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Asunto:[encuentrohumboldt] 134/04 - El Desarrollo Latinoamericano y el Imperativo d e Globalización: Direcciones Nuevas y Crisis Consabidas
Fecha:Viernes, 14 de Mayo, 2004  00:45:54 (-0300)
Autor:Humboldt <humboldt>

El Desarrollo Latinoamericano y el Imperativo de Globalización:

Direcciones Nuevas y Crisis Consabidas


Dr. David J. Keeling

Department of Geography and Geology

Western Kentucky University






La globalización ha salido como el sistema del análisis socioeconómico conceptual y del contexto definitivo al principio del siglo 21. Por todas partes de América Latina especialmente, la globalización ha llegado a ser un sinónimo político-económico del cambio estructural muy profundo, además de un foco de la crítica vocinglera y rigurosa por esos sectores de la sociedad que han sido desaventajado, perjudicado, u olvidado por las fuerzas de cambio global. Además, la globalización con frecuencia es discutido de una perspectiva absolutista y expresado casi únicamente dentro del contexto del estado político. Por consiguiente, las regiones, los locales, y la gente frecuentemente están reducidos a los actores insignificantes o están omitidos del análisis enteramente.

Esta ponencia examina las implicaciones teórica y práctica de la globalización para el desarrollo en América Latina y aboga por una aproximación analítica la que abarca las condiciones regionales y locales claves. Con la Argentina y Méjico como unos estudios de caso, están examinados los cinco elementos críticos del desarrollo bajo de la globalización: el medio ambiente, la demografía, la migración, la identidad nacional, y la transportación. La ponencia se termina desenvolviendo el concepto de “glocalización” y sosteniendo por una aproximación política que repiensa el sistema existente y que reestructura el contexto analítico en una manera más proactiva.  






Globalization has emerged as the defining conceptual and contextual socioeconomic framework of analysis for the early 21st century. Throughout Latin America particularly, globalization has become a political-economic buzzword for profound structural change, as well as the focus of vociferous and rigorous criticism by those sectors of society disadvantaged, damaged, or bypassed by the forces of global restructuring. Moreover, globalization often is discussed from an absolutist perspective and framed almost exclusively within the context of the political state. As a result, regions, places, and people frequently are reduced to insignificant actors or are omitted from the analysis altogether.

This paper examines the theoretical and practical implications of globalization for development in Latin America and argues for an analytical approach that encompasses key regional and local conditions. With Argentina and Mexico as case studies, five critical elements of development under globalization are examined: environmental change, demography, migration, national identity, and transportation. The paper concludes by developing the concept of “glocalization” and arguing for a policy approach that rethinks the extant framework and restructures the analytical construct in a more proactive manner. 




Latin American Development and the Globalization Imperative:

New Directions, Familiar Questions




Throughout Latin America, globalization has emerged as the defining conceptual and empirical phenomenon of the early 21st century. From an evolving trendy perspective on socio-economic change two decades ago, globalization has become the dominant contemporary political-economic framework for structural adjustment programs, as well as the focus of vociferous and rigorous criticism by those sectors of society disadvantaged, damaged, or bypassed by the forces of global change. Latin American governments, almost exclusively, have adopted wholeheartedly globalization policies such as privatization, deregulation, neoliberalism, and free trade in an attempt to reverse decades of economic mismanagement and squandered development opportunities. The shift from an ideology of dirigismo (state-directed development) to one of neoliberalismo (state disengagement) has opened up the region to the global capitalist regime of finance, production, marketing, and consumption, which has altered irrevocably the way in which goods and services are provided, spatial relationships are structured, and cultural identities are defined and understood.

