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Opinion – Bolsonaro’s Green and Yellow Guards

Bolsonarismo, the movement led by Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, is complex and often contradictory, but one of its main declared goals is ‘purifying’ the country from left-wing and socially liberal ideas. From its members’ standpoint, leftists and socially liberals built a hegemony around educational and cultural institutions, the press, the state and international organisations, thereby hindering progress and corrupting traditional values and institutions. Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs, Ernesto Araújo, has argued that globalization has been hijacked by ‘cultural Marxism’ and that the country’s foreign policy should be guided by the ‘Christian faith’.

At the top of Bolsonarismo, there are segments of elites within and outside the state: politicians, military personnel, businesspeople, religious leaders and journalists, forming a network of like-minded people promoting each other’s interests. Helped by ‘market-friendly’ people like Paulo Marinho and Paulo Guedes, some of them managed to mingle with more traditional economic elites, which paved the way for Bolsonaro’s election in 2018 and contributes to keep him in power.

However, in contrast to other right-wing movements in Brazil’s recent past (and Latin America as a whole), Bolsonarismo has a large number of foot soldiers. These are people willing to produce/distribute propaganda and disinformation, destroy reputations, alert fellow members about anti-patriotic activities, and support the president whenever he needs. Their ranks are made of people with multiple origins and various contradictions, but they tend to support a militarized form of government, a traditional conception of family, the maintenance of a hierarchical social class structure, looser gun laws, a larger involvement of Christian churches in politics, and the end of affirmative action policies.

Targets are multiple, encompassing social movements, universities, the press, trade unions, NGOs, social democrats and ‘traitors’, including people as different as the parliamentarian Joice Hasselmann, former minister of justice Sergio Moro, and YouTuber Felipe Neto. Some of these targets are picked by the ‘office of hate’, an informal group of advisers who orchestrate a system of disinformation and propaganda.

Empowered and legitimized, these green and yellow guards (the widespread display of the national colours is their most distinctive symbol) are the eyes and mouths of this ‘cultural revolution’. They perform the role of what the literature calls a fire alarm system: instead of complex layers of bureaucratic control, political leaders use ordinary citizens to monitor the behaviour of people and institutions, who ‘press an alarm button’ (nowadays mainly through social media) whenever they come across something that the movement sees as deviant behaviour.

Social media is central as it facilitates the formation of networks and the emergence of a digital form of populism. As populists seek to communicate with people directly, social media both facilitates such communication and reinforces a narrative of the left’s cultural hegemony on mainstream media (which would prevent Bolsonarists of voicing concerns of the ‘true people’), multiplying the movement’s reach at an extremely low cost. This is especially important because Bolsonarismo lacks a solid political party base, in sharp contrast to left-wing social movements, which are backed by the Workers’ Party or smaller left-wing parties.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, such ‘cultural wars’ not only continued but also found a new stage. Ernesto Araújo argued that the ‘new communism’ is using the COVID-19 pandemic to build a world without nations, liberty and soul. Edir Macedo, one of the country’s main religious leaders (and important ally of Bolsonaro), argued that the media and Satan were promoting panic. During the pandemic, adversaries are anyone opposing Bolsonaro’s two main recommendations: ending strict social distancing policies and using hydroxychloroquine as treatment. Previous allies were converted into enemies after defending modern scientific medicine (Henrique Mandetta, former Minister of Health, for example) or the right of states and local governments to adopt social distancing measures (various state governors). Speeches by Bolsonaro about COVID-19 are extensively reproduced in social media, maintaining him and his ideas at the centre of debate and keeping a steady supply of new enemies.

These green and yellow guards have roles not fundamentally different from those of pro-government movements in authoritarian contexts. Differences are more of scale, organizational capacity and method than of essence. In Venezuela, the infamous colectivos have a symbiotic relationship with the state: while the government instrumentally uses them to fight against perceived enemies and remain in power, the colectivos power depends on the survival of the government, which is for them a source of protection, legitimacy and resources.

This is not to say that material gains are not relevant. Leaders of the movement have access to influential people and groups both within and outside the state. People like Bernardo Küster, a pro-Bolsonaro digital influencer, gained a level of access to influential people in government that he could not even dream of a few years ago. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opened its doors to him and other like-minded people, giving them a political platform to present their ideas and network with elites. However, what distinguishes Bolsonarismo from other right-wing groups in Brazil is a combination of grassroots mobilization, focus on cultural issues and the existence of a leader perceived by many as a messiah. Their mission is to somehow purifying state and society from ‘communist’ values, ideas, policies and practice.

Whether these green and yellow guards will remain in existence for the time being depends in part on Bolsonaro’s capacity to maintain his reputation of strongman and produce political heirs, which he so far has managed to do.

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Why the West Needs to Stop its Moralising against China

The great German philosopher Leibniz put it well over three centuries ago. Writing in his `Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese’ he stated, `I did not want to examine to what extent the manner of worship of the Chinese could be condemned or justified… I only wanted to investigate their doctrines.’  These days, the issue of what to think, and in particular, what to feel about China has become entangled in the domestic politics of Europe and America to such an extent that attempts to do precisely as Leibniz did so long ago and simply describe and understand without being seen as validating and condoning become next to impossible. Finding a reasonable, critical space to look in all directions has seldom been harder.

Hong Kong is one issue where this is particularly true. The UK has historic links to the city. The capitalist world has always thought of it as a benign place, despite the fact that since 1997 it has been part of the sovereign territory of a Communist country. Everyone had feelings towards this remarkable, hybrid, and unique place. Perhaps that is why it arouses such strong, possessive feelings. It might not belong to you, but it is still, in some ways, a place everyone can feel is theirs.

