A challenge to national identities in Latin America

by Juan Archibaldo LANÚS, Argentine Ambassador to France

Approximately two decades ago we observed a change in the conditions in which the States either exert their political authority or function of mediators with regard to national societies, both within the borders of their jurisdictions, as well as in their interaction with the other States operating as actors of the international system.

It would appear that facts contradict and to a certain extent, render invalid the theoretical assumptions of most national political constitutions, along with the conceptual structure which inspired the creation of the post war international system. This mutation is present in the political and in the economic sphere, both within countries as well as beyond in the international sphere, affecting the traditional vision of national identity and as undermining some values consecrated by Latin American culture.

The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset held it was a great privilege to live through one on those moments during which History takes a decisive turn. I believe that we are journeying through the kind of bend on the road that Ortega had in mind. The current situation is similar to the changes which took place during the 16th and the 17th centuries when Ptolomey’ map was discarded, when Machiavelli and Hobbes unbuckled religion from political science, and the invention of the portable book by the Venetian Aldo Manucio threw open the frontier of written communication.

In attempting to explain the challenges emerging from the new situation for Latin American nations I would not want to either be too negative concerning the drawbacks. Neither would I wish to appear to be much too naively positive on the benefits of any novelty. I will examine the nature of the novelties, saying something about the type of adaptation I believe to be required from us and what is it that we should make ready for.

I will approach the new realities under three headings: firstly the State, secondly, the economy and, thirdly, the international system. I will conclude by providing my views concerning current events and their consequences for the world order.

2. The emergence of the "nation state " was one of the great innovations of modern times, departing from the patrimonial states whose territories and populations, under the hegemony of kings and princes, were inherited, conquered, were divided or unified by conquest or marriage, according to the game of dynastic interests.

The central element of the Nation-State was the sovereignty ingredient, according to the idea put forward by Jean Bodin in his Six Books of the Commonweal, first published in1576. The concept of sovereignty was synonymous with the power of the Nation-State. As Abi Saab would have it, sovereignty is the exclusive state jurisdiction on a given territory, defined "ratione materiae" and "ratione loci". Therefore there was a within the border as well as a beyond a border.

Such was the importance of the concept of sovereignty that the international system created as from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 was known as that of the NationState. The Nation-State, as an entity, was the main actor of the European international relations as they operated in the 19th Century, of the Society of the Nations and the United Nations system. The nation state still remains an important actor despite the emergence of new private actors such as multinational corporations, many of them larger and more powerful than many States.

Latin Americans sought independence from the Spanish Crown and the nation states which came into being were based on the paradigm that it was required of them that they should transform into sovereign nation states. The ideal of independence was the main factor in establishing the identity of each one of the Latin American Republics.

For some decades now, what we could define as an erosion of the Nation-State is noticeable. This wear and tear has had consequences bearing on the practices arising from the concept of sovereignty. Some authors, such as as Nye, even speak of a system of "post" sovereign states.

This erosion or decay of the Nation-State, that some authors consider irreversible, is manifest in several phenomena pointing towards a loss of autonomy:

a) International legislation has penetrated national frontiers. For example, international negotiations deal with obligations to be fulfilled within national borders. Such is the case with the international commitments arising from the Uruguay Round concerning investments, intellectual property, the dismantling of aid to the agricultural sector, competition rules, as well as many other provisions of International Law . Last but not least, the monitoring of national economic policies with which the IMF and the World Bank condition their financial assistance is a powerful and widespread example of international provisions permeating international borders.

b) The second phenomenon is the transfer of State jurisdictions to international bodies. A good example of it is the resignation to monetary sovereignty by some European countries in favour of the euro, the acceptance of international jurisdictions to resolve conflicts within national frontiers (the World Bank’s CIARDI* Court).

c) Finally, over the last decade or so the reforms favoured by the prevailing wisdom shared by the industrialised nations and by international the financial agencies are centred on the reduction of the power of the State, and, in general, of the role of the public sector in favour of markets, this neoliberal paradigm promotes deregulation and the opening up to the flows of international trade. Another example of this growing trend are the recommendations contained in what is commonly referred to as the Washington Consensus

Thus, a framework of international provisions replaces and absorbs jurisdictions previously reserved to the nation-states. John Grey, in his "False Dawn", holds that we are in the presence of "leak of power".

We will see immediately that this loss of power, is nothing but a loss of the sovereignty of the States, and that its more pronounced and most dramatic manifestations are to be found in the economic sphere.

