A Torn World – The Latin-American Apartheid

Foto: sxc.hu

Governments, international and regional financial organisms, NGOs, social surveys and even the countries that make the top world players, all coincide in the belief that one of the major challenges our world has to face in the 21st century is putting an end to the worldwide skyrocketing poverty.

How did the expression “Global Apartheid”, a clear reference to the South-African regime, gain a sad but true universal value, being coined as a metaphor for the inequity of our historical times? The consensus of all these entities in regard to the alarmingly high poverty which not only threatens to but has already outran all the limits of governability and social risk, is based on a clear and straightforward situation – the fact that nowadays millions of people find themselves in the incapacity of covering their basic needs and have no chance of benefiting from the technological achievements nor from any other opportunity that social development can bring along .

The dynamics of the end of century have clearly divided the world into progress and retreat zones, turning the Global Apartheid into a reality to be found not only at a global level but also within national entities, within regions, within continents, transforming the gap between the rich and the poor in a dramatic social breach. During my studies of IR, I found interesting the way Marxist analysis came in and scrutinized the disruptions caused by the division of the world in “cores” and “peripheries”, raising questions regarding the benefits of current neo-liberalist approaches on the subject. However, both approaches are certainly providing food for thought and should be analyzed as such.

According to the Marxist principles, the “cores” are the consequence of historical circumstances that allowed the establishment, in certain parts of the world, of capitalistic hegemonies. From the Marxist point of view, the bourgeoisie and the hegemonic State are two inseparable concepts, which can only be separated by the so-called liberalist ideology, who ventures in a discourse on capitalism leaving the State aside.

On the other side, the “peripheries” are invariably defined by making use of negative terms, as they represent regions which have not established themselves as cores of global capitalism. The peripheries are countries and regions that don’t have the inner control over the process of accumulation of material riches and therefore experience strong intervention from outside. The Marxists question the chances of these peripheries crystallizing into new centers, as globalization has set as a goal to offer these countries the opportunities they need in order to integrate themselves in the global system and reach the “core”. From this viewpoint, Marx’ strong belief was that there is no progress for subdued countries as long as they remain under imperialist domination .

Notwithstanding the power rendered to societies by the acceleration of industrialization processes or information and technology revolutions, these courses of action haven’t proved beneficial for a great number of underdeveloped countries, who don’t have the financial means for accessing new technologies. Hence the social exclusion, derived from the ever decreasing measure in which some people are allowed the access to basic rights and to opportunities that could have a positive effect on their economic level.

In support of this idea, the Marxist theory reckons that the new forms of monopolistic domination of the core over the rest of the system, traits of the neo-liberal globalization moment that the world is undergoing, are acting quite in the opposite direction, fostering polarization and inequity on a global level .

We are currently experiencing a battle which can be boiled down to a struggle between the rich and the poor, which, taken into consideration the historical precedents that the world has been confronted with, can set a dangerous framework for the future .

A brief analysis of history comes to bolster this dramatic reality. In the French Revolution of 1789, the political power of the king, the feudal lords and the Church, was replaced by a state run by representatives of merchants and manufacturers, while in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the state of the czar, which had been combined with basic elements of Russia’s young capitalist class, was replaced by a state based on the power of workers, soldiers and peasants. For this reason, Latin America represents a fascinatingly true and up to date example of this theory, since nowhere was the question of revolution posed more harshly than in Latin America, who finds itself in an ongoing left-shift process.

At present, Latin America is one of the world regions characterized by a constantly low economic development index, which condemns millions of people to poor life conditions. According to recent CEPAL and BID surveys, Latin America is catalogued as the region with the biggest inequalities in the income-distribution in the world, a situation that reflects itself on the existence of 200 to 350 million poor people .

Consequently, Latin America experiences different facets of social exclusion. The first one resides in the marginalization and in the social and land inequity, which is closely linked to the unequal repartition of land .

Secondly, women and children seem to be the weakest points of the social framework derived of poverty, since in Latin America women make up for 70 percent of the poor population, 40 percent of children come from single-parent families and most of them lack proper education and nutrition.

Thirdly, the working conditions are less than precarious, with more than 350 million children aged between 5 and 14 working in poor countries . Over 40 percent of minors abandon their studies in favor of work, which is alarming especially taking into consideration the fact that education is the fundamental element for accelerating economic growth and reducing the social gaps. Moreover, the situation of indigenous people is also a delicate one, due to the generations-long delimitation between ethnic groups and the fact that usually these ethnic groups were the last to benefit from social and technological changes.

Using Marx’ theories related to core and peripheries as an anchor point, current adepts of Marx’ theories draw the parallel of Great Britain and its allegedly negative influence on India’s development to analyze the relation between Latin America and the United States.

Between 1935 and 1950, Latin America’s economy was growing at 4.5 percent per year, measured as GDP, which, given the increase in population, showed a modest growth of 2.5 percent GDP per capita . At that point, Latin American leaders were eager for fast growth and, coinciding with US’ efforts of implementing Marshall Plan for reconstructing Europe economically, Latin America was complaining more about the lack of US investments in their part of world rather than about the US penetration in their economies.

However, US’ intervention in Latin America was merely beginning . Also, as the result of the intense intervention of US across the continent, the emerging capitalist classes of Latin America developed in a strong relation of dependence on US capital, as economies were oriented toward exporting raw materials for use in US, governments were oriented toward protecting their relationship with US capital and the reliance on US military support, training and intervention was also at a peak.

However, starting the late 1980s there was a change in the pattern of US intervention in Latin America, which, from the Marxist point of view, would imply a change in the tools used by the hegemonic US in order to exploit the Latin American countries. This consists in making use of the neo-liberal forms of dominance, such as financial organizations such as IMF and World Bank or supra-state institutions like NATO . Moreover, US pushed a number of trade agreements designed to facilitate the restructuring, such as NAFTA , and is aiming at a continent-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas.

From the Marxist point of view, WTO was established with the well-defined purpose of reinforcing and legitimizing the advantages of world powers, who claim their right to “free trade and unhindered access to the market” only in regard to the rest of the world, showing eagerness in protecting their own interests, when necessary. From this point of view, the most notorious example is the scandal of pharmaceutical companies who denied the right of poor countries to produce cheaper medicines that could save millions of lives. This only comes to bolster the Marxist opinion that world powers exclusively mind their own interests.

Moreover, in relation to Latin America, Marxists consider that some of the alleged socialist-governments are just softening the past neoliberal policies and keeping their countries within the IMF and World Bank economic orbits, as they all have made assurances of “responsible” government to the US elite.

From an inside point of view, the former Mexican Foreign Minister Castañeda reckons that the left shift of Latin America is partly justified by the people’s distrust of capitalism and policies that derive from it, which up to the present point haven’t proved their efficacy in making their life better.

On an overall perspective, the Marxist approach and the left-turn that Latin-America is currently ongoing reflects a legitimate trend of opposing the current negative state of things and the attempt of inducing a change to the present situation. The case of Latin-American countries was chosen as center of this analysis since it encompasses the attempt of providing a viable solution to the poverty affecting the region and is trying, making use of 21st century-adapted socialist principles, to come up with a mix of Neoliberal and Marxist principles to support the Third World’s right to a fresh start.

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