If there was a time in recent history when the words of solicitude and concern could, and should, have been expressed with the maximum of force and conviction, that was the 31st of July when Chief Executive of the city, Carrie Lam, declared that local Legislative Council elections due in September would be delayed for a year. Ms Lam, calling it the `most difficult decision I’ve made over the past seven months’, went on to say that `this postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations.’The COVID19 virus, which has raged across the region and the world over the last six months, was the reason for this unprecedented decision, she said. But even the least cynical would have had a hard time ignoring the fact that in the weeks and months building up to this moment, from the passing by Beijing of a new security law covering the city coming into effect on 1st July to the refusal to allow some pro-democracy party candidates to stand, even if the government was not avoiding the elections, it was doing a remarkable job of looking like that was precisely what it was up to.

Declarations followed, from the UK , the European Union and the US. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State in the US, issued one of the most curt and forceful responses on 1 August: ` The elections should be held as close to the September 6 date as possible and in a manner that reflects the will and aspirations of the Hong Kong people,’ the statement said. `If they aren’t, then regrettably Hong Kong will continue its march toward becoming just another Communist-run city in China.’

There is nothing wrong with the US statement. The concerns it expressed all needed to be said. But the context in which it was issued could not have been more tragically symptomatic of the mismatch between word and deed that has all but stymied anything currently put out on China by the administration Pompeo is a key member of, and of those that try to follow it. Only a day before the announcement in Hong Kong, the leader of the free world, Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, tweeted that the imminent November presidential election in the US should be delayed. `With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good),’ he tweeted, `2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,’ he wrote. ‘Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???’. This was despite the fact that everyone, including senior members of his own party, agreed that he had no constitutional right to demand this, or bring it about. Only Congress is able to do that. Nor that his claims about possible voter fraud are almost wholly unproven and not backed up by serious evidence.

This extraordinary example of a mismatch between word and deed is, however, not an isolated one. It is the culmination of a long, lamentable process in which the Enlightenment powers (multi-party developed democracies like the US, countries in Europe, and inclusive of others like Australia and New Zealand) have slowly, but surely, lost their moral stature. One of the many outcomes of this is to have reduced the force of words directed at China to, at best, political rhetoric, much of it performed for domestic constituencies in their home country with no real impact intended or actually achieved on the supposed target. In this situation, the conclusion is a sobering one. At a time when the outside world should speak strongly in order to uphold its values, the Hong Kong postponed election example cited above is symptomatic of how the US, UK, Europe and other democracies have never been in a weaker position. Beset by the sort of divisions seen in the protests in Portland, Oregon over the last few weeks or in the UK over Brexit in the last few years, it would be a brave leader in Beijing who would stand up to their own colleagues on the grounds that the West still offered a model attractive enough for them to consider emulating in terms of its ability to deliver stability and consensus.

This is not a recent phenomenon. Historians will probably trace this decline to the moment when the US and its allies and their values looked at their peak, around 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Bush the elder and then Clinton, the unipolar moment dawned. Russia descended into chaos. The Chinese also underwent their less dramatic but equally profound soul searching after the uprising of June 1989. Communism was no longer a viable option. The capitalist, free market West knew how to make people prosperous, strong, and happy. No wonder the 1990s now evoke so much nostalgia.

And yet the divisions were soon visible. Perhaps the shock of September 11th, 2001 was the most dramatic moment. But it built on simmering resentments on the one hand, and complacency on the other, that allowed the management of its aftermath to cause the US and China to paper over their differences and wage a war on terror that meant the State Department Pompeo now heads allowed two Xinjiang groups to be put on an international terrorist list. From that first, albeit small, act of complicity, many others flowed.

The Chinese and others watched as the US and its most faithful allies went back into the Middle East, waging the Second Iraq War in 2003. That soon unravelled. Its grounds were spurious (no weapons of mass destruction were found, despite the use of these as the reason for going in). The war was won, but the peace became long, chaotic, and bloody. Perhaps most damaging of all, with extra renditions, enhanced interrogation techniques (for which read torture), Guantanamo Bay, and the exposure of appalling abuses in jails in Iraq itself by American soldiers, the `free world’ looked harder and harder to admire. In the end, a sort of truth prevailed. Accountability was exercised. Bush and Blair, in particular, suffered catastrophic collapse in their reputations from which they have never recovered.  But the proponents of democratic, Western based values emerged from all of this battered, and often tarnished, their moral stature diminished.

The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 only reinforced the message that the capitalist world was not even able to supply answers to the very things it still maintained the strongest claims to leadership on. As historian Adam Tooze has shown in clinical detail in his 2017 book `Crashed’, mismanagement in the first place was more than supplemented by greed, protection of vested interest, and immorality. Even more devastating, it was the Chinese and their growth after 2009 that stabilised much of the global situation. Unlike with the Gulf War debacles, however, almost none were held to account for the loss of livelihood and wealth that flowed from the collapse of markets and growth around 2008. On top of the moral collapse in geopolitics, there was an even more damaging one in the world of finance and the economy.

In all of these issues, China in particular, despite many accusations levelled at it, is not guilty. It did not remotely have a role in the reasons for the US and others getting sucked into the War on Terror – and nor did it want to see 2008, despite some economists blaming its own economy for bringing about the distortions that led to the whole event. China’s main issue, as has become clear since, is that, in both these historic areas, it was largely able to move through without any detrimental effect to itself. In fact, by accident rather than design, as the US and other powers harmed themselves, China simply carried on economically, growing stronger.  

