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Central America

What is the cost of a basic universal social pension for Latin America and the Caribbean?


by Dr. Gibrán Cruz-Martínez, Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies

The world’s population is ageing, and Latin America and the Caribbean is no exception. By 2030, the number of older people – those over 60 – is expected to grow by 56 per cent (United Nations, 2015), and will outnumber children below 10 (HelpAge International, 2015a). Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to be the region with the fastest growth of this group (71 per cent increase), followed by Asia (66 per cent), Africa (64 per cent), Oceania (47 per cent), North America (41 per cent) and Europe (23 per cent) (United Nations, 2015).

Figure 1: Estimating the ratio of older-age population (60+) in 2015, 2030 and 2045, source: UNPD, 2015

Figure 1: Estimating the ratio of older-age population (60+) in 2015, 2030 and 2045, source: UNPD, 2015

Ageing may bring wisdom and experience, but it also creates new social risks that need to be anticipated. According to the latest data from the Socioeconomic database on Latin America and the Caribbean,  57.7 per cent of salaried workers have the right to pensions when retired (CEDLAS and World Bank, 2016).[1] Therefore, almost half of the current workforce will not benefit from a contributory pension during retirement. If data is segmented by age, gender, level of education and area of residence we can examine the gaps in contributory-pension coverage.

As Figure 2 shows, there is a considerable gap in all categories, with gender the only possible exception. Workers aged 15-24, adults with a low level of education and residents in rural areas are the groups whose retirement is worst provided for. One possible explanation is that these groups work in more flexible and informal jobs, with less social security benefits than older generations, urban populations, and workers with over 13 years of formal education.

Figure 2: Share of salaried workers with right to pensions when retired by age, gender, education, and area

Figure 2: Share of salaried workers with right to pensions when retired by age, gender, education, and area, source: CEDLAS and World Bank, 2016, notes: SEDLAC (CEDLAS categorize level of education as low (0 to 8 years of formal education), intermediate (9 to 13 years), and high (more than 13). Author’s own calculations using the latest data for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Increasing the proportion of salaried workers contributing to a social security pension scheme is imperative. But is there any other alternative? What can governments do to guarantee the wellbeing of older people who are not set to benefit from a pension scheme? Universal non-contributory pensions – also known as social pensions – represent a viable option worthy of consideration.

Social pensions are non-contributory programmes that use benefits to bring the incomes of older people up to a societal minimum standard. Social pensions can be universal or targeted. Universal social pensions are available unconditionally to those who meet eligibility criteria of age and typically some form of residency. Targeted social pensions use additional targeting measures (e.g. assessment of means or assets) to identify the ‘truly deserving’. The main difference between social pensions and contributory pensions is that the latter are based in social-insurance schemes, with benefits derived from work or taxes and centred on redistribution throughout the life cycle. In Latin America and the Caribbean, workers in the formal sector are the main beneficiaries of contributory pensions, but the large segment of the population working in the informal sector is not covered.

In countries with a low level of contributory pension coverage, a basic universal pension could guarantee income security and a basic social-protection floor for every older person. But how much would it cost to implement a basic universal social pension in the region? This will naturally vary according to the pension level – the value of the benefit – and coverage – the age of eligibility.  Here I use four eligibility ages (60, 65, 70, 75) and one pension level (20 per cent of gross domestic product per capita)[2] to examine different scenarios. Data comes from the United Nations Population Division (UNPD, 2015) and is available for 38 countries. A modified model of Willmore’s (2007) formula is used, adding 5% of the total cost of transfers as administrative cost, previously proposed by Knox-Vydmanov (2011: 3).

As the results shown below reveal, all Central American countries would be able to finance a basic universal social pension with less than 0.7 per cent of their national GDP (age of eligibility 75). South American and Caribbean countries would need on average 0.6 and 0.8 per cent of their national GDP to fund a basic universal person for everyone over 75 years. The cost of a universal social pension in the total region varies from 0.3 to 2% GDP at 75+ coverage, from 0.5 to 2.8% GDP at 70+, from 0.8 to 4% GDP at 65+, and from 1.2 to 5.5% GDP at 60+. Unsurprisingly, the cost of a social pension rises as eligibility age decreases and pension level increases.

