Thinking from the Periphery to Escape the Periphery


It is in our mind to have absolute awareness of the transcendental moment we are living. There is no doubt that a large part of the future of the countries of South America depends on the facts that can be achieved today. If the history of humanity is a limited edition of decisive moments, there is no doubt that we are facing one of those moments. We can still choose between being simple spectators or main players of history.

In the “game” of international policy there is a power that comes out of proposing an agenda, determining the context of the debate and its technical vocabulary. In Latin America, political leaders, specialized journalists and those studying international relations, very often do we get wrapped up in the agenda, the debate and the vocabulary produced by the great centers of academic excellence of the United States that specialize in international relations.

Thus, to think about international relations from the South American periphery implies generating ideas, concepts, hypothesis, and of course, as a necessary correlation, our own vocabulary. An exclusive vocabulary capable of realizing our own reality and of our own specific problems tied to our particular insertion in the international system.

Our main debate should, therefore, spin around how to reach the new threshold of power. We should discuss what resources of power necessaries to overcome our endemic state of general subordination, and in particular, our state of ideological and cultural subordination. We should discuss which what the best way is to prepare ourselves for the possible irruption onto a stage of “supply imperialism”. We need to think from the periphery but not to come up with a repetitive “litany” of complaints, not to limit ourselves to create a suffered vision and condemning vision, not to feed defeatists and relief between rhetorical and visceral comments. We need to think from the periphery in order to leave the periphery. And we will only be able to escape the periphery together.

No State of Latin America has yet reached the stadium of full autonomy and all the South American States, though in different degrees, are subject to a double subordination: a general subordination to the hegemonic structures of world power and a specific subordination that submits them to the dominion of the power under which its area of influence is found. In the realm of international reality, where power is the measure of all things, only the States that reach the threshold of power –meaning, the minimum power needed to not fall into the stadium of insubordination- they are true “subjects” of international policy. The States that do not reach the threshold of power, though they may be able to reach great economic prosperity, they tend to inevitably become “objects” of international policy, meaning subordinated States. And it is always necessary to remember that power is more important than riches, because the opposite of power is powerlessness, which makes an impotent State but into the hands of others that are more powerful not only riches but also productive forces, its culture, its identity, and even its own possibility of survival as a State.

The necessary threshold of power for a State to not fall into the stadium of subordination is always related to the power generated by other States that make up the international system. When one or more political units considerably increase their power, they provoke a substantial change in the current threshold of power; the same one that the other political units need to not fall into the stadium of subordination. So, when the training of the great national States –Spain in 1492, France in 1453, England in 1558-, these raised the threshold of power and the political unities that weren’t able to become national States, like the city-states of the Italic Peninsula, they progressively became subordinated States.

Likewise the states of Bavaria, Hesse, Wurttemberg, Baden, Saxony, Hannover and Prussia, through economic integration, were able to unleash the process of industrialization and associate themselves into a new State, which allowed them to together reach the new threshold of power, marked by historic irruption from Great Britain as the first industrial State-nation –and it was only then that that they stopped being subordinated States and a battle field of the ambitions of France, England and Russia-, the States of South America only through economic integration will they be able to reach together the new threshold of power now set by the irruption of the United States as continental industrial technological State-nation. And only when will they be able to no longer be subordinated States and a battle field for others’ ambitions.
Only when Prussia was founded in Germany did it stop being the “the armed arm of England” on the European continent. Only then did it stop being artifice of others’ ambition to start being artifice of its own ambition. Only by serving joint Germany, was Prussia able to stop being the “English maid” of central Europe, to start being “the heart of a world power”. Just as Prussia stopped thinking and acting according to her own legitimate individual interest, in order to think and act according to the general interest of Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela should stop thinking and acting according to their own personal and legitimate individual interests, to think and act according to the general interest of South America.

Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela should stop thinking that what is fundamental is that each one of them industrialize to begin to think about how to industrialize the South American Group. Just as the United States in the 19th century understood that industrial development was one of the key elements for building its national power and that it needed –facing British competition- to defend its newborn industry with strong tariffs, thus the countries of South America need to understand that they need –for the development of industry and technology, as key elements to national power- an adequate and convenient conjugation of an attitude of ideological insubordination to deal with the dominating thought, as well as an efficient and adequate state impulse. This conjunction should play itself out through an appropriate active technological pro industrial policy. This policy should be planned continentally by following the example of Japan when it planned out its national reconstruction and after World War Two. We need to create a South American “MITI”. It has nothing to do with taking up the idea of autarchy to a South American level but rather to determine what productive sectors of the South American system-through an appropriate policy for its development- they could acquire, in relatively short timeframes –from ten to fifteen years-, international competitiveness and transform those sectors into sectors of collective interest of all the countries that make of the area of integration.

The Mercosur, with the incorporation of Venezuela and Bolivia, is a satisfactory area just as it is today for the application of a pro industrial technological policy –though South American continentalism would be the ideal area-, designating a space just big enough to sustain it and for it to not have from the beginning characteristics of rapid obsolescence.

For Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, the fundamental strategic objective of their foreign policies can be nothing else that building a South American Union of Nations. This is the only way by which they will together reach the new threshold of power, meaning, the minimum needed power for them to not irreversibly become in lesser anonymous segments of the international market, controlled internally by the large multinational corporations – the same ones that already predominate them- and externally by Washington. 

If Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela –that still preserve minimum conditions of autonomy, face the new international stage as isolated States, they will be condemned –as will all of South America- to endemic under-development and to political subordination. They would then commit the same mistake made by the city-States of Florence, Geneva and Venice during the Renaissance. Those Italian city-states were incapable of putting aside their own miserly interests. This shrewdness hindered them from achieving the national unity of Italy. With that attitude they were only able to condemn themselves –and condemning themselves together with all the peoples of the peninsula- to economic underdevelopment and political dominance, for more than three centuries.

In order to reach the new threshold of power, the process of integration should reach a high operative level. For that it is necessary to establish, without wasting time, a joint program of action for short, mid and long term.

In the short-term, it is necessary to urgently strengthen the Argentine-Brazilian-Venezuelan alliance with concrete methods, given that this alliance is the only real way to reach the unity of South America, in the same way that the French-German-Italian alliance was the condition sine qua non of European unity. Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela should reach a wide, deep and rational agreement that will allow them to find a regime of reciprocally favorable exchange.

It is necessary to have in mind –as Jaguaribe has so sagaciously pointed out- that, just as Germany paid the highest price to finalize its alliance with the French and those two countries paid the highest price to get into the European Community, Brazil also will have to pay the highest price to make its alliance with Argentina effective and the two countries must pay the highest price have consolidation of the South American Union of Nations. The Argentine-Brazilian-Venezuelan alliance, the Mercosur and the future of the South American Union of Nations will only be able to survive the terrible external pressures to which it will be submitted if the permanency in the system turns out to be significantly more advantageous –for each participant- than leaving it. It is important to remember also that the process of integration will only be successful if its participants renounce any other aspiration to unilateral leadership, learn to think about regional interest and act, always, on the basis of previous consensus.

The lonely road to the First World leads to the dark basements of the “room” and to permanent subordination. We are faced with one of the decisive moments in history. The future is at stakes today.