The War on Terror and the financial crisis were political and geopolitical issues. But they have had a massive impact on the moral standing of the West and have undermined their confidence. They have created clear, and in many places tragic, divisions. No one can observe the protests that swept across the US over Black Lives Matters in mid-2020 and see people pitted against people without a deep sense of unhappiness. The US seems to be going through a terrifying breakdown, in which its most senior elected official, a person who has historically been regarded as the most important spokesperson for democratic values by the world’s most successful and important democracy, seems to be trying to undermine and denigrate the values they are meant to stand for. For all the complaints about interference by parties from Russia to China in the 2016 US election, one has to be clear about one thing. Even if these claims are true (and many probably are), no one, neither Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, could more forcefully and effectively undermine the values of democracy than Donald Trump has done over the last few weeks.  And it was, in the end, not Xi or Putin that put him there, but the electoral system and the electorate of the United States of America. If one does not apportion blame fairly and honestly in the right place, how can one really deal with the problems one is facing?

In this context, COVID19 carries deep symbolic weight. As of August 2020, China, where most believe the virus started, has managed to control the spread of the infection and is now emerging from the initial phase of economic downturn by reporting a 3.2 percent GDP rise in the second quarter of the year. As this happens, Europe is moving into a deep recession, with fears of a second spike in infections and fatalities. The UK has shrunk by a fifth of GDP in the first three months of the year while suffering one of the worst levels of death from the disease. By the end of June, America had lost around 12 million jobs and saw its GDP contract by 4.8 per cent, with a 30 per cent contraction predicted, the worst figure ever recorded. It, too, is still fighting the disease, with issues like the wearing of masks politicised and fought over.

This is not to denigrate the efforts these countries have made to deal with the pandemic. It is to acknowledge that no one has found this vast challenge easy to handle. In the very early part of the year, there were criticisms made of China being unfit to deal with an issue like this because of its governance system. This was going to be, in the words of one analysis, the country’s Chernobyl moment. And yet, others quickly became consumed in events that showed their own decision making processes and governance capacity were also, albeit for different reasons, imperfect and chaotic. Had COVID19 been like the SARS crisis of 2003, it would have neatly fitted the narrative of a regional China-centric problem, and one that showed why this area and its values and governance were a problem. Any sober analysis of COVID19 would need to recognise that, in different ways, and for different reasons, almost everyone has a problem. This pandemic has been a great leveller. The narrative has clearly changed.

That means that the most prudent response should be one of humility. No one knows what sort of world we are moving into. The economic impact of the pandemic will produce a politics it is hard to predict for governments no matter what their structure and nature. The worst outcomes – high job losses, disappearance of growth – are too terrible to contemplate. At best, there needs to be more unity, more joint purpose, and far less parochial political point scoring in order to confront this vast shared problem.  The need for humility and a more circumspect tone in order to achieve that have never been clearer. Instead, there have been almost toxic levels of anger and blame that have boiled over from this towards China, particularly in the US and to some extent in Britain, Australia and other democracies. The desire by some political figures, from Trump downwards, to clamber on a moral high ground that has long since disappeared for them has simply proved too hard to resist.

In 2020, there is an important moment to stand back from the chaos we all see unfolding and do two things fundamentally differently. The first is to purge our language, outside China, of the constant desire to urge it to become like us, and to be constantly wanting to preach and urge it to reform and change in ways that will, we assume, make it more like us. I write as someone who in the past did think that was what we should do. Events in the last decade or so have shown that the situation is far too complex and the variables culturally and politically in China far too great, for one to start projecting on it templates and models from elsewhere that we have no idea will really work. These range from the rise of a highly autocratic leader like Xi Jinping against some expectations that China would move in a more liberal direction, to the constant predictions that the country is about to implode. It is a difficult thing to say and cuts against our usual desire to be idealistic, but at the moment, and probably far in the future, the best we can hope from China is simply to be stable. We no longer have the luxury of our own stability and its track record to sit on when making judgements about the People’s Republic. The harsh fact, and one that needs to be honestly and candidly recognised, is that in the last two decades, it is the US and its allies who have been the source of more instability than China!

That doesn’t mean that on issues like Hong Kong and the postponed, even cancelled, elections that the democratic world shouldn’t speak out. But the most powerful thing it should do is to start living up to its own values and in that way, being the best advert for their desirability and attractiveness. That means an acknowledgement that, in the last few years, this has not been the case. Europe and the US have often been internally divided, fractious, and angry. They have acted much of the time almost as though they didn’t really believe in the values they were espousing. It is no good blaming Moscow and Beijing for this. The deepest wound were the self-inflicted ones. Consensus was lost in our societies. 2020 should be the moment when that gets rebuilt. Otherwise, we will be living proof that our values are just for speaking about, not living up to. And finally, there is the second thing we can all do: inculcate the idea of a responsible attitude towards China. It is fine that, for instance, politicians in the UK now feel because of COVID19 that they have to have an attitude and an opinion about China. But it would be good if they were to also avail themselves as much as possible of some knowledge and understanding available.

There needs to be much more support for basic education about China and for knowledge-based engagement with it. The posture of the Johnson government, on the surface at least, is to be data driven. And yet, on China, there is scant evidence of even a decent level of understanding amongst most politicians, opinion formers, and commentators. This was recognised in a report recently by Professor Rana Mitter of Oxford  and Sophia Garston for the British Foreign Policy Group issued on the fateful day Carrie Lam made her declaration in Hong Kong on July 31.  Knowledge, humility, and honesty will be the things that help the outside world deal with the historic challenge of China’s rise. Without those, it is hard to see how any impact will be made on the leaders of a country that currently see in the politicians facing them from Canberra, to Berlin, London and Washington the precise opposite.