This dilution of sovereignty has taken place benefiting an architecture without borders constituted by networks and mutually opposing public and private powers of transnational nature constituting a feature of a new international order.

2. In the sphere of finance and that of the manufacture of goods and the provision of services, a noticeable mutation has also taken place.

On the one hand, the introduction of information technology has transformed the manufacturing system as devised by Taylor at the beginning of the 20th. century, exemplified by Charles Chaplin’s talent for the cinema with his film "Modern Times". The computer has killed the old industrial system. It has moved from production in line, with hierarchically organised and concentrated establishments, to a decentralised network system, where the end product is the result of a confluence of parts and components manufactured in geographically distant places. Research has shown that

a car made by GM in the U.S.A. only has 25% of its parts made in that country, and that yoghurt produced in Germany results from components which have travelled from very far from the factory which finally came to retail the product.

Therefore, industry has been transformed into a decentralised activity, of associated geographically distant suppliers and branches, bound together in a network, which assumes the existence of open markets operating with no hindrance whatsoever.

Morita, the president of Sony, already ten years ago coined the term "glocalisation" to describe the new -regional-world-wide horizon of the market of suppliers and clients in which a company such as Sony operates.

The new manufacturing process reveals a great facility for the relocation of plants and presupposes that such corporations must compete in a global market operating without protection.

The second novelty in the sphere of finance and manufacture is the globalisation of finance, a process which was started at the beginning of the Eighties the US Secretary for the Treasury, Paul Volker, decided to free markets which in turn resulted in the "big bang" in 1984 with the suppression of all encumbrances on the purchase and sale of shares in the London stock-market. Thus daily financial turn over for the whole world increased dramatically from approximately 50,000 million dollars in the Seventies to approximately 1.4 trillion by 2,000, annualised this amount is more than one hundred times the value of world-wide trade. Three fourths of these daily movements are financial transactions unconnected with trade in physical goods or services, i.e. speculation. The governments of almost all countries have liberalised cross border financial movements, stimulating transnational investment.

3. The changes in industry and the world-wide nature of finance which I’ve referred to, have transformed the premises of economic theory, one of which was the existence of national economies. Robert Reich, says in his book "The Work of Nations", the "very idea of a national economy no longer makes sense". He holds that in the future there will be no national products, no national technologies, no national companies nor national industries. There would no longer be national economies, at least not in the traditional sense of the term.

4. The changes I‘ve described so far involve, on the one hand, the sphere of economy and, on the other hand, the sphere of the State, and have modified governability the political and economic set up of national societies. The centre of gravity revolved round the fulfilling of the common good through the activity of the states has been shifted: the paradigm of the border, of the "line" as the Romans would say, tends to disappear. The consequences for governments are noticeable:

a) The autonomy and power of the States within the territory which was subject to their sovereign jurisdiction has diminished

b) The implementation of macroeconomic policies is difficult.

c) Controlling the value of currency has become impossible.

Many hold that these realities are the consequence of the process globalisation that is restoring the prevailing prior to World War I, that is, of the globalisation of the Belle Époque, featuring a great freedom for the flow of trade, capital and populations. Personally I consider that what defines the new realities is not the liberalisation or the integration of a world-wide market, given that there were several periods of globalisation as from the 15th. century as pointed out by Immanuel Wallerstein and Ferdinand Braudel. The new defining feature is the loss of sovereignty on national spaces coupled with the recent technological revolution, enabling economic actors to acquire knowledge or information instantaneously, thus empowering institutional administrators of investments managing assets greater than the GDP of the industrial nations.

The international market was not invented by Capitalism. Neither did multinational corporations give birth to globalización. Venice was an authentic commercial dragon whose ships - galere da mercato- sailed from the Indian Ocean to the Baltic Sea, and the several companies of India traded globally. The current from of globalisation is characterized not by the liberalisation of the trade and capital flows given that these flows were a more significant portion of Global production in the 19th Century. The distinctive feature of the current form of globalisation is manner and extent in which states have lost power.

The currently prevalent form of globalizacion is impelled by private factors and public policies move in step with them. And those private factors are mobilised by the exceptional speed of technological innovation and the interests resulting from such a change.

5. For the countries of Latin America, adapting to this new scenario is, my view, particularly difficult for a reason connected with the origins of the creation of the American republics. The modern States of Africa, Asia or Europe were created, from the 15th Century to the present time, on the base of pre-existing social, political and economic structures which predated the modern Nation-State. In some cases the preceding structure was a feudal system, in others a tribal organisation established in cultural territories with ancestral traditions determining the rules of game along with the civil or religious values governing the social life and the cohesion of the populations involved.

