TCS Daily

The True Liberation of Latin America

By Andres Mejia-Vergnaud - May 19, 2005 12:00 AM

In recent days, I wrote a brief article where I complained about the bad leadership that Brazil is trying to exert in the Latin American context. I criticized its stance and practices in areas such as trade, integration and intellectual property. In my view, these are highly populist, and don't have the power to bring any real benefit to Brazilians or Latin Americans.

I received several e-mails from enemies of trade and globalization, most of them going over the same old theme: trade is only in the interest of the rich, multi-nationals are enemies of the poor, this is just a big global conspiracy, etc. But one of the messages I received was amusing. It came from someone in the Brazilian government who claimed the bad leadership I denounced was "only in my mind", and started his brief message saying I "should visit Latin America sometime."

The reason this is so funny is that I don't have to visit Latin America: I LIVE in Latin America! I live, work and write in Bogota, Colombia, the country where I was born and have always lived. It's amazing how this man couldn't simply believe that someone from Latin America defended trade and intellectual property. He didn't even bother to find out where I was from. He just assumed that a defender of trade and IP had to be from a rich country, a part of that global conspiracy to drain the blood of the poor to the last drop.

Funnily enough, when I replied to him saying I live in Colombia, he replied saying my ideas are "20 years old" and recommending that I "should cross the border". I don't think my ideas are old. I believe that ideas, if true, never get old and never die.

The view that Latin Americans are essentially victims of the rich, and that the way for us to "liberate" is to unite and create "alternative blocs" is not new, and it's not exclusive of Latin Americans. It was tried before during the years of the Non-Aligned Movement. Arabs and Africans tried it through their Pan-Arab and Pan-African movements. That idea is the basis of the foreign-aid and debt-relief movements.

Let's just stop and think, what have we gained after all these years of thinking we're inferior? Nothing. We remain basically poor. Some countries have even become more impoverished. Some would say the gain comes in the form of dignity, but I see no dignity in keeping millions of people in poverty for the sake of third-worldism.

One of the most beautiful and inspirational texts ever written is Kant's "An answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" The text is a call to abandon fear and embrace courage: "Sapere aude", go ahead, have the courage to use your own understanding. It's time for Latin Americans to embrace courage: the courage to compete as equals in the global markets. Calls to create "alternative blocs" are nothing but an invitation to fear and a sophisticated version of an unjustified inferiority complex.

We, Latin Americans, should not be afraid to trade. We should not be afraid to be part of a system which, imperfect as any human design has to be, has the power to open global markets to our products. Released from benevolent government coercion, Latin Americans would be free to display their immense creative and productive energies. But Latin America's populist leaders seem to believe that Latin Americans do not have any creative powers, therefore they must be protected from the openness of trade.

Let's not be afraid of playing by the rules: sure, we want all our people to have access to medicines, but we're not going to achieve this by threatening to violate the rules that allowed these drugs to be invented in first place. What if, instead of speaking against multinationals, we just scrap the huge bureaucracies of our health systems, and design more open and dynamic frameworks for health-care provision? We can't solve our health-care problems if al we do is steal ideas.

The true liberation of Latin America will not come as a result of a joint fight against myths and delirious conspiracy theories. It will come when we realize we have the power to produce, the power to sell, the power to compete and the power to win. Why? Not because our leaders will "protect" us, but because we're creative, dynamic and imaginative.

The author is with the Instituto Desarrollo y Libertad, Bogota, Colombia.



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