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Why Latin America calls on philosophers – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

28 Mar

Santiago Zabala discusses philosophy, Latin America and Socialist Democratic governments

Why Latin America calls on philosophers – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

Barcelona, Spain – I just returned from the sixth International Forum of Philosophy in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where philosophers from four continents were invited to discuss “State, Revolution and the Construction of Hegemony”. The event was inaugurated by the vice-presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia, televised by several channels, and on the last day, a prize of $150,000 was awarded to the best book presented within the Libertador Award for Critical Thinking of 2011.

Similar to the World Social Forum of Brazil, both the prize and forum aim to reflect not only upon the social progress that characterises these nations, but also the progress taking place in rest of the world; this is why only thinkers whose position is essentially leftist are invited, that is, those in the service of the weak, marginalised, and oppressed sectors of society.

Regardless of how effective the conference’s statement is on the governors that read it, what is interesting for us – European academics – is the institutional significance that is given to philosophy in the region. Is there a philosophy conference or forum in the United States or EU where vice-presidents take time to inaugurate a similar event?

The attendees might have all been progressive socialists (or even Marxists in some cases) and therefore have found from the start a certain sympathy from these democratically elected politicians (in Latin America, only Honduras does not have a democratically elected government), but our Western neoliberal governors do not promote similar conferences for their preferred intellectuals. We can only dream that the vice-presidents of Italy or Canada would finance a similar conference for 50 philosophers to reflect upon their policies. Perhaps the day will come, but in the meantime, we must ask ourselves what this Latin American forum tells us about the relation between philosophy and government.

Before exploring this relation, it is necessary to remember that most Latin American countries today are governed by socialist governments whose main objective is to elevate from poverty those citizens that were discarded by the neoliberal (and in some cases dictatorial) states that ruled the region in the past. This is why for more than a decade now, such renowned progressive intellectuals as Noam Chomsky, and many others have been endorsing Chavez, Morales, and other democratically elected presidents for their social programmes and economic independence from the IMF.

But despite the social progress (since 2003, extreme poverty has been reduced by 72 per cent in Venezuela), ecological initiatives (Morales has been declared the “World Hero of Mother Earth” by the president of the United Nations General Assembly), and economic efficiency (unlike the EU, Latin American economies will grow by 4.7 per cent in 2012) of these governments, a campaign of hatred and disinformation has been taking place throughout our Western media in order to discredit these achievements.

Perhaps, as Oliver Stone pointed out in his brilliant documentary South of the Border, this campaign is a symptom of fear that citizens in the West might also begin to demand similar policies. After all, while in Europe we are cutting social services following the European Central Bank demands, Latin American states are increasing them, just as so many western protesters (“indignados”, Occupy Wall Street, and other courageous movements) demand.

These Latin American countries are not calling philosophers to obtain from them rational justifications or hoping that some of us write propaganda articles for their policies. Rather, they are showing their awareness that history has not ended. I’m referring here to Francis Fukuyama’s famous theory of “the end of history” (“liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government broadly accepted”), which has now been assimilated, if not completely incorporated, by our capitalist culture.

But history in Latin America has neither ended nor started anew. It’s simply proceeding as an alternate to our capitalist logic of economic enrichment, technological progress and cultural superiority. The Latin American countries do not aim to dominate others, but simply to evoke those whom Walter Benjamin called the “losers of history”, that is, the ones who have not succeeded within our neoliberal democratic system. These unsuccessful “shareholders” are represented not only by underprivileged citizens, but also by underdeveloped nations and continents. In this condition, philosophy is called upon to think historically – that is, to maintain living history. But how?

As an interpretative discipline determined to question the (cultural, scientific or political) foundations of thought, philosophy is obligated to remain unsatisfied, that is, to always search for alternative models, possibilities and histories. These alternatives are what keep history alive, that is, maintain the possibilities of greater freedom, wider democracy and alternative systems. In order to achieve this, the organisers of the forum decided to follow the hermeneutic principle of dialogue, that is, the conversation where truth becomes a constant exchange of different views: In a sincere dialogue, none of the interlocutors know beforehand the definitive truth or where the discussion will lead; instead, they are led by the conversation.

Thus, the 50 participants of the forum were divided into separate groups, and the different themes of the conference were discussed openly from each philosophical position. A statement resulted from each group, and these are now been delivered to the governors of Venezuela in order to encourage them to continue and improve the social progress they’ve already achieved. I’m sure not all our propositions and analysis will be welcome or applied, but the fact that national political leaders requested such gatherings for over a decade now indicates the significance they attribute to philosophy for the well-being of the state.