As globalization evolves into a fully defined theoretical framework, its impacts and implications in Latin America often are discussed from an absolutist perspective and framed almost exclusively within the context of the political state. This is occurring despite a conceptualization of globalization that implies a frictionless world without state-imposed barriers to economic inter-action. Economic development policies in Argentina, for example, continue to be framed by a conception of national territory as culturally and structurally homogenous, rather than by the reality of socioeconomic spatial heterogeneity that goes beyond artificial internal or international political boundaries. As a result, regions, peoples, and places frequently are reduced to insignificant actors or are omitted from the analysis altogether. Indeed, a central criticism of globalization throughout Latin America has been its role in accelerating social polarization or the “development gap.” This occurs when an increasing percentage of national income or wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people. Increasingly, globalization analysis seems to be driven primarily by macroeconomic statistics that serve as positive indicators of long-term national development trends, while micro-economic data that measure quality of life for individuals and communities are downplayed or dismissed outright as insignificant short-term trends.

This paper examines the theoretical and practical implications of globalization for develop-ment in Latin America and argues for an analytical approach that encompasses key regional and local conditions. With Argentina and Mexico as the primary case studies, five critical elements of development under globalization are examined: demography, migration, national identity and culture, transportation, and environmental change. The paper concludes by discussing the concept of “glocalization” and arguing for a policy approach that rethinks the theoretical framework and restructures the analytical approach in a more sensitive and proactive manner.



Setting the Stage: The Globalization Thesis


Globalization is fast becoming the shibboleth for the profound reordering of the world political economic system that has taken place over the past two decades. The term has emerged as the ultimate expression both of an increasingly interconnected global society and as a socio-economic Trojan Horse that will wreak deprivation and degradation on local communities. Some explanations and definitions of globalization argue that it is a process of spatial integration, inclusion, and engagement, while others posit that it is a process of spatial segregation, separation, and exclusion (Bauman 1998; Sadowski 1998). Such a seemingly unresolvable theoretical paradox points to the challenges presented by the globalization thesis: to understand its theoretical and ideological context and to analyze empirically its impacts on people and places. From the vast and rapidly growing literature on globalization, Lechner and Boli (2000) have identified six key questions: Is globalization new? What does globalization involve? Is globalization driven by an expanding market? Does globalization make the world more homogenous?  Does globalization determine local events? Is globalization harmful? In order to set the stage for an analysis of globalization’s implications for development in Latin America, these questions need to be explored briefly.  

First, is globalization new? To answer this question, a distinction should be made between what is known generally as historical globalization and what Lloyd (2000:260) calls “ultra-modernist” globalization. Historical globalization processes can be traced back to at least the 15th century, with the genesis of the capitalist world economy and the geographic expansion of division of labor, access to raw materials, industrial production, and the circulation of capital. Wallerstein (1974, 1979) conceptualized these developments as a single world system divided into three main economic zones: core, semiperiphery, and periphery. Since 1492 Latin America’s development has been shaped almost exclusively by the forces of historical globalization, and many critiques of the impacts of these forces (dependency theory, structural Marxism, neoimperialism, regulation theory) have focused on the external causes of underdevelopment driven by the world capitalist system (Frank 1969; Prebisch 1972; Cardoso 1982). Indeed, the power of imperial or core states to create, manipulate, and unify markets at ever greater scales has been a central feature of globalization many times and in myriad places over the millenia (Schwartz 1994; Lloyd 2000).    

In contrast, ultra-modernist globalization refers to the intensification since the 1980s of the spatial reorganization of production and distribution, the spread of financial markets, the inter-penetration of advanced producer services, and the rise of key cities as command and control centers of global capital (Mittelman 1994; Lechner and Boli 2000; Lloyd 2000). Although the roots of ultra-modernist globalization are planted firmly in the garden of historical globalization, the contemporary system has matured by the adoption and spread of transport and communication technologies. For the first time in human history, multinational corporations can produce anything anywhere on the planet and can sell anything anywhere on the planet. As Held et al. (1999:15) argue, time-space compression has “stretched” capital and information activities across the tradi-tional boundaries constructed by political and geographical structures. This theoretically borderless world now presents few impediments to the rapid and efficient movement of people, capital, goods, services, and information, thus facilitating the emergence of a truly global market-place.  

