August 7, 2003: Jorge Castañeda discusses the power shift in Latin America with host Mishal Husain.
Mishal Husain: Dr. Castañeda, welcome to WIDE ANGLE. One of the things we saw in that film was the rise of the indigenous movement in Bolivia as a political force. Why is it that you think that’s happening at this particular point in time?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I think it all goes back to 1992 when the 500th anniversary of the discovery or conquest of America took place. At that time, a lot of commemorations, celebrations, condemnations of that date took place. And indigenous peoples’ movements began to emerge as political factors either in countries where the indigenous population really is a majority, mainly Guatemala, to a lesser extent Bolivia, and even in countries where there’s a small minority like México or, much smaller, in Brazil. So I think this began in 1992 and, increasingly, it has grown because the indigenous peoples in Latin America, differing in each case, have a case. They have been discriminated against. They have been excluded. They are impoverished. They have a case. They have become increasingly aware of the case they have, and they have drawn increasing sympathy throughout society.
Mishal Husain: So you think it’s a sustainable movement, it’s not just a reaction to discontent? Economic discontent?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, it certainly is partly that. For example, in the case of México, this had to do with NAFTA [North America Free Trade Agreement] coming into law in 1994, and coffee prices being very low. Very specific issues, on occasion, can be a detonator, but I think it certainly is a sustainable trend in Latin America absolutely.
Mishal Husain: It is interesting to look at someone like Evo Morales, who we saw in that film, who was dismissed as a marginal figure and then almost won the presidency.
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I think something like that has happened in other countries, in Ecuador up to a point and certainly in México. No one ever thought that an indigenous peoples’ movement like the Zapatistas and Subcomandante Marcos could draw the attention and be as central a figure and factor in Mexican politics as they were for a few years. This has been surprising, but, actually, if you look back on it, it makes a lot of sense, particularly in the case of Bolivia.
Mishal Husain: Do you think that movements like this, now that they are entering the political mainstream, are actually a threat to the United States in the way that they’re challenging the establishment in Latin America?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I think there’s two ways of viewing these movements. One is as an anti-systemic, anti-globalization, anti-establishment series of movements. That’s one way. Another way is to view them as movements that defend a very specific cause, with very specific demands, which can be couched in very ideological terms or not, but at the end of the day really are, so to speak, single-issue lobbies. I think the movements try to present themselves as the former, but I think they really are much more the latter. And what that means is at the end of the day, they do not represent a threat either to the United States or to the status quo in Latin America. They represent a legitimate cause, a legitimate grievance, a legitimate demand with which through democracy, through legislation, through protest, through mobilization can be addressed little by little.
Mishal Husain: They do put into sharp focus, though, many issues including the crucial one of inequality, of financial inequality, which is a reality across Latin America, but particularly acute somewhere like Bolivia. Do you think that is one of their main functions, in a sense, in raising awareness of that rich-poor divide?
Jorge Castañeda: The rich-poor divide, but also the racist issue which is very important in many parts of Latin America, regional issues in some countries of Latin America, the indigenous peoples are very much concentrated in certain regions of the country which are particularly impoverished or particularly excluded. So, in that sense, they raise, yes, many aspects of the single issue of the exclusion or discrimination against indigenous populations. But these are demands that, through the democratic process that does exist now in Latin America, can be increasingly addressed. And, in fact, this is occurring in many Latin American countries.
Mishal Husain: Examples?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, in México, for example, the Fox administration approved an indigenous peoples’ rights law at the beginning of the administration which was not exactly what the Zapatistas wanted, but was a huge advance in relation to what existed before. In other countries, in Perú, President [Alejandro] Toledo, who is of indigenous descent himself, has pushed through important legislative changes. In Colombia, dating back to the early ’90s, a new constitution was drawn up, which specifically includes indigenous peoples’ rights provisions and representation. So this is a process which is taking place in the overall context of Latin American democracy. Obviously the advances are insufficient. Obviously the solutions are not totally effective or adequate, but there is movement going on.
