Juan Martin G. Cabañas
Landmarks of Ibero-American Geopolitical Thinking: A Review
  • Juan Martin G. Cabañas
    Researcher and Analyst at the Jorge Abelardo Ramos Center of Studies, Adviser at the Mercosur Parliament
  • The historical course of the Ibero-American countries, most of which have two centuries of independence processes behind them, or are close to reaching their independence bicentenaries (for Brazil it will be September 2022, for Bolivia – 2025), as well as the reflections that arise from the recent bicentenary of the resounding Guayaquil Conference [1]and from the current global context of strategic instability, call for a geopolitical review of the historical periods which conditioned the leaders and thinkers of this region.

    Surely, the greatest paradigm of the Latin or Ibero-American political and geopolitical thinking is the search for an identity, discourse, and practice that could be amalgamated into an autonomous praxis, considering its own baroque, syncretic, mestizo, "criollo" culture, with its corresponding strategic imperatives.
Other key aspects of the paradigm are the pursuit of autonomy and the resistance against the influence of extra-regional powers – so-called Hegemonic Powers that presented strategic challenges in each period (Spain, Great Britain, USA).

This brief review also seeks to highlight the elements of the "originality" of Latin American Geopolitical Thinking (LAGT). In this review, 6 historical periods of Latin America and its respective Geopolitical Thinking will be touched upon.

[1] between the major "Libertadores": Simón Bolívar and José de San Martin, in July 1824, in Guayaquil, present-day Ecuador.

The Period of Independence (1810-1825)

This period begins with the ideas and actions that promoted the independence of Hispanic America in the 19th century, like the 1791 "Carta a los españoles americanos" [2] by the Peruvian Jesuit Juan Pablo Vizcardo y Guzmán, which may constitute the birth certificate of Latin American political thinking by proposing for the first time the unity of Hispanic America.

Other significant doctrinal contributions that laid foundations of the LAGT are the "Carta de Jamaica" [3] (1815) by Simón Bolívar and the essay Ensayo sobre la necesidad de una Federación general entre los Estados Hispanoamericano [4] by Bernardo de Monteagudo (1825).

The main "Founding Fathers" of independent Hispanic America (Miranda, San Martín, Bolívar, Artigas, Monteagudo, etc.) followed the principles proclaimed in the above documents.

The greatest material expression of the principles was the Congress of Panamá (1826) promoted by Simon Bolivar.

[2] Letter to the American Spaniards
[3] Letter from Jamaica
Essay on the need for a general federation among the Spanish-American states
Simón Bolívar (1783-1830)
José de San Martín (1778-1850)
José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850)
The Idea of the Continental Confederation (1826)

In the newly independent territories (former Viceroyalties, General Captaincies, provinces, intendencias, of the Spanish Empire in America) the idea of grouping themselves into large regional confederations spread. The examples of this historical period of Latin American geopolitical thinking are the Bolívar Confederation Project at the Panama Congress, the idea of the Central American Union of Francisco Morazán, and the "Liga de los Pueblos Libres" [5] of José Gervasio Artigas.

As a particular aspect of this period, it should be noted that some leaders, like Simon Bolivar himself, perceived the United States (the first independent country of the continent) as a plausible ally in the face of the constant threats of the European monarchies grouped in the Vienna Conference and the Holy Alliance.

Despite the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine (1824), the relationship and perception of the United States had been relatively cordial, until the war with Mexico (1846) that generated the first fundamental "schism" between Anglo-Saxon America and Hispanic America in the face of the advance of the USA towards its southern border, with the several consequent interventions in the region, especially in Central America and the Caribbean.

On the contrary, the newly independent Brazil, established as a separate empire from the Portuguese, had been perceived as a threat, as an "outpost" of the European monarchies in South America, until it was proclaimed a Republic at the end of the 19th century.

[5] The League of Free Peoples also known as the "Federal League": a "geopolitical project" that would consist of a Federation -or Confederation- of peoples and territories located in the former Southern Cone of the Spanish empire in America. Such a notion would encompass the present territories of modern Argentina and Uruguay, also having followers in Paraguay. As a historical process it was an alliance between the provinces of the aforementioned territories which sought to consolidate independence and establish a Confederal organization.
Manuel Ugarte (1875-1951)
The Generation of the "900" and Anti-Imperialism (1890-1900)

Due to the constant and different imperialist interventions in the region (both European and North American), an anti-imperialist and regional unity consciousness re-emerged among the Ibero-American political and intellectual classes. This trend emerged with particular vigor in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century.

The most ardent advocates of the ideas of this period are: José Enrique Rodó, Rubén Dario, José Marti and Manuel Ugarte.

The generation of the "900" can be understood, in principle, as a cultural and literary movement that proposed Latin American unity based on opposition to North-American geopolitical and ideological expansionism.

That was the stance of José Enrique Rodó in his work "Ariel" (1900) which proposed to "rescue" and renew the Greco-Latin and Catholic tradition in Latin America against the North-American-Anglo-Saxon ideological arrogance, materialism, and utilitarianism.

Although in this period the continental Latin-American spirit of unity of Bolivarism was restored, some substantial differences were evident concerning the understanding of the former: there was a strong re-valorization of the Hispanic past along with the claim of the indigenous and mestizo elements of the "Latin American civilization", as in the work of Manuel Ugarte. The work of this last thinker concerning the Ibero-American leadership has great influence even today. His work was significant due to "rescuing" the concept of Patria Grande [6] , updating it by incorporating Brazil in it as a constituent part of Ibero-America.