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Moving Forward or Moving Nowhere?

The convergence between Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico) was a result from the Chilean initiative named ‘Convergence in Diversity’, launched in 2014 under the Michelle Bachelet’s administration and her Foreign Affairs Ministry, Heraldo Muñoz. Before the Chilean proposal, the coexistence of these two blocs had been debated by Latin-American scholars, questioning if it could lead to a divide in regional integration on the Atlantic (Mercosur) and Pacific (Pacific Alliance) axes. From 2014 on, the debate moved forward to the possibilities of convergence between these two blocs. From 2014 to 2018, Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance discussed and established a potential agenda of convergence. This was only possible due to the efforts of their countries in promoting high-level meetings, such as the ones between Mercosur’s Grupo Mercado Común (GMC) and the Pacific Alliance’s Grupo Alto Nível (GAN); the Foreign Ministers meetings and, finally in 2018, the Presidential Meeting. The Presidential meeting took place alongside the Pacific Alliance Summit in México, where these 8 countries signed the Plan of Action (Plan de Acción): a document with the main areas of interest where they can enhance regional trade. Even though the milestones achieved seemed to be a step forward into regional trade integration, soon the initiative was left aside.

Since 2019, South-America has been the stage of political instabilities and the fragmentation of regional organization. The first move was Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru’s withdrawal from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) in 2018 and the subsequent creation of the Forum for the Progress of South America (Prosur) – which was considered as a substitute for the former – in March 2019. In the same period, they bolstered the anti-Maduro rhetoric, individually and within the Group of Lima, by recognizing Juan Guaidó as the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela (Barros and Gonçalves, 2019).

From mid-2019 on, other events have aggravated the political scenario in South-America: the uprises and the massive protests in Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador; the dissolution of the Peruvian Congress; the animosity between Brazil and Argentina; and Bolivian president Evo Morales stepped down the presidency after an attempt of coup d’etat. All of these events are currently being discussed by scholars, along with the political impacts of the emergence of the new coronavirus, in order to study the domestic political tendencies and their impacts on regional integration projects.

In July 2020, the Plan of Action is about to complete 2 years without reaching any concrete agreement since the last Presidential Meeting between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance. In this article, I analyze the convergence process between these two blocs in order to explain how the initial distancing evolved into a concrete agenda (the Plan of Action), why it is no longer a discussable topic in the regional integration agenda and why it should be back on the table during the Covid-19 crisis. I divided the analysis into three parts that correspond to three different moments: a) 2011-2013; b) 2014-2018; and c) 2019 onwards.

The Emergence of the Pacific Alliance in Latin American Regional Integration

In this first moment (2011-2013), there are no initiatives to promote a dialogue between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance. This can be understood as a reflex of the institutional shaping process of the Pacific Alliance: in 2012, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru signed the Framework Agreement of the Pacific Alliance (Acuerdo Marco de la Alianza del Pacífico), which settled the goals, the membership conditions, the organization chart, among other institutional aspects (Alianza del Pacífico, 2012). In 2013, the countries signed the Additional Protocol to the Framework Agreement of the Pacific Alliance (Protocolo Adicional al Acuerdo Marco de la Alianza del Pacífico), which settled the conditions and legal bases to conform a Free Trade Zone between them (Alianza del Pacífico, 2013).

One could argue that, since the Pacific Alliance had concentrated all its efforts in consolidating its integration project, it couldn’t propose an agenda with Mercosur. But one of the main characteristics of the Pacific Alliance is to enhance their political and economic ties with extra-regional partners, since they do not question the dominant structure regarding trade, economics, and politics (Oyarzún, 2017).

The bloc has been promoting an identity not purely based on its geographical location, but rather on a common shore with the region and markets it aims to reach. While the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) emphasizes its identity as Southern Cone countries and the Andean Community (CAN) as an integration project between countries who share the Andes Mountains, the Pacific Alliance emphasizes itself as an integration agreement between countries which have their shores at the Pacific Ocean and that is open to all countries to become a member, despite their geographical location.

This goal is better understood if we consider the regional context in which the Pacific Alliance emerged. The Free-Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a proposal made by the US, was rejected during the Summit of Americas in 2005, indicating that Latin-America countries would no longer follow the Consensus of Washington as their doctrine to promote regional integration. Instead, in the following years, new patterns of regional cooperation emerged, such as South American Community of Nations (CASA), Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Unasur, and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Even Mercosur presented an enlargement of its integration agenda, including topics such as productive integration, investments in infrastructure, and social participation. Trade remained as a relevant topic, but it was no longer the only goal to be pursued (Briceño, Vigevani and Mariano, 2017). As scholars point out, the Latin American regionalism shifted from ‘open regionalism’ during 1990 to ‘post-liberal regionalism’ and ‘post-hegemonic regionalism’ at the beginning of 21st century (Veiga and Ríos, 2005; Riggirozzi and Tussie, 2012; Sanahuja, 2016).

However, the Pacific Alliance proposed to revive ‘open regionalism’ in its first joint statement (Declaración de Lima), and its members, Chile, Colombia, and Peru even signed individual Free Trade Agreements with the US after the rejection of FTAA (Oyarzún, 2017). In fact,  Cintia Quiliconi (2017) states that the Pacific Alliance’s creation intended to boost the ‘Open Regionalism Reloaded’, as she argues that the bloc’s intentions would go beyond the traditional model of open regionalism by demanding a  greater commitment to cooperation in areas that were not a part of the 1990s’  propositions. These new sectorial themes would include, for instance, immigration, consular cooperation, education, and culture. Even so, all of the institutional Working Groups address the economic aspects of integration at their agenda: as an example, the Gender Working Group discusses how to enhance the female presence on international trade.

