Will Latin America rule the world?

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera’s book What If Latin America Ruled The World? Depicts a fascinating new alternative away from the pragmatism of the european model

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is a man with big ideas. According to him the geography of the Amazon is the direct result of mankind. If the subject turns to football, he likes to provoke by saying that the sport was not invented by the English. These and other thoughts are what comprise his new book, an epic read with almost 500 pages which has just been released in the UK, an exploration of the growth in the importance of Latin America on the international scene. Oscar met Jungle at the top of the Hayward Gallery, where the artist (and friend of Oscar) Ernesto Neto has new work on show as part of Festival Brazil, promoted by the Southbank Centre. “This exhibition is yet more proof of this Latin invasion which is taking shape”, he says.

Were you supporting Brazil this world cup?
(Laughs) Absolutely! Sócrates (the football player) says that the way a country plays football shows the spirit of the country, and I’ve always thought that makes sense – if you look at England, for example, it’s a lot of millionaires who are very difficult to manage; they’re very good individually but can’t play together. There’s also this doom and gloom which accompanies the entire country. Then there’s this story happening in the current world cup, where every country is playing with confidence, gusto, renewed strength and imagination – and it’s expanding further than football, to politics, economics – and obviously Brazil is the best example. Is it just a coincidence that everything’s started happening recently? What is happening over there is no coincidence – this is the story I’m telling  in my book.

There is growing recognition  of the importance of Latin America on the world stage. The most important thing here in England is the growing Latino community. Last year there was a demographic map published of London that showed huge Latino populations, mainly Brazilians and Colombians. It’s difficult to tell how many of us are here but the estimate is 150,000-200,000. There is a parallel with the USA, where last year’s census said that 10-15 states now have a Latin majority, with an estimate that by 2040 (when Brazil is set to become the 4th largest economy in the world), the USA will become the ‘Latino States of America’. While everybody is looking at China, I believe the real story is happening in the Americas – this is just the tip of the iceberg.

With immigration difficulties here and growing opportunities in Latin America, a lot of immigrants are now beginning to head back to their native Latin countries. London received Latinos  for around ten years, and it seems  like this friendship is ending…
Absolutely. The Latinos who came here over the last few generations were escaping political dangers, as well as those searching for economical opportunities. The more recent waves of immigration are people from different sectors of Latin Societies – because people in Latin America are acquiring more means to consume and are spending more and paying for better educations. There is a professional class migrating to Britain – not necessarily because they want a better economic future but because they’d like a different way of life – a wider, cosmopolitan experience. Europe is the best place to be if you are a writer, an engineer, a designer, an artist; all kinds of work emerge out of diversity. And there is a second factor: our common history. It’s sad to see a regression to such strict terms on immigration here in Europe – it’s regressive in terms of economics and culture and also completely unrealistic. It cannot respond to the economic reality and needs or to the age problem Europe faces. As the world globalises there needs to be a greater sense of empathy with other areas, for future generations to help deal with larger global issues such as climate change or the financial crisis.

You mention a lot the indigenous spirit of Latin America. Brazil is not so much an indigenous country and the positivity towards the native people isn’t strong…
Any Brazilian who’s grown up in an urban centre would have heard negativity towards indigenous people. As my generation is reaching its late 30’s, we remember thinking these things, maybe saying them, in the past – but now we see the value of this inheritance to larger issues where there doesn’t seem to be a modern solution – climate change for example, where our heritage and indigenous lifestyles can be a positive thing.

What was the impact of Brazil’s involvement in the Tehran Declaration?
The week before the 2009 Copenhagen summit, Lula managed to get away saying that the causes of the climate crisis came from somebody with blonde hair and blue eyes, and the media over here actually responded to that by saying ‘well… I guess you’re right actually’. The point is that Brazil’s soft power is being recognised – the Tehran declaration [on nuclear weapons] brokered by Brazil and Turkey is historical.

It proves that the seemingly large powers were unable to get Iran to sit at the table. Certainly, it shows a level of maturity to assert yourself and start to lead rather than follow. Now people are saying something completely different – ‘we are no longer accepting losing, we are winning…’And this is the reason Latin America will rule the world; it has a better proposal to make to others and it is ready to meet those others to discuss that proposal, it will not force that on anybody. Our soft power is not as soft as it seems, it comes backed with good results and will move us towards a better life – in the end that’s what we all want, irrespective of our nationalities, ethnic origins or cultural differences.

You use Lula as an example, but at the same time Brazilian politics can be so corrupt and people don’t seem to rise up.Can you see a direct relationship in the way the country works?
I don’t want to romanticise about Brazil; politics is not the space of pure ideals – it is dirty and it is corrupt. But politics is also about building a public space for people to come and defend their views. If you throw a party there will always be gatecrashers, but I do not believe corruption is more widespread in Latin America than in the rest of the world. We know so little about our history and when we find out about it we start to feel good about being Latin American; this is what is taking place amongst so many Latin Americans. And the geography is huge! How many Europe’s could you put inside Brazil alone? Six? People are more adaptable, more creative. No matter whether you’re talking to an Argentinean from Patagonia, a Gaúcho from the South of Brazil, a Carioca, an Afro Caribbean from Cuba, this is what makes us all who we are. We are creatures of light, I guess that’s why there is yellow everywhere, on all our flags! And I realised this so much later in life. I thought I was part this and part that, now I know I am Latin American – I don’t need to look up to Europe or the USA. The book is an end product of self-discovery. Our richness is in our diversity, and that is our political richness too. They tried doing things another way and it didn’t work. It’s time to do it our way.

By Juliano Zappia

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What if latin america ruled the world?
by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, 480 pages, RRP £20
bloomsbury.com

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