Second, what does globalization involve?  Giddens (1990:64) has defined globalization as “an intensification of world-wide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.” In other words, globalization involves changes in the spatial reach of capital, financial activities, advanced producer services, and information that transcend the political state system and where, arguably, multinational corporations replace states and communities as the dominant actors in the global system. In theory, a globalized socioeconomic system would be freer, more efficient, economically rational, and unfettered by state-directed diversions of wealth into unproductive areas. As production is reorganized across time and space, industries interpenetrate across political borders, financial capital spreads across the globe, homogenized consumer goods diffuse to distant markets, and people flow to new areas of economic opportunity, the local and the global will become inextricably intertwined in a system of universal order (Loker 1996; Bauman 1998). However, globalization also involves  reshaping the social structure of the world system in a way that reinforces social polarization. At the top of the globalization hierarchy are those individuals and communities integrated into the global economy who have command and control functions over global production, finance, and information. In the middle are those who serve the global economy in more precarious employment circumstances, and at the bottom sits the superfluous labor force that represents a potential destabilizing threat to globalization (Cox 1996). 

         Third, is globalization driven by an expanding market? The global operation of multi-national corporations has played a major role in the expansion of international trade and the emergence of regional trading blocs since the 1980s. A significant number of treaties, institutions, and organizations aimed at facilitating global trade have come into being in order to “open up” national markets and local communities to free trade. Thus there is a reciprocal relationship between an expanding market and the forces of globalization. As capitalism continues to overcome spatial limitations to market expansion through time compression, an expanding market provides a more conducive environment within which globalization processes can spread. 

         The fourth question asks if globalization makes the world more homogenous and, if so, what are the consequences. Embedded in the ideology of global change is the homogenization or Americanization thesis, which argues that capitalist consumerism has orchestrated the spread of American commercial and media products across the planet, with particular success in developing countries (Friedman 1999; Tomlinson 1999). Commodified culture in myriad forms, ranging from Cokes to Big Macs, from Nike to the NBA, and from CNN to Hollywood, has disseminated from the U.S. to the rest of the world, overwhelming local cultural traits and leaving local communities with few choices in the marketplace. Critics of the homogenization thesis argue that globalization  is taking multiple paths in local places, giving rise to terms such as “hybridization,” “creolization,” and “glocalization.” In many parts of the world, local entrepreneurs and consumers are using imported cultural products to shape and assert their own unique identities, so much so that globalization’s success in promoting capitalist consumerism has spawned multiple local variations of so-called globalized culture (Robertson 1995; Howes 1996; Watson 1997; Kim 2000). 

Fifth, does globalization determine local events?  There is little doubt that in Latin America and other regions of the world, governments have responded to the rhetoric of globalization by adopting neoliberal strategies to restructure economies and societies. As a consequence of these policies, local businesses and communities are exposed to competition from global corporations who often have better financing, technology, advertising, and market reach. For example, research in Argentina has suggested that for every new internationally-controlled Walmart or Carrefour supermarket, five thousand local “mom and pop” operations disappear (Hayes 1998). Under the influence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican Congress changed Article 27 of the constitution to allow the free sale of once-inalienable community or ejido lands and lifted trade and investment barriers to external capital and goods. Rebellion erupted in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas, government price supports for many commodities were abandoned, rural-urban migra-tion accelerated, and falling agricultural prices depressed an already fragile rural economy (Krooth 1995). Giddens’ (1990) argument that as global social relations are restructured, local events are shaped increasingly by external forces and vice versa has much merit. 

Finally, is globalization harmful? This is perhaps the most complex question of all to address because there are multiple contradictions embedded in the globalization thesis. For example, the socioeconomic elite of developing countries, who comprise a tiny fraction of a country’s population, have integrated into the world system and have become completely globalized. In contrast, many highly developed countries are creating developing world conditions among the bottom tier of their labor hierarchy (Cox 1996; Sassen 1998). Across the planet, social polarization or the development gap between rich and poor seems to be increasing. In Chile, 40 percent of the national income is earned by the top 10 percent of the population, while the lowest 40 percent earn only 15 percent of the income. Brazil experiences even greater income inequality, with the lowest 40 percent of the population earning about 7 percent of the national income, compared to the over 50 percent share gained by the top 10 percent of Brazilian society (World Bank 2000). Other contradictions are the loss of regulatory power by states and the widespread resurgence of attempts to reinforce local religious, ethnic, linguistic, political, and gender identities in the face of wider global forces.   

