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Dossier – coordonné par Jacques Malengreau et Marc Rimez


Jacques Malengreau et Marc Rimez
p. 15-24

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1At a time when the main ideological systems have suffered setbacks in being practically applied throughout the world, and when the end of the East-West confrontation brings harshly into light the North's domination over the South as well as the extension of the South inthe East, or, moreover, a certain sensitive withdrawal of the North into itself beyond the indus trial crisis and trade disagreements that are tearing it apart, the complex entanglement of groups or links that can be mobilised around symbols of ethnic identity, whatever their more or less real or illusory links with the social and historical reality, appears in broad daylight. The calling into question of alliances, values and old landmarks has a catapulting effect on the anchoring of identity. Proof of this is the semantic developement in Latin America of terms based on the socioethnic stratification there. They are, indeed, developing in a way which is linked more to the asserted and claimed differentiation of an alternative world compared to the dominant world of colonial origin, rather than a submissive or, at the best, defensive attitude of those they are supposed to designate. As such, ther term “ indio” traditionally associated to colonised indigenous social groups, is no longer a pejorative term and has become an emblem of new social identities and alternative social projects. Like all emblems, it is invested with projects that are often contradictory and represents the semantic area of multiple manipulations.

2Having been integrated in a discriminatory way into international relations, particularly with Europe which dominated them as colonies, the national states and different private or collective actors of Latin American are trying, five hundred years after the Spanish and European invasion, to resituate themselves in relation to Europe ; they are also doing so in relation to the United States which, as a result of the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, have lost most of their interventionnist pretexts. Europe has maintained, despite North America's dominating influence, an important role in Latin America, notably in the cultural sector, but equally as the main partner in political relations that could counterbalance American domination, and this to replace the former Soviet Union. In particular, it offers Latin America the image, although deformed, of unitary fulfilment of Bolivar's great dreams from the first half of last century. From Europ's point of view, LatinAmerica represents an important potential partner for economic exchanges and cooperation which, given its already old experience in industrialization, its social organizations doser to those of Western Europe than those of other areas, could become more balanced than the exchanges with other regions of the world which are particularly devastated, but traditionally doser to Western Europe. Nevertheless, Western Europe seems presently more preoccupied with managing and digesting as well as possible the collapse of its Eastern border, whether it be the redrawing of the se borders and the reemergence of ethnic groups which are swirlwinds left by the economic chaos of former-communist countries which are in a state of wild liberalization.

3Inside the Latin American area, the ballet of encounters, clashes and interethnic exchanges continues both within and throughout or independently of the national states. A first series of articles is devoted to them in this special edition. These articles, in their different approaches, tackle the way in which local groups, native in comparison to the bigger societies that surround them without assimilating them, experience and build certain aspects of their own world by recreating or rearranging their representations and their social organization. This native construction can be directly that of the local population, as it appears in D. de Laveleye's article on the dynamics of religious representations based both on certain traditions inherited by groups of a particular origin and complex interethnic relations in which they are involved, or also in JMalengreau's article, about the nature and the functioning of local native political power compared to central government. This construction is also the result of the gathering of representatives from different local native areas with state authorities or in the face of them ; their activities are analyzed in JGarcia-Ruiz's article. Itcan also be that of elements of the same state authorities or of intellectual groups exterior to the local groups involved, even though they often originate from those groups, as M. Dauzier explains in his work.

4Ethnic expressions are described in the articles presentend here as the product of a specific history, not only as the succession of a traditional heritage, but also through the recreation or the remodelling of the latter in its relationship to various heritages as well as its insertion into specific social, economic and political context, and particularly the central state, generally associated to a physical, social, and cultural interbreeding more often proclamed then realised, when it is not to a determined socio-ethnic group, Frontiers are not however abolished, but appear to be confronted in the examples given, with a necessary redefinition, whereas the symbols, around which they are organized, are borrowed or recreated, indeed even manipulated by outside powers.