In Latin America, regarded with a historical perspective, the Republics came into being as a consequence of a process of independence from the Spanish or Portuguese crowns. The Nation-State was the operating and founding force of the social organisation of the Latin American Republics. The new States are not based on empires or pre-existing cultures, on the contrary, ab-initio they are "new" and were created in opposition to that which had been in existence in the colonial or preColumbian period. They assume their past but they transform it totally.

The constitutions of these new states were inspired by the Anglo-Saxon or French models. Their population is the result, to a large extent, of immigration, their educational models claimed descent from the enlightenment and positivism, and their nation building is inextricably bound up with the idea of "independence" and that of "sovereignty". The great movements which shaped and developed Latin America socially, militarily or politically, the paradigms inspiring the Constitution of the new Republics, and which gave them their national cohesion, are intimately derived from the idea of a sovereign and independent nation. The resistance against the US interventions in the Caribbean, British and French attempts in Argentina, along with the Franco-German blockade in Venezuela, the attachment to the development of international law, the Pan-American ideal, and to be provocative, the Mexican and the Cuban revolutions, they all are the fruit of that deep bond between national identity with independence and sovereignty. When the French, Italian and German warships blockaded Venezuela to demand payment by force, the Argentine Minister for Foreign Affairs, José María Drago, stated the doctrine which bears his name, which established the principle that it was illegal to compulsively claim the payment of debts from a sovereign State. All this almost belongs to a bygone age.

Therefore, the process of adaptation to the new realities implies a gradual resignation of these emblematic ideas, so closely involved with national cohesion and identity

When it is suggested that it is necessary to adapt our administrative structures and economic policies to the new emerging realities at world-wide level, the central tensions produced by the proposed changes are not to be found as appearance suggest, in a debate between protectionism versus free trade, state interventionism vis- à-vis market oriented policies. The conflict arises rages around the preservation or the demise of those values dear to Latin Americans: independence and sovereignty, especially when seen as opposed to the private or public powers fallen into the hands of natives or foreigners. That is the reason for viewing the issue in terms of national identity, as opposed what I’ve come to refer to as the gradual disappearance of the paradigm of the border

6. Confronted with a reality involving the gradual loss of sovereignty which sustains the State, Latin American countries face two main challenges. In the international sphere how to reconcile internal pluralism with globalisation. In the internal sphere, how to fulfil the mediating function of the multinational State -"which corporations compete to control" according to John Grey, how are they to conciliate their duty of care for political freedoms, with economic risk, the duty to promote prosperity, social cohesion, whilst protecting the environment. These are the issues arising from the weakening and dispersal of the functions of the state.

The nation-state defines a sphere of solidarity for the redistribution of income between sometimes diverse populations.

In Europe, the erosion of the Nation-State, will be a process which coexists with the creation of an European structure, with its norms and directives, which allows, in my view, a progressive adaptation, through consensus and negotiation. That is to say, the European States have opted to resign their faculties and prerogatives in favour of Communitarian Europe. Nevertheless, it is possible to wonder if the consolidation of the regions under the umbrella of the European Union will not undermine the intranational mechanisms of solidarity (i.e. Catalonia, Andalusía, Padania, Sicily). What will happen with Northern Ireland, Corsica or Scotland? Is it possible that the territorial narrow-mindedness will be strengthened ? Some even speak of an erosion of identities!

Having outlined the features of the current changes it is now feasible to state my view of the present international system as altered by the changes:

7. The creation of the current international system, was the result of an urgent necessity felt by the great powers and most of the States towards the close of World War II: namely to establish a set of mandatory rules for States in order, on the one hand, to limit the repetition of wars which had brought untold suffering. On the other hand, the system was aimed at restoring a system of guarantees and setting up safety mechanisms for the maintenance and observance of international peace. In practice it was aimed at overturning the past system featuring policies seeking to maintain a balance of powers and the preservation of zones of influence which resulted from the interplay of power politics and the furthering of national ambitions.

The system created as World war II ended and before the Cold War took hold has a conceptual structure based on the recognition and the legitimation of the sovereignty of member States. Inspired by Hans Kelsen’s legal doctrine, of a system of international law generated as from treaties, the resulting UN Charter has the following characteristics: ·

A series of crucial principles are spelt out so as to be respected by the members states: the equality of member states, respect for the territorial integrity of the members states, added to non-interference in the internal affairs of member states;

A collective security system is established under the responsibility of the Security Council which also acts as its guarantor. As such, the Security Council is the agency responsible for the adoption of measures involving the use of force should a breach or a threat to international peace be detected.