Without a doubt, globalization, both as ideology and as process, has transformed the world system in profound and fundamental ways over the past two decades. This is especially true in Latin America, where neoliberal policies have dismantled state regulation of the economy, opened up the region to globalizing processes, and created a new framework for development, growth, and change. As Korzeniewicz (1997:20) puts it, the region’s institutional structures are being disassembled at a “precipitous pace, to be replaced by a deepening differentiation in the arenas of operation of enter-prises, states, and households.” How these changes unfold in different places at different times will determine the long-term contribution of globalization to improving the social conditions of Latin Americans in the 21st century. 



Latin American Development under Globalization


A fundamental difference exists between the economic ideologies or policies of globalization, which are essentially structural in nature, and the processes of globalization, which are out-come driven and can be empirically measured. However, there is much confusion throughout the region about the distinction between the two definitions. Over the past two decades, Latin American governments and the socioeconomic elite have embraced the ideologies of globalization uncritically and enthusiastically, but have done very little to convert these ideologies into measurable development improvements for the majority of the population. This is indicative of Latin America’s general economic failures throughout the 20th century in that the region frequently has embraced changing economic philosophies and ideologies and incorporated them into national policy. Yet these policies ultimately always have failed because of insufficient attention paid to the processes that translate policy into measurable development. For example, let’s accept the premise that transport and communication technologies are the engine driving contemporary globalization. By conservative estimates, Latin America suffers from an infrastructural deficit in excess of US$1 trillion in the transport and communication arena just to bring the region up to a minimum level of support for globalization policies to have any reasonable chance of long-term development success. This deficit suggests that a significant problem exists between policy formation and policy implementation in the region. How, then, has Latin American development fared under globalization, what are the fundamental forces of change shaping the region today, and why do so many of the familiar development crises that afflict the region remain unaddressed? 

Contemporary or ultra-modernist globalization has emerged from the long-term historical processes that have shaped Latin America’s people and places. A useful metaphor for explaining Latin American development in a broader context is provided by plate tectonic theory. Drawn from the physical world, plate tectonic theory is the idea that subsurface convection currents cause con-tinental and oceanic tectonic plates to move, thus causing changes both in the position and surface relief of the oceans and continents.  Applying this theory to the cultural world, contemporary global-ization can be viewed as part of the long-term or tectonic shifts in the socioeconomic forces shaping the world around us.  The short-term surface manifestations of these long-term shifts are earthquakes and volcanoes, which can reshape local and regional conditions profoundly and rapidly. Cultural “earthquakes and volcanoes” generally are short-term events such as rapid inflation or deflation, war, revolution, coups d’etat, increased social polarization, paradigm shifts, boom and bust cycles, and currency devaluation that have a dramatic and often negative impact on economies and societies (Thurow 1996). 

Long-term movements in tectonic plates are driven by a series of interrelated fundamental physical forces. Continuing the metaphor, the long-term shift in global socioeconomic change towards a condition of ultra-modernist globalization is being driven in Latin America by a number of fundamental forces. In turn, the fundamental forces involved in the globalization process are creating the “earthquakes and volcanoes” that are reshaping the lives and conditions of people and places in Latin America at the dawn of the 21st century.  Drawing on Thurow’s (1996) analysis of the future of global capitalism, six fundamental forces can be identified for Latin America. First,  the system of state-directed economies that dominated the region for nearly 50 years has ended and neoliberalism is emerging as the dominant economic model. Second, the basic structure of Latin American economies is undergoing a transition from a system based on natural resources to one based on human capital and brainpower. Third, Latin American societies have become pre-dominantly urban in composition, and demographic ageing, coupled with economic welfare, is looming as a significant social issue. Fourth, the effects of social polarization in the region are becoming more evident as societies undergo cultural and economic restructuring based on the ability to engage with globalization activities. Fifth, as neoliberal policies and noninterventionist strategies are applied to primary sector export activities, to industrialization, and to urbanization throughout Latin America, increased stress is placed on the physical environment.  Finally, as globalization spreads geographically, it exerts change in accessibility and mobility demands through its depen-dence on the technologies of time-space compression.


