Latin America: A continent that could surprise us

Latin America: A continent that could surprise us

Roberto Di Giovan Paolo | A professional journalist
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Latin America and its natural subcontinental connections are a world-class power in terms of economic, social and environmental aspects | All the insights on Latin America in the next issue of Oil 35

Las venas abiertas de America Latina, "Open Veins of Latin America" was the symbolic book written by intellectual, academic and "man of the street" Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, Catholic sought after by the military of Argentina and of his own country, who sublimated a story created from exploitation since the first hour, but also of revolutions thrown to the wind, of low, second-rate populism, and haughty indolence. The open veins of South America are still there, before our eyes, with a continent which, through its language, history and customs can certainly be associated with the subcontinent of Central America and become immensely large, in terms of size and culture, also adding Mexico, which is -  and this is sometimes hard to understand -  North America, as is the U.S. and Canada.

A world-class power

If, therefore, it is considered in terms of language, history, population, natural resources and mining, South America and its natural subcontinental connections are a world-class power in terms of economic, social and environmental aspects. If we then consider the symbolic value of a land that has external historic and symbolic cycles, which arose like a mirror of Europe and then had to fight it to gain independence when it was used only as an economic or material resource (even U.S. colonists tried to agree with their sovereign, the English crown, but, in the end, they strongly chose Independence, a similar story of "American" rebellion and pride), a reflection of what South America is today and what it may represent, especially in the future of the planet, is entirely consistent with the goals of vision and looking to the future that any ruling class, whether political, economic or social, should have.
Just to remind you, we are talking about a continent that, excluding Mexico and Central America for now, concerns over 370 million people over 18 million square kilometers, that is, approximately 13 percent of the emerged land, in a fragile situation at the border between conservation of the natural state and final transformation, not only in highly anthropized areas, but also highly environmentally polluted areas, as is often the case in some of the great urban agglomerations that formed in the final part of the twentieth century. The Open Veins of Latin America is also the book that Chavez gave to Barack Obama during the summit of the two Americas in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago, which both attended and which Chavez, who was already unwell at the time, hoped would guide the U.S. president to find a renewed relationship which, over the years, from common battles of independence, became first unbalanced from the economic point of view and then from the diplomatic doctrine of the U.S. "back yard" (Monroe Doctrine); finally, very conflicting according to the years of the presidents and economic or political and diplomatic positions at stake. It is unknown whether Obama read the book (perhaps being the model student he was and as a follower of Alinsky, he may have already done so as a youth in Chicago). The book is still more interesting nowadays than Chavez was really democratic and, in any case, it can be ruled out that President Trump will ever read the book, even only out of envy of his predecessor (which, moreover, as we know, he does not nurture).

South America is currently facing a series of economic, energy and environmental choices that will have long-term effects and which will be truly decisive in the confrontation – always present with the United States of America

The new course of the South American nations

Yet, it will be Trump himself who will have to deal with the new course of the South American nations which, following the era of dictatorship and "Operation Condor" have already gone through (sometimes unnecessarily, given the economic and social results) at least two phases in their history: that of the democratic "drunkenness", so to speak, namely, the return to governments elected by the people that did not necessarily stop the process of personalization and leadership in progress in South America, as throughout the world. Therefore, alongside charismatic - but certainly not elected – leaders, with specific use of "democracy", such as Fidel Castro as always, and Chavez, then we saw the alternation of the Kirchner spouses in Argentina, offspring of a subversive but Peronist history (the Montoneros), or the eternal candidate and then, finally, president, such as Lula in Brazil, or specific personalities, given greater foreign acknowledgement at the time in government than in the homeland, such as Mujica or Morales. This was followed by the phase of economic recovery which, while this was consolidated in Chile with the sober Presidency of the daughter of a "loyalist" general persecuted by Pinochet’s dictatorship, as is Bachelet, lasted for a few years before returning to the morass in Brazil, with the end of Lula’s second presidency and the move to the disputed and later overthrown Dilma Roussef. In the middle, there was a lengthy season when Brazil, along with other countries in the world that were once said to be "unaligned" such as India and the emerging Chinese economic power headed the so-called "BRICS" countries, along with South Africa’s difficult period after Mandela, and Russia, always looking to build new alliances. However, while the political crisis overwhelms one state or another (it is currently affecting Maduro’s Venezuela, who certainly does not compete with Chavez’s crudity, having many times highlighted it by putting the country’s real problems aside...) or improves the prospects of others, such as Colombia, which is attempting to gain a new economic and social role through its attempts with the peace process, after years of the FARC guerillas, South America is currently facing a series of economic, energy and environmental choices that will have long-term effects and which will be truly decisive in the confrontation – always present with the United States of America – with the Trump presidency which, being so unrefined in its diplomatic political ways, could at the same time promote and, in some ways, support, at least in order to give consistency to the fact that America comes first, even before one’s own "backyard".