The principles of co-operation between the States, and peaceful conflict resolution are also singled out as crucial.

The San Francisco Charter does not forbid war, only the Security Council is empowered to authorise the use of military force, under its supervision so that the authorised measures constitute a programmed use of force. It was believed that these principles would make it possible to do away with the practices of power politics prevalent during the 19 th. century, as well as the the flaws of the Society of the Nations. The disrepute of the Society of Nations in the end was as glaringly obvious as its impotence, and these failures were seen as having triggered World War II

The idea was to put together a system of guarantees for great as well as for and small powers, accepting pluralism within what Franklin D. Roosevelt called "one world".

That "one world" was, as we know, disrupted by the attitude of the USSR. As from the Berlin crisis in 1948 the USSR boycotted the system deploying its veto in the Security Council, thus inaugurating the division of the international system into rival blocks. The strategic, political and economic antagonism of these rival blocks prevented the operation of the collective security system, (i.e. interventions of the USSR in Hungary, 1956, Czechoslovakia, 1968, and Afghanistan (1979) while the United States also intervened in the Lebanon, the Dominican Republic and Granada. The Vietnam war etc.)

The implosion of the Soviet Union and the break up of the communist block, again gave credence to the ideal that it would be possible to return to a system in which the UN Charter would be fully operational. When in March of 1991 the then President of the U.S.A., George Bush (father) announced the beginning of a new order, this new order was no other that the one envisaged by "the founding fathers of the United Nations".

However, what has actually happened does, by no stretch of the imagination, entail the reinstatement of the paradigms spelt out in the 1945 Charter. What we have witnessed instead is a watering down of its principles. Reality seems to be shifting away from what is legal towards another view, a view emerging from the policies of some of the UN’s main member nations. Some developments merit attention:

a) The USA in flexing its muscles as the only superpower, has gradually invested its policies with renewed nationalism. Accordingly, the USA’s definition of national interest appears to have acquired higher priority well above the global interest as defined by the Charter (i.e. refusal to accept he International Criminal Court, the Tokyo Agreements, and the absence of the US in several human rights conventions, etc.). This implicit submission of the mechanisms of security of the Charter to Washington’s policies and interests is startingly obvious in its dealings with Iraq.

b) the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, as used on several occasions, has a fragile moral foundation as well as being contrary to the Charter.

c) the recent pronouncements in favour of a preventive war, evoke the old order prior to 1945 which the UN Charter hoped to replace for all time.

That is to say, we are confronted with the repetition of policies that, in spite of invoking the Charter’s principles, could not be more contrary to the UN Charter .

In fact, the order established by the present international system is being deligitimised, given that it takes as its starting point a view which replicates the power politics of old, even down to resurrecting the notion of zones of influence, both of which remind humanity of a potent history of human tragedies that we thought belonged to the past. The Secretary General of the United Nations himself, at the time Javier Pérez de Cuéllar*, stated in 1991, during the Gulf War that it "was not a war of the United Nations" and that he himself "was not informed" of the military moves and policies and it was by no means a minor conflict inasmuch as it has been estimated that more firepower was used against Irak than that which resulted from the two atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

Whatever positions governments take, --diplomacy will comply, either because of prudence or expediency-- the peoples of Latin America are strongly attached to the principles set out in the United Nations Charter. This option responds to a set of ideals deeply rooted in Latin American political culture. Inter-American law is the result of a history of diplomatic struggles to secure non-interference in the internal affairs of each nation, of the struggle for independence and for sovereignty. Recently the Rio group issued a statement in support of UN rules when dealing with the case of Iraq in the Security Council, which is an extremely significant reminder of the way Latin American nations would prefer to see the uncertainties of the present world resolved.

Nothing can be more contrary to Latin American cultural history and values than the pretension to modify or ignore the marked desire for respect towards national sovereignty and independence. Indeed, the desire for this respect constitutes a political triumph whereby Latin American states have managed to impose these principles as rules in the region for now seventy years. These principles were not mere legal constructs assembled by diplomats. Instead, they were the outcome of a political understanding that responded to a deeply installed and widespread popular feeling. The defence of national sovereignties was the central issue of a long saga in the history of the Inter-American relations.