5The cultural strategy drawn up by religions of African origin from north-eastem Brazil examined by D. de Laveleye is an example of the way in which cultural heritages, without however being renounced, and while acting as ethnic rallying points for certain categories of the population, reproduce, on a cultural level, the physical and social interbreeding, which is in progress, of the populations. This strategy implies indeed an analogical relationship between different natural elements linked to a given topographical area, the scattered and intertwined links of African, amerindian or European descendants, as well as those that are formed between cuits of different ethnic origins. In this context, the author distinguishes three types of worships : that of salt water from the sea representing African origins, that of fresh water representing Amerindian origins and that of the worship of Forest expressing the origins of half-breeds. The different cults are defined as being ethnically different ; but this ethnic distinction goes from the references of ancestral origins which are specifically human, that the African descendants imposed, to the totemic reference of elements of nature, which are more specifically Ameridian. Symbolic transfers take place between the spiritual entities of Salt Water and those of Resh Water, such as the image of the encounter between the sea, in the African region, and the river, in the Ameridian region ; those that take place between the worship of the Forest, an area of half-breed conquest, and the worship of Salt-Water, reflecting Africa, are even more evident and are subject to a more complete interpretation. According to the author, the populations which practise the worships intend to thereby control the anarchy of half-breeding and the loss of ethnic links, while identifying groups separated according to an ancient and Ameridian totemic logic ; this implies for them a symbolic breaking with the human ancesters of African origin. The maintaining of separate worships by different social groups, which are not casts, together with the interpretation of cultural elements of different origins within the framework of a unique logic of integration, reflect a situation which is somewhat similar to the one analysed by JMalengreau regarding two village communities situated invery different areas of the Peruvian Andes.

6The examples quoted by JMalengreau concern the integration by autochthonous village communities of political procedures legally defined by a central government representing a dominant half-breed ethnic world ; this integration is illustrated through a comparison between two different regions of the Peruvian Andean region. The selective norms of the authorities and the rules of local political practice are moulded into a framework which was imposed to the latter by central government and therefore by a foreign entity. However, in concrete terms, the real mode of selection and the exercise of power at a local level show that social norms prevail as customs in village traditions, whilst being adapted to a new environment by the inhabitants and accordingly reinterpreted through directives from higher authorities and other decision makers. That is how the predominance of a team after an election is resituated in the ambit of compromising forces that annihilate partisan divisions. Nevertheless, this political consensus and the apparent unanimity that itrepresents is essentially based, for elections and the exercise of power, on a more or less balanced relationship, although unequal, between two clans or two different groups on terms of recprpocity. The local autochtonous power is the counterpart to a more centralised and vertical power of government officially linked to a half-bred nation, although more strongly related to social categories for the majority of Hispano-Creoles alien to the andean world. The author considers the local notables as frontier individuals between the state and local authorities, individuals who play a role of interface concerning the disparities in objectives between national policies and the exercise of local power. Furthermore, the author outlines the fact that two villages taken into consideration differ from one another not orny according to the degree of social hierarchisation of the duality and the rigidity of social stratification, but also according to the development of the rotation of political offices amongst the local population. Especially in one of the villages, the local notables are individual personalities sometimes somewhat marginal ; as for the other village, they tend to form a cast. These differences therefore constitute, acording to the author, distinct historical environments at a regional level. In addition to the recreation of a certain continuity in local customs related to the exercise of power within state structures, regional historic differences therefore influence this adjustment. Local customs, the specific regional environment and collective creativity, particular to both communities, represent objective elements that differentiate them as regards ascendance in its wide concept and culture, inside the country and in relation to it. Moreover, there is a strong ethnic identification inside each village community, linked to both its close environment and the state, which is considered as an influential power although coming from the exterior, and whose representatives are neither able to impose their mentality completely, nor capable of understanding the mentality of the village communities.

7M. Dauzier does not speak about village notables but about officials of the Mexican State in the 70s, state that gave them the task of developing education and the cultural environment for the native populations towhich they belong, as to compare them to the new native rulers who succeeded to them since the end of the 80s and claimed their ethnic identity on a national level. The officials, “cultural promoters”, in their speeches about the autochthonous farming world, appear as heralds of a national ntnegrationist and modernising policy ; their speeches describe autochthones with negative traits in regard to the village half-breed population, emphasise more on the natives' conservative resistance than on their constructive creativity, consider the cultural traits only as isolated and conftned in village communities or in a far past dating back to the Spanish invasion, and not as factors of new creativity on a national level. Hence, the “cultural promoters” seem isolated from real village communities, as well as from urban populations. On the contrary, next representatives of the indigenous population, in the beginning of the 90s, conceive the indigenous culture in a much wider scope and find, with the cultural heritage, factors which enable them to innovate and create new companies. Therefore, those who claim themselves from a specific and distinct indigenous identity inside the national state do not do so any longer in the name of their village community, nor in the name of a protected ethnic minority, folklorised and excentrated in the historical context, but do so in the name of a people that they defend in all respects, whose culture is rethought as an essential element composing the Mexican nation in formation, and not as an archaic and marginal residu. According to the author, the representatives of this new movement seem more integrated amongst the population and more independant from the authorities than the “cultural promoters” of the 70s.

