In the complex situation we are currently experiencing, it is possible to identify some global trends of an economic, political, social, and cultural nature, as well as the characteristics they assume when they land in Latin America. The five global trends correspond to “the social” dimensions, understood in a broad sense. However, since no process is linear, we should think of the five trends as including expressions of resistance to their main dynamics.
The first global trend, in political terms, is the contested autocratization that Latin America is experiencing. Inexplicably, diplomatic and academic circles continue to repeat that there is a full Latin American democratic consensus. In practice, although there is a majority of republican governments, there is an inability to stop the rise of openly authoritarian regimes and to establish sanitary barriers or reverse the autocratization underway. This inter-American democratic consensus once came close to becoming a reality, but it was never fully realized, as autocracies, such as Cuba’s, always subsisted alongside low-quality democracies with authoritarian territorial and social enclaves.
We must recognize that in the continent today there is an autocratic ecosystem – with leftist governments such as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – but the possibility of right-wing illiberal governments with characters such as Nayib Bukele also seems to be established. These processes encounter the unequal but sustained resistance of diverse social and political actors, who struggle to preserve or conquer their right to have rights. In this sense, strengthening democratic governance and citizenship implies looking, analytically and practically, at those actors who resist these processes in Latin America.
The second trend, from the economic point of view, is the strengthening of capitalism as a mode of production or economic system. Although capitalism appears as an indisputable reality, this does not mean that it cannot accompany the end of the human species due to the exhaustion of the planet. However, today there are no alternative modes of production, distribution, and consumption to capitalism. In Latin America, this leads us to discuss what variants of capitalism or, more specifically, what modes of regulation of capitalism we use within our countries. And it leads us to critically review those sometimes vague references – neoliberalism and progressivism – which are expressed as sets of economic policies, public policies, and also ideological debates.
The third trend is an accelerated process of geopolitical de-globalization, with powers disputing global and regional hegemony and forming power blocs around themselves and against other alliances. For Latin America, this means challenging the idea of the region as a zone of peace, sold by bodies such as CELAC. It is true that the continent has not had any major interstate disputes for decades – except for conflicts such as Peru-Ecuador in 1997, the Falklands in the 1980s, and the clashes in Central America – and that we do not have a dislocation of nuclear weapons. But the competition of great powers and their development models, as well as the influence of extra-continental political regimes – especially China and to a lesser extent Russia – and of non-state actors – mafias, terrorist networks, etc. – with the capacity to influence national dynamics, challenge the notion of peace in a strong, broad, and multidimensional sense.
In this direction, we must remember that Latin America is a region that has historically been constituted as a continent of republics. We have always combined democratic and oligarchic, popular and elitist traits; but we must also recognize that we were the first region in the world composed of nation-states where the republican form of government – with its constitutions and elections – was predominant. With exceptions such as the Brazilian monarchy and before the disappearance of the Empires in Europe at the end of the First World War. Thus, there are a series of identity elements of our history and political organization as national communities that differ from other states and societies such as, for example, China, Russia or Iran.
A fourth trend is a sociocultural globalization. Although globalization has been revised at the level of political and economic blocs, it seems inevitable to understand that there is a globalization of identities, values, and consumption that makes, for example, Latin American youths much more similar to Asian youths than to their own parents. This globalization represents a challenge for Latin America since there is a social diversity that is struggling to be recognized. This occurs by appealing to a profusion of the exercise of rights – which is happening today with youth in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – that impacts the capacity of established institutions to include and respond to these growing demands of social diversity. With States with limited capacities, stagnant economies, and more heterogeneous and vocal societies, there are tensions in responding to these social demands in terms of public policies and the recognition and construction of citizenship.
The last trend – but not the least important, if not the decisive one – is the environmental deterioration that heralds climate change with the possibility of no return. In a megadiverse Latin America, with outstanding countries such as Brazil and Colombia, we still do not know – or even consider – how to achieve inclusive development with environmental protection. In this and previous areas, the great challenges, epistemic, scientific, and political, combine both in the intrinsic complexity of the problem and in the limited capacity of Latin American states to face them effectively today.
*Summarized version of the speech delivered at the International Seminar “Colombia and Latin America in a Changing World: International Relations, Ethics, and Democracy”.
Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva