Latin America’s Double Dependence
Latin America is gradually losing influence in world affairs and seems destined to increasingly diverge intra-regionally. The first fact leads to weakness and the second to fragmentation: the mix of weakness and fragmentation worsens its dependence. Some indicators, among many others, exemplify this reality. By 1945, when the United Nations was created, the weight of the regional vote was significant. Of the initial 51 members, 20 were from Latin America.
Currently, there are 193 countries and the disparity of the region’s voting reduces even more the leverage of Latin America as a bloc. According to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the region’s participation in total world exports was 12% in 1955; by 2016 it fell to 6%. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2006 the new patents originated in Latin America were 3% (those from Asia were 49.7%) of the total, while in 2016 it dropped to 2% (those from Asia increased to 64.6%).
Reports from the World Bank show that spending on research and development as a percentage of GDP reached 0.6% for Latin America in 2000 (for East Asia and the Pacific it was 2.25%) and grew only to 0.7% in 2014 (for East Asia and the Pacific it was 2.49%). Global Firepower created an index of military power with 55 factors. By 2006, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina occupied, respectively, the 8th, 19th and 33rd position. By 2018 the ranking is Brazil 14, Mexico 32, and Argentina 37. The Soft Power index developed by the University of Southern California and Portland Consultancy placed Brazil 23rd in 2015, 24th in 2016 and 29th in 2017. Even after the unprecedented rise of commodity prices during a significant part of the 2000s that generated an economic boom in the area, 8 Latin American countries are among the 10 most unequal nations according to an index of the World Bank: Haiti (2), Honduras (3), Colombia (4), Brazil (5), Panama (6), Chile (7), Costa Rica (9), and Mexico (10).
In turn, integration initiatives of different kinds are in sharp decline. A mixture of stagnation, discouragement, and fragility characterized today—and the foreseeable future–the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile), the Venezuelan-inspired Bolivarian Alliance of the People of Our America (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) created in 2011, and Brazilian-promoted Union of South America Nations (UNASUR).
During the “pink tide” of center-left governments, the spirit in favor of more association and stronger collaboration clashed with the limitations of each internal project. The financial crisis that erupted in 2008 showed that domestic and isolated alternatives prevailed over regional joint options to handle the effect of the Great Recession. Exogenous dynamics such as the rise of China reinforced the de-industrialization of the economies, as well as the incentives to look for particular, individual shortcuts to manage relations vis-à-vis Beijing.
Now, with the mix of a “neoliberal wave” of right-wing governments and a Trump administration willing to regenerate the obsolete Monroe Doctrine there is an eloquent disinterest in collective action and the preference for unilateral accommodation. The end result has been declining regional integration and a commitment to the logic of “every one for himself,” something that dramatically diminishes Latin America autonomy vis-à-vis stronger counterparts.
Thus, weakening and fragmentation lead to greater external dependence, whether from a global declining power such as the United States or a rising power such as China. This double dependence is reflected in multiple arenas: the economy, technology, the military and the diplomatic. Unfortunately, the strategic corollary of this is the lasting irrelevance of Latin America in world politics. This phenomenon may tempt Washington and Beijing to locate the region as a relatively important battlefield for their hegemonic contest.