Latin America: Forgotten Continent

Latin America: Forgotten Continent
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After spending many hours studying the history and politics of Latin America for my course I have been struck by how dynamic and diverse the politics of this region, despite the fact it is a continent that never appears to dominate the headlines. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Latin America was the focus of the Americans and therefore by proxy of the world. They fought the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and helped Pinochet claim power in Chile. However since this era focus has shifted completely away from the continent, with the Middle East and Asia capturing the headlines in the ‘world’ sections of newspapers and websites.

For many this is no surprise. The Israel, Palestine conflict has continued with no sign of a peaceful resolution any nearer than it was under the Carter or Clinton administrations, and with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the fallout from 9/11 it is no surprise that the Middle East has stolen headlines. Add to that the rising economic and politics power of China and India and there leaves little room for the events of Latin America to make headlines worldwide.

However when one examines the continent more closely you see that this region contains all the hallmarks that make the Middle East or Asia newsworthy. Latin America is home to one of the most dynamic and powerful growing economies in the world in the form of Brazil; a country whose growth rate is estimated at around 3.5% for 2012 (Forbes, 21/3/2012), despite a global recession and potential financial crisis.

In addition to a great economic power the continent is experiencing great political change that has seen the ‘New Left’ grow in power and strength. Latin America is now the home to the most dramatic socialist regimes in the world who, united under new politics and a new Latin American identity, are seeking to challenge the dominance of the USA in the Western Hemisphere.

Latin America, like the Middle East also has its fair share of interesting and controversial leaders that could easily distract attention away from the leaders of the Middle East, such as Hosni Mubarak or Colonel Gaddafi. One of the few leaders who does attract Western media attention is Hugo Chavez. Chavez has proved to be a charismatic leader whose politics have kept the US on their toes. However Chavez is not alone in Latin America; allies including Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Eva Morales of Bolivia have pushed strong socialist agendas that challenge the US. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina continues to challenge Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, threatening political and economic action to achieve her aims and in Surinam a President has been elected, Desi Bouterse, who was previously a military dictator in the country, a man implicated in murders and massacres in Surinam.

However with the revolutions continuing to sweep North Africa and the Middle East and the wars that have dominated news coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq, South America is not likely to achieve the same amount of news coverage as in previous decades. In the current climate it is unlikely that Latin America’s profile will dramatically change whilst attention is so focused on the affairs of the Middle East and Arab nations and Latin America will remain, for the moment, the forgotten continent.

By Peter Banham
Peter Banham
Peter earned his MA in Geopolitics, Territory & Security at Kings College London in 2015, following a BA in History and International Relations from Lancaster University. He has been the editor and a major contributor to A Little View of the World since 2012 where he has written on global affairs, international relations, development and world conflicts.

4 Responses to Latin America: Forgotten Continent

  1. The UN reported the other month that the majority of the population in Latin America were losing faith in democracy and would change to an authoritarian government if they thought they would bring economic benefits.

    • It is true that many Latin Americans are losing faith in democracy, but only the democracy that currently exists. What they seek is what has developed in Venezuela, Bolivia and, in particular, Ecuador where Rafael Correa has initiated a political system by which everyone in the country is given political power through the use of extensive referendum. Correa wanted to give Ecuadorians a voice in politics and thus has used the referendum system to allow every member of society to engage directly in politics. Nearly every major political decision is dicussed and decided on by referendum.

      This article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/jan/19/ecuador-radical-exciting-place?INTCMP=SRCH) explains in better detail what is going on in Ecuador and is a facinating read.

      As for more authoritarian that is debatable. It is true that many Latin American leaders do dominate politics, inlcude Chavez, Morales and Correa. However the view of them as authoritarian may come more from the American perception of these leaders, who embrace a socialist agenda so different to the ‘American Way-Of-Life’

  2. Interesting couple of possible tipping points might I suggest:

    -Mexico continuing (but agreed relatively Media silent decline into increasing violence fueled by drugs and crime how long will that be allowed to go on, if the problem escalates further and rule of law falls away completely as it nestles alongside USA)

    -Chavez state of health with Cancer? What happens next, and the impact of resources in his state

    -Brazil and increasing economic significance and therefore likely increased noise and voice in international affairs.

    -Argentina although it lacks the economic bite it continues to irritate matters and possibly is headed for some serious economic problems itself.

    Whilst currently a forgotten continent perhaps there is the possibility of one or more of these and other factors swinging into play and some focus shifting?

    Thanks for your article

    • The drug war with Mexico is a classic example of terrible violence that fails to make worldwide news and I fear that this is not about to change as the drug war being fought is largely a problem faced by Americans, rather than a direct problem that the EU will face and thus it is questionable whether this conflict, which I believe should be front page news around the world, will be a global, rather than regional, news story.

      Brazil’s economic rise, likewise, may remain a regional news story as it is constantly overshadowed by the economies of India, China and Russia, which are presented as being far more intertwined and critical to the economies of the West.

      However I believe you are right; Chavez’s health and potential for a lost election on his part in October of this year could bring the issue of socialism and Latin American politics back to the fore of world news and as the demand for oil will only rise, any new regime will be looked upon with interest by the world, to see what direction they take the country next and what the implications are for the world.

      Equally the debate between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands still has the potential to create headlines. It is one of the few issues that does generate discussion in Britain, however many of the stories are painted as Argentian politics resurrecting past, 1980’s issues, rather than presenting new opinions or pushing for new action. Thus to generate the attention Argentina would need to scale up its political power and pose a real definitive threat to British sovereignty, as it did in the 1980’s.

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Peter Banham
Peter earned his MA in Geopolitics, Territory & Security at Kings College London in 2015, following a BA in History and International Relations from Lancaster University. He has been the editor and a major contributor to A Little View of the World since 2012 where he has written on global affairs, international relations, development and world conflicts.

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