The Fundamental Forces of Change

         Neoliberal policies adopted throughout Latin America since the 1980s have moved the region’s countries and societies in a new economic direction, away from the influences of import-substitution and socialist ideologies and towards the integrative embrace of globalization. This policy paradigm shift involves the replacement of state control over resources, production, and services with privatization strategies, the regulation of financial markets with deregulation and fiscal reform, inflexible labor markets with flexible ones, closed domestic markets with open and free trade, and restrictive institutions with more innovative management approaches. Moreover, the transition to a more globalized structure for Latin American economies has coincided with a trans-formation of the political environment from primarily authoritarian to mostly democratic (Haggard and Kaufman 1995). Reductions in the power of the state through privatization and deregulation are seen as critical to reducing government inefficiencies and management ineptitude in the economic arena and to providing a more technical, disciplined, and flexible approach to running the national economy (Edwards 1995; Gwynne and Kay 1999).  Neoliberal reforms have not been uniform throughout the region, however. Considerable and important variations exist both in the pace of neoliberal restructuring (for example, fairly rapid in Chile and Argentina, very slow in Venezuela and Honduras) and in the level of integration with global markets.  In addition, the spatial and structural impacts of globalization are displaying significant local, regional, national, and supra-national variations, which suggest that this fundamental force of change is facilitating development divergence rather than convergence.

Countries in the developed world such as the United States, Germany, Britain, and Japan have seen the structure of their economies shift over the past fifty years from a natural resource base to a human brainpower base. Information processing, financial management, marketing, research, biotechnology, and other “brainpower” activities have replaced smoke-stack industrialization, manufacturing, and similar traditional “blue-collar” production as the dominant employment sectors of the economy. This transformation of the economic structure also is occurring in Latin America, albeit more slowly and more geographically variegated. Sectoral employment as a percentage of the labor force shifted from agricultural dominance in the 1960s to tertiary and quaternary dominance (service, information, transportation, marketing, finance, etc.) in the 1990s. In Brazil, for example, 55 percent of the labor force worked in agriculture in 1960; in the 1990s, 55 percent of the labor force worked in the tertiary and quaternary sectors.  Mexico has seen the same percentage sectoral shift, as have Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica (Gwynne and Kay 1999). 

In 2000, the seven highest-income countries in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Uruguay) all had over fifty percent of their economically active populations engaged in tertiary and quaternary employment, whereas the percentage of the labor force engaged in traditional industry continued to show a decline (World Bank 2000). This shift has occurred, in part, because neoliberal policies have removed the protection that many companies enjoyed in the domestic market and forced them to become more oriented towards the global market, where competition is fiercer. In addition, labor reforms associated with neoliberalism, particularly in state-owned companies and in the public sector, have forced workers to seek jobs in the private formal sector and in export- or globally oriented companies. Job expansion throughout the 1990s has been most dynamic in the service or human brainpower sector of Latin American economies.

Demographic transformation, the third fundamental change shaping the development of Latin America in the early 21st century, is placing new demands on governments as they grapple with globalization strategies. Overall population growth rates continue to decline in the region, with reductions in fertility rates, increases in contraceptive prevalence, improved female literacy, better health care, and greater female participation in the work force as key contributing factors. However, the age structure of the population in many countries, where up to 50 percent of the population is aged 25 and under (Mexico, for example), means that demographic growth potential remains high over the next few decades. As a result, the sheer volume of people entering the workforce over the coming decades may well outpace the ability of the globalized economy to create new jobs. A further demographic challenge for those countries that have unequivocally embraced globalization strategies is the changing composition of dependency ratios. One of the key demographic characteristics of economically advanced societies is an increase in the percent of the population over 60 years old. As life expectancies increase throughout Latin America (up to an average of nearly 70 years in the late 1990s) and medical technologies continue to improve the quality of life, the elderly cohort will place a greater economic burden on governments and societies. Estimates suggest that people over 65 years old now represent 25 percent of the dependent population in Latin America, up from less than ten percent in 1975 (Sen 1994; World Bank 2000). Mexico is projected to have nearly 20 million people over 60 years of age in 2025, up from 5 million in 1990, with Brazil (36 million) and Argentina (8 million) experiencing similar rates of increase by 2025 (Lloyd-Sherlock 1997). These demographic changes are occurring within the framework of a neoliberal welfare ideology that has produced sweeping social security and other public welfare reforms in recent years.