Mishal Husain: You’ve spoken about democracy in Latin America being under threat, that this is a crucial time for the democratic movement across the continent. Is that really the case that you think that there could be a real return to authoritarian rule? Is the danger as great as that?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I’m not sure it’s an imminent danger. It’s not a clear and present danger, as the phrase goes. But certainly what is true is that, on the one hand, there is a feeling in Latin America that democracy has not delivered the goods, though it’s not entirely clear what the goods were supposed to be. Because the advent of democratic rule and economic reform occurred at the same time in Latin America and because economic reforms have not delivered the goods, sometimes people blame democracy for the failure of economic reform to deliver the goods.
Mishal Husain: But it’s fair enough to see them because they happened at the same time and because they were bundled together.
Jorge Castañeda: Absolutely.
Mishal Husain: It’s fair enough, isn’t it, for people to see them as —
Jorge Castañeda: It’s logical. Fair or not, it’s certainly logical and understandable, and that means that there is a certain, sense of disappointment, of frustration with the failure of the democratic rule to address the region’s fundamental problems. That’s a fact. Whether that leads directly to a collapse of democratic rule, I don’t think so. I think we have seen many countries go through extremely severe crisis. And fundamentally, at the end of the day, democratic rule has remained intact. Perhaps the three best examples are Argentina, an extraordinary economic crisis or catastrophe from the end of 2001 through just recently; Venezuela, with the extreme polarization of Venezuelan society; and Colombia, with the virtual civil war occurring in certain areas of the country between the military and the guerilla groups. In the three cases, I wouldn’t say that democracy is thriving. Clearly, there are problems. Clearly, there are obstacles and dangers there. But none of those three counties has fallen in or fallen back to authoritarian rule.
Mishal Husain: Doesn’t a great deal depend, though, on economics delivering, because otherwise this discontent that people have on the bundling of the economic reality and the democratic protest is just going to continue?
Jorge Castañeda: Absolutely, I mean there is no way that democratic rule can survive in countries, like those of Latin America, with current degrees of inequality over a long period of time. You need to reduce those gaps between rich and poor, between black, brown and white, between town and country, between men and women, between the young and the old. The gaps in Latin America — of course the ethnic gaps are even more important — all of these gaps are so wide that unless economic growth begins to reduce them, over a long period of time it seems very difficult to even think of how democratic rule can endure.
Mishal Husain: These are obviously huge questions in how to address that economic divide, but I think some of the statistics are really, really striking. And one poll said that over the course of the last twenty years, the number of people below the poverty line in Latin America have almost doubled. How do you actually go about addressing the economic reality? Is it time for a major rethink of the free market reforms?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, there’s two different ways of seeing this. There are statistics also that show that in relative terms the number of people below the two dollar a day poverty line has diminished in Latin America between 1980 and the year 2000 even if, because of population growth, the absolute numbers have increased. Statistics on all of these issues are never as clear cut as that, so it’s difficult to really make a clear case one way or the other. What is certain is that with the exception of Chile, and perhaps the Dominican Republic, structural reforms of the economy in Latin America have not provided the fruits that they were expected to provide. They have not delivered the goods. And so there’s a huge debate today in Latin America about whether the solution is more structural reform or to go back on it.
Mishal Husain: In Bolivia, though, one of the solutions seems almost to be staring people in the face. This is a country with these tremendous reserves of natural gas. Is that the solution, for a country like Bolivia, to focus on an industry like that, which has the potential to transform the economy?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, my sense has always been — but, of course, in this case, perhaps, I’m a very traditional Latin American developmentalist — that you use your natural resources to get out of whatever you want to call it, a poverty trap, underdevelopment, etc. You get them out of the ground and you sell them as quickly and as best the price as you can, trying to control as much of it as you can, that there is no sense in keeping these resources under the ground. That’s been my sense about México, it’s been my sense about other countries, and certainly makes sense in the case of Bolivia. I’ve participated in negotiations when I was in government in México of having a deal between Bolivia and México where Bolivia would send liquefied natural gas up to Baja, California. We would de-liquefy it there, use it for some electrical power plants in México, and then export it also from the de-liquefying plants in México and Baja, California, to the United States. I think it’s an excellent deal for Bolivia and probably a good deal for México also. I think they should use that gas to develop their country, absolutely.