Another factor that explains why there could not be perceived a dialogue between the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur in this first moment is that there was no political will to do so. There were individual initiatives, such as Paraguay and Uruguay joining the Pacific Alliance as Observant States, but until 2014 there were no joint proposals. In fact, until 2014 Brazil adopted a skeptical view on the Pacific Alliance and tried to minimize the effects of the signature of the Framework Agreement of the Pacific Alliance and the Additional Protocol to the Framework Agreement of the Pacific Alliance due to the increasing domestic critiques around its openness to international trade and its impacts over Mercosur and also Brazilian industry (Bressan and Luciano, 2016; Mariano, 2016; Menezes and Banzatto, 2016;  Gonçalves, 2019).

Mercosur and Pacific Alliance: The Rapprochement Period

The rapprochement was initiated in 2014 when Chile launched the ‘Convergence in Diversity’ initiative. The main idea of ‘Convergence in Diversity’ consisted in recognizing that these two integration projects, although having different purposes, could not turn their backs on each other and, instead, they should find the areas of mutual interest to promote convergence between them (Herreros, 2018).

The inauguration of the new Chilean government, in March 2014, was fundamental to promote the initial dialogue: in January, during the CELAC Summit, former Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, highlighted the guidelines and advances of the bloc, addressing it as a non-exclusive and non-ideological bloc, without, however, suggesting a rapprochement with Mercosur. Only in July 2014, during the Pacific Alliance Summit in Punta Mita (México), the presidents stated their interest in holding an informative ministerial meeting between the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur, and a seminar with academics, businessmen, and government representatives from both regional blocs (Alianza del Pacífico, 2014).

In this second moment, the agenda of the rapprochement was consolidated. The first ministerial meeting was held in Bogotá (Colombia) and the seminar was held in Santiago (Chile), where the countries’ representatives had the opportunity to discuss and explore the sectorial areas on which the convergence could be promoted. Additionally, in 2015, Brazil held the Working meeting for the harmonization of sanitary standards between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance.

In April 2017, the Foreign Ministers Meeting was held in Buenos Aires, where they established a Road Map with issues regarding: rules of origin; customs cooperation; trade facilitation; regional value chains. It was not only a step forward for their agenda of convergence, but also a response to both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, and their impacts over regional integration and international trade. It is also worth noting that the agenda of convergence remained relevant despite the government changes occurred in Brazil (2016) and Argentina (2015). During 2017, other milestone meetings  also took place, such as the Public-Private High-Level Dialogue Table; the Mercosur-Pacific Alliance Seminar; and the GAN-GMC Meeting to discuss the following topics: digital origin certification, single-window system for foreign trade, customs affairs, regional accumulation of origin and regional value chains, non-tariff barriers, Trade Promotion, and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Mercosur, 2017; 2017; 2017).

The Economic Commission for Latin-America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was also an enthusiast of this convergence process. ECLAC elaborated two reports about the trade profile of the Mercosur’s and Pacific Alliance’s countries, defining in which areas and products they could increase their interdependence and what other additional policies they would have to adopt in order to achieve this goal: for example, to enhance infrastructural connections through Bi-Oceanic Corridors (ECLAC, 2014 and ECLAC, 2018).

Finally, in 2018 the presidents of Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance established the Plan of Action, which consolidated the agenda of rapprochement with the following topics: rules of origin, customs cooperation, trade facilitation, identification of possible value chains, but also tourism, academic mobility, regulatory cooperation, a digital agenda, the movement of people, inclusive trade and gender (Itamaraty, 2018).

Moving Forward From the Atlantic-Pacific Divide or Moving Nowhere?

The third moment was initiated in 2019. It was expected that, once the Plan of Action was signed, Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance would ratify an Agreement between them. Concomitantly, the approval of the Mercosur-European Union Free Trade Agreement, during the Argentine Pro Tempore Presidency, was also a factor that was expected to pave the way for an agreement between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance, since the Pacific Alliance countries had already signed Free Trade Agreements with the European Union.

By the second semester of 2019, Brazil and Chile held the Pro Tempore Presidency of both Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance. Since their bilateral relations had been fundamental for the advance of the agenda during the former administrations, expectations were created for this period. Brazil has recognized Chile as the main actor in promoting the initial dialogue (Gonçalves, 2019), and moreover, the Bolsonaro administration sees Chile as a role model for Brazil due to its open economy and the establishment of several trade agreements with other countries and blocs. Nevertheless, the agenda between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance, which had already been consolidated after four years negotiating the main areas to enhance trade, came to a standstill.

Brazil’s foreign policy towards the region since 2019 has been remarked by the lack of protagonism and the decline of foreign trade, including with its main partner, Argentina. Brazil did not even play a prominent role in the creation of Prosur as the substitute of Unasur and did not have a consistent stance regarding the relevancy of Mercosur for its own interests. It also adopted more aggressive rhetoric towards Venezuela, and created frictions in the relationship with Argentina and Chile by making personal statements about domestic issues: president Bolsonaro openly supported Macri’s re-election and did not attend Alberto Fernandez’s inauguration ceremony, and offended Chile’s former president, Michelle Bachelet, by saying Chile was ‘saved from communists, like her father’, who was murdered under Pinochet’s dictatorship (this episode occurred just when Chilean Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera was traveling to Brazil for a meeting with his counterpart).