Despite the fact we were all invited to this forum because of our sympathies for contemporary Latin American policies, the organisers knew very well that our different philosophical positions would enrich rather than damage the discussion. In sum, Latin America calls philosophers, as the late Richard Rorty used to say, “to continue the conversation” because its politicians are honest enough to recognise that history has not ended with their socialist democratic form of government.

Santiago Zabala is ICREA Research Professor at the University of Barcelona. His books include The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy (2008), The Remains of Being (2009), and most recently, Hermeneutic Communism (2011, co-authored with Gianni Vattimo), all published by Columbia University Press. His webpage is

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


Green Go!!! Latin America’s path to independence

7 Apr

This is old news, however I wanted to post it since I believe it did not received the appropriate coverage on mainstream media. While the whole world was still shocked about the Haiti earthquake the Latin American states were giving important steps into regional independence. Finally!

As a strong believer in a Latin American union with its own interest, agenda, and especially economic policies designed for the benefit of Latin American citizens instead of multinationals, this has been the most exiting news for Latinoamérica in 2010.

Latin America’s path to independence

With the creation of a new regional organisation, Latin America is emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda

Mark Weisbrot

Latin America took another historic step forward this week with the creation of a new regional organisation of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The United States and Canada were excluded.

The increasing independence of Latin America has been one of the most important geopolitical changes over the last decade, affecting not only the region but the rest of the world as well. For example, Brazil has publicly supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium and opposed further sanctions against the country. Latin America, once under the control of the United States, is increasingly emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda.

The Obama administration’s continuation of former President Bush’s policies in the region undoubtedly helped spur the creation of this new organisation, provisionally named the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Most importantly, the Obama team’s ambivalence toward the military coup that overthrew the democratic government of President Mel Zelaya in Honduras last summer provoked deep resentment and distrust throughout the region.

Although the Obama administration was officially against the coup, numerous actions from day one – including the first White House statement that failed to condemn the coup when it happened – made it clear in the diplomatic world that its real position was something different. The last straw came in November 2009 when the Obama administration brokered a deal for the return of Zelaya, and then joined the dictatorship in reneging on it. Washington then stood against the vast majority of the region in supporting the November elections for a new president under the dictatorship, which had systematically repressed the basic rights and civil liberties necessary to an electoral campaign.

Arturo Valenzuela, the US state department’s top official for Latin America, said that the new organisation “should not be an effort that would replace the OAS [Organisation of American States]”.

The differences underlying the need for a new organisation were clear in the statements and declarations that took place in the Unity Summit, held in Cancun from 22-23 February. The summit issued a strong statement backing Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Malvinas (as they are called in Argentina) or Falklands Islands. The dispute, which dates back to the 19th century and led to a war in 1982, has become more prominent lately as the UK has unilaterally decided to explore for oil offshore the islands. President Lula da Silva of Brazil called for the United Nations to take a more active role in resolving the dispute. And the summit condemned the US embargo against Cuba.

These and other measures would be difficult or impossible to pass in the OAS. Furthermore, the OAS has long been manipulated by the United States, as from 2000 when it was used to help build support for the coup that overthrew Haiti’s elected president. And most recently, the US and Canada blocked the OAS from taking stronger measures against the Honduran dictatorship last year.

Meanwhile, in Washington foreign policy circles, it is getting increasingly more difficult to maintain the worn-out fiction that the US’s differences with the region are a legacy of President Bush’s “lack of involvement,” or to blame a few leftist trouble-makers like Bolivia, Nicaragua, and of course the dreaded Venezuela. It seems to have gone unnoticed that Brazil has taken the same positions as Venezuela and Bolivia on Iran and other foreign policy issues, and has strongly supported Chávez. Perhaps the leadership of Mexico – a rightwing government that was one of the Bush administration’s few allies in the region – in establishing this new organisation will stimulate some rethinking.

There are structural reasons for this process of increasing independence to continue, even if – and this is not on the horizon – a new government in Washington were to someday move away from its cold war redux approach to the region. The US has become increasingly less important as a trading partner for the region, especially since the recent recession as our trade deficit has shrunk. The region also increasingly has other sources of investment capital. The collapse of the IMF’s creditors’ cartel in the region has also eliminated the most important avenue of Washington’s influence.

The new organisation is sorely needed. The Honduran coup was a threat to democracy in the entire region, as it encouraged other rightwing militaries and their allies to think that they might drag Latin America back to the days when the local elite, with Washington’s help, could overturn the will of the electorate. An organisation without the US and Canada will be more capable of defending democracy, as well as economic and social progress in the region when it is under attack. It will also have a positive influence in helping to create a more multipolar world internationally.