Mishal Husain: Let’s talk for a minute about the war on drugs, America’s war on drugs, cause one of the things we see in the film is the reality of the cultivation of the coca crop in Bolivia. In purely financial terms it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, for farmers to chose coca over other crops?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, it makes perfect sense and that’s what they have been doing since time immemorial in places like Chapare region and place like the upper Huallaga in Perú and other places in México, in Sinaloa, Durango, areas like that. It’s not cocaine in México, it’s poppy or marijuana, and in upper Huallaga and Chapare, it’s coca leaf. It makes perfect economic sense unless you change the incentives. But changing the incentives is quite a task.
Mishal Husain: You mean changing the price that comes in the West?
Jorge Castañeda: You have to increase the price, the danger, the cost of growing coca leaf, and you have to increase the price of alternative crops. In other words, it has to be less and less attractive to grow coca and more and more attractive to grow bananas or something else. This is something that can be done; in fact, the area of cultivation in the Chapare region has dropped dramatically over the past years but it has grown exponentially in Colombia. This is a so-called balloon effect. You can push people out of growing coca leaf in some areas, but they will go out and grow it somewhere else.
Mishal Husain: Do you think, then, that the slash-and-burn tactics that the forcible eradication of the coca cropper is totally futile?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, it’s not totally futile for specific regions and specific countries. You can be successful in one country. What clearly you can not be successful at is in diminishing the overall supply of drugs entering this enormous American market with this insatiable demand for drugs. Now that is a no-win proposition perhaps for the United States, but for any given country or one given region of a country, it can be an attractive proposition. And again the Chapare region in Bolivia is an example of that, where eradication actually worked and where cultivation has dropped enormously since the program began.
Mishal Husain: One of the things that Evo Morales has done is to portray the war on drugs as an assault on the indigenous culture. He’s obviously been successful in terms of gathering support for that. Do you think there is a grain of truth in it, in that this is something that’s been part of traditions for centuries?
Jorge Castañeda: I think that he certainly has a point in that this is a part of the Andean tradition, part of Andean culture, part of Andean health care, in the sense, that work at those high altitudes can be carried out in a more effective and less exhausting manner, thanks to chewing coca leaf. It’s also true, of course, that these are not just small peasants always cultivating coca leaf, but the cartels move into cultivation in many occasions firstly. And, secondly, the huge prices that coca leaves fetch is not because the indigenous peoples chew them on their trek across the Andean passes only, but because this is the fundamental raw material for the production of coca paste and then of cocaine powder for the United States.
I don’t think you can disassociate the two. I think the two are valid, the two are real, but just to accentuate one or the other is not entirely truthful. When the Americans say it’s just for cocaine, I don’t think it’s true. But when others say it’s just for the Andean culture in chewing coca leaf, quite honestly I don’t think that’s true either.
Mishal Husain: Can the U.S., then, be accused of double standards in terms of the war on drugs in the sense that there’s this insatiable demand in the United States, and, yet, there’s this major effort to get Latin America to stop producing coca?
Jorge Castañeda: A little more than a double standard, I think it’s moving from the rhetoric to reality. Rhetorically, the United States for some time now — and particularly under the Bush administration — has acknowledged that the demand side of the equation is at least as important as the supply side and has acknowledged that the U.S. has to do much more in order to be able to say it is doing as much as Latin American countries are doing on the supply side, on the Latin American side.
Mishal Husain: But at the moment more of the effort seems to be going into the Latin American side?
Jorge Castañeda: But rhetorically the United States has accepted this. In fact, perhaps, one can wonder if the United States domestically, is doing as much as would be desirable either to pursue its war on drugs “domestically” with the same vigor, and at the same cost, as it asks Latin American countries to do. Or to search for more imaginative solutions domestically in the United States because the traditional ones don’t seem to be working. So I think there is a certain disconnect between the rhetoric on the one hand and the reality of U.S. policy perhaps on the other.
Mishal Husain: And things like the forcible eradication of the crop, these aren’t sustainable long-term solutions. I mean some of these crops as we saw in the film are just being replanted immediately.
Jorge Castañeda: Well, and if there not replanted in the same place, they are replanted elsewhere in the same country, or elsewhere in the same region, or elsewhere in Latin America. So, in that sense, there is this balloon effect that if you squeeze the balloon here, it inflates and grows somewhere else. It is very difficult to find countries or regions of the world and of Latin America that will not grow these crops as long as there is a market for them. This is the free market at work, and in this case certainly, it does work. The cartels are very effective entrepreneurial organizations. They are quick to adapt. They are flexible, they are open-minded, modern. These are some of Latin America’s most dynamic and adventurous entrepreneurs working in this field. And as long as there is a market, there will be a lot of money to be made there.
