11.04 Leonardo Pattacini

Leonardo Pataccini – South America in XXI Century

If anybody asks you to name couple of important things about what is happening in Europe today then it would not be a problem - Brexit and UK, elections in the Netherlands, France and Le Pen... But how much do you know about South America? How often do you read about Brazilian politics or protests and chaos in Venezuela? 

Our next speaker is Leonardo Pataccini who is the Research Fellow at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu. He will tell us more about trends, changes and perspectives in South America.

Most of the lecture covered Brazil and Argentina but Pataccini spoke a bit about other countries as well.


From the last political changes in the last year one can see that the continent is in dispute. There are two main political groups and the division between is growing wider. This is a political as well as economical division – how the region and people should be integrated with the rest of the world. It may seem a very schizoprenic continent; moving back and forward all the time. We see more progressive group who had more influence in different countries at the same time (presidents Kirchner in Argentina); Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela. Chile is a bit different case. Political groups came to power and their politics were respected. It used to be that when somebody came to power he could not finish his term.

Actually, in order to understand the current situation, we should go 200 years back in history. South American countries – there was a political vacuum, imperial power was weak (french power), local elites (creoles) who were mostly traders wanted to expand their activities; they declared independence temporarily. In Argentina’s case -1810 and 1816. There were different groups who wanted different politics; some of them wanted to make the whole continent the same but for example, Brazil was huge and it was like a continent itself. This project failed because of local powers (landowners and traders) who did not want to share their power. They created their own territories (countries as we know today).

More progressive political sector claimed integration with other countries. Most countries were created under this dichotomy. Those who won the first struggle, ruled the country. We see very concentrated land and very strong presidential states. There is a division of powers but president is the „main man“. If we think about the case of Chile or Uruguay, we can see the demographic distribution – in Argentina 40% of the population lives in one city, everything ends in Buenos Aires. Approximately half of the population lives in the capital (biggest city). When talking about Brazil (capital) then it was created out of a blue in the middle of nowhere. City is designed as a plane and they idea was that it brings everything to the capital.

Progressive sectors – more protectionist policies (no free trade because its impossible to compete with China for example, thus protectionist barriers are needed). Export – the same thing country exports is the same that people needs for surviving. When some good is too expensive, producer does not care and sells it to somewhere else. This conflict has been lasting for 100 years.

Army is one of the main political actors. When democratic government did something that did not make people happy, there was a coup (7 coups in Argentina, in Brazil they had less but they lasted longer, in Bolivia, Chile and Peru as well). Today, we can see a wave of stable political situation. Role of elections became a bit more flexible. Looking the last 30 years, we should see democracy and happy people but unfortunately not. Argentina, for example, is balancing between two extremes – economic crisis and hyperinflation. The same we can see about Brazil. There are big changes in Uruguay and Bolivia. Bolivia’s case – for the first time native person was ran and elected as a president. No one expected women to play a political role, but this has changed in the last 25 years.

Foreign policy:

Two main models – model of free trade areas and bilateral agreements. Sout Americans are thinking about the same currency but no free movement (Schengen area). This idea during the 90s was supported by most of the traditional elite.

There were also other projects: idea of regional integration; integration within the region, more competitive, to improve the economic capacity in the region as a whole. MERCOSUR (common South-American market) which was created in the beginning of 1990s. MERCOSUR did pretty good, Bolivia and Venezuela applied to membership.

There was a political will and economic capacity to improve this project, thus there were a lot of developments. In 2008 UNASUR, in 2011 CELAC which was the first institution that included Cuba but not US and Canada.

Most dramatic case is Venezuela - during 60-70s it was like Saudi Arabia but situation changed in 1989 when Chavez got to the power. People expected better living standards but what can we see now?

What we will see in the next 20 years, it is the struggle between two different perceptions of the roles of these countries in the international level. South America as a region is like Jekyll&Hyde – sometimes reasonable but sometimes completely different.

Idea of EU’s approach to Latin-America – how the future diplomacy will go on?
EU does not want to import, non-corresponding love „we want to integrate but you dont want“. In the next years, there will be more sectoral agreements. Very sensitive moment for EU to open the borders (in terms of export-import). Not state-to-state agreements but more lower level, sectoral agreements, that try to satisfy the other part. Trade agreements are also political. If EU wants to have more sustainable partnership with South America, it has to be more flexible, it has to give more. Now EU says that if you want to trade, you have to agree with our terms, but it won’t work with South America. EU wants to import cheap things and export expensive things. One of the main problems is that EU has strong tariffs to South America. Future perspectives do not seem to be very optimistic.

Economic reforms – experts gave advice how to run economy. Are there still bad feelings between US and South American states?

South American economics were stagnated for a decade ( which is also called a lost decade). There were plethora of problems. US brought the solution – Washington Consensus – main idea was liberalization, privatization and deregulation of labour market. It was applied by the late 80s. US said that Washington Consensus will work. Effects of consensus’ policies were very negative to South American economies – huge unemployment, budget cut (social, pension, health). In 2001 it seemed that people were very sick of these policies. After that there was a political change.

Previous experience of US influence – it was very negative in many ways. Political climate will not allow the same influence anymore. It happened once but not anymore. We will be better without US. It is in case of many countries, not only Argentina.

Russia’s new relations with South America

After EU sanctions and situation in Crimea both Russia and South America thought about UN etc as double standards (Crimean and Falkland islands). In the case of Argentina after 2015, government said that our friend is US (Hillary Clinton), now Argentina tries to realign and it does not know where it is going (same with Uruguay etc). Russia was rich but not anymore and most of the countries lost its interest towards Russia. Russian influence has decreased dramatically, it was on the first page but not anymore. Russia is not a main player in the region. Noone knows who is the main player. The role of China is interesting – in 2012 China made some monetary agreements which were the worst agreements for China. Also social agreements not only economic. China is becoming a social actor. There are lots of Chinese people and they are integrating fast – chinese markets everywhere.

Military’s role in South America

Military were closely connected to traditional families. 60% of population were immigrants, you had to make them Argentinians. Elite invested a lot of money to army. They wanted to imitate the Prussian army (for example, same uniforms). No wars, a lot of trained people (big army), army solves political situations (so many coups). Army is fighting their own national people. The perception on army is negative, they received a lot of support from the state but now army is left aside a bit. Societies, except Bolivia, do not trust army. For Argentinians, army is against democracy. It is perceived very negatively which will definitely last for many years. For Pataccini, it was a cultural shock that Estonians are supporting army and soldiers like that by wearing „sinilill“.

Konspekteeris Kert Ajamaa