world, but also has some impressive authorities among its own membership. None are more so than Dr Gian Luca Gardini (pictured), Lecturer in International Relations and Latin American Politics at Bath University, and recently appointed a BRLSI Trustee. Dr Gardini’s field is Latin America, and he came primed with first-hand knowledge to give BRLSI’s World Affairs Group an analysis of the region’s situation and prospects, intriguingly titled The Three Tensions of Latin America.

Dr Gardini listed these tensions as Rhetoric vs Pragmatism, Unity vs Diversity and Change vs Continuity – strains which are present in any geopolitical context, but which are especially relevant in Central and South America, where politics and economics are often hard to reconcile. Venezualan President Hugo Chavez, for example, uses “Yankee Go Home” rhetoric on the domestic and international stages, but assiduously maintains the USA  as his country’s biggest trading partner, while Brazil, guardian of the Amazon Rainforest, talks ‘caring’ but increasingly votes with the ‘Big Boys’ on global issues, as befits its membership of the BRIC group of emerging powerhouse economies.
Unity vs Diversity, Dr Gardini told us, is heavily influenced by geography and population. Latin America is peppered with EU-style groupings such as ALBA and UNASUR, but any that include Brazil (population: 193 million) face the problem of how to give the smaller nations any meaningful influence without twisting democracy out of recognisable shape. Meanwhile the sheer scale of the continent (and the Andes mountains) pose physical communications challenges alien to European experience; while in the EU the double seat of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg raises concern for the high expenses it entails, costs would be much higher, and in a poorer region, if the South American Union’s project to establish its Secretariat in Quito,Ecuador, and its parliament in Cochabamba, Bolivia, were to go ahead.

In some respects change in Latin America has been unequivocally good, with poverty and inequality reaching welcome all-time lows. However Latin American countries are wary of other changes which might mean swapping one version of colonialism for another, so while American influence declines, offers of help from China and Russia, often strongly tied to those countries’ interests, are viewed with a healthy objectivity. There is, however, a growing separation between Central America, the USA’s geographical neighbours, and the more unaligned South American countries.
Will the 21st Century be the century of Latin America? Dr Gardini is certainly optimistic about the region’s prospects. It has dramatic economic growth, two of the century’s most critical commodities (oil and water) and none of the security issues faced by other parts of the world. To see the future, look South.