In the case of the Pacific Alliance, although the bloc has achieved remarkable advances since its creation, the domestic political crisis in Chile, Peru and Colombia at the end of 2019, the lack of interest by the Mexican government in the Pacific Alliance, and the creation of Prosul contributed to its stagnation (Pastrana and Castro, 2020). Now, in 2020, South-America has been fighting Covid-19 without any effective regional agenda since it was declared in May as the new epicenter by the World Health Organization, which reveals the lowest level of regional cooperation that analysts have ever seen it in the past 20 years.

The South American Institute of Government in Health (ISAGS), an associate body of Unasur that had the potential to generate regional public policies regarding Health has been disintegrated since the extinction of Unasur and it was not incorporated to Prosur (De Souza, 2019). The Pacific Alliance, CAN, and Mercosur are individually discussing measures to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on trade and Prosur was not as effective in promoting a joint effort in the region, but valued individual efforts instead.

The lack of regional organizations and, therefore, regional coordination also affects trade. As an example of this, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) states that the establishment of sanitary measures to mitigate the Covid-19, considered as a political decision, had negative impacts over trade since the economic activities and the mobility of people have declined (ALADI, 2020). According to ECLAC (2020), Covid-19 can impact the region’s export potential as well, through its effect on the imports which are used to generate their exports. It is the case of Chile, Colombia, México, and Peru (members of the Pacific Alliance) and their trade with China. ECLAC has also stated that the Small and medium-sized enterprises are the most vulnerable not only by the economic terms but also by the social impact. President Sebastián Piñera has recently declared in the last Mercosur Summit on July 2nd, the urge to reinforce the potential of Mercosur, Pacific Alliance and Prosur during times of uncertainty and to face the pandemia.

The areas comprehended by the Plan of Action are related to what the latest documents of ECLAC and ALADI argue about the impacts of Covid-19 on regional trade. In bringing back Plan of Action to the regional agenda can be an opportunity for Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance to join efforts to reestablish regional coordination, enhance intraregional trade and minimize the decline of their exports to regions outside Latin-America.


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Alianza Del Pacífico. (2012). Acuerdo Marco de la Alianza del Pacífico. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2020].

Alianza Del Pacífico. (2013). Protocolo Adicional al Acuerdo Marco. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2020].

Alianza Del Pacífico. (2014). Declaración de Punta Mita. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2020].

Barros, P. and Gonçalves, J. (2019). Fragmentação da governança regional: o Grupo de Lima e a política externa brasileira (2017-2019). Mundo e Desenvolvimento, 2(3), pp. 6-33.

Bressan, R. and Luciano, B. (2016). Percepciones y reacciones brasileñas frente a la Alianza del Pacífico: contrapeso o convergencia? In: Pastrana, E. and Jost, S., eds. Incidencias Regionales y Globales de la Alianza del Pacífico. City of México: Fundación Konrad Adenauer, A.C México, pp. 254-276.

Briceño, J., Vigevani, T. and Mariano, K. (2017). Post-hegemonic regionalism in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. In: Briceño, J. and Morales, I., ed. Post-Hegemonic Regionalism in the Americas. Toward a Pacific-Atlantic Divide? 1st ed. New York: Routledge, pp. 174-192.

De Souza, L. (2019). O que se perde com o fim do Instituto Sul-Americano de Governo em Saúde (ISAGS)? Observatório de Regionalismo [online]. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2020].

ECLAC. (2014). La Alianza del Pacífico y el MERCOSUR: hacia la convergencia en la diversidad. Santiago de Chile: ECLAC.

ECLAC (2018). La convergencia entre la Alianza del Pacífico y el MERCOSUR: enfrentando juntos un escenario mundial desafiante. Santiago de Chile: ECLAC.

ECLAC. (2020). América Latina y el Caribe ante la pandemia del COVID-19: Efectos económicos y sociales. Santiago de Chile: ECLAC. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2020].

Gonçalves, J. (2019). Brasil e a Aliança do Pacífico: visões em disputa na integração regional? Master. Interinstitutional Graduate Program in International Relations “San Tiago Dantas” (UNESP, UNICAMP, PUC-SP).

Herreros, S. (2018). Interview with Eclac’s Economic Affairs Officer.

Itamaraty. (2018). Declaração entre os Estados Partes do Acordo Marco da Aliança do Pacífico (AP) e os Estados Partes do Mercosul signatários do Tratado De Assunção. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2020]

Mariano, M. (2016). La política exterior brasileña y los procesos de integración regional a partir de la creación de la UNASUR y la Alianza del Pacífico. In: Pastrana, E. and Jost, S., eds. Incidencias Regionales y Globales de la Alianza del Pacífico. México City: Fundación Konrad Adenauer, A.C México, pp. 205-227.

Menezes, R. and Banzatto, A. (2016). Brasil e Aliança do Pacífico: resistência, aproximação e acomodação. In: Serbin, A., Martínez, L., Ramanzini Júnior, H. and Pont, A. Anuario de la Integración Regional de América Latina y el Caribe. Buenos Aires: Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales, pp. 133-147.

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Oyarzún, L. (2017). The Pacific Alliance and the construction of a new economic regime? lights and shadows of the renewal of open regionalism. In: Briceño, J. and Morales, I., eds. Post-Hegemonic Regionalism in the Americas. Toward a Pacific-Atlantic Divide? 1st ed. New York: Routledge, pp. 141-159.