8Guatemala is another example of the development of a national identity using an autochthonous culture as a point of reference ; that culture therefore ceases to be reduced, as it was since the colonial era, to an anachronic survival ; the new identity which is developing implies, like in the Mexican case, that the autochthonous population organises itself on a level that extends far beyond the village environment in which it was enclosed by the colonial administration. As J. Garcia-Ruiz's article illustrates, this mobilisation has occured during a period of resistance to what represents the heritage of a policy of colonial domination imposed on the autochthones by the social category of white privileged people. In effect, the author stresses the fact that pro-independent leaders of the XIXth century considered the “Indians” as a heritage leagued in their favour by their predecessors who were the representatives of the Spanish Kingdom, whereas the liberal politicians who occupied the high offices of the guatemaltec government at the end of the XIXth century gave the “Indians” the status of citizens to be educated in order to turn them into individuals resembling the dominant European cultural model, and to turn them into a exploitable and profitable work force useful in a capitalistic world. But in the 1940s, Indian revolts led to a politisation of the participants and to a recognition of a minimal proper standard of living and of the indigenous territories’inalienability. In the 1950s and the 1960s, the activities of the Catholic and Protestant religious institutions were used as a basis to a more organised and permanent social mobilisation of indigenous populations at a local and regional level ; that mobilisation contributed to develop a feeling of belonging to a dominated social stratum, as well as the wish to identify with a better world inspired by images inherited from the past, being faced to a world that many Indians could not belong to. Those movements of mentality resulted in the creation of ethnic type organisations that were opposed to classic political organisations and claimed a new autonomy for the autochthones inside the Guatemalec nation state. But the contradictions between the ethnic claims and the necessary choice between different national policies carried out by the various parties of the country seem to have brought the indigenous movement to a dead end, at least temporily.

9The examples mentioned in this article, which are not exhaustive, illustrate a social assertion and a cultural creativity of autochthones or populations of ethnic origin other than Iberian in Latin America, during the restructuration of the contemporary states, that are still until now, for a majority, the continuation of the nations proclaimed somewhat artlficially by Bolivar and San Martin during the last century. But, ifthey assert themselves in such a way in the region of America which their previous colonisers willingly called Latin, the different populations of Central and Southern American continent refer to a redefinition of neo-colonialist structures not only inside the South American continent, but in the hope of reorganising its relations with Europe. In this case also, the road is long and full of pitfalls.

10The recent development and the perspectives of relations between Latin America and Europe, more particularly the European Community and its member states, constitute the subject of the second part of this special publication. The 80s will have been those of a generalisation and consolidation of Latin America's redemocratisation, privileged aspect of political cooperation between governments of both regions ; those years were also and mostly those of an economic crisis, of foreign debt and of adjustment policies together with the general deterioration of Latin American populations' conditions of living. At a time when certain countries seem to benefit from a recovery in economic growth, will Europe be able to act as an economic partner and participate positively to the region's economic development ?

11The following articles analyse the different dimensions of the political, commercial and financial relations between the two regions, with different approaches that enable to outline a global image of the environment in which these relations continue to develop and illustrate the often diverging perceptions of the same problems against which their reinforcement regularly clashes. These relations are set in the wider general scope of a changing world, that seeks to define new norms in order to regulate international, political and economic relations reflecting the new balance of power on a worldwide scale ; Avan Klaveren studies the characteristics of the new balance of power replacing them in their context. M. Rimez describes the points that compose the calendar of the 90s where convergences and divergences of interests can be converted into as many areas of cooperation or economic conflicts. The new forms of cooperation through activities of non-governmental organisations are analysed in detail by G. Granda who shows the potential of cooperation directly concerning the actors of the respective private companies. M. Ossandon studies the role and the impact of Europe and its economic operators in the evolution of the important economic problems that Latin America continues to be confronted with in its efforts to find the means of a durable economic development compatible with the requirements of respect or restoration of a natural environment particularly endangered. Finally, V. Loynaz describes the scope of all these questions, which tends to give an atypical perception of relations between both regions and their implications for the future of the Cuban experience.

12Avan Klaveren denounces the traditional approach of the region's recent development still too often based on simplistic “clichés” of the effects of the “United States hegemony”, of the subcontinent's “marginalisation” on the international scene, in political terms as weIl as economic terms or of the “lost decade” as regards development due to the crisis of the foreign debt. In order to illustrate another approach, he puts into light economic and institutional factors that would enable to envisage a certain recovery in economic growth of most Latin American countries, a significant consolidation of democratic regimes in the region, although there are some important exceptions, the development of political cooperation between the most important countries, the decline of bilateral or sub-regional tensions and the promotion of regional Integration. That is to say, a series of factors that consolidate the domestic, national and regional structures and represent as many trumps in order to carry through the necessary redefinition of its international, political and economic relations confronted with a world in transition. On this basis, he proposes a detailed analysis of the complex and diversified foreign relations in which most certainly the United States maintained a privileged position which they tried to consolidate with the Initiative for the Americas, but in which Europe is also considered as an essential partner, even if the economic relations have not progressed as quickly as in the political area. The growing relations with the countries of the Pacific, and mostly the consolidation of intra-regional cooperation, confirm this pragmatic approach of the region’s future on the international scene.