Mishal Husain: You’ve been very vocal in the past about the U.S. forgetting Latin America since September 11th. Isn’t this one issue, though, where the U.S. is still firmly engaged and why it’s not going to forget about Latin America — precisely the war on drugs?
Jorge Castañeda: It is. And in all fairness, for example, the Bush administration has had made the important step of convincing the U.S. Congress and working with the U.S. Congress to eliminate, for all practical purposes, the very irritative and counterproductive certification process — whereby every year the U.S. Congress would certify what countries in Latin America were cooperating and which countries were not cooperating with the U.S. on drug enforcement. And this was a huge step forward and has allowed Latin American countries to make progress also in the war on drugs and drug enforcements.
So in that sense, they haven’t forgotten that. The only important achievement, concrete, specific achievement, which I was able, I think, to accomplish during my term as foreign secretary under President Fox, precisely was to achieve the elimination of the certification process. So, it is true that the U.S. has not forgotten Latin America as far as drug enforcement is concerned. Part of that is positive, and part is the same disconnect between rhetoric and reality regarding the question of supply and demand.
Mishal Husain: But broader than that, you’ve cast this as the forgotten relationship, the United States and Latin America. Do you think that is a temporary phase or is it the reality as the United States priorities change, maybe even in the longer term?
Jorge Castañeda: Well I certainly hope it is a temporary phase. I hope, and I’ve written and stated that this is something that obviously came out of 9/11, continued with the war in Iraq, and the fact is that, even a superpower like the United States, or a hyper-power like the United States, cannot do too many things at the same time, which is a pity. It should, but it can’t. And that means that clearly Latin America and México in particular, which was a high priority — some say the highest priority in the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda up until 9/11 has, up to a point, fallen off the screen ever since.
That is beginning to change back a little bit. Slowly we are beginning to see the U.S. come back to some of the issues, to some of the countries, that it had, in a sense, neglected since 9/11. I think that’s a positive development and I hope that as we move through this year we will see much greater engagement by the United States and Latin America than we’ve seen so far.
Mishal Husain: What are the implications, though, of that neglect? What’s been lost already?
Jorge Castañeda: It’s mainly opportunity costs. It’s not so much the damage as the absence of progress. A lot could have been done, for example, with México on an immigration agreement. Whether it would have been the perfect, complete immigration agreement which I wanted, or something less than that, which is probably what we would have achieved, one could argue, but I think there was a lot of progress that could have been made there that wasn’t made.
Clearly in the case of Argentina, American disengagement made Argentina suffer much more from its own mistakes — many which were supported by the United States in the first place — suffer more from its mistakes and from its crisis than would have been absolutely necessary. Clearly the situation in Venezuela has gone further than it would have gone in terms of polarization, economic collapse, etc. if the United States had been more engaged from the beginning and more willing to find ways with other countries in Latin America to try and help Venezuela not go as far toward the abyss as it has. And we can go on country by country in the same sense.
Mishal Husain: What would you say to the argument though that Latin America needs to look less to the United States and look more within itself to find the solutions to its problems at home?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, as a general rule I think that’s true. And I think that is, in fact, what many Latin American countries had been doing over the past decade or so — carrying out economic reforms, some of which were necessary and painful and some of which were painful but not so necessary. This is what Latin America has clearly been doing in terms of democracy, consolidating democratic rule throughout Latin America, with a couple of exceptions. So I think that has already happened. But the weight of the United States and Latin America is so great, and has been so great for so long, that to think you can really move forward on many Latin American challenges without engagement by the United States really is a bit naïve.
Mishal Husain: Not realistic.
Jorge Castañeda: Sometimes it sounds nice, it looks nice, it feels nice, to say so, but it’s not realistic.
