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The Southern Cone today

The consul generals of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in Los Angeles spoke on their views of the Southern Cone at a recent lecture hosted by the UCLA Center for Southern Cone Studies.

The Southern Cone today

From left: Deputy Consul General of Argentina Ricardo Arredondo, Consul General of Chile Jorge Tagle, UCLA Professor Verónica Cortínez, Consul General of Argentina Luis García Tezanos, Consul General of Uruguay Ambassador Luis Sica and UCLA Professor Adriana Bergero (Photo: Michelle Salinas/ UCLA.)

“We are interrelated much more than we think.” Consul General of Uruguay Luis Sica

by Michelle Salinas (UCLA BA/MA 2016)

UCLA International Institute, February 8, 2016 — A recent roundtable discussion organized by the Center for Southern Cone Studies and cosponsored by the department of Spanish and Portuguese examined current and ongoing challenges in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.*

Moderated by Professor and Director of the Center for Southern Cone Studies Verónica Cortínez, the panel featured Luis García Tezanos, Jorge Tagle, and Luis Sica, the consul generals of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in Los Angeles, respectively. Their remarks emphasized their countries’ interconnectedness beyond simple geographic proximity and ideas for stronger relations within the Southern Cone.

The Argentine perspective

“The challenges in the Argentine case, more than anything, are to reintegrate ourselves into the world in a normal way, in an absolute way, as a reliable and predictable country,” said Consul General of Argentina Luis García Tezanos.

Argentina, he remarked, is currently seeking dialogue and negotiation with members and affiliates of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). Specifically, it is seeking an agreement with Mercosur members, including Chile and Brazil, to export products from the countries’ corresponding coastal regions. Argentina is also negotiating with the European Union and the United States on trade issues. Tezanos particularly stressed that Argentine-U.S. relations had not been good and that true efforts were being made to improve them.

Tezanos mentioned a human rights issue as an illustration of a shift in Argentina’s international relations. According to him, a week after assuming the presidency, Mauricio Macri held a meeting with Mercosur members and called for Venezuela to free its political prisoners. “This call was an absolute gesture. . . Argentina was part of the Bolivarian axis,” said Tezanos. “This marked a radical difference. . . the Bolivarian axis has ceased to be our central ally.”

Another shift has occurred in relations between Argentina and Iran, who signed an agreement to hold a trial against the Iranians accused of taking part in the terrorist attack on the Argentine Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994. Organizations within the Argentine Jewish community, along with the national parliament and other supporters, denounced the trial, contending it would be biased. Argentina was granted an opportunity to appeal the agreement with Iran, but government officials did not follow through. And although one of Macri’s presidential campaign promises was to cancel the agreement, this promise remains unfulfilled.

Tezanos said that it seemed strange to him that, unlike Argentina, the United States had recently established better relations with Iran. “But we are not the United States. We are Argentina. We have 82 dead due to a terrorist attack the like of which has never been seen before in South America.”

The Chilean perspective

Consul General of Chile Jorge Tagle began his talk by commenting on the concept of the “Southern Cone,” including the term’s historical connotations. “The three countries of the South looked at the mirror — I do not know how mirrors were made before, I think they were not as good quality as those of today, but we saw ourselves whiter and blonder. Thus we declared, ‘We are different, we are the Europeans of South America. And so we are the Southern Cone.’” The region’s indigenous and African ancestry was overlooked, he pointed out.

Today, however, the region has a different outlook, said Tagle, one that emphasizes the importance of having good relations among the societies of its member states. “Right now I would say that we have a relationship independent of governments. . . One sees that we have had very good relations with governments of different political views and bad political relations with governments of similar views. So it's a relationship that goes beyond the government in power.”

Tagle mentioned that the current government of Chile is determined to implement various reforms related to the challenges of a middle-class population. The consul general acknowledged that poverty has not been completely overcome in Chile, but that huge advances have been made. For example, a large number of first-generation college graduates are entering the middle class. “It is a much more empowered civil society in general; therefore, they demand more from the government,” he said. That implies, he added, that the government needs an appropriate structure with which to respond to those demands.

Yet Tagle said that current international economic circumstances made it difficult to respond to all demands.

The Uruguayan perspective

Consul General of Uruguay Luis Sica began his remarks by emphasizing that being part of such an interconnected region as the Southern Cone means that everything that happens in one of the three countries will affect the others. In fact, the countries affect each other not only economically, but also socially. “We are interrelated much more than we think,” he said. “And obviously, being informed about one another enhances this relationship and that dependency, because we come to discover, with the passing of time, many things we did not know. We learn decades later things that have shaken the world's history and region.”

Sica examined the significance of the passing down of information from generation to generation across countries. He agreed with Tagle that the term “Southern Cone” had not just racial, but also racist connotations, in addition to cultural and economic ones. Racial and other prejudices are handed down, he said, because people believe, “it was always done this way because it has always been this way, even if it doesn’t match our current reality. . . . Our reality today is not the same as yesterday’s.”

Sica accordingly questioned why Paraguay or Brazil were not present at the discussion and considered part of the Southern Cone. He attributed the historical and ongoing exclusion of such countries from the region to both racism and classism.

The consul general then shared his experience of going through archives in London and exploring how Europeans described the people of the region. The goal of his research, he said, had been “to see to what extent were we protagonists of our histories or to what extent we did what others had determined for us to do. . . . We come to find out that we have been lied to and we have lied — we repeated the lies.” The very notion of the Southern Cone, he seemed to imply, is rooted in the colonial experience of the three countries represented at the discussion and needs to be redefined by them in light of present circumstances.

New political administrations and post-colonial understandings of history are changing individual countries’ relations with one another and other countries. The discussion sparked a lively conversation that focused on shared goals within and beyond the Southern Cone.

*The panel discussion was in Spanish; all quotes have been translated by this writer.