The thorny climate issues

Environmental and sustainable development issues linked to the various Treaties, COP21 in Paris being the latest, despite not seeing the South American countries as the key players in diplomatic politics, find, in South America’s social, economic and environmental condition (as in Africa) a ground for testing the success of the objectives of the Treaties themselves. Only taking into account the territory of Latin America and the Caribbean: it goes from the coral reefs, seriously threatened by the rise in sea surface temperatures in the Amazon Region, which risks losing 43 percent of the 69 species of trees by the end of the twenty-first century, with a progressive advance of the savannah in the eastern part; while, in the less known, but no less important, Cerrado (region of the tropical savannah of Brazil), a loss of 24 percent of the 138 species of trees present is expected; heavy damage is added throughout the world, namely, the drastic decrease in cultivable land for coffee, while the dryness and sharp reduction of water resources threaten the territories as well as the extinction of the various types of mammals, birds, butterflies, frogs and reptiles by 2050. Then there are the energy risks due to the reduction in hydroelectric power production, if the glaciers drastically reduce, while, the current climate of the River Plate, which passes through the capital cities of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, among others, is threatened by the increase in thunderstorms and the rise in sea levels, without taking into account the greater vulnerability in less anthropized areas of phenomena such as El Nino-South Oscillation, which, every five years, has long been worsening in its harmful effects, often also affecting peripheral populations.
It can now be said that, along with Trump, these are phenomena read in a pessimistic and catastrophic way, but the question still remains, at the very least. There still remains a certain need for a better environmental balance in Latin America, as well as a better organization of the state and public administration; a growth of positive sustainable development actions and a census and use of natural and environmental resources (which also means precious minerals, refining materials and productions that favor the energy cycle), which would, perhaps, favor a more social and democratic market than the current one. A continental region less exposed to the highs and lows that raise the crowds due to temporary local or national caudillos, is perhaps the path that would transform a U.S. president who is so focused on the needs of his country, into a sort of new edition of Nixon, who negotiated with China at the time of the "Ping-pong diplomacy". Against a better and warier use of the economies, with a peaceful diplomatic relationship, perhaps even Trump would welcome Latin America, which, after the era of dictatorship and democratic drunkenness, with a market enthusiasm repressed by the global economic crisis, would chose a moderate path to democracy and sustainable development. It is, however, the only way to deal with poverty and at least build a rough middle class, which only Argentina has really known in its recent history.

The Pope currently speaks to the whole world and, speaking to his South American brothers, often invites them to become part of the world. It is a strategy that aims to avoid the "exception" and typical lament of the condition of exploitation from birth (true, but which cannot be a permanent excuse) that has for years plagued Latin American diplomacy and both high and low discourse.

The role of Pope Francis for South America

Along this path, perhaps, from a social and pastoral point of view, travelled a gentleman who, having come from Buenos Aires, plays a role for South America that often seems to be in the background of his origins, namely Pope Francis. From a South American Pope, many things could be expected, but the aplomb with which he always dealt with the events of his continent...moreover, these are no longer times of the "liberation theology", the controversy of which, from the doctrinal perspective, began even with Paul VI, albeit so open to the world post-’68 and strongly third-world as it was; it then continued with John Paul II, who could certainly not accept, in the name of faith, a choice for the poor that came to be proclaimed as an ideology: many will remember the “apertis verbis” reprimands in "mondovisione", having just descended from the plane to the theologian-priest and Nicaraguan Minister, Cardenal (whose brother was also a priest and Sandinista minister, and both were excommunicated until their readmission in 2014 ). The Pope currently speaks to the whole world and, speaking to his South American brothers, often invites them to become part of the world. It is a strategy that aims to avoid the "exception" and typical lament of the condition of exploitation from birth (true, but which cannot be a permanent excuse) that has for years plagued Latin American diplomacy and both high and low discourse.
However, he does not forget where he comes from: in September, he will be in Colombia, to seal the path of peace in that battered country and to talk about equality and respect for civil society – the Vatican is currently announcing – with a list of many meetings with NGOs (often of European filiation or cooperation) engaged in the area for renewing the agri-food sector and for sustainable economic development, or with the alternative or cooperative microcredit with the major international development and aid banks in the region.
It is no coincidence that those – from afar - perhaps have greater clarity on turning towards a continent that – as said – with Central America and Mexico is more than one continent; and that the economy and environmental and energy standards could become an unforeseen world balance. The veins of Latin America still remain open, but that book closed a secular history in 1986. It cannot be said that its epilogue cannot change.