Mishal Husain: There’s a difficult balance though between what we saw in the past, the interference of the United States in Latin America, and the constructive engagement you’re calling for. Do you ever worry that if you have a conscious reengagement by the United States in a sense that you might lose that balance? You might go back to the meddling of the past?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, there is unquestionably a balance to be stuck between constructive engagement and egregious intervention. These are two different options, and you have to find the right balance between the two. My sense is that for a series of reasons today, the type of intervention that existed in the past is much more difficult. The cold war is over. There was very little ideological justification for it. Most Latin American countries today enjoy democratic rule and so the question of we’re going to build democracy in whichever country simply doesn’t hold water. And, in addition, I think opposition within the United States to traditional forms of U.S. intervention like in Central America in the ’80s or against Cuba in the ’60s or elsewhere, opposition within the U.S. would be very strong.
So I think that time is right for a growing convergence of values of interests and of cooperation between the United States and Latin America on a series of issues. It’s there on issues such as human rights, the defense of democracy, the fight against corruption, transparency, terrorism, which is a real issue for the United States and for certain Latin American countries, unquestionably, immigration, which is a central issue for México, Central America, the Caribbean, and some South American countries like Ecuador, and increasingly Colombia. On all of these issues, there seems to be no reason why the United States and Latin America cannot cooperate constructively.
Mishal Husain: But, in the need for that constructive engagement isn’t there also the issue of rising anti-Americanism in Latin America that could be a real problem in getting to that constructive dialogue? In this time of economic discontent, many people blame the United States for their problems.
Jorge Castañeda: Very clearly electorates have moved, I wouldn’t say to the left, but have moved toward a more strident anti-American stance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that governments have moved in that direction. If one looks at recently elected governments in Latin America, which one could have thought would engage on a path of more anti-American, anti-neoliberal reform, antidemocratic attitudes, it hasn’t been the case. The best example, of course, is the Lula [Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] administration in Brazil, but also the [Lucio] Gutierrez administration in Ecuador. In neither of these two cases, regardless of what electorates thought they were voting for, has it happened. And, in fact, President Lula of Brazil today perhaps enjoys one of the best relationships of any of his colleagues in Latin America with President George W. Bush.
Mishal Husain: But isn’t that dangerous in itself that if the electorates thought they were voting in these leaders on one basis and they don’t get what they thought they were getting, then the next time they’re going to rebel against it?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, but it’s a long discussion because we don’t really know what the electorates were expecting specifically on this issue. There are many people who will say that in Brazil the reason Lula won in the first place, this time as opposed to his three previous defeats, was that he moved to the center, that he moved to more moderate, less anti-globalization, less radical stances on many issues. Other people believe that, on the contrary, he won because he took a very firm stand, and has subsequently moved away from that stand. I tend to believe the first explanation, but certainly the second one is out there.
Mishal Husain: But there is still this shift to the left, you wouldn’t deny that, would you? I mean, obviously there’s Gutierrez, there’s Lula, but there’s also Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and Evo Morales in Bolivia almost became the president.
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I think these are separate cases. I think the case of Lula and Gutierrez clearly are signals sent by the electorate that they want something different, that they are unsatisfied with what has happened over the previous eight years in Brazil, many more years in Ecuador, that they’re seeking something different. And these are two intelligent candidates who said I’m going to look for something different, I’m not sure exactly what it is, and I’m certainly not going to do anything to create counterproductive damage to the economy, but I’ll look for something.
The case of Chávez is very different, he reached power that way, but what he has done since is something I don’t think any electorate would particularly approve of and certainly was not what people in Venezuela were expecting. And the case of Evo Morales is a very, of course, interesting one because he did so well in the presidential elections, because he represents a true popular movement. But between that and actually reaching government, I think there is still a way to go.
Mishal Husain: Is that crop of leftist or perhaps center-leftist leaders, though, something for the United States to worry about, and certainly in the context of the history of how much the United States has feared leftist movements in Latin America?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I think that it should not fear them. And I think that during the first years of the Chávez administration in Venezuela when it coincided with the Clinton administration in the United States, there was a very moderate sensible attitude on the part of Washington not to provoke, not to confront, not to anathemize. And I think in the case of the Bush administration that has also been the policy toward Brazil and toward Ecuador. I think though so far, with the exception perhaps of the Bush administration’s attitude toward Chávez, which is only one of four examples we’re talking about, I think that actually the United States has not confronted them and does not fear them and is understanding that these are the types of adjustments and changes that have to take place in Latin America after too many years of growing inequality of economic stagnation, of unfulfilled promises of economic reform and of democracy.