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On Gil Scott-Heron and Global Protests

The recent global Black Lives Matter protests have prompted IR scholars and others to revisit the work of Malcolm X and the poetry of Gil Scott-Heron. In one of his prison letters, Malcolm X wrote that he became “a real bug for poetry. When you think back over all of our past lives, only poetry could best fit into the vast emptiness created by men.” Later in his life, Malcolm X sought to internationalize the plight of African Americans. For example, at the Organization of African Unity in 1964, he exhorted the African diplomats and others that “We, in America, are your long lost brothers and sisters, and I am here to remind you that our problems are your problems.” Malcolm X looked to internationalize the sensibilities of the attendees by saying of African Americans: “We stand defenseless at the mercy of American racists who murder us at will for no reason other than we are black and of African descent.” Before his assassination, Malcolm X pushed for centers for black artistic expression as part of a means to connect black people throughout the globe. After his death, “this energy coalesced into the Black Arts Movement.” In this movement, poetry and other forms of art were critical to speaking truth to power and working toward justice for the dispossessed and disenfranchised—domestically and globally.

Gil Scott-Heron is perhaps one of the most famous artists influenced by this movement. In this essay, we briefly outline why we have turned to Gil Scott-Heron’s poetry in the classroom. His poetry, inspired by Malcolm X, is particularly relevant to this moment as we witness the momentum of Black Lives Matter protests happening in all 50 states and all over the world from Belgium to Brisbane. Thousands marched in Paris. From Kentucky to Canada, from Fresno to Frankfurt thousands are looking at the police brutality visited upon African Americans and seeing similarities to how state-sponsored police forces act against people of color and poor people in their own milieu. Chinese, Russian, and Iranian diplomats are focusing attention, however fleeting and for their own purposes, on the treatment of African Americans. In the classroom, whom might we listen to and how might we speak about these global protests? Gil Scott-Heron, we think, helps us confront the complexities of this moment.

Throughout this year, we have been co-teaching a “Poetry and Politics” seminar. One of the poems that we have been teaching together is Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The poem is helpful in thinking about this global moment of Black Lives Matter for several reasons.

First, it helps us think critically about the media’s focus on looting rather than structural sources of protests and riots (“There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mae pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run / Or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance”). As we witnessed in recent weeks, the media tends to zoom in on certain newsworthy effects (e.g. fires, looting, and property damage) of structural racism rather than structural racism itself. The Revolution tells us that “there will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay.” The Revolution prompts a discussion about the reasons for the disparaging term for police, and, more importantly, pushes us to reflect on the many black men (and women) killed not only by law enforcement officers but by law enforcement structures—portrayed in certain media reports as though these killings are a sport replete with “instant replay.”

Second, Scott-Heron offers a poetic window into divisions within black movements, reminding us of how these movements are never monolithic and often have different objectives (or means of achieving them). For example, The Revolution involves a biting critique of civil rights leaders Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. During the heady days of the orthodox civil rights movement, the grassroots activities were led by the “Big Six.” Amongst the Big Six were longtime labor organizer A. Philip Randolph, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and a young John Lewis. Scott-Heron turns his pen towards the last two of the “Big Six:” Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins of the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, respectively.

Scott-Heron’s pen grows teeth when he writes “there will be no pictures of Whitney Young being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process. There will be no slow motion or still lifes of Roy Wilkins strolling through Watts in a red, black and green liberation jumpsuit that he has been saving for just the proper occasion.” Why does Scott-Heron use his pen to bite two of the most respected leaders of the civil rights movement? While Young and Wilkins were symbols of articulate moral leadership and effective advocacy in black communities, Scott-Heron muses about Young in a process (straightened hair) and Wilkins in a Bendera flag jumpsuit. Young and Wilkins were always seen in a dark fitted suit with a white shirt, a thin dark tie, and close-cropped natural hair. Putting them in a process and a multi-colored jumpsuit is arguably worse than putting them in a red nose with big floppy shoes piled up in a Volkswagen bug.

Why this imagery? Here, we see Scott-Heron launching two critiques. First, he is voicing a common criticism that Young and Wilkins were too close to white philanthropy to provide effective street-based leadership for black communities. Second, Scott-Heron is identifying both Young and Wilkins as outside the revolution, as irrelevant to the revolution and likely even as counter-revolutionaries that should be scorned by politicized black communities.

Using Young and Wilkins as stand-ins to criticize the “establishment” leadership of the “Big Six,” Scott-Heron turns his lens on the social and class divisions in black communities and finds a key fissure between middle-class blacks and the identity of the communities that birthed them. For students unaware of these kinds of divisions, Scott-Heron could prompt conversations about how and why they emerge, and also what they mean for bringing about both domestic and global change.

Third, Scott-Heron is pressing us to consider how black struggles can be domesticated or commercialized. As the world watches the protests and “instant replays” of George Floyd’s murder, we might ask what it means that “the revolution will not be televised?” The world finally seems to be watching. But what are we watching? Who is watching and what do we see (and fail to see)? Scott-Heron tells us that “the revolution will not go better with Coke.” How might revolution be domesticated by calls for cosmetic improvements without deeper systemic change? How might revolution be commercialized and co-opted? The Revolution leaves us searching—pragmatically and imaginatively—for difficult answers to so many pressing questions.

Considering The Revolution in the context of Black Lives Matter also reminds us of the deep connections between black political struggles in the United States and global struggles discussed within the annals of black political thought. W. E. B. DuBois held the first of the historic Pan African Conferences in 1919 locating the plight of African Americans within the overall anti-colonial struggle. The clergyman and diplomat Alexander Crummell wrote about internationalizing the anti-racist/anti-fascist struggle of African Americans in 1861 in his letter, The Relations and Duties of Free Colored Men in America to Africa. And as early as 1852, the veritable “Father of Pan Africanism” Martin Delany published The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, where he says the facts of American oppression of African Americans are plain and the goal is to “proclaim in tones more eloquently than thunder” that this treatment requires an international reaction.

