Atacama is a cool and arid region that occupies a continuous strip for about 1,000km along the coast of the northern third of Chile, reaching as far as the Peruvian border in the north. As the driest desert zone on Earth, it is a good metaphor to describe Latin America’s current dry spell of influential ideas and political appeal.
What do the two dozen countries which make up Latin America have in common? Arguably, they have been the vanguard of different historic movements at various moments of their 200-year histories as national units.
But these creative revolutionary times are now gone.
Many of the practices now associated with modern-day diplomacy and international law were pioneered and put into practice in Latin America already in the second half of the 1800s.
Take the concept of multilateralism, which soon became a fundamental principle for each and every diplomatic corps from the region. The full mastery of legal techniques and codes was then perceived to be one of the strengths of Latin American representatives, especially when they joined high-profile international conferences.
The principle of “diplomatic asylum”, for example, has found a fertile ground in Latin America, having been transformed into one of our proudest traditions.
Yet Latin American thought would actually come of age in the course of the 20th century. An exquisite group of economic thinkers - from Argentine Raul Prebisch to Brazilians Celso Furtado and Fernando Cardoso and Chilean Enzo Faletto - has been responsible for crafting the theory of dependency and most of its intellectual derivatives.
As a school of thought, it has revolutionised the field known today as developmental economics and highly influenced the doctrines applied by a diversity of presidents and ministers, bankers and chief economists. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America is still dominated by such thinking.
In 20th-century literature, the magical realism genre was dominated by Latin American literary giants such as Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cuba’s Alejo Carpentier, Mexico’sJuan Rulfo and Carlos Fuentes, Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa, Uruguay’s Horacio Quiroga, and Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, among others. Beside being awarded Nobel and other literary prizes, this group of literary stars dictated the tendencies in the world of arts and culture. For some time, they were the ones to be watched, followed and liked.
Latin America had a lot to contribute to some negative political trends, too.
In the realm of economics, the experts of neo-developmentalism engage in fierce battles against neoliberal enthusiasts in the pursuit of ascendancy.
Indeed, Latin America has contributed an innovative set of social policies to fight illiteracy, bad healthcare, chronic hunger and extreme poverty lately. But even these successful moves are now under jeopardy, since the political mood in the region is presently averse to investments aimed at rescuing the most impoverished and vulnerable ones from marginalisation. In the name of fiscal austerity and other ideas which used to be fashionable in the 1980s and 1990s, many good administrative practices are being abandoned.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Latin America: A desert of new ideas’.