While Latin America and the Caribbean, over the last decade, have made progress in their quest for regional integration, especially at the political level, under principles of autonomy, sovereignty and cooperation, it is worthy of attention that this process is scarcely reflected in the area of communication: neither in the media, nor in public policy, nor in the academy, despite this being the “communication era.” This disconnect was discussed in Quito, on August 20, on the occasion of an international round-table on “The Geopolitics of Communication and Regional Integration: challenges and perspectives”, organized by ALAI, CIESPAL and the Forum on Communication for Integration[i], in which four analysts intervened[ii].
Latin America is currently in a geopolitical transition phase which has established a post-neoliberal axis, according to Alfredo Serrano Mancilla, director of the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano Geopolítico (CELAG). One of the fundamental characteristics of this phenomenon is the reformulation of the region as a unit. A new supranational alliance is forming, with the capacity to resist transnational capital, which makes for a “Bolivarian consensus”, he pointed out. There is a consensus of “maximums”, reflected in ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), which involves a serious questioning of the capitalist system, and a “minimal” consensus that also involves the countries of the Southern Cone, that is questioning the model of neoliberal accumulation. This new process of integration is based on the understanding that there is no integration without political integration – Serrano added – a fact that contrasts with the neoliberal focus that only takes into consideration commercial agreements.
There also exists an attempt to “make over” ALCA: the Pacific Alliance (with Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru), that has learned from the errors of ALCA. “Now there is no photo of Mr. Obama or of any other person from the North”; in addition, they have come to understand that a commercial agreement is not enough, and they have created a business council (in contrast with ALBA, which has created a peoples’ council), the analyst recalls. This process is oriented to financial integration: “a single stock market, where capital continues to have an extremely high rate of profit”; it is also an attempt to put a strain on the process of regional integration from the ashes of ALCA, and to dispute it.
Serrano pointed out that one cannot analyse geopolitical changes in the region without taking into account the world context. He cited a plan published by the Atlantic Council of Nato with respect to the “trilateral bond” of the new era, involving the United States, the European Union, and Latin America, where they (Nato) speak of “incorporating Latin America into the Atlantic fold”. The present negotiation of a transatlantic agreement between the United States and the European Union is part of this strategy. Another revealing aspect of the global context is that of the “emerged economies” (no longer only “emerging” ones), and in particular the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), whose establishment as a bloc is changing the rules of the game. A challenge for the insertion of Latin America into this framework is whether this will be led by the BRICS, or if it will be possible to “Bolivarianize” this relationship, in this “new decade of disputes”, the analyst concluded.
The new Director General of CIESPAL, Francisco Sierra Caballero, reflected in his presentation on the contribution of communications research for Latin American integration. He recalled that “Latin American integration has always been the establishment of a community, a construct of the imaginary, a desire”; meanwhile, fortunately, in spite of its many differences, the region has reduced its inequality. Nevertheless, he pointed out that there is a serious problem for academia in that “we are disconnected.”, and in great measure this is because knowledge generated in the region has been expropriated, and there has been little effort to cultivate ancestral knowledge and the region’s own vital concepts, linked to the needs of the population. Cognitive capitalism, under neoliberalism, has emphasized disconnection, isolation: everything opposed to the building of a homeland and a common political project, said Sierra.
Faced with this situation, the academy – and this is what the Director is proposing for CIESPAL –needs to “learn the language of common ties”, that is, to learn to cooperate, to coordinate, to dialogue. He cited the case of Ecuador, that has established a National Plan for Good Living, with concrete social demands, but the academy is disconnected from all this. Referring to the call made last year, at the launch of the Forum on Communication for Integration of Our America, for technological sovereignty and democratizing expression of social movements, he interpreted this as meaning, among other things, a call to the academy, which has failed to engage in an effort to retrieve its research agenda, which has lost ground since the 1980s, of imagining, creating, innovating and listening to the demands of peoples: a critical political agenda. “An emancipating way of thinking is one which looks from the South, building a ‘communicology’ of the South, from the South, and for the South, rather than with knowledge agendas imported from the North.” In this sense, Sierra reaffirmed the engagement of CIESPAL with research related to regional integration and stated their intention, in this framework, to approach institutions such as the Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO), the Federación Latinoamerican de Periodistas and ALAI.
In Latin America, we often learn more about the countries of the North in our news media than we do about our own continent, indicated Pedro Brieger, director of Noticias de América Latina y el Caribe (Nodal). And when the media of the region cover news about neighbouring countries this is usually done with sources coming from the North, such as international press agencies or CNN. The journalist gave examples of the fact that priorities in matters of international news are often anecdotal rather than themes of regional relevance. For example, when the upcoming election of Ernesto Samper as General Secretary of the Union of South America Nations (UNASUR) was announced, the majority of media hardly gave any importance to the news.
It was to respond to this void that the Nodal portal (nodal.am) was created, which assembles information on all the countries of the region, from original sources taken from the media of each country. Nodal looks to be a gateway for finding daily news items from the whole region. “When we speak of communication and integration, we are speaking of the establishment of a media agenda”, with news items that are important for the region, Brieger affirmed. He cited as an example the campaign that the Caribbean has taken to the United Nations to demand that the central countries, and Great Britain in particular, give reparations for having brought slaves to the Caribbean; a theme of great relevance, but which to date has been ignored by the majority of Latin American media.
Finally, ALAI journalist Sally Burch noted that nearly all areas of human activity are reorganizing around communication (way beyond the media dimension) and digital technology, which is leading to a reconfiguration of power relations on a world scale. The developed world is quite clear on the importance of maintaining a global regime of free trade in order to establish hegemony within the digital future of the planet, to the benefit of transnational corporations, she insisted. “If the region does not give priority to the search for joint responses to this reality, tomorrow we could very well find that the ground has shifted, that the regional autonomy and sovereignty that were under construction might become once again subject to forms of neocolonialism.
Burch spoke of the regional initiative of the Forum on Communication for Integration, created in Quito at the end of last year with the participation of dozens of media outlets and networks as well as social organizations. The Forum proposes, among its goals, to contribute to the democratization of culture, of information and of communication as necessary for the establishment of participative democracies in the framework of regional integration; but also, to establish links with academia in order to build new theories from a communication perspective, as part of this construction. This round table was a step in that coming together of social and communication actors, with academics.