8. The points I have outlined on the changes under three headings- the NationState, the economy and the international system, raise challenges which involve, then, not only our social organisation but our culture and world vision.

These challenges are even starker for the destiny of Latin American nations, if, in addition, the technological revolution and the shifts to new paradigms are factored in, given their dominance of social reality.

Latin American public opinion is favourable to modernisation, to the improvement of productive efficiency via the challenge of an opened up market economy. Foreign investment and the incorporation of technological change are another part of the recent transformation which also enjoy wide popular approval.

Nevertheless, the process of globalisation faces reservations due to the asymmetric and hardly equitable features resulting from the integration to the markets. One of the most notable has been a speedy liberalisation for industrial products alongside an obstinate protectionism for the agricultural sector. This it is the least defensible, as well as the most disloyal and least equitable flank presented by the international process to establish rules of the game and principles providing order, because they hardly set up a level field for a world-wide economy.


Similarly, today modernising the State constitutes an axiomatic principle of the reforming process. However, this crucial feature cannot be construed to mean sacrificing of the role of the State as an interpreter and custodian of the common good as well as an active participant in any process of social cohesion given its historical weight in the formation of Latin America national identities from their input when building of the Nation-State.

The main international concern of Latin American nations is the perception emerging from the observation that some great powers are attempting to recover the role that they had prior to San Francisco Charter. It is a cherished Latin American belief that peace and security must be preserved as from the principles established in the UN Charter. Latin America certainly does not believe that peace and security will be salvaged by resorting to the old practices of intervention in the internal affairs of member states or resorting to military or political intimidation.

To affirm the respect for one another, for the plurality of cultures, to establish equitable and loyal rules for economic competition, to guarantee the enjoyment of the human rights, of civil liberties and democratic practices, to respect the rules of the San Francisco Charter are, for Latin America, the best milestones along the road towards international peace and security. Should Latin America stray away from these prudent principles, would be to repeat a history of wars and bloodbaths, to accept with fatalism Plautus’ statement centuries ago regarding man’s inhumanity to man. Transforming the enemy into an ethical threat is to transform international politics into an instrument of moral policing.

To accept the decay of the nation-state as beyond repair is perhaps to open the door to a new Middle Age, to social fragmentation or to the territorial dismemberment of countries subject to the greed of others.

To think that all conflicts can be resolved by the markets is to forget the praiseworthy role of politics in the onward march of social progress from Hammurabi’s Code which protected and provided rights for the weak and poor.

9. The change we are undergoing, known as globalisation, a term that is too banal, has spawned many analyses and value judgements, some with an optimistic prognosis, others are weighed down by negative predictions.

The idea of a global village proclaimed several decades ago, governed by democracy and a market economy, has been enthusiastically reviewed by F. Revel and Naipul as well as in general, by the economists who dominate the prevailing wisdom of financial organisations. The Washington Consensus resulted in a list of principles aimed at Good Government for a new era of progress.

F. Fukuyama, in his book "The End of History" announced the end of the "war of ideas" claiming we have reached the ideological end point of mankind’s evolution, i.e. "liberal democracy" as the final form of human government.

Samuel Huntington, in a less optimistic vein, thinks that as 19th century was the century of nations and the 20th was dominated by ideologies, holding that the 21st century will be the century of the intercultural conflicts. “The clash of ideas spawned by the West is being supplanted by an intercivilisational clash of culture and religion". Pierre Leluch predicted a war between the rich and the poor and Lester Thurow thought an economic war probable.

Without attempting to predict the future, I have preferred to concentrate my efforts today on factors that are modifying the political and the economic conditions determining the development of social life: the change in the conception of the role of the state and the emergence of computers, that is to say, the new technologies enabling the transmission of information.

These new realities affect two crucial features of modernity: the emergence of the Nation-State and the evolution of the communications from the invention of the printing press and, mainly, the invention of the portable book at the beginning of 16th Century At this moment in which we are journeying through a turning point in history, to recall Ortega again, in this time of uncertainty, for what my view may be worth, I call for a preservation the assets of our collective memory to remember that the greater threat is the arrogance of power so as to avoid what to me appears as Foucault’s frightful view: "Now life has come to be....a power object".

You, my British friends have waged a long fight for freedom which in turn liberated your thinkers as well as your men of action. What we are living through today is not the end of history as Francis Fukuyama says, it is the beginning of another history of, "the new series of centuries", prophesied by Virgil when the Empire was moving towards its close.

The future it is not what is going to happen, but what we make of it.

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