The Black Lives Matter movement, emerging from black struggles in the streets of the United States, has become a global response to systemic racism. The death of Adama Traoré outside of Paris is seen as connected to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Chants in Paris include the phrase, “Justice pour Adama, Justice pour George Floyd, Justice pour Tous!” How do we respond to this moment in the classroom? A turn to poets like Gil Scott-Heron, we believe, is one productive way to reflect on this juncture. His poems distilled wordplay, irony, anger, intellect, and lament into some of the most illuminating poems and songs ever produced in the world. While his work contends with the sociopolitical brutalities of racism, it also signals toward the possibilities (and impossibilities) of change—in the world and within ourselves. As we read his poetry with students in the context of Black Lives Matter, change in the world (we hope) becomes more possible.

Guided by the spirits of Malcolm X and Gil Scott-Heron, we are searching, together. What will we find? What will we create? How might poems of the past and present inform and inspire the change we are working toward?

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The European Union’s Security and Defence Policy Beyond COVID-19 – E-International Relations

As Europe went from being the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic to a situation where most European countries are confident that they are past the worst of the crisis, the focus of the European leaders is now towards the resurgence of the society back to normalcy. Beyond the epidemiological challenge of the virus – the economic, political, geopolitical as well as security challenges faced by the Union are also plenty. Though the European Union’s Global Strategy of 2016 (PDF) highlighted the detection, prevention and response to global pandemics as a priority, the massive consequences and implications on the security policy of the EU are unprecedented. In a continent that is always undergoing shifts, the outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to cause an impact much similar to that of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States of America in 2001.

The most direct and immediate impact is economic in nature which is taking place concurrently to the pandemic. Most European companies including the EU defence firms are witnessing a historic drop in their stock market prices. This is subsequently leading to a rise in their debt ratios and eventually causing a functional threat to their survival. Further, as the public authorities are channelling their resources towards fighting an unprecedented challenge, the funding towards the defence sector and its initiatives is bound to be diminished.

As Europe enters a massive economic recession, defence spending will also take a blow in terms of priority. Europe’s recovery from the outbreak will require unparalleled levels of financial stimulus and thus, the allotted funding to previous defence initiatives, which do not seem to play a key role in the overall recovery of Europe, is likely to decrease. Spending on the defence sector, which had finally reached its pre-2008 financial crisis level in 2019, is now likely to see a reverse trend. The lack of funds will also have a directly proportional relationship with the in-house Research and Development sector of the European defence firms. As long as the COVID-19 crisis persists, its impact will continue to be seen as the slowdown of innovation in the European defence sector, further diminishing the European competitiveness in the same.

As the spending on defence sector slumps, the development of several initiatives on the EU defence cooperation such as European Defence Fund (EDF) and the European Peace Facility (EPF) will lose their velocity. The number of Member States already questioning the political credibility and the value of financing these initiatives will rise, fragmenting the otherwise flourishing integration project of the supranational Union. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the already unequal economies of the Northern and Southern European states, unity and solidarity are already under stress as Member States embolden nationalist narratives, rather than European solutions. Political will is a crucial factor for a transnational actor like the EU in order to develop an effective framework for European security and to establish itself as a credible security partner alongside NATO. The EU defence project will only make sense if the Member States support each other in principle in times of crisis.

The EU’s position as a security actor is under question as a result of the pandemic. Owing to the high cost of dealing with the socio-economic damage caused by the outbreak, the EU’s operational readiness of crisis-management activities will be narrowed down. The Union’s willingness to contribute troops to civilian and military activities on Libyan, Syrian and Ukrainian territories is likely to decrease. This inward-looking perspective of the European security policy further creates a risk that crisis in such regions may worsen at the peak of a pandemic. This will not only add to the human suffering in the neighborhood, but also create a nexus of vulnerability and crisis for Europe. If not handled effectively, non-state actors may begin to take advantage of this period of vulnerability of the Union. Negative externalities could spill over to the EU, such as accelerating the migrant issue and leading to political polarization within the Member States.

While COVID-19 continues to transform political and economic realities in Europe, it becomes imperative for the EU to advocate a holistic recovery package that focusses not only on the reconstruction of economies but also on the diversified security needs of the alliance. The EU has to cope with the pandemic as well as the economic recession without sacrificing the European defence sector initiatives and competitiveness, which could play a functional role in not only maintaining security and stability but also in pushing towards an EU-wide plan of economic and industrial re-launch. At the same time, it is important to note that the need for advancing solidarity on the defence policy front has never been as compelling. With the EU facing the heat on both sides of the pacific in the face of US-China rivalry and transatlantic relations also under stress, the exigency for a more coherent, geopolitical, self-reliant Europe is emergent.

The European Union External Action Taskforce’s factsheet on ‘COVID-19: Lessons and Implications for EU Security and Defence’ (May 2020) highlights the need of the Union to confront all possible security consequences of the pandemic, in order to be truly prepared and resilient for the future. The document brings out the five key essential initial lessons learned in order to overcome the crisis: partnerships, solidarity, responsiveness, capabilities and preparedness. It is advisable for the EU to not abandon its pre-coronavirus agenda on security and defence policy, which is required to be truly responsive to imminent threats facing the continent. Thus, the EU must incorporate European defence cooperation to be a part of its post-pandemic recovery, in order to achieve the goal of strategic autonomy, and enhance its role a security actor in the international realm.

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