By:Michael Connors Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:Advisory Board
As countries across the globe face one of the direst economic outlooks since the Great Depression, leaders from around the world are looking for allies and coming up with completely new ways of conducting business. Latin American countries, in particular, have been undergoing a silent revolution over the last several years as many try and address the root causes of war and poverty, which are often inextricably linked. Thus, while South Americans are reinventing themselves, leadership in North America, and the U.S. in particular, is still focused inward, grappling with two wars and an ailing economy. But there is a growing sense that there may be a new beginning and revitalization of the North/South relationship. There is a golden moment at hand for the North and South in the Western Hemisphere to work together and begin dismantling the traditional legacy of corruption and war that has haunted so many South American countries. So, ultimate question might be: where is Latin America going?
Clearly, the instability that drives the region is a source of hesitation for investors and governments alike. Shell, for example, walked away from $4 billion of infrastructure in Venezuela to avoid working with Hugo Chavez. Yet there are also shining examples of progress, and perhaps no one personifies this drive towards reform and progress better than Alejandro Toledo, President of Peru from 2001 to 2006. An academic and small businessman, President Toledo came to prominence as a political opponent of President Alberto Fujimori. He came from a poor indiginous family and understands the plight of the South American poor. However, he is also an economist who grasps the benefits that a free market can bring. He acknowledges the history of corruption that makes progress impossible in many South American countries and is looking for a unified political approach to deal with the corruption and wealth inequities that impede social progress. Personally, I find the differences between Peru and Venezuela intriguing and during my interview with Dr. Toledo I asked him about the obvious rift between the free market leaders and the radical socialists like Chavez. He responded, “People around the world are asking me--what is happening with Latin America? Is it going left? Look at Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Raphael Correa in Ecuador. . . and on. I have too much respect for the left in Latin America to give Hugo Chavez the merit of being from the left.” “It is the time to sit at a round table and create a horizontal relationship between North and South America." - Alejandro Toledo
Toledo said, “If we do not confront the social issues like poverty, social exclusion, then who will try to confront the poverty issue by giving fish away instead of giving the poor the right to learn how to fish. That implies state policy that goes beyond the short term. At GCCD we’re trying to do leadership beyond politics: education, clean water, micro-credit for women, cash transfers and credits. The inter-hemispheric relationship is not being taken seriously enough. The richness of our partnership must go beyond just the Cuban issues: stranded democratic institutions and free Internet for the poor.”
Clearly, there will always be some component of social justice and equality when speaking about Latin America - it is simply a matter of degree. President Toledo believes that a nationalized economy will ultimately destroy any means of production because oftentimes regimes do not re-invest profits back into the infrastructure. We see this happening in Venezuela right now. Yet there is a balance between free market forces and making sure the indigenous populations and citizens of that country share in the wealth that is generated. What most concerns President Toledo is that there is not enough collaboration between North American and South American countries. He feels the U.S, for example, has disproportionately focused on European and Asian relationships. He encapsulates the importance of the North/South relationship thusly. “This may sound a little bit provocative but it needs to be said... The inter-hemispheric relationship is not being taken sufficiently seriously enough... The richness of our partnership demands us to move beyond the four issues of narco-trafficking, trade in Cuba, crime, and trade. It is time to redefine the components of our relationships between Latin America, the Caribbean and North America. We must continue with economic growth and pay attention to the social issues while at the same time be sensitive to the environment. . . It is the time to sit at a round table and create a horizontal relationship between North and South America.”
Perhaps it is this disparity of focus that brought President Toledo, and the leaders of 21 other countries to Colorado in July of 2010. The Biennial was a golden opportunity to give visibility and heightened respect to the important economic and social ties that bind the countries of the Western Hemisphere.
As a result of his unique perspective, Dr. Toledo founded the Global Center for Development and Democracy (GCDD). The GCDD is a collection of former Latin American leaders that has focused on a plan to help guide South America back on to a road to recovery. This group has dedicated itself to eradicating the financial and social inequities that consistently plunge Latin American countries into turmoil. What is needed, according to Toledo, is a stabilizing force that helps the poor. The roadmap to stability began in 2006 when Toledo called former Latin American heads of state and two former European presidents to help experts and academics draft the "Social Agenda for Democracy in Latin America for the Next 20 Years". The plan outlines 16 policy areas as a framework to reduce the region's destructive inequality and to make its political institutions more inclusive.
By partnering with former heads of state and pushing a single agenda, President Toledo hopes to guide Latin America towards a more hopeful future. Essentially, he has laid the groundwork for sustainable collaboration by organizing the former leaders of Latin America into a cohesive and powerful force that is driven by a single agenda.
Coupled with the innovation and resources available in North America, President Toledo therefore sees a much brighter future for the hemisphere as a whole. He said, “We’re trying to do leadership beyond politics. That means that we are making explicit public policy recommendations to sitting presidents, knowing that the benefits of these recommendations - education, sanitation and clean water, quality of education and energy for the poor - will not be seen in the short-term.”
According to Toledo, what is missing at this juncture is one key component - collaboration. He has a roadmap, but he simply needs more "passengers on the bus." Only by working together can leaders from both the North and South begin to deal with what is most important in Latin America. “At the heart of the political issues that have engulfed the region lies poverty. The simple fact is this, if a country is dominated by poverty and the wealth continues to be held primarily by a small minority, a middle class cannot flourish. And without a middle class, there is no hope for democracy. The poorest citizens will push for a socialized economic system that ravages the means of production. Venezuela is a prime example and one that strikes fear in the hearts of any serious observer,” Toledo remarked.
As countries like Peru continue to succeed based on a left-leaning social agenda guided by free market principles, there will be noticeable envy from Venezuelans who are trapped in a dictatorial system– leading, inevitably, to civil war.