A fourth fundamental change in the shift towards a more globalized economy is the growing differentiation of people and communities within Latin America, both across the entire region and within individual countries. The development gap between, for example, Chile and Haiti has widened dramatically since the 1980s, while economic growth in the littoral of Argentina (Buenos Aires and the development corridor from Rosario to La Plata) has far outpaced growth in the increasingly impoverished Northwest region. Between 1975 and 1995, the gap between the six poorest countries in Latin America and six selected core economies widened dramatically (Table 1). Moreover, the Per Capita Income ratio also has widened between the six richest and poorest economies in Latin America and between the six richest economies in Latin America and the six selected core economies. Preliminary GNP figures for 1999 suggest a slight narrowing of the gap for the A:B and A:C ratios, but a further widening of the gap between Latin America’s richest and poorest economies (B:C) (World Bank 2000). 


Table 1.  Polarization in the World Economy, 1975-1995


   PCI of the        PCI of the Top              PCI of the Bottom

            Six Core           Six Latin American Six Latin American

            Economies        Economies in GNP                Economies in GNP                 Ratios

Year       (A, US$)          (B, US$)                       (C, US$)                  A:B      B:C      A:C



1975          7,899                 1,602                                676                    4.9:1    2.4:1     11.7:1

1995        27,870                 4,105                         917                           6.9:1    4.4:1     30.4:1


Source: Gwynne and Kay (1999:5).

PCI = Per Capita Income.

A = U.S., Japan, Germany, Britain, France, and Italy.

B = Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

C = Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua.


Similar patterns of social polarization are being experienced across the globe, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where over one-quarter of a billion people live in poverty. The complex mosaic of globalization’s development impact is characterized by the emergence of marginalized enclaves where people and communities are unable to gain access to the global economy’s pro-ductive processes (Mittelman 1996). How can these local communities and regions demarginalize when state policy options are extremely constrained by the forces of globalization? Although social polarization as a development condition has long been evident in Latin American societies, the current trend is being exacerbated because those social groups with specific skills or capital benefit from links to the global economy, while those lacking the necessary skills or capital become increasingly detached. Neoliberal reforms do not address such social concerns directly because the policy priorities are macroeconomic in nature and are not geared toward addressing poverty, inequality, or the redistribution of access to skills, capital, and global opportunities. As Sheahan (1997:9) puts it, neoliberal policies “do not in principle rule out redistributing assets for the sake of equalization, but their spirit certainly goes against it.” The theory behind neoliberalism is that macroeconomic stability and greater efficiency will favor economic growth, which in the long term should reduce poverty and inequality and improve access to capital, skills, and opportunities.

Latin America’s fifth fundamental force of change is intimately related to the first four. Neoliberal reforms and the drive towards free-market economies within the context of globalization have placed renewed pressure on the physical environment and on natural resource inventories. No space or place in Latin America is immune from the impacts of resource demands, whether it be petroleum exploration in the remotest corner of the Amazon Basin or subsistence agriculture in the densely populated highlands of the Andes. The globalization of the region’s economies is expanding trade and investment relationships, but primarily in non-manufacturing exports such as agriculture, mining, fishing, forestry, and ranching. In the mid-1990s, primary products continued to dominate the mix of total merchandise exports in the majority of Latin American countries; only Mexico (23 percent) and Brazil (45 percent) recorded values below 50 percent (ECLAC 1999; Gwynne and Kay 1999).

