The 3rd Session of IIAS Latin America Lecture Series | Latin America: Institutional Fragmentation and New Agenda in Future

On the evening of May 28th, 2021, the third online session of Latin America and Caribbean Lecture Series organized by Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU) was successfully held. The event was delivered by Fernando Reyes Matta, Director of the Latin American Centre for China Studies at Andrés Bello University (UNAB) and a former Chilean Ambassador to China, with the theme of “Institutional Fracture and New Agenda in Future”, and was hosted by Xu Peiyuan, a doctorate candidate at IIAS. The online audience included doctorate candidates at IIAS and external participants.

At the beginning, Mr. Reyes Matta introduced the theme of the lecture with a map of Latin America and pointed out that many countries in Latin America have similarities, such as common language, culture, music, literature and urban system, which originated from early Spanish colonialism. Latin America is a resource-rich continent inhabited by whites, hybrids, blacks and Indians.

Latin America and the Caribbean has one third of the world’s freshwater reserves, one fifth of the world’s natural forests, 12% of the world’s arable land, rich biodiversity and ecosystems of global climate importance, such as the Amazon rainforest, in addition to a large number of natural resources related to mining and hydrocarbons.

Mr. Reyes Matta mentioned that according to statistics from relevant authorities, the region is home to at least 49% of silver reserves (in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Mexico), 44% of copper reserves (in Chile, Peru and Mexico), 33% of tin reserves (in Peru, Brazil and Bolivia) and 22% of iron reserves (in Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico), as well as other metals and minerals. In addition, statistics in 2012 shows Latin America and the Caribbean is the second region with the largest oil reserves in the world, second only to the Middle East. As far as South America is concerned, natural resources are mainly supplied to goods in the agro-industrial sector, while mining and hydrocarbons account for more than 70% of total exports.

However, Latin America and the Caribbean is also a region fragmented by institutions, facing shared challenges, including visible inequality in income distribution, low productivity, unstable employment, irrational production structure and other weaknesses. Since the end of the 19th century, the United States has tried to regard this region as a symbol of its rule and hegemony by advocating the concept of “pan-Americanism”. In 1948, the Organization of American States was born. “Integration” is a constant concept in Latin American discourse. The concept of regional integration has been passed down from generation to generation. Organizations and agencies are created, principles and goals are announced, but concrete actions to achieve real integration are put aside. Since the beginning of the 21st century, governments of various countries, especially those of South American countries, have claimed the advantages of integration. The permanent restart of MERCOSUR and the creation of the Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance, the Latin American Community and the Pacific Alliance are all manifestations of this philosophy.

Mr. Reyes Matta further explained that Latin America has a history of continuous progress and setbacks in the pursuit for integration, while unable to formulate a single initiative. Each country has its own clear goals, administration, regional strength and leadership. The main reasons include differences in administration and specific objectives among countries, wrong assessment between regional objectives and national interests, lack of strategic commitment, inability to maintain the integration process after the change of government, and the existence of economic nationalism. Then, Mr. Reyes Matta illustrated the serious institutional problems in Latin America with vivid and detailed cases, including the dispute over the Southern Common Market or Pacific Alliance, the Latin American and Caribbean Community and the difficult journey without consensus.

Mr. Reyes Matta concluded that seeking consensus with China and establishing good relations between the two countries are conducive to the integration process of Latin America and the Caribbean. Under the new development landscape in the 21st century, Latin American countries should make a policy of non-alignment and autonomy. In the process of building a new world order, it is important to realistically deal with various relations and make efforts to identify commonalities in diversity.

At the end of the lecture, Mr. Reyes Matta had heated discussions with the online audience on a number of topics, ncluding whether Latin American countries should unite politically, why the Chilean government failed to solve the problems of social violence and income inequality in time, the challenges and opportunities of future cooperation between China and Latin American countries, the industrialization process of Latin American countries and Latin American immigrants in the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Reyes Matta carefully and patiently answered these questions and presented Chile’s current situation and development prospects from the aspects of constitutional reform, social security and inequality, which finished off the event in a pleasant atmosphere.

Fernando Reyes Matta is Director of the Latin American Centre for China Studies at Andrés Bello University and an expert in international communication and public diplomacy. From 1997 to 2004, he served as Chilean Ambassador to New Zealand. From 2000 to 2006, he acted as Adviser to President Lagos of Chile on international affairs. From 2006 to 2010, he was Chilean Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Xu Peiyuan & Xu Shuai