Democracy Course - week 1

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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Class Blog entry, group:  Me (Derek), Jessica, Sohmer

In a very informal ‘interview’ Derek spoke with a fellow residencia resident Pancho (Fransisco) about the differences in development between Latin America and North America.  Some of the main points of Pancho’s argument include emotional opinions heavily weighted towards the positive aspects of North American development.  He says that “stupid, drunk Spaniards” colonized Latin America’ and that Spain’s goal was to rob resources that would be brought back to its country, not reinvested or used for local consumption - that Spain didn’t need its colonies for anything other than a source of primary resources (what we touched on during lecture).  He believes that smarter people colonized North America, and that they interacted better with indigenous populations (compared with Spanish who killed almost all). 

Our group does not entirely agree with Pancho, though his opinions provide valuable insight about how Argentine citizens view their history.  As far as the smart/stupid argument, we can’t agree.  It’s true that the Spanish came to collect resources and return home, but this only means that their mindset, not their intelligence was any different than the settlers of the U.S.  The North American settlers were fleeing their (mainly English) homes in order to find a new one.  They were interested in development.  The majority intended to live in North America permanently and wanted to better their lives; thus, they had a vested interest in the land, its development, and its success.  This vested interest in the territory was not true for the Spanish until after independence, which was already much later than the American Revolution.

This vested interest spurred development and industry, while the Spanish colonies stagnated, stuck in an exploitive situation that hindered development.  As a result, North America, a half-century ahead of its Southern neighbors, was able to create more industry, manufactured goods and advanced products, while Latin American countries were (and in many cases, are still) stuck with raw, primary materials as their principal source of income.  By the time Latin America realized independence, and more importantly stability, the United States and the other “center” countries had far surpassed them in advanced production of non-primary goods.  The liberal free-market policies only helped to keep LA in its place, or at least only develop at a much slower rate while the center nations prospered more.  Other policy prescriptions, such as ones similar to the current leftist sweep through LA, are unable to overcome the gap between the center and developed nations. 

The cattle ranching industry and resulting gaucho culture contributed to the economic realities that currently separate the United States and Argentina.  Cattle ranching and export of beef became so lucrative (especially once refrigerated container ships were developed) that other investment and industry (that developed in the US, Great Britain, and other “center” countries) were discouraged in Argentina.  In the present day, manufactured goods, technology, service, and other advanced products are worth much more in the international market.  Thus, the nations that were forced to develop high-tech industries and encourage entrepreneurialism now fare much better than nations (like Argentina) who did not start developing new industries as early, and instead relied longer (and in many cases still rely) on primary goods.

That the North American colonies treated its native populations better, encouraging trade and enlightening their own development (Pancho’s argument), is hard to believe.  Both situations are equally horrifying.  Both were extremely cruel with intentions of annihilation.  To compare them and believe one was better than the other is more than a stretch.  We treated our native populations just as badly without trying to incorporate them into society, and pushed them out of areas we wanted to be in.   

Pancho also commented that early development in North America included an ability to form intelligent, smart society in North America.  We have already dismissed the “intelligent, smart” aspects, but it is true that society developed very differently in the two continents, which is closely related to the divergent paths of political structures on the two continents.  The division of South America into countries was partially based on regional power-holding caudillos – what kind of political culture does this create?  One set up perfectly for dictatorships.  As discussed in class, Latin America could have been unified as one nation like the United States, but instead broke up into quarrelling polities.  In North America, a society very concerned with the rights of man political participation, DEcentralized power was always very important to the colonists, based on their hatred of the English king.  This led to an early development of democracy in the United States.  In the Latin American case, the sum of the parts is less than the whole, and the divided states were much weaker actors than the conglomerated United States.

Then we spoke with David about corruption in Latin America and its prevalence here in comparison to the U.S.  He feels that this is what continues to hinder development in this part of the world and that it is extremely difficult to break this cycle.  It is so ingrained into society and the way government functions, that it is impossible to fix.  He said that the dictatorships created this culture of corruption leaving a legacy for the ‘democratic’ governments that follow.  This idea goes hand in hand with path dependency.  It is costly to change such a structure, not only monetarily.  What political figure would want to take a chance to make such a leap for their country?  The cost of one’s political career can be devastating as well as a leap in lifestyle change.

