Brexit and Latin America

What’s the impact of the British referendum on the Americas?
This morning, we awoke to the shocking news that UK voters have opted for leaving the European Union. Like many elections in today’s globalized world, the effects fall heavily on countries and people who had no say in the matter, at least electorally. The consequences will fall heaviest on Europeans in the UK (and UK residents in the EU) and on Europe generally. U.S. businesses and political leaders were clearly hoping for the UK to remain in the UK, and the pessimistic expectations are already clear in early trading on the markets.
But do the results matter for Latin America?
brexit-promo-master495The immediate impact of “Brexit” on Latin America is to create additional economic uncertainty in what is already a challenging environment. Many Latin American economies have been hit hard by falling commodity prices. In the near-term, the referendum results will exacerbate that. Market turmoil will continue to drive up the US dollar, increasing borrowing costs for countries that are already in the red.
For Latin American countries that have recently negotiated or are currently negotiating free trade agreements with the EU, the eventual absence of the UK reduces the value of those deals somewhat. Trade with the EU is very important to many Latin American economies. It accounts for about 15% of Argentina’s trade, nearly 20% of Brazil’s, 18% of Colombia’s. Though the figure is lower for Mexico, 11% of the country’s exports go to the EU (all figures from the WTO). It is a very important source of investment, too. To the extent that Brexit slows Europe’s economic recovery, it will hit Latin American export sectors that are already suffering.
Trade with the UK itself, however, is much less important. It generally accounts for only a tenth of the trade figures listed above. Some Latin American states may eventually seek separate agreements with the UK, but it is not likely to be a high priority. Certainly nothing can be arranged until the terms of the UK’s exit are clearer. A more immediate concern for Latin American governments will be securing the main European sources of investment through the EU. For most countries, that means Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany. It’s a bit of a different story for small economies of the Anglophone Caribbean, but not a more positive one given the general turmoil and possible reduction in market access. The UK is not the investment powerhouse that it once was in Latin America, when the island nation was a major force in the continent’s railway, shipping, and mining sectors. Therefore, the economic effects of Brexit are likely to be serious, but indirect–filtered through the EU, commodity prices, and the value of the dollar.
Politically, the immediate response in Latin America seems to be disbelief. The continent has long idealized and struggled for greater integration (though with many disagreements about what that should mean). Brexit flies in the face of that. Here is a regional organization that, for many legitimate gripes, on the whole really works to promote economic and social wellbeing, and has a record of enhancing peace and human rights. That has long been at least a rhetorical aspiration for many in the hemisphere, and so it is surprising to see it cast aside, I think. (At least it is for me.) That said, the region is likely to be much more consumed by the positive news of the ceasefire in Colombia.
Perhaps even more important are the echoes of the Leave campaign’s tenor for Latin Americans. Given the experiences of many Latin Americans living in the United States, there is little sympathy for the anti-immigrant sentiments that fueled much of the Leave campaign. In short, I don’t see many silver linings for Latin America from a British departure. It reduces British influence in Latin America, too, but cutting it out of EU programs and by weakening the UK’s appeal and “soft power.”
In the United States, the political picture is more mixed. Certainly, most of the business and political establishment was hoping for decisive Remain, as President Obama clearly stated. The United States has a strong interest in both a more integrated UK and in a more liberal EU. Both of those are now under severe threat, and on the whole that is bad news for U.S. companies. It also complicates U.S. security relationships, though there will be an emphasis on maintaining those. In terms of public opinion, there is a sector of the U.S. electorate that has long been skeptical of international organizations and that will celebrate Brexit. The messages of the Leave campaign will have resonated with many Tea Party supporters in the United States, which shared similar emphases on stopping immigration and purging supposedly unresponsive and unaccountable politicians and bureaucrats. The reception of the results of the referendum will largely mirror the political divisions that have been so evident during the U.S. presidential campaign.

Colombia-FARC ceasefire

Exciting news happening in Havana, as the Colombian government and the FARC announce a definitive ceasefire that will end a 50-year guerrilla war. Check out this story from Reuters, where I am thrilled to be quoted in the last paragraph, after talking with Havana correspondent Sarah Marsh.

I’ll also be talking live on Deutsche Weill television, which should stream online. I’ll be on sometime around 8:30 p.m. in Germany, which is 7:30 p.m. in the UK, and 2:30 on the East Coast in the U.S. I’ll put up a video of it if I can (for you, Mom).

Update: my head is enormous on German TV (in English):


You can watch the announcement live from Havana via Colombian newsweekly Semana.

Book review: Kalman Silvert

I recently returned from the Latin American Studies Association conference. It was a landmark event for LASA — the 50th anniversary of the organization’s founding, the largest and most international conference ever, and a return to New York after decades away. One of the benefits of LASA, particularly now that I am living in the UK, is the opportunity to catch up with many of my past professors and mentors.

A new book on Kalman Silvert, edited by Abraham F. Lowenthal and Martin Weinstein, who like most of the contributors were former students, colleagues, and mentees of Silvert.

One of them, Louis Goodman, former dean of the School of International Service, gave me a copy of a book, Kalman Silvert: Engaging Latin America, Building Democracy, shortly before the conference (published by Lynne Rienner). The volume, to which Goodman contributed, was compiled and edited by Abraham Lowenthal and Martin Weinstein. Before getting the book, I knew Silvert’s name in large part because LASA’s highest prize is named after him. I would have been hard pressed to tell you too much more. As the book itself notes, Silvert’s contributions have somewhat faded from view. His writings are not widely cited. He is well remembered by a senior generation, but largely unknown to my own generation.

Silvert was a founder and the first president of LASA. He was a professor at Tulane, University of Buenos Aires, Dartmouth, and NYU. He also was a senior advisor for the Ford Foundation’s programs in the social science, with a focus on Latin America during a crucial time. He worked to support social scientists living and working in repressive regimes in the 1960s until his death in 1976. Support from Ford helped numerous institutions in Latin America provide a venue for independent social science under trying circumstances. Through his scholarship, teaching, and development of professional networks, Silvert pressed for individual rights, education, democracy, and better relations between the United States and Latin America. He was deeply involved in the creation of many institutions that for my generation have always formed the professional landscape of Latin American studies.

The book offers an excellent introduction to Silvert’s life and work. Chapters offer an overview of his major works, contributions on mentoring, through philanthropic organizations, as a public intellectual, and engagement with U.S. policy–particularly through the Commission on United States – Latin American Relations, often known as “the Linowitz Commission,” which had a major influence on the Carter Administration’s approaches to Latin America.

The book is also a wonderful reminder that so much of what we do goes beyond our writings. Most of the chapters are contributed by Silvert’s former students or by scholars he worked with closely across Latin America, though especially in Argentina and Chile. The chapters weave together many interlocking aspect’s of Silvert’s life and work, and they also serve as a wonderful reminder that the social sciences are social in more ways than one. These personal relationships are, of course, important to how we build knowledge, but they are usually invisible in our published work. This is an excellent corrective.