Events

Anti-Americanism in Latin America

November 20, 2006 // 11:00am12:30pm

Marcos Aguinis, former Secretary of Culture, Argentina; novelist; and Woodrow Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar

On November 20, 2006, Public Policy Scholar Marcos Aguinis presented his research on anti-Americanism in Latin America. Aguinis emphasized that the United States is the first democracy of the modern world, with freedom of speech, religious tolerance, gender equality, and alternation of power, and that many constitutions in Latin America are copied from or inspired by the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, he argued, hatred towards the United States is pervasive and growing. Such sentiment is fueled by the policies and attitudes of U.S. leaders; some have also attributed it to the Iraq war and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet according to Aguinis, hatred of the United States existed beforehand, and centers less on the failures of U.S. leaders and policies than on U.S. society itself.

Aguinis outlined both objective and subjective reasons for Latin American views towards the United States. Objective reasons include the annexation of territories that formerly belonged to Mexico, interventions in Central American and Caribbean conflicts, support for coups and bloody military dictatorships, and economic policies that exploit natural resources, at time with the connivance of corrupt government officials. Subjective reasons involved the power of demagoguery in some Latin American countries, the power of envy, and ideologies such as dependency theory. However, Aguinis argued, these reasons alone cannot explain the phenomenon of anti-Americanism nor the virulence of its reemergence. Rather, he described the clash as a struggle between modernity and anti-modernity. He defined modernity in accordance with the principles of the Enlightenment: sovereignty of the people; constitutionally defined, democratic institutions; limited, representative government; and faith in science and reason. Questions arise in current debates over globalization and international development as to the appropriateness and applicability of Enlightenment principles to non-Western nations. In response, a new, post-modern model has emerged as an alternative to the Eurocentrism of the past. Anti-Americanism, Aguinis hypothesized, may be a symptom of this post-modernism, which is against religious tolerance, pluralism, freedom of press and of speech, etc.

Aguinis noted that there are many ways to define anti-Americanism, including as Paul Hollander did—as an irrational emotion equivalent to racism. Anti-Americanism cannot be characterized ideologically, he said because it appeals to leaders across the ideological spectrum, from Venezuela's Hugo Chávez to France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Aguinis stated there seems to be a consensus among academics that anti-Americanism is not equivalent to a critique of U.S. policies, but that one must distinguish between legitimate critiques of U.S. policies and hatred of the United States. An area that requires further research is identifying the sources of anti-Americanism within particular societies in order to address its specific causes.

Discussion focused on the extent to which resentment of U.S. power is at the root of anti-Americanism, as well as the ways to measure or quantify public attitudes in Latin America. Aguinis' research assistant, Scott Mann, pointed to survey research indicating that attitudes vary throughout the region. Despite Hugo Chávez's anti-American rhetoric, for example, Venezuelans are not particularly anti-American, while Argentines tend to be more anti-American despite having fewer conflicts with the United States. Others in the audience noted that the Brazilian case makes Aguinis' thesis harder to uphold: anti-Americanism as a political banner is in decline, one could argue, in proportion to the country's growing economic and political stability. Others pointed out that anti-Americanism has emerged in Latin America at particular historical moments, including when the making and establishment of national identity involved defining the nation against a common enemy. Finally, it was suggested that, in the Latin American case, feelings towards the United States are often mixed: feelings of distrust exist side by side with a desire to take advantage of the opportunities and examples provided by the United States.

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