Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Serene disengagement from Washington

Serene disengagement from Washington

David Jessop

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A week or so ago a very interesting commentary appeared in the prominent Argentinean newspaper, La Nacion.

Under the headline 'Goodbye to Washington', Professor Juan Gabriel Tokatlián argued that for the first time in recent history a confluence of circumstances had created conditions that might enable Latin nations to reduce their subordination to the United States.

He suggested that a number of structural trends were facilitating a process that could lead to what he described as a 'serene distancing from Washington', a more balanced hemispheric relationship and greater autonomy for South American nations to develop their own international policies.

Far from worrying about US disinterest, he argued, Latin countries should be pleased that this enables them to consider, freely, options to transform their relationships.

Professor Tokatlián believes that the centre of the global system is moving ever more rapidly towards the Pacific and Asian nations for reasons of demography, economy and geopolitics.

This is happening, he notes, as the United States is suffering internationally the consequences of its policy failures and is in a state of 'ambiguous indifference' to its neighbours in the Americas.

He links this with the inability of the US to put its own economy in order and to a consequent 'exhaustion' in trying to argue against socio-economic experiments in Latin America. He also believes that such changes are occurring at a time when Europe's global view is disorientated and is undergoing a gradual detachment from Latin America.

lessen dependencE on us

All of this he argues, offers South America the opportunity to lessen its dependence on the US and forge new relationships based on its intellectual capital and economic strengths in the areas of biodiversity; agriculture and food production; hydrocarbon and mineral reserves; nuclear and other advanced technologies; and expertise in manufacturing and bio fuels.

The 'absence' of the US in Latin America is also, he suggests, resulting in new thinking and the development of regional alternatives. He believes that far more significant than the Caracas-led Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) are ideas that aspire to a new institutional architecture that involves only Latin America and the Caribbean.

These include the Bank of the South, the Andean Corporation for Development; the South American Defence Council; and other institutional arrangements that do not involve the US.

He points out that all of this is happening just as there is an expansion of a Latin presence internationally through Brazil's global projection, broader ambitions on the part of Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia and a desire by other Latin states to have their voices heard internationally. He believes that this, together with the emergence internationally of a multi-polar world, is likely to cause the US to have no option but to adjust its policies towards Latin America.

His commentary coincides with a surge in Latin interest in the Caribbean, declining US and European policy interest in all but a few nations, and private exchanges between a number of senior Caribbean figures who are concerned as to where the region positions itself in the next decade.

fragmented nationalism

Their starting point is to characterise the Anglophone part of the region as being driven by the past rather than the future, unable to overcome its fragmented nationalism, with institutions seemingly unable to deliver rapidly, integration and change. They see this as the reason why the region, as a whole, lacks coherence in its international relationships, why it failed in the 1990s to identify a Caribbean response to the Washington economic consensus and is now unable to define an identifiably Caribbean response to changes in the global location of power.

Put another way, this informal debate considers traditional ties, observes global economic change, the growing global economic role of China, India, Brazil, Russia, oil-rich states and sovereign funds and asks why, for the most part, the Anglophone Caribbean remains so focussed on the old world and its former colonies and has not as a region updated its thinking.

They note that both Cuba and the Dominican Republic have fully embraced the need for broader thinking about the world. Cuba has moved from seeing the globalisation of its relationships as a response to US threats to recognising more generally the importance of integrating its economy globally though services, joint ventures and foreign investment. The Dominican Republic has sought trade agreements with Europe, the US and Central America and soon with Canada, and has plans to significantly expand its diplomatic and trade relationships in the Middle and Far East and South Africa.

While all of this is happening, and as if in confirmation of Professor Tokatlián's thesis, Latin exchanges with the Caribbean have been growing at an extraordinary pace. Setting aside US-led multinational attacks through hemispheric surrogates on the region's banana industry, Brazil and Venezuela, in particular, are becoming, at both an economic and political level, deeply engaged in the Caribbean.

Brazil's relationship with the Caribbean is rapidly moving forward. In Lima at the EU - Latin America summit, Jamaica's Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, met with President Lula da Silva to discuss a significant deepening of relationships; Brazil has agreed to invest US$1 billion in Cuba; Brazil could act as a facilitator for the gradual improvement of relations between Cuba and the US; the Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez recently held extensive discussions with the Brazilian president in El Salvador and announcements about significant investments are expected soon; Guyana and Suriname are joining the South American Defence Council; Brazil has a strategic economic interest in both countries, not least in transport links to the sea from Northern Brazil and in their mineral reserves; Brazilian technology and investment in relation to ethanol production is growing steadily across the region; and the Brazilian military has a peacekeeping presence in Haiti.

Better known is Venezuela's PetroCaribe initiative and the huge investments it is placing, or intending to place, in infrastructure in the region in relation to telecommunications, energy supply, food security and its ALBA initiative.

Latin friends rightly reserve their judgement on whether a lighter future touch from Washington is possible in the Americas and the extent to which US hegemony in Latin America will subside. Despite this, virtually no one in the Caribbean is thinking through the implications of the changes that Professor Tokatlián points to, how they might relate to a changed US-Cuba relationship and, by extension, the implications the growing Latin involvement in the region may have for the idea of 'the Caribbean'.

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