Figure 3: Cost of a basic universal pension equivalent to 20% of the GDP per capita in 38 Latin American and Caribbean countries, author’s calculations; source: UNPD, 2015

Figure 3: Cost of a basic universal pension equivalent to 20% of the GDP per capita in 38 Latin American and Caribbean countries, author’s calculations; source: UNPD, 2015

In Latin America and the Caribbean only four countries have implemented a basic universal social pension: Antigua, Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname (HelpAge International, 2015b; Shen & Williamson, 2006). For example, Bolivia introduced Renta Dignidad in 2008 to replace a cash transfer program created in 1997 (Bonosol). The eligibility age for Renta Dignidad is 60, and it currently has 869,808 beneficiaries, meaning around 88 per cent of those eligible (APS, 2016). The monthly income transfer is 270.83 bolivianos (US$ 39.83) for those who are not beneficiaries of the contributory pension scheme, and 216.67 bolivianos (US$ 31.86) for pensioners of the contributory scheme.[3] Most beneficiaries are women (53.4 per cent) and recipients of the contributory pension (83.3%).

The total value of transfers under Renta Dignidad in 2015 was equivalent to 1.2 per cent GDP.[4] The simple model used in this article estimates that a potential basic universal pension in Bolivia of 354.08 bolivianos (US$ 52.07)[5] for everyone over 60 would cost approximately 1.9 per cent GDP (including an estimated administrative cost). In Bolivia’s case the model appears to be presenting an accurate picture of costs.

There are many ways to finance basic universal social pensions. Bolivia, for example, funds Renta Dignidad mainly from taxes on fossil fuels (Mendizábal & Escobar, 2013), whereas Guyana uses budgetary allocations from central government  (IMF, 2006). Among the possible alternatives for other regional governments are (1) increasing tax revenues by non-regressive methods (e.g. taxes on financial transactions, targeting the top 1%), (2) relocating public expenditure to social protection, and (3) improving the efficiency of expenditure (see Harris, 2013; Ortiz et al., 2015). There is no magic solution that fits all cases. Each country will have to examine its own reality and implement a unique mix of policies.

But overall this post has revealed that there are multiple options for financing and implementing social pensions throughout the region.  The real question is whether there is the political will to make the necessary fiscal and monetary arrangements. The clock is ticking and the population is ageing rapidly. The time to act is now.


*Previous versions and analyses related to this article were prepared while the author was a Research Fellow in Social Protection at HelpAge International.


References and Notes

APS (2016). Estadísticas De La Renta Dignidad. Version of 30 April 2016: Dignidad/Estad%C3%ADsticas de la Renta Dignidad (Al 30 de Abril de 2016).pdf [accessed 11 June 2016].

CEDLAS, and World Bank (2016). Socio-Economic Database for Latin America and the Caribbean. [accessed 11 June 2016].

Harris, Elliott (2013). Financing Social Protection Floors: Considerations of Fiscal Space. International Sociel Security Review, 66(3-4), 111-143.

HelpAge International (2015a). Pension Watch. Social Protection in Older Age. [accessed 11 June 2016].

HelpAge International (2015b). Pension-Watch Database. [accessed 11 June 2016].

IMF (2006). Guyana: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Progress Report 2005. IMF Country Report, 06(364)

[accessed 11 June 2016].

Knox-Vydmanov, Charles (2011). The Price of Income Security in Older Age: Cost of a Universal Pension in 50 Low and Middle-Income Countries. Pension watch briefing series, 2, HelpAge International.

Mendizábal, Joel, & Federico Escobar (2013). Redistribution of Wealth and Old Age Social Protection in Bolivia. Pension watch briefing series, 12 , HelpAge International.