So now the U.S. isn’t so dependent on manufacturing, but our technology, engineering (go GT), and service industry.

vances says:
A brilliant discussion...appreciate the insight!
Posted on: May 24, 2006
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Class Blog entry, group:  Me, Jessica, Sohmer

We asked Adel for her opinions about the current spat between Uruguay and Argentina over the construction of papeleras on the river that separates the two countries.  Adel believes that Uruguay is in the right.  She said that the government, students, Gualeguaychu, and greenpeace would not care if it was being built on the Argentine side.  She (more or less) explained that it boils down to pride (and if you wanted to give them more credit - a question of violation of state’s sovereign boundaries, if the damage spills over to the Argentine side).  She also said that Argentine’s simply really like to protest - which we can attest to after studying Argentine history and following Argentine current events.  For example, the Buenos Aires Herald (frequently) casually mentions strikes that close down buildings, etc.  I remember talking with another woman as well about the transportation strikes and how people deal with those frequent occurrences.  She said that la gente are used to it - used to waking up some mornings not being able to make it to work.

We asked Derek’s roommate Mauricio (Ecuador, 30) his thoughts about the Uruguay-Argentina Papeleras conflict:  he more or less said that he couldn’t decide black or white which country was “in the right.”  For ecological reasons, he believed Argentina is correct, but as far as having the “right” to create the Papeleras on the river, he felt that it was definitely within Uruguay’s national sovereignty to build them. 

It is possible to disagree with Mauricio’s diagnosis.  For Uruguay to have the “right,” it would need to take extra precautions to ensure that pollution would not affect Argnetina’s side of the river; and then also have a back-up plan of what to do if (more likely, when) the pollution managed to affect the other side - not only clean-up measures, but also possibly monetary compensation; or maybe Argentina should opt for a share of the profits from the start and allow a specific, quantifiable amount of pollution on its side of the river.

Both presidents are under tremendous public pressure.  Vasquez has been portrayed by the media as backing down and giving in to Argentina, while Kirchner is forced to support public opinion and gain support due to his apparent bid for reelection next year.  Argentine public opinion on this issue has been determined by riding on a wave of nationalism (as Adel noted), not necessarily by closely evaluating all the close facts.  In actuality, Argentina (Gualeguaychu not included) is not seriously concerned with the potential damage caused by the papeleras (in fact they would have been built in Argentina except the governor required a bribe).  Argentina has several very destructive papeleras of its own that cause much more pollution than would these more modern, more environmental-friendly plants.  It is very possible for these pulp mills to be very environmental friendly; it is also the most likely result if one looks at the sustainability indices of Uruguay and Finland, four and one respectively.  Argentina should be more worried about the rest of the paper manufacture process (and all the offshoots), which causes much more pollution than the pulp mills. 

One view of the current issue-hype is that Kirchner, in order to gain momentum and support in his bid for reelection next year, intentionally turned this issue from a local one that concerned only Gualeguaychu into a national one with strong public opinion and nationalist sentiment.  

The Argentine-government is seriously at fault in not removing its citizens from the bridge blockade that is delaying the transport of construction materials for the mills.  Argentina’s neglect has violated a treaty to not impede the transportation of materials between nations.  The two countries are moving in the right direction though, as long as Argentina holds to its promise of removing the blockade (with police-force if necessary) while Uruguay halts construction for ninety days. 

Our opinion of what the International Court of Justice should decide:  Uruguay has to halt construction of the papeleras and Argentina needs to keep the bridge clear of protesters until a Hague Court-assigned 3rd-party organization completes a review of the destructive effects of all three papeleras.  The 3rd-party organization will report back to the court, which will then make a final decision about whether the papeleras infringe on Argentine sovereignty.  If they do not significantly infringe (based on their subjective opinion, traded with how beneficial the investment would be for Uruguay), the papeleras can continue to be built.

Our plan was approved by a local Argentine - Leo from last week’s asado.  He gave us his own version that essentially agreed with our decision to halt construction until a third-party evaluation is completed.