Celso Amorim: It's Time for a Fresh Start

Americas Quarterly, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Celso Amorim: It's Time for a Fresh Start


UNITED STATES POLICIES TOWARD THE region have oscillated between activism and aloofness. In both cases, the perception of U.S. attitudes has given rise to criticism in Latin America and the Caribbean.

If the U.S. seems too involved, chances are that many observers will accuse Washington of unduly interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries.

If the U.S.-consciously or not-turns its back on the region, there will be people complaining that the U.S. government is indifferent to the fate of its neighbors. "They don't care" is the predictable expression of disappointment that will be heard in some quarters.

Herein lies the next U.S. president's dilemma: how to avoid the trap of being forced to choose between the Scylla of interventionism and the Charybdis of neglect. Striking a balance to escape from this dilemma is one of the great challenges facing the future incumbent of the White House, as far as U.S. diplomacy in the Americas is concerned.

A proper understanding of the region should be paramount. The Americas today is a diverse, heterogeneous and hard-to-define mixture of different regions, countries, cultures, and societies, all searching for their place in a fast-changing, globalized world. Even the term Latin America may turn out to be misleading if it does not include the Caribbean or fails to acknowledge the many ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities of our region.

For some U.S. policymakers, not well acquainted with the region, this diversity looks like a conundrum of intractable proportions. Others seek reassurance by relying upon awkward generalizations about "Latins south of the border." In reality, the picture is much more intricate. Apart from often being offensive, generalizations are, in the end, detrimental to sound policy.

In this article, I will confine myself to Brazil's closest neighborhood: South America.

If we examine it closely, we see a whole continent trying to transform itself. "Change" is the name of the game for millions of people who rightfully feel they have been excluded from the benefits of progress. Elite-dominated politics is no longer tolerated. In some countries, the stakes are so high that calling it "social revolution" could perhaps be more appropriate.

Governments elected by popular vote, however, are confronted with numerous hurdles on the path to development. History has bequeathed to the region a complex array of deep-rooted economic and social inequalities that are extremely difficult to surmount. Accommodating old grievances with the rise of new political forces has always been a painful process everywhere. South America is no different.

In this context, the establishment of the Union of South American Nations (Unasul in Portuguese) in May 2008 might well be seen as a historic breakthrough. This new regional entity aims at strengthening the political dimension of an all-encompassing integration effort already under way. Trade agreements foster closer economic relations. Investments in transport and communications unite populations across borders. A rich agenda for integration has brought effective results in the fields of social policy, health, education, culture and the environment, among others. Rarely has so much been done in such a short period of time. South American presidents meet regularly and coordinate more closely than they ever have in the past.

Integration is actually the key for a future of peace, stability, democracy, and development with social justice. To achieve this goal more fully, we must confront tensions and avert divisive conflicts. Peaceful settlements must be encouraged by making full use of established multilateral fora or available institutional mechanisms. Brazil has been playing an active role in forging unity in ways that give due consideration to regional asymmetries and to each country's specific reality. …

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