South America

812 1024 Dominique de Villepin

The Other America

America is changing. Not only the United States, not only North America but the whole continent and particularly Latin America. It’s a part of the world where I feel more at home than in any other, a continent I feel deeply rooted in. It’s a part of the world that feels unjustly neglected and it’s true: Who seems to care today? Who addresses this relationship in the campaign?

We have to look to another campaign to see the changes. This week, Hugo Chavez was reelected in Venezuela for a fourth mandate. He is a symbol. A symbol of the aspirations of Latin America. But also a symbol of the need of a Pan-American reconciliation. Ostracizing Cuba fifty years ago has created only a diplomatic cliff. Today is the time not to renew this mistake and to bridge this cliff. President Chavez has mentioned his will to work towards national unity that is much needed in a country full of violence, divisions and conflicts. President Obama has been for the last years more cautious and good-willed than his predecessor. But he didn’t manage yet to create the sparkle of trust that is needed for decades. It’s not about forgetting the past, neither about digging it up; it’s about reconciling a continent for a common future as Europe had the chance to do after the Cold War.

Now is the time, because North and South America are slowly drifting apart and their relationship is becoming more distant than ever before.

There are several reasons to this continental drift.

Firstly, the U.S.’s influence is fading away because they are turning their back on South America. It’s not to me to say why. Maybe it’s because large Latin American immigration has changed the face of the United States, and changed the relationship to the home countries. Maybe it’s because the ALENA has created the impression that North America was to become a space of its own. Maybe it’s because of mistakes committed during the past decades, when the Cold War and the legacy of the “backyard” and the “Big Stick” fostered misunderstandings.

Secondly, Latin America is experiencing the time of sovereign democracy. The countries of the continent try to develop their own models, building on a strong national feeling and on the reconciliation of long divided societies, between native populations and colonial societies, between rich and poor. This remains the key question. You can’t lead a country of the South the same way you do in the North. This is what it took the IMF so long to understand. Reducing poverty is not only the goal, it’s the emergency of day to day politics. Now is the chance, because the history of political violence and of authoritarianism is giving way to a time of political appeasement. In Peru, the “Shining Path” has been overcome. Today, there seems to be a possibility to find peace with the FARC in Colombia, through the great efforts of the new president Juan Manuel Santos. Lula in Brazil, Correa in Ecuador, Morales in Bolivia, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina as well as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela try to reshape south-American societies. Still the challenges remain huge. The temptations are enormous. But it has become possible.

Thirdly, the Souths of the world are merging to one South or to an interconnected South. American-African relations have developed quickly in the past years, as well economically as culturally, particularly under the influence of president Lula, who visited Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique. The Latin Americans have thrown ropes across the Atlantic. They also have across the Pacific. Trade relations between China and South America have risen by a stunning 40 percent a year in the last decade. China is already the first export partner of many south-American countries. The major deals are now made with Chinese companies, because rising China is keen on oil, on copper, on rare metals to feed its industries. That’s what it’s about when some countries gather within a Pacific Alliance with its eyes turned towards Beijing and Shanghai.

As the French saying goes: Far from the eyes, far from the heart. The Pan-American relationship can’t be based only on reason and cold distance. It needs passion, it needs a vision, it needs a presence.

It’s in the interest of the United States, who will need this emerging market at their doors, with its immense mineral and energetic resources, that’s sure. But I also believe it’s in the interest of world stability that the long awaited restart of the Pan-American spirit takes place soon. Because there is a historical triangle between Europe, North America and Latin America that needs to be upheld as a source of global stability.

There would be a major risk if one day it came to an upfront division between rich North and poor South, if there were no channels of communication, dialogue, mediation that were kept open. Europe is not Europe anymore if it forgets the emigrants it sent to the new world during the last centuries, shaping new societies, new ideals, new hopes.

How we look at our South and how we look at the world’s south has become the crucial question for the great challenges of the future, as the commitment of South American countries to climate change and biodiversity issues has shown since Cancun or since Rio+20.

Don’t forsake your south.

11th October 2012, Huffington Post