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NAFTA in a Comparative Perspective: A Debate on Trade Diplomacy, Economic Policy, and Regionalism  

Isidro Morales

“A Marriage of Convenience” became the best metaphor, coined in 1990 by distinguished American economist Sidney Weintraub to summarize the fundamentals under which NAFTA was built and understood, at least in mainstream analysis: the economic complementarities existing among the three countries of North America could work to the benefit of everyone involved if economic integration is well managed and geared toward the improvement of regional competitiveness. Thus, NAFTA became the privileged tool under which managed integration became implemented and assessed, at least in three major domains: as a foreign policy tool to advance the interests of each nation, as an economic device to reap the benefits of integration, and as the backbone under which a regional political and social bloc could eventually be constructed. Scholars, intellectuals, and public officials engaged in the discussions around NAFTA in each of those fields shared ideas, built some consensus, and split on dissents following competing approaches and/or national cleavages. The current literature in those three major fields of discussion is rich, voluminous, and highly inspiring, sometimes making references to other integrative experiences. This article reviews these debates and highlights either the consensus or dissention witnessed in each of the three domains under which NAFTA has been discussed the most. Since NAFTA cannot be separated from the political and social contexts that the debates and discussions took place in, a reference to those political contexts can be made when explaining and summarizing the debates. At a time when the mainstream consensus around NAFTA is being challenged by U.S. President Trump’s assumption that NAFTA is not about complementary economies but about economies competing against each other under a zero-sum game rationale, politics comes back to the forefront of North American affairs. The renegotiation of NAFTA will doubtless redefine the partnership among the three North American countries and the role that economic cooperation and integration entails for each.


Left Governments and Social Movements in Latin America  

Manuel Larrabure

The relationship between social movements and left governments in Latin America since the postwar period has evolved from top-down relationships of populism and vanguardism to more contemporary attempts to blend new social movement practices of horizontalism and direct democracy with the hierarchical structures of the capitalist state and the party system. This evolution represents a long and unfinished transformation in the character of popular struggles, which today stands at the crossroads between referring back to more traditional structures of resistance, and pushing forward to the creation of a new left that can feature radical democratic participation from below as its centerpiece.


The Americas in the Trans-Pacific Partnership  

Rubrick Biegon

Following the end of the Cold War, the hegemony of the United States in Latin America was intimately related to the globalization of the hemispheric political economy. Free-trade agreements (FTAs) were crucial to this process, helping to extend and entrench the neoliberal model. As a result of the region’s political turn to the left during the 2000s, however, the Washington Consensus became increasingly untenable. As U.S. trade policy subsequently moved in the direction of a “post-Washington Consensus,” the “Pink Tide” fostered the creation of Latin American-led approaches to integration independent of the United States. In this context, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was designed to catalyse a new wave of (neo)liberalization among its 12 participating countries, including the United States, Canada, Chile, Peru, and Mexico. The TPP codified an updated and comprehensive set of rules on an array of trade and investment disciplines not covered in existing agreements. Strategically linking the Asia-Pacific to the Americas, but excluding China, the TPP responded to China’s growing economic presence in Asia and Latin America. Largely a creation of U.S. foreign economic policy, the United States withdrew from the TPP prior to its ratification and following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. The remaining 11 countries signed a more limited version of the agreement, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is open to future participation by the United States and other countries in Asia and Latin America. The uncertainties in the TPP process represented the further erosion of Washington’s “free trade” consensus, reflecting, among other things, a crisis of U.S. hegemony in the Americas.


Guatemala’s Struggle for Justice  

Mario Roberto Morales

Guatemala is one of the most complicated countries in the Latin American region, especially because of the interethnic dimensions of its historical processes. Its history goes back 35,000 years, when the territory was first populated. Thereafter, it saw the development of the most advanced culture in the Americas: The Maya civilization. No less interesting is its colonial history. The years of the war of conquest and the centuries of colonial rule by the Spaniards are the very matrix in which all of the complicated ethnic differences among its peoples originated. These differences give an ethnic face to the economic, political, social, and cultural powers and events in everyday life. The name Criollos (Creole) was given to the sons and grandsons of Spaniards born in the Americas. The formation of a Creole or Criollo motherland in the hearts and minds of the descendants of the conquistadors quickly developed because of the feudal land ownership imposed by the invaders, which provided the Criollos with a love of private property. Land ownership disputes among the Criollo elites gave way to wars that led to a failed attempt at Central American unity by liberals against the conservative forces representing the interests of the Catholic Church in matters of state. In the end, a liberal “modernity” was imposed, but this modernity contained a basic contradiction that remains alive to this day: A feudal land tenure as the basis of a supposed democratic liberal state that, oddly enough, often took the form of military dictatorships. The impossibility of modernity characterizes the Guatemalan 20th century. An authoritarian state and army represented the oligarchic Criollo power throughout the first four decades of that century until a civic and military movement overthrew the dictator in charge, General Jorge Ubico. Democracy was established, thus modernizing the state and all public affairs, and the foundations of a “democratic Capitalism” (as President Jacobo Arbenz called it in his inauguration speech) were laid through a land reform affecting only public lands and buying private non-cultivated properties at a fair market price. In the midst of the Cold War, this meant defiance against the U.S. government. In 1954, the CIA, the local oligarchy, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and a faction of the National Army, perpetrated a coup d’état that ended Guatemala’s path toward real economic, political, and cultural modernity. The country went back to where it was: Oligarchic and military rule and the overexploitation of the landless campesino workforce, especially in the indigenous communities of Maya ascent. In the early 1960s Guatemalans experienced the emergence of a guerrilla socialist movement inspired by the Cuban revolution that unleashed a war that lasted 36 years until peace accords were signed in 1996 by a militarily defeated guerrilla force and a triumphant National Army. This “peace” was the local requisite imposed by the corporate transnational capital on the local oligarchy to install a neoliberal regime in the country. Immediately after the peace accords were signed, the oligarchic government of Álvaro Arzú began to privatize public assets like the electric and telephone companies. The effect on the popular sectors and the middle class was devastating. The state abandoned its development plans, and this responsibility was shifted to international funding agencies. The resultant non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to call themselves “civil society” and still do today. This simulacrum of a civil society was composed by well-funded groups of ex–left-wing militants and sympathizers that soon embraced and advanced issues related to multiculturalism, following the international agenda of the funding agencies. Class struggle was totally abandoned by these politically correct NGOs, which soon became “new social movements.” Public powers were absorbed by illegal private powers now in association with drug trafficking and many other forms of organized crime. Neoliberalism became the national economic paradigm. And when public corruption was incontrollable, the United States intervened, waging a “struggle against corruption and impunity” that led to a “color revolution” and a soft coup d’état in 2015.