An emphasis on the export of natural resources has encouraged the incorporation of ever-increasing hectares of land into the resource-extraction economy, with significant impacts on the environment. Moreover, growing social polarization, rural-urban migration, industrialized and mechanized farming, rapid urban expansion, and the ideologies of capitalist consumption have stretched the limits of environmental sustainability to crisis point, particularly in large urban areas. Globalization has accelerated the pace of environmental degradation, raised new challenges for sustainable development policymakers, and questioned the traditional relationships between eco-nomic growth, social justice, and environmental quality. 

The final fundamental force of change involves a profound restructuring of time-space relationships in the global system. Innovative technological advances in transport and communi-cation since the 1970s have altered radically the cost, speed, security, and flexibility of interaction across the planet. Long-range jumbo jets, giant container ships, supertankers, satellites, high-speed trains, and computers, among other advances, enable complex global organizations of production, distribution, and consumption to function in an efficient and integrated manner. People, goods, information, capital, and ideas flow relatively unimpeded across time and space and have the potential to reshape local conditions in profound and often unintended ways. No corner of Latin America is immune to the influences of restructured transport and communication systems and networks, especially in terms of the impact of radio, television, and video on the attitudes, aspirations, and cultural values of millions of rural and urban people (Sagasti 1995; Loker 1996). Within the context of globalization, Sagasti (1995:600) argues that computerization particularly has created a great divide between those with the capacity to “generate, acquire, disseminate, and utilize knowledge, both traditional and scientific,” and those without. Thus, full participation in globalization can be defined in terms of knowledge producers versus knowledge consumers and in terms of those who have accessibility and mobility within the global system and those who do not. As transport, communication, and information technologies link Latin American intellectuals and the elite more closely to the global community, arguably they draw “farther away from the concerns of their own society, reproducing the global divide” at both the national and local levels (Loker 1996:26). 

In the broader context of this paradigmatic shift towards globalization and all that it entails, as suggested by the preceding six fundamental forces of change, Latin America is undergoing a political, social, economic, and cultural metamorphosis. Yet change does nor occur without disruption or conflict. Across the region, from the maquiladora zones of the Mexican borderlands to the export-oriented agricultural valleys of central Chile, globalization forces are driving the “earthquakes and volcanoes” that are reshaping life and livelihood, people and place, and society and nation. These short-term changes to Latin America’s socioeconomic landscapes will determine to a significant degree the likely long-term success of neoliberalism and globalization in bringing a more equitable and sustainable level of development to the region.



Earthquakes and Volcanoes? New Directions and Familiar Crises for Latin America


There is little debate that globalization is transforming Latin America in myriad ways, both positively and negatively. As the region embarks on a development path that will take people and communities in a completely new direction over the next several decades, many familiar develop-ment crises remain unresolved. As the region moves toward the future, it faces not only the long-term challenges presented by neoliberal and globalization strategies but also the short-term “earth-quakes and volcanoes” that are occurring as a consequence of adopting these strategies. Although the impacts of globalization are myriad and diverse, six specific issues are identified as the most critical “earthquakes and volcanoes” reshaping the Latin American socioeconomic landscape in the first years of the 21st century: social polarization; migration and labor flow; cultural identity; democratization, accessibility and mobility; and environmental stress. An exploration of these six short-term impacts of globalization serves to crystallize the meeting of the global and the local (GLOCAL) and to help place in context the contradictions embedded in globalism.  


Growing Polarization of Society  

Long-Distance Migration and Labor Flow

Oppressive Democratization

Cultural Identity

Accessibility and Mobility

Local Environmental Stress


         Growing Polarization of Society: 

         Long-Distance Migration and Labor Flow:

         Oppressive Democratization:

         Cultural Identity:

         Accessibility and Mobility:

         Local Environmental Stress:


Rethinking the Frameworks, Restructuring the Analysis?


Summary, conclusions, and suggestions for future research.






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Conferencia dictada durante el Segundo Encuentro Internacional Humboldt. Mar del Plata, Argentina. Octubre de 2000.