If you have democracy people sometimes vote in ways that others don’t like. Well that’s what it’s all about, and I think the United States should be very respectful of that, and I must say in the cases that we’ve seen, particularly in the case of Lula in Brazil, the Bush administration has been very constructive.
Mishal Husain: You’ve spoken about Latin America being a lost continent in a sense. Doesn’t that perpetuate a negative image of the region, one of which is seen as a problem?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, it does and it’s a bit unfair, although I think it does characterize the feelings, the sentiment, that many Latin Americans have of our situation in the world, of our situation in history of the last century or two, or even four or five centuries. On the other hand, I think it’s perhaps a false notion because of what we can contribute in the international community. The problem is we really haven’t found our place, our niche so to speak, in the world, in the globalized world of today. Clearly, one enormous contribution that Latin America makes systematically is what [Gabriel] García Márquez has called our most important card, which is what I could call our cultural productivity. We continue to churn out writers, painters, singers, composers, dancers, movie directors in a way that very few other regions of the world at comparable levels of development are able to do.
This is clearly one area where we have a lot to work on because it’s the area of our greatest potential. Clearly, also Latin America would be able to play a much greater role in the future than it has done in the past in constructing a new world legal order. We are, in a sense, the middle class of the globalized world. We are not yet part of the rich, developed countries of the North Atlantic, Japan, Australia, but we are way ahead in development terms of all of Africa and parts or most of Asia. In a sense, we’re this middle class. And since we are this middle class, this is probably the area of a new international legal order where we can most contribute because we have an interest in building a strong legal order. But at the same time we are sufficiently not yet developed so that what we say is representative of what used to be called the third world, perhaps no longer is.
Mishal Husain: When you think about Latin America’s relationship with the United States, is there a danger at all that the continent is defined by that very relationship? That so much has to do with the back and forth with the United States, that without a constructive engagement in a sense it’s a continent adrift?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, it depends on the countries. This is certainly the case of México, Central America, the Caribbean and probably countries like Colombia and Venezuela. It is perhaps the case of countries like Ecuador, Perú, and Bolivia. It is not really the case of countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, who have diversified trade ties with Europe and with Asia and where the American presence, while very important — we’ve seen it in history the way Allende was overthrown in 1973, the enormous importance of the United States in subsequent events in Argentina from the time of Peron onward etc. — but still less so. So I think it’s not quite a uniform situation across the region.
Mishal Husain: So it depends on who can stand on their own two feet in a way.
Jorge Castañeda: Well all these countries can stand on their own two feet, but sometimes they have to stand on their own two feet facing the United States. And, on other occasions, they can every now and again face Europe, they can every now and then face Asia, Japan in particular. It really depends very much on each country. What is clear is that it seems difficult for Latin America to really thrive without a constructive relationship with the United States. The opposite of the old interventionist and hostile relationship with the United States or of U.S. policy in Latin America is not “no relationship,” it’s a constructive relationship. That is what has to be built.
Mishal Husain: How do you make that a mutually beneficial relationship a relationship of mutual respect because the perception is it’s something of a one-way street, Latin America has more to get out it than the United States does?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, we don’t think so, for example in the case of México, President Fox — we thought, he and I, that the United States had as much to gain from an immigration agreement which would have been a historical breakthrough, not only in U.S.-Mexican relations, but in third world-first world relations. But, the U.S. had as much to gain, if not more, for legalizing Mexicans in the United States and from legalizing the flow of Mexicans to the United States over the next 10 or 15 years. We thought that this was a win-win situation where we were not getting more than the U.S. was. And, as a matter of fact, the Bush administration’s initial receptiveness to this idea showed that we were right in principle even if we were not able to put it into practice as soon as we wanted to.
Mishal Husain: But beyond the special case of México?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, we think this is also true for many other Latin American countries. United States has a huge stake in Latin America in terms of trade, in terms of investment, in terms of immigration flows, in terms of dangers, drugs, terrorism, corruption, etc., plague, illness. In other words, the regions are so interconnected through so many ways, that this is not just something where Latin America has to gain and the U.S. is indifferent. Clearly, the size of the U.S. economy is such that one cannot expect that an agreement, the trade agreement between Chile and the United States that’s just been signed, will effect the U.S. economy, whereas it will affect the Chilean economy for better or for worse. That’s a fact. But if you look at the region as a whole and you look at history as a whole and you look at the future as the whole, I think both areas have as much to gain from a constructive relationship with each other, as the other.
