Ideas

China And Russia, Or The West? Latin America Must Choose A Side

The region's democratic states must close ranks and work with the United States to protect the rule of law at home and abroad against 'an authoritarian onslaught,' Rubén M. Perina* writes in Clarín.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Russia's President Vladimir Putin in 2019
Rúben Perina

-OpEd-

The international order features a growing rivalry between the interests and values of the liberal democratic world, and those of an emerging, autocratic world. The first is represented by powers like the United States of America, the European Union (led by France and Germany), Australia, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, South Africa and other, lesser powers.

The second bloc of emerging, autocratic if not dictatorial and revisionist powers, consists of states like China, with its starkly rising economic, military and technological power and Russia, with lesser economic capabilities but considerable military and technological reach.

This rivalry is perhaps more specifically evident in the relationship between the U.S. and China, after recent evolutions. Under U.S. leadership, the liberal-democratic world briefly enjoyed, starting in 1989 as the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union began to collapse, a period of hegemony that has gradually waned as the U.S. entered into relative decline. It remains, nevertheless, the premier world power.

Meanwhile, China's dizzying rise to economic preeminence is paving the way for a bipolar rivalry brimming with conflict possibilities. Although for now, at least, it is not a "to the death" fight or a "zero sum game" like the Cold War. Today, the two sides will compete intensely over values and interests, and cooperate in global strategic issues of mutual interest.

As Latin America seeks to adapt to this alignment while preserving its autonomy, experts have proposed approaches variously termed "equidistant diplomacy," "selective collaboration," "strategic autonomy," "active neutrality" or "peripheral realism."

The basic idea to bear in mind, however, is that Latin America belongs to the liberal-democratic world by virtue of history, geography and political culture. That, then, makes it incumbent on certain regional heavyweights to end their "strategic flirting" or fake neutrality between two poles of unequal moral weight. There have been calls for these states to commit themselves, unequivocally, to a strategic alliance of liberal democracies headed by the U.S.

The two sides will compete intensely over values and interests.

Where is the problem in joining an alliance with the world's first power, as most democratic — and mostly the more prosperous — states are doing? The strategic-democratic alliance means a firm commitment to the defense and promotion of democratic values and practices, including an unflinching respect for the rule of law, human rights, freedom, human dignity and the like.

This global commitment begins with a strategic-democratic alliance in the hemisphere. Latin America is part of the inter-American system, which has enshrined its historical ideals and democratic values in legal instruments like the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio de Janeiro, 1947), the Organization of American States (Bogotá, 1948) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José, 1969). These constitute pillars of a regional system of cooperation on which to build an alliance with a role in the new world order.

At a market in La Paz, Bolivia — Photo: Martin Alipaz/EFE via ZUMA Press

This bloc, or even a lesser bloc within it like MERCOSUR, can act significantly to defend democracy against the authoritarian onslaught, either in the wider democratic world or as a hemispheric alliance. Its commitment must be clear in moral and political terms. There can be no neutrality or complaisance toward tyrannical regimes like those of Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela, which are not the moral equal of democracies.

The alliance could include a new trade integration initiative to reduce poverty in the hemisphere. Democracy must show it can solve problems and offer opportunities for progress and prosperity. There are significant precedents: the Alliance for Progress conceived by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and the U.S. in the 1960s, or the Free Trade Area of the Americas, an initiative of the elder President Bush, well received at the 1994 Summit of the Americas but dismissed in 2005 by the regional trio of anti-American leaders: Hugo Chávez, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Néstor Kirchner.

The alliance would strengthen Latin America's ability to defend and project its values and interests, both in the hemisphere and the concert of nations. It would exert greater influence on decisions for transnational issues like the pandemic, climate change, organized crime and trafficking, corruption, money laundering or terrorism.

The commitment would not mean losing the freedom to actively trade with the rest of the world. The democratic world is perfectly compatible with economic and commercial openness, which is also the surest path to the prosperity of nations.

Mid-level powers like Germany, Canada, France, Great Britain and Australia have not hesitated to align themselves with the U.S to defend democracy and freedom. They are unconditional and trustworthy allies, though this has not prevented them from trading with China and Russia, in spite of ideological differences. Certain global challenges and economic and security concerns demand cooperation, but without abandoning basic, liberal and democratic values.


*Perina lectures on international relations and governance at Georgetown University and George Washington University in the United States.

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Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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