13With the same purpose, M. Rimez presents an analysis of the important tendencies which characterise the recent development of the world economy : productive internationalisation, market globalisation, regionalisation ; this is the context in which the evolution of economic relations between Latin America and the European Community took place during the past decade. On the basis of this interpretation, questions that should, according to the author, compose the economic calendar of relations between both regions inthe coming years, are analysed : the conditions of access of Latin-American export goods to the Community market, the foreign debt, the flow of investment, the impact of privileged relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, and the environment. In all these sectors, there are convergences of interests which can be transformed into areas of cooperation, but also divergences liable of becoming more or less opened conflicts. Finally, the fundamental question concerns the role that Europe willwant to play or not in the process of reinsertion of Latin America in the world economy, either by accepting the consequences of the struggle for power expressed in « market rules », or by recognising Latin America’s status as a responsible and active partner that it claims on the international scene.

14G. Granda analyses in detail the more specific question of the Community’s cooperation for development in Latin America and evaluates the new forms of cooperation which have been progressively implemented during the past years. Besides the form, itis the concept of cooperation for development in itself that is significantly transformed. Political or decentralised cooperation enables to envisage a new approach through which objectives such as consolidation of democracy or protection of environment are prioritary compared to strickly economic objectives. In particular, the Implementation of cooperation through new operators, European and Latin American NGOs, favourises the encouter between the actors of the corresponding private associations and their implication in the definition and the setting up of development projects closer to concrete needs of local population.

15M. Ossandon's article proposes a global approach in order to analyse the important economic problems with which Latin America has been confronted for the past years, problems such as foreign debt, structural ad justment, freezing of foreign trade or destruction of environment, linked to the modalities of the region's integration in the international economy. The author also refers to the role played by Europe and Us European economic actors in the solving or worsening of these problems. Thus, matters such as the impact of European neo-protectionist policies on Latin America's exports, the support of govemments to adjustment policies inside international financial institutions, the particularly active role of certain European banks on the unofficial market in debts and the conversion of unrepaid loans when repurchasing companies or sharing of costs related to environment protection. In response to Europe's often contradictory policies, the author argues in favour of the reinforcement of international cooperation and also of having the Latin American population taking the responsibility of their own destiny.

16Most topics developed by V. Loynaz in the above-mentioned articles are presented through a relatively unusual approach. Indeed, the author analyses the relations between Latin America and Europe in the ambit of a triangular relation where, in addition to these two regions, the United States would play an essential role on an economic and political level. The author also insists on the paradox, already raised hereabove, regarding the relations between both regions which have consolidated their political power, but remain characterised by a reciprocical marginalisation, ifnot a deterioration on the economic level. He shares the idea, defended by other Latin American analysts, of progressively substituting the “diplomacy of parties” by “international market relations” as a guideline for the European policy concerning Latin America. Furthermore, the reinforcement of negociations on a regional or multilateral basis is considered as a fundamental means to develop Latin-American countries' power of negociation with Europe which is in process of economic and political union. Finally, the specificity of relations between Cuba and the European Community is briefly exposed.

17Cultural entities and domestic policies as well as international economic groups, topics which are treated in these articles, represent major stakes for Latin America after 500 years of historical relations between Europe and Latin America in search of building up forces for autonomy. The latter seem to be at the same time elements of contradiciton between differing political or “market” conceptions of the social order and points of articulation between solidary interests of common dependence. These appear, on the one hand, amongst autochthones up to now marginalised and atomised, and in process of reconstitution with alternative social projects inside national states, and, on the other hand, between nations in formation which the common marginalisation or dependence towards Northern countries tend to unite in common projects. These projects are undoubtingly hardly outlined but their objective is to transcend national and ethnic barriors in a world where the growing globalisation of economic and cultural “market” norms hides difficultly important cultural and economic gaps between European deciders and Latin-American actors.

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Référence papier

Jacques Malengreau et Marc Rimez, « Foreword », Civilisations, 42-1 | 1993, 15-24.

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Jacques Malengreau et Marc Rimez, « Foreword », Civilisations [En ligne], