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  Number 365 | Diciembre 2011
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Latin America

We’re starting to see ourselves through our own eyes

The governments of all Latin American and Caribbean countries met in Venezuela on December 2-3. It was a first step towards creating the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). In this article, full of optimism for this step and those to follow, we can appreciate the huge differences in the political and economic dynamics that separate our Central America from the South American countries.

Aram Aharonian

Latin America and the Caribbean are arising with extraordinary strength to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a small but decisive step on the path of integration and unity, of the emerging regional sovereignty. Today we can be proud of our progress. We are also aware that the United States would surely like to sabotage this experience, just as it did with Panama’s Amphictyonic Congress of 1826.

Talking about this community means beginning to take responsibility for regional sovereignty, leaving aside the “protectionism” of the US and Canada, conscious that the old prescriptions they imposed on us for the past 500 years only meant grief and pain for the vast majority, with social exclusion and poverty while countries from the center ended up with our natural resources.

Welcome CELAC, this decision to unite and look for joint solutions, even when not all the region’s governments operate under the same ideological sign and some prefer to continue banking on imperial dependence.

We’re moving from
resisting to building

Establishing a political, social, cultural and economic integration scheme implies defining sovereign mechanisms of self-determination in the use of raw materials and natural resources (we are the greatest reservoir of water in the world) that will have a direct impact on overturning the control and dominance the US still exercises in our territories.

We’re starting to see ourselves through our own eyes and not, through the eyes of foreigners, as we did for over five centuries. Seeing ourselves through our own eyes means recovering our memory and figuring out how to satisfy the needs of our own fellow citizens before the demands of international organizations. A people that doesn’t know where it’s coming from can’t know where it’s going, so destiny would always be imposed on it from outside.

This is a long road; one of understanding that integration doesn’t just mean commercial exchange or negotiating tariffs. Perhaps the initial shove came in Mar del Plata in 2005 when we Latin Americans said NO to the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). Even before this, social movements managed to get rulers into government—some even into power—who were committed to their people and not to the lending banks or to the prescriptions of the international agencies that so often caused hemorrhages.

This long road begins with taking responsibility for a historic change: we’re turning from the resistance phase to the construction phase. We already have graduate degrees in accusations and laments. Now we need to create, invent, seek out the paths to new theories, programs, plans, new paths that will benefit us with fairer, more equitable societies. We’ve been paying the price for the disaster of capitalism for more than 500 years.

But for this we must first liberate ourselves. I’m talking about liberating the 1,400 cubic centimeters of our brains, conscious that so many paradigms imposed on us as absolute truths are none other than nonsense to keep us divided and subjugated. Let’s start by formatting our own hard drive.

In moments of worldwide indignation

The brilliant French academic Remy Herrera wrote that the extreme seriousness of the crisis currently battering Europe, especially the Eurozone, given the evasion of the so-called “sovereign” debts of Greece and Italy, among others, leads us to pose the following question: Do the European peoples perhaps have lessons to learn from the experiences of certain Southern countries and the anti-crisis strategies they have adopted there? Until now the recipes of the North, supposedly universally valid, were habitually administered to Southern economies even when they only rarely suited them, Herrera adds, but those times have already changed.

Today’s one-size-fits-all neoliberal austerity solutions and the dismantling of public services proposed—or rather imposed—in an attempt to save capitalism in crisis and reactivate growth are absurd. They are the surest means of aggravating this crisis even more and send the system even more rapidly hurling towards the abyss.

Two South American Presidents said it without beating about the bush: Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the G20 and Brazil’s Dilma Roussef when she stated that “we have employment in Brazil while unemployment is growing in Europe and we’re not going to let jobs be exported to other countries,” after stating that Brazil no longer follows economic policy instructions from international agencies.

Our region is the only place in the world today that has resisted capitalism’s global economic crisis. And this at a time that has seen the greatest global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activism, with the “indignant” of more than 75 countries worldwide, among them Chile and Colombia, both of which still follow the neoliberal, imperial script.

United we could be the
world’s third economic power

Many are already warning that CELAC is and will be a US military objective, believing that Obama, on the eve of his re-election attempt, will not want to be remembered as the President who lost his back yard.

It’s true that not all dance to the same beat. Five of our 33 countries—Panama, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica—have governments that continue to be joined at the hip to Washington. Because of this, CELAC will also be a forum for debating ideas, for offering consensus and discrepancies. It was ‘divide and rule’ for five centuries, now it’s time to find our common destiny. We need to start by defining what we want CELAC to be. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa put his cards on the table: CELAC must be a forum for regional conflict resolution that will replace the Organization of American States (OAS), because we already know that the United Nations Security Council won’t resolve conflicts, much less other bodies.

At CELAC’s center are the four major economies: Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. Added together the CELAC countries represent a GDP of US$6.3 billion, which makes them the third economic global power, as well as having the world’s main oil reserves, approximately 338 billion barrels, and being the third largest producer of electricity and the main food producing economy.

UNASUR makes progress
on the financial architecture

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is a forerunner to CELAC. UNASUR’s South American Economic and Finance Council drafted a document in which it envisaged progress on a joint infrastructure plan and on possible financial mechanisms for replacing the dollar as a common payment currency, That experience is already underway in exchanges between Argentina and Brazil, and among the member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) with the Sucre as their currency. These two instruments are particularly contemplated for dealing with the effects of the international financial crisis.

Concrete proposals have also been put forward to encourage interregional cooperation, incorporating value added and consequently jobs and welfare for our region’s peoples. Thirty-one projects were proposed, which would demand an investment of US$16 billion. Coordination in the use of reserves is also on the agenda, as well as getting the Banco del Sur up and running, which could be operative once the Uruguayan parliament approves its constituting document, something President José Mujica envisages before the end of 2011.

“Latin America is living an unprecedented political, economic and cultural rebirth,” declared Colombia’s María Emma Mejía, the UNASUR general secretary, who replaced former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner in the post. “South America stands as an example to the world today.”

Towards a new independence

Coordinating economic policy among UNASUR member countries is part of the regional strategy for dealing with the international crisis, whose epicenter is now in Europe, and to delineate instruments for joint action to avoid any economic battering.

“It’s a very good signal to confront the systemic crisis of capitalism in the North and build economic development formulas for the region. In this bicentennial era we’re talking about a new independence,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro.

Another relevant issue has to do with the possibility of coordinating the use of reserves regionally, as an anti-cyclical fund. These reserves could reach US$600 billion. The aim is to have a tool that could help member countries in the event of “financial speculation” on their currency. Because there are three different positions on this proposal to coordinate management of reserves, this issue will remain in the technical council for the time being. “It’s important to show that there’s consensus in the region on how to deal with a crisis that will have a global impact,” said Argentine Minister Amado Boudou.

The other instrument being talked about is Banco del Sur, already approved by the Argentine, Bolivian, Venezuelan and Brazilian parliaments. Uruguay is in the middle of its debate on the project. Once it has been approved, this regional bank will possess more than 60% of its founding capital, meaning that it could start operating. The initiative envisages integrating more than US$20 billion of capital.

With all this news and looking at the world from the South’s balcony, I feel very proud to be Latin American, of making the slogan “Another world is possible” a reality… if we all work together and from the bottom up.

Aram Aharonian is a Uruguayan-Venezuelan journalist and teacher, founder of Telesur and director of the Latin American Observatory on Communication and Democracy.

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