Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Crossing Cultural Frontiers

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Crossing Cultural Frontiers

Article excerpt

A century ago the republics of the Americas were separated by geography as much as they were united by it. In the late nineteenth century, travel within the same country was in many cases still something of an adventure. And except for migrants from Europe in search of freedom and a better life, international travel was relatively rare. Regional contacts were few and time-consuming. The Washington conference that created the International Union of American Republics in 1890 lasted twelve months.

Today geographic and cultural distances are shrinking under the impact of a veritable explosion of contacts. Not only have jet aircraft and trucks accelerated the pace once set by canals, ocean liners and railroads, but electronics can now project sounds and images everywhere, instantaneously, and seemingly without effort. The flow of information has suddenly become so rapid that events are thrust upon us faster than we can assign them meaning.

And today's chain events are fueling future transformations. It is undoubtedly safe to say that the growing commercial, cultural and human interchanges that now characterize our Hemisphere are limited in comparison to what lies ahead.

Just in our own lifetimes, the Caribbean states have won their independence and the Latin American states have shed their caudillos. Both the end of colonialism and the fall of personalist dictators have facilitated regional cooperation. With a time lapse for incredulity, these fundamental changes are having an impact in the United States as well. As the smoke of conflict in Central America has begun to clear, many in the United States have begun to realize that something special is happening in the Hemisphere--that political systems may no longer be mutually incompatible, that the Americas need no longer be torn apart by competing economic interests between north and south, and that common global interests in industrialization and agriculture may now be cultivated.

These perceptions are what have made possible U.S. President George Bush's long term proposal for the Hemisphere, the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative. We often reduce the President's initiative to the bureaucratic alphabet soup of "EAI." It is, however, a proposal based on an optimistic and futuristic vision of the Americas. At its heart is an instinct that, over the next generation, our increasing intimacy can be turned to mutual advantage.

The EAI is, in its specifics, a catalyst for trade and reform. It is neither a traditional aid program nor a refurbished Alliance for Progress. Such programs depended heavily on transfers of financial resources from one government to another. The EAI, rather, is best understood as a belief on the part of the President of the United States that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have reached a stage in their development, democratization, and international relations which should enable them to assume an increasingly competitive and productive role in the world economy.

Just as importantly, the EAI is a regional initiative with a global objective. It is not an attempt to create a new and exlusive club. Rather, it seeks to use the combined weight and negotiating power of the Western Hemisphere on the world stage to keep markets open and to prevent the consolidation of a protectionist Europe or a protectionist Asia. …

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