Mishal Husain: In this process of trying to work toward a constructive dialogue for the future, what role do you think the indigenous movements like the one in Bolivia that we saw in the film have?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I think they have a very important role to play because they represent an important sector of society which under democratic rule is inevitably perhaps more present and active, on occasion strident, than before. Secondly, an important role to play because of the specific issues that they can, on occasion, be linked to — natural resources, coca leaf and drugs, on occasion immigration. Certainly for those reasons also, they have a very important role to play. It is not an easy transition from being radical, very oppressed movements to adopting a more moderate, cautious, and “reasonable” attitude toward globalization.
The transition is very difficult. The Workers Party in Brazil under Lula has clearly carried out that transition. It is not clear that every anti-globalization, anti-establishment, indigenous peoples’ movement in Latin America can carry it out that quickly. But certainly the role that these movements will play is very important. And it’s very important for the United States and for the rest of the Latin American establishment to engage these movements in a constructive dialogue also.
Mishal Husain: What do you think are the biggest things that Americans misunderstand about Latin America?
Jorge Castañeda: I think they misunderstand two fundamental issues. One is that the degree of inequality in Latin America is such that everything is affected by it. The poor feel much more excluded than they do in the United States. The rich are much more detached from society and life than they are in the United States. The middle class is much smaller and much more alienated from the rich and the poor than it is in the United States. The United States does not understand on most occasions the extent to which inequality in Latin America really taints absolutely everything. That’s one.
And the other is that, yes, Latin Americans have a tendency, we have a tendency to focus more on history than on the future. Perhaps Brazil is an exception there because of the non-Spanish but Portuguese heritage, which is slightly different in that sense. But the rest of Latin America, yes, we have an obsession with history. Yes, we have an obsession with the past. Yes, history plays somewhat the role in our countries that the rule of law and respect for the law plays in the United states — that is, in countries that do not have the social, cultural, religious, linguistic, homogeneity that countries of Western Europe have, for example, and that we’re the same as the United States. But for us, history is the root, history is what makes things happen, what gives us a sense of belonging to the same country. In the same way that in the United States, history is not that but the rule of law, for example, is.
So I think there is a certain American frustration with the Latin American obsession with history and there’s a Latin American misunderstanding and irritation with United States inability to understand how important history is for many in Latin America.
Mishal Husain: Now you’ve been in government and there are obviously many challenges facing Latin America’s leaders, but I want to put to you one poll of 17 countries that was conducted in Latin America. It found that people have more faith in the Roman Catholic Church, in television, and in the armed forces than in their presidents, their police, and their judiciary. Now how do you combat a perception like that?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, you have to keep on building democracy in Latin America. It is not a local construct, it is something which is taking root slowly and painfully. And it takes a long time to develop the credibility and the faith in these institutions that are necessary.
Mishal Husain: But people don’t have that kind of patience.
Jorge Castañeda: Yes they do. First of all they do, unfortunately — sometimes one would want them not to have that kind of patience. But the fact is that there has been a great deal of respect for democratic rule in Latin America over the last 15 years. On occasion under very adverse circumstances like in Argentina, like in Colombia, like in Venezuela, that despite economic crises the institutions survive, that elections take place and new presidents are elected, and there is a certain amount of confidence in them. So I think your polls like that are indicative of an attitude, unquestionably, but one should not draw dramatic consequences from those attitudes, which are real. But the consequences are perhaps less immediate and less imminent than one might think.
Mishal Husain: But I suppose the challenge is that democracy is about much more than holding elections?
Jorge Castañeda: It’s about generating confidence in institutions like the police, like the judiciary, like presidents, clearly that is an enormous challenge in Latin America. Clearly, older institutions like the church or the armed forces or institutions that are very new but are pervasive, like television, generate more confidence. Yes, that is a fact. It is simply a reflection of the novelty of democratic rule in Latin America, which is all the more reason to defend it.
Mishal Husain: Jorge Castañeda, thanks very much for joining us on WIDE ANGLE.
Jorge Castañeda: Thank you, Mishal.