Ortiz, Isabel, Matthew Cummins, & Kalaivani Karunanethy (2015). Fiscal Space for Social Protection. Options to Expand Social Investments in 187 Countries. Extension of Social Security Working Paper, 48, International Labour Organization.

Shen, Ce, & John B Williamson (2006). Does a Universal Non-Contributory Pension Scheme Make Sense for Rural China? Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 22(2), 143-153.

United Nations (2015). World Population Ageing. New York: United Nations: [accessed 11 June 2016].

UNPD (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. [accessed 11 June 2016].

Willmore, Larry (2007). Universal Pensions for Developing Countries. World Development, 35(1), 24-51.

World Bank (2016). World Data Bank.


[1] Author’s own calculations using the latest data for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela.

[2] These pension levels are ‘lab tests’ – arbitrarily assigned – and do not necessarily represent an adequate basic income for all countries. Median/average income, median/average salaries and median/average income poverty line could be examined as alternative options for pension levels.

[3] Author’s calculation using Renta Dignidad data from APS (2016). Conversion rates are accurate as of 11 June 2016.

[4] Author’s calculation using GDP data from the World Bank (2016), and Renta Dignidad data from APS (2016).

[5] Author’s calculation using GDP per capita data from the World Bank (2016). Conversion rates are accurate as of 11 June 2016.

The Massacre of El Mozote, El Salvador: Between Journalism and Ethnography


by Leigh Binford, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, CUNY

To coincide with publication of a revised and expanded edition of his “The El Mozote Massacre: Human Rights and Global Implications“, Leigh Binford challenges conventional wisdom on the most notorious event of the civil war that ravaged El Salvador throughout and beyond the 1980s.

Between 11 and 13 December 1981, the Salvadoran Altlacatl Battalion massacred more than a thousand men, women and children in and around the hamlet of El Mozote, located in the northeastern department (similar to a state or province) of Morazán, El Salvador. It was the second year of a brutal civil war between the government and rebel FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) forces that would not end until 1992. The war resulted in at least 75,000 dead and 7,000 disappeared, 95 percent at the hands of the government military (85 percent) or paramilitary and death squads linked to them (10%) according to a 1993 United Nations Truth Commission. Government forces committed dozens of massacres, but the El Mozote is the one that most people recall, perhaps because journalists visited the site several weeks after the events and published articles in major U.S. newspapers that forced the newly-installed Reagan administration to undertake a cursory investigation.

El Mozote shortly after the massacre (from Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador)

El Mozote shortly after the massacre (from Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador)

Following the administration’s denial that a massacre had occurred, El Mozote dropped off the media radar until the Truth Commission report and the subsequent appearance of a lengthy article and then book by journalist Mark Danner. Danner provides an excellent description and analysis of the embassy’s (non)investigation, but apparently he spent little time in northern Morazán, was unfamiliar with the area’s pre-war history, and as a result erred in his representation of the population and its response to the army invasion. Three claims about El Mozote and the massacre have become part of common sense: (1) that all or almost all of the population died; (2) that the town avoided political violence before the Atlacatl invaded in December of 1981; and (3) that the political neutrality of the inhabitants could be attributed to their embrace of evangelical Christianity.

Many people in northern Morazán would agree with the second and especially the third of these formulations, but not one of the three is supported by evidence. Many people had left El Mozote and the surrounding hamlets before the massacre for regional cities or workplaces in the mountains or coffee and cotton agro-export zones to the north and west. Based on the collection of 14 genealogies in the early 1990s, I estimate that about a third of the pre-war population was killed in the massacre. However, the losses differed greatly among different extended family units. Three of the 14 families lost less than 10 percent of their members, and three others lost more than 60 percent. Thus while all survivors have been deeply affected by the deaths and everyone lost relatives of some degree in this highly endogamous area, some households lost more members than others.  Moreover, many people who remained in the area and were caught in the army’s pincer operation left home just ahead of the Atlacatl’s arrival and hid nearby, where they heard the sounds of and in some cases observed the slaughter of friends and relatives. Fear kept most of them silent for decades, until the organization of a local human rights organization during the first decade of the new millennium. Eventually dozens of people testified to what they had seen and heard during the Atlacatl incursion, contributing to the extensive archive of information presented to judges in Guayaquil, Ecuador, when the case was argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in April of 2012.

The main memorial in El Mozote’s central plaza

Second, El Mozote was certainly less conflictive than many other communities in northern Morazán, but it was far from the placid island in a sea of armed confrontation that Danner maintains in his 1994 book, The Massacre at El Mozote. Based on ten field trips to northern Morazán between 1991 and 2012, as well as an exhaustive study of the available documentation, I conclude that there occurred a minimum of twenty politically-motivated murders and assassinations in and around El Mozote between January 1980 and early December 1981. The majority took place not in El Mozote proper but in nearby hamlets and rural areas. This dispersal of violence complicated people’s efforts to make sense of the repression. It is important that we keep in mind that the Atlacatl operation embraced a zone encompassing as much a hundred square kilometers and at least six rural hamlets.

Third, many people erroneously attribute the political attitudes of the population in and around El Mozote to widespread adoption of evangelical Protestantism. Even former FMLN guerrillas make this argument, which simplistically links pre-war Catholicism with support for the rebels and Protestantism with support for the government. However, the correlation of evangelical Protestantism and political conservatism is far from one-to-one. The larger problem with this formulation is the lack of evidence for a substantial pre-war evangelical presence in northern Morazán. While some materials indicate that small evangelical groups had organized in areas around El Mozote, the hamlet itself was staunchly Catholic. Indeed, it was one of the only hamlets in northern Morazán to contain a free-standing Catholic church, which was constructed by the inhabitants in the late 1950s with local labor and donated funds. However, the church contained no resident priest, and José Carmen Romero, the local lay catechist, remained faithful to Fr. Andrés Argueta, the conservative priest who presided over the parish of Jocoaitique in which El Mozote was located. Catholics, too, could be politically conservative, and in fact most of them were. A radical priest was appointed to head up a new parish created in 1972, but before the war he never visited El Mozote, which was ensconced in the heart of Argueta’s territory. Christian Base Communities did not develop in or around El Mozote, and without the local organization associated with them and the progressive message of God’s preferential option for the poor they disseminated, Catholicism in El Mozote remained wedded to a conservative theology that promised those enduring poverty on earth rewards in the afterlife.

Finally, it is important to mention that the hamlet of El Mozote was inhabited by a number of merchants and tradespeople whose energy, intelligence and organizational capability had resulted in a level of local development that must have been the envy of rural hamlets throughout northern Morazán. The hamlet contained a church, brick schoolhouse, cemetery and was home to an agricultural cooperative. On the eve of the civil war El Mozote had even been selected as the site for the construction of a technical school, to be financed by the Venezuelan government, that would train peasants in agriculture, carpentry, bricklaying and other skills. Although land shortage and landlessness were growing problems in the area, it seems likely that the material benefits that many people received by working within the system and Argueta’s conservative Catholic message worked together to inoculate them against FMLN calls to overthrow the government.

Until recently the people in and around El Mozote have been one of the “people without history” discussed by anthropologist Eric Wolf. Of course the people in El Mozote always had a history, but for much of the world that history only began (and ended) when the Atlacatl carried out its scorched earth operation. With little understanding or apparent interest in social and economic relations in the area before and on the eve of the civil war, journalist Mark Danner and many other commentators were quick to center their analyses around bits of information that reinforced pre-existing beliefs about poor, rural people. But the reality of the massacre and those who lived it was much more complex, as I argue here and in a great deal more detail in The El Mozote Massacre: Human Rights and Global Implications (University of Arizona Press).

Thinking Inside the Boxes: The Latin American Political Pamphlets Collection at Senate House Library


by Christine Anderson (Latin America Research Librarian) and Julio Cazzasa (Special Collections Cataloguer), Senate House Library

arg_polpamOn 23 February 2016, Senate House Library will be hosting “Thinking Inside the Boxes“, a series of talks about its extensive Latin American Political Pamphlets Collection, which documents some of the most troubled years of twentieth-century Latin America.   The event, featuring Anthony Pereira (KCL), Guillermo Mira (Salamanca), Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho (KCL), Thomas Rath (UCL), Anna Grimaldi (KCL), Thomas Rath (UCL) and Aquiles Alencar (British Library), hopes to demonstrate the relevance of these documents across a number of research topics and contexts.  But we invite all researchers and postgraduate students to consider consulting the archive in their own research.

The majority of the collection consists of the former holdings of the Contemporary Archive on Latin America (CALA), which from its inception in 1976 sought to build up a combination of academic and ‘alternative’ sources of information for the use of students, teachers, researchers, solidarity and human rights committees, journalist, development and volunteer agencies, television programme producers, trade unionists and the like.  It maintained contact with documentation and educational centres in Latin America and beyond, housing of rare materials jeopardised by political developments in the region.  This ensured that its collections were uniquely rich in their depth of coverage.

guate_polpamBy 1981 however, the archive faced an irretrievable funding situation and was forced to close.  Originally its collections had been destined to be divided between Latin America Bureau, the Institute for Race Relations, the CARILA Latin America Resource Centre, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Planning, but these organisations were unable to organise the retrieval of the material before CALA’s closure.  The Institute of Latin American Studies stepped in as “the only institution involved which had the will and the means to save this material in time and to house it.”

Since then the original collections have been augmented by fresh donations and the re-classifying of political ephemera within the main library stock, but with the amalgamation of new material the Institute has sought to maintain the onus of the original CALA collection.

In 2003 the University of London Vice Chancellor’s fund agreed to provide the money for a joint project between ILAS and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICOMM) aiming to improve access to and use of their collections of political ephemera.  This has involved the creation of item-level catalogue records on the School of Advanced Study Library Catalogue (SASCAT) and the uploading of collection-level archival descriptions to both the Archives Hub and AIM25 databases.

chile_polpamAlthough the collection (which consists mainly of items in Spanish, Portuguese and English) covers every country in Latin America, it is particularly strong in certain areas.  There are currently around 140 boxes of materials. The Chilean boxes, for example, are mostly concerned with the build-up to and the aftermath of the 1973 coup, including election posters for Salvador Allende and pamphlets written by apologists for the Pinochet regime.  In addition, there are many contemporary and obscure items produced by leftist opposition groups in the 1970s.

Another strength of the collection is its coverage of human rights bodies in Central America in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Much of this material came as a result of the links between the Latin American organisations and solidarity and support groups in this country. A similar situation pertains for countries like Argentina and Brazil.

The Latin American political ephemera collections have an impressive variety and depth, and they hold a great deal of material that is either difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere.  They are open for reference purposes to all researchers and postgraduate students, and anyone wishing to consult them or just to get further information should feel free to contact us here at Senate House Library.

Christine Anderson (Latin America Research Librarian):
Julio Cazzasa (Special Collections Cataloguer):

América Latina en tiempo real


by His Excellency Manuel J. Benítez de Castro, ILAS Associate Fellow

ILAS Associate Fellow Manuel J. Benítez de Castro of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives an introduction to his recent reflections on the cultural, social, political, and economic factors that have shaped contemporary Latin America (full article available here in PDF in Spanish).

En noviembre de 2014, el Real Instituto Elcano me invitó a dar una charla en Madrid, sobre un tema que definió como “América Latina en la actualidad”. Puesto a la tarea de preparar esa charla, recordé las innúmeras charlas que, durante mis últimos catorce años en la Dirección de Europa occidental del Ministerio, había mantenido con diplomáticos y empresarios europeos, en mayor número con españoles, intentando explicarles en qué consistía el “peronismo”, los “movimientos populistas” y cómo y por qué funciona como funciona la política en nuestros países… a menudo con un magro resultado de comprensión. Mis  interlocutores, que partían de sus matrices cognitivas europeas, veían que la realidad cotidiana de la Argentina les resultaba absolutamente familiar, “a la europea” y sin embargo constataban que los desarrollos políticos les sorprendían invariablemente, y generalmente no para bien! Entonces pensé que esa era una buena ocasión para traducir en términos académicos, me animo a decir científicos, un paradigma de los fenómenos sociales y políticos latinoamericanos que ayude a explicar lo que ocurre actualmente en América Latina, y qué puede esperarse que produzca la globalización en el ámbito regional.

SSamuel Huntington (derecha), en su libro “Choque de Civilizaciones”, define a América Latina como “un brote inmediato de otra civilización de larga vida” (que es la occidental), y “puede ser concebida tanto una subcivilización dentro de la civilización occidental, como una civilización separada con una cercana filiación con Occidente y dividida sobre su pertenencia a Occidente.” Y concluye: “Para un análisis centrado en las implicancias políticas de las civilizaciones, incluyendo las relaciones entre América Latina por una parte y Norteamérica y Europa por la otra parte, la última designación es más apropiada y útil.”

Dado que el concepto de “subcivilización” no tiene una connotación muy precisa, prefiero recurrir a la noción de “estructura emergente”, que nos permite enfocar a la cultura latinoamericana como una “cultura emergente” de la civilización occidental, o sea una cultura originada por una determinada configuración estructural – ergo, históricamente condicionada por la misma -, que se desarrolla y genera sus propios atributos y capacidades e interactúa autónomamente con la estructura de la cual se desprende.

Esa perspectiva teórica se ve favorecida por la adopción de una “lente de corrección”, que nos ayuda a “enfocar” con mayor precisión la entidad de América Latina: el concepto de “pliegue”, desarrollado por Deleuze. Así como un pliegue mantiene la textura y el color de una superficie, desarrollándola en un nivel diferente, a partir de esa disrupción que constituye el mismo pliegue, América Latina, como estructura emergente del momento expansivo de esa otra estructura que fue la civilización europea en los siglos XV al XVIII  inclusive, es, en realidad, un “pliegue” de la cultura occidental. Así como el pliegue marca una discontinuidad en la continuidad, América se “despliega” de la cultura occidental con un resorte propio, marcando una continuidad cultural que emerge de la discontinuidad histórica, y que lleva a lo largo de su desarrollo ese doble signo de continuación discontinuada.

Cuatro factores claves

Ese pliegue, en mi enfoque, se produce por la combinación de cuatro factores principales: 1) el multiculturalismo constitutivo de la sociedad latinoamericana, presente desde su mismo origen; 2) la importación de las representaciones colectivas  españolas y portuguesas en los siglos XVI a XVIII, entendiendo como tales los valores, ideas, instituciones, normas, organizaciones, procedimientos y mecanismos que se implantaron en tiempos de la colonia, y posteriormente el conjunto de instituciones europeas y norteamericanas con las que se forjaron los órdenes políticos en el siglo XIX; 3) la influencia de la dimensiones espacial de América en la realidad cotidiana de esos siglos y en el desarrollo histórico de sus sociedades; 4) la aceleración de los tiempos americanos.

Esos cuatro factores no actuaron homogéneamente en todo el espacio de América Latina. La conquista española se expandió sobre el territorio de tres grandes culturas aborígenes: la azteca y la maya, en la zona de América del Norte, Central y el Caribe, y la inca, en la zona de América del Sud. Desde México hasta Bolivia tenemos este espacio que se ha denominado “indoamérica”. En cambio, la conformación de las sociedades del Cono Sur (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay y sur de Brasil) tuvo más que ver con la inmigración europea, que se mezcló con comunidades indígenas de menor desarrollo cultural, dando lo que podríamos llamar “euroamérica”. Y el  área caribeña, bajando hasta el norte de Brasil, tuvo luego una poderosa interacción con las culturas afroamericanas que se fueron desarrollando a partir de la liberación de la esclavitud en esos países. Tenemos así tres manifestaciones culturales de ese pliegue, que se caracteriza por una matriz común y tres variantes sociales, según la conformación demográfica predominante en el lugar.

Ahora bien, la cuestión del pliegue plantea la de su “despliegue”, cómo se despliega América Latina actualmente, cuál es el alcance del cambio que se produce al acceder a la fase última de la globalización capitalista, con la decadencia de la modernidad y el tránsito hacia una nueva era cultural que está “transversalizando” el mundo y sus normas. Esto que presenciamos como “actualidad” en América Latina no es otra cosa que un proceso de transformación de una “cultura emergente” a una “nueva cultura global”, en el sentido de una cultura en sí, diferente y homologable a las demás en el contexto de la globalización.

Gianni VattimoGianni Vattimo (derecha), en el ensayo que cito en el trabajo, se pregunta si la experiencia de Europa puede influir o considerarse un parámetro en América Latina. Y dice: “Un problema filosófico sería la reflexión sobre la transformación de la experiencia del tiempo, el cuestionamiento a la certeza de la noción lineal de la historia. Hay países donde la modernidad no se realizó del todo, entonces el contra-argumento puede ser que no existe tal cosa como una ley evolutiva que funciona igual para todos, y por ende no tendríamos por qué esperar que tal o cual situación nos pase a nosotros. Yo creo –dice Vattimo- que otro aspecto del posmodernismo que concierne a países como Argentina – o más en general a América Latina – puede ser la liberación de las culturas locales, lo que en mi opinión no significa la búsqueda de una identidad fuerte como si el problema fuera el de reconstruir una identidad perdida, sino fortalecer las comunidades locales, como las que representan los dialectos.” Pero, continua “…garantizar la supervivencia de culturas locales, no me parece que esto sea posmoderno, más bien es una idea muy premoderna. Por supuesto que quiero que las culturas se expresen, pero tal vez aquí sería más relevante el fortalecimiento de un pensamiento autóctono, es decir, no depender políticamente del extranjero, eso me parece más significativo políticamente, aunque actualmente no hay más culturas que puedan seguir pensándose como rigurosamente nacionales, sino culturas mezcladas, contaminadas, en el sentido latino de la palabra.”

La “latinidad” de Latinoamérica

Qué tiene de “latina” América Latina, y por qué sería ésta su denominación distintiva? Una primera mirada, más intuitiva que analítica, al universo latinoamericano advierte que esa designación responde a una “ exclusión”: América Latina es aquélla parte de América que no es anglosajona, que fue europea y ya no lo es, una Iberoamérica que ha roto el molde hispánico.

La “latinidad” de Latinoamérica emerge más de la analogía que de la semejanza. Como la Roma del Imperio, lo que resalta en una primera aproximación a América Latina es ese rizoma de culturas heterogéneas que conviven sin amalgamarse enteramente, un universo multicultural y colorido, más o menos hibrido, que a su vez va evolucionando con una dinámica acelerada y una gran plasticidad a los cambios del contexto global. Como aquélla latinidad, ésta se define por oposición a sus fronteras y se caracteriza más por una afinidad de convivencia que genética.

Por otra parte, la praxis latinoamericana muestra una sólida vocación de unidad, cooperación y convergencia política entre las naciones que la integran. En este sentido, América Latina se construye al mancomunarse por oposición al Norte anglosajón, al mundo “gringo” y frente a Europa. América Latina no se presenta en la realidad, pero se hace real en nuestras mentes y, a través de nuestras acciones, en sus efectos.

A partir de este paradigma del pliegue latinoamericano, el trabajo señala los rasgos centrales de la cultura latinoamericana actual: el “despertar indígena” en el espacio indoamericano; la evolución de las creencias religiosas; el fenómeno de la concentración urbana en megalópolis globalizadas; las democracias de mayorías y la crisis de la representación; el problema de la educación; la cuestión de la desigualdad, entre otras.

[El artículo completo se puede leer aquí en formato PDF]