Latin America and the Caribbean: The same but different

I’m writing a paper at the moment for my Political and Economic Development in Latin America class about the Latin American and Caribbean responses to neoliberalism. I’m pretty into it, I can’t lie…

The thing is this: It’s been claimed by some that Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole has been going through a transformative moment of late, turning away from neoliberalism and the economic costs it has imposed on the region, to bring into fruition a new model of development that is more attentive to the social needs of the region’s population: to reducing inequality, poverty, and enhancing sustainability.

Two issues arise in response to this claim: To what extent is there really a turn away from neoliberalism in Latin America? Yes, there have been leaders and parties elected on more populist mandates in recent years. There has been more talk of equality, of inward-oriented development and of south-south cooperation and integration as a counter-strategy. But does this truly constitute a “transformation” as some have claimed?

There is indeed a lot of talk of creating expanded development policy space and independence within the region. But how much is rhetoric, and how much reality? To the extent that there is a genuine commitment by certain leaders to move in this direction, is it realistic? This is one issue.

The second issue is where there are steps that could be construed as taking Latin America in an anti-neoliberal direction, is this also being seen in the Caribbean? My sense, having lived in the latter region, and being privy to some of the economic developments of late, is that (for better or worse) the Caribbean is being wrongly lumped in this category along with the South and Central American nations.

If anything, it seems to me the Caribbean is becoming ever more dependent, ever more incapable of making development-oriented economic maneuvers.  This can be seen in, for example, the contrast between the “gun to the head” lead-up to the Caribbean’s signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement trade deal with Europe in 2008 and Latin America’s dealings this month with Europe on the subject of a trade deal, where LatAm has been able to exercise much more autonomy and clout in negotiations. It is also evident in how one of the major pillars of the economy in numerous Caribbean countries, financial services, faces being wiped out all together thanks to clampdowns by OECD countries, themselves clamouring for revenue after being weakened by financial crises brought about by one of their own. It is seen today, with news that Jamaica, its debt now standing at 140% of GDP, leaving just 20% of government spending for development priorities such as education and health, is taking further painful and counter-productive austerity measures  to obtain another loan from the IMF. Its financial position, between a rock and a hard place, is arguably the result of economic mismanagement by successive governments, in conjunction with the unforgiving and opportunistic advances of neoliberal international financial institutions. It leaves Jamaica, a potential leader in the Caribbean, enfeebled and distracted, fighting economic/fiscal fires.

You have not heard the same sort of declarations being made by Caribbean leaders about defending national development space, integrating for economic independence and taking bold steps to reduce inequality and poverty as have been heard at various times in recent years from Latin American leaders. The Caribbean’s only radically leftist country, Cuba, is (very slowly) being forced to move away from this model, rather than consolidating it (economic mismanagement again playing a role, but with the caveat that the full potential of the model in itself was never given a chance, since it has taken place in the context of the embargo since the start). Significantly, continued neoliberal oppression in the form of the US embargo against Cuba has also played a major role in the inability of the Caribbean to fully integrate in the way that Latin American countries can consider doing as a neoliberal response strategy, since the political and economic implications of the US embargo limits full Caribbean interaction with Cuba, the largest island in the region by population.

This is my sense of the reality, despite continued claims to the contrary. The Caribbean is not heading in the same direction as Latin America, and to suggest that it is is to obscure a situation which needs to be recognised and addressed. I’m hoping I can use this paper to bring out evidence for this argument. I think that factors such as later independence, the total decimation of the indigenous population in the Caribbean, sugar-cane cultivation and single-commodity dependence, much higher levels of outward migration and the relative lack of a proletariat in the Caribbean when compared to Latin America, might all be important. Or they might not. Let’s see if I can figure this out, or at least convince someone I have 😉

I leave you with a song I’ve been listening to this morning from the Tribalistas (de Brasil). Try not to feel happy.

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Posted on February 12, 2013, in Global Finance Trade and Economic Integration, Josef Korbel School of International Studies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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