[6] Great Homeland or Great Motherland (both as tentative translations of the concept into English).
José Carlos Mariátegui, 1917
The Search for a Framework to Interpret the Latin American Reality (1914)

There was a transition period between the generation of the "900" and the establishment of the national-popular governments.

The early decades of the 20th century were a prosperous period of debate in Latin America due to the global 'boiling moment', i.e. the context of the First World War, with the consequent first wave of decolonization, the notion of self-determination of peoples, the resurgence of nationalism, the emergence of socialist revolutions and the presence of the "social question". Intellectuals and political movements debated about the approach to these topics in the frameworks of Latin America as a region, and of each particular country.

The major debates of the inter-war period were about "the national question" and "the social question". The stances and relations between these 2 questions marked the characteristics of different ideological tendencies, some more linked to nationalism and others to socialism.

The outstanding thinkers of this period are Peruvians José Carlos Mariátegui [7], Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre [8], and Mexican José Vasconcelos [9]. They made great efforts to analyze the different ideological frameworks (the first Marxist, the others from a mixed and syncretic ideologies) and form an original interpretation of the region's reality.

[7] His main postulate was the proposal for the establishment of vernacular Marxism for Latin America (considering its historical course through the World System, with their respective economic and social structures, mostly outdated, inherited from the era of Spanish colonization), a national Marxism for Peru that could approach the "indigenous question" properly.
[8] His postulate was the proposal for a nationalist, popular, and continental Indo-American movement.
[9] His postulate was the philosophical renewal of Hispanic America, which he believed was the highlight of humanity, incorporating elements of all cultures and peoples of the world: "La Raza Universal" – the universal race.

National-Popular Political (and Social) Movements and Governments (1918-1980)

They were political leaderships and governments of diverse ideological orientation, but they had some common denominators, representing attempts –some deeper than others – of national resistance and peoples' emancipation, postulating autonomous models of regional political and economic organization, as well as the strive for a joint regional action on the international stage to reduce the influence of global powers in the region.

- First stage (1915-1930): the Mexican revolution, the actions of Augusto César Sandino in Nicaragua, the Peruvian APRA, and the Argentine Radicalism.

- Second stage (1930-1970): the governments of Lázaro Cárdenas (México), Getúlio Vargas (Brazil), Juan Domingo Perón (Argentina, influenced by Christian Humanism and Personalism), Carlos Ibañez (Chile), Juan Velasco Alvarado (Peru), Jacobo Arbenz (Guatemala), Víctor Paz Estensoro (Bolivia), Juan Bosch (Dominican Rep.), among others.

In 1953 Perón proposed [10] the "Continentalismo" (Continentalism) that would originate from the geopolitical core of the second ABC agreement (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) as basic axis for a South American continental pole.

National-Popular Governments and Leaderships of the Post-Washington Consensus Period (2000- )

The feature of the period are renewal and revitalization of the previous political movements, as well as the emergence of new ones, after two decades of neoliberal predominance (the 1980s and 1990s) in the region.

The trend is sometimes referred to as the "Pink Tide" of the 2000s in mass media.

The heterogeneity of their governments and leaders also stands out as a characteristic of this period, which in some cases has implied important socio-economic achievements.

This period's schools of thought and thinkers have also been varied: ECLAC's Latin American Structuralism (Prebisch, Furtado, Ferrer), Dependency Theory (Cardoso, Faletto, dos Santos), the South American "Autonomist School" (Jaguaribe and Puig), Liberation Theology (Gutiérrez Merino, Boff, Dussel), Theology of the People (Methol Ferré, Scannone), to name a few.

In the geopolitical dimension of this period, the proposals to establish and revitalize platforms of joint regional action re-emerged and materialized with the establishment of UNASUR, CELAC, and ALBA, as the most outstanding examples.

The most prominent leaders of this period are Néstor and Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), Lula da Silva (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Tabaré Vázquez and José "Pepe" Mujica (Uruguay), Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua).

For endogenous and exogenous reasons, this period was diluted by the end of the 2010s. The retroversion process (2010- ) is called the "Conservative Wave" or "Conservative Restoration".

Nowadays, a renewed progressist cycle has formed. The debate on the possibility of a "Second Pink Tide" (2019) is active both in mass media and in the academic sphere, but such a debate exceeds this review.

[10] at his speech entitled "Unidos o Dominados" (United or Dominated) delivered at the National War School of Argentina on November 11, 1953.
The discussion on Latin American unity <...> is a major strategic imperative, one of particular interest in the context of the present trends of structural changes in the international system, such as the hypothetical transition to a multipolar, multi-civilizational and "Post-Western" order.

Beyond the influence of the ideas and concepts "imported" from Europe (such as Liberalism, Socialism, Positivism, Nationalism), there is a long tradition of Latin American self-reflection on regional integration and cooperation.

This early and profound geopolitical self-awareness of shared space, history and culture, as well as common interests, is the most prominent element of "Latin American Continentalism" as a process of Regionalization, having even its own centralizer and a centripetal concept: "La Patria Grande" (The Great Homeland).

This continental vision that seeks to address specific problems of its geography and identity is the key to the Latin American Geopolitical Thinking for Integration.

The discussion on Latin American unity is not just a topical debate that arises or re-emerges in different areas depending on the ideological harmony between governments in the region at certain times. It is a major strategic imperative, one of particular interest in the context of the present trends of structural changes in the international system, such as the hypothetical transition to a multipolar, multi-civilizational and "Post-Western" order.

Ibero-America is potentially a totality, an entity, that has numerous contributions to offer as a major part of the global multipolar reality.
Canciones de la Patria Grande, Leo Bernstein & Gabriela Fiore
Cover: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Photo by Juan Pablo Mascanfroni on Unsplash