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date: 06 October 2022

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) and the Development Projectlocked

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) and the Development Projectlocked

  • Margarita FajardoMargarita FajardoSarah Lawrence College

Summary

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA in English and CEPAL in Spanish and Portuguese) was more than an economic development institution. Established in 1948, at the height of post-World War II internationalism, CEPAL was one of the first three regional commissions alongside those of Europe and Asia charged with addressing problems of postwar economic reconstruction. But, in the hands of a group of mostly Argentinean, Brazilian, and Chilean economists, CEPAL swiftly became the institutional fulcrum of a regional intellectual project that put Latin America at the center of discussions about international development and global capitalism. That Latin America’s place in the periphery of the global economy as a producer of primary products and raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods from the world’s industrial centers, combined with the long-term decline in the international terms of that trade, constituted an obstacle for economic development, was the foundational tenet of that project. Through regional economic surveys and in-depth country studies, international forums and training courses, international cooperation initiatives, and national structural reforms, cepalinos located themselves at the nexus of a transnational network of diplomats and policymakers, economists and sociologists, and made the notion of center–periphery and the intellectual repertoire it inspired the central economic paradigm of the region in the postwar era. Eclipsed in the 1970s by critiques from the New Left and dependency theorists, on the one hand, and by the authoritarian right and neoliberal proponents, on the other hand, the cepalino project remains Latin America’s most important contribution to debates about capitalism and globalization, while the institution, after it reinvented itself at the turn of the century, still constitutes a point of reference and a privileged repository of information about the region.

Subjects

  • History of Brazil
  • History of Southern Spanish America
  • 1945–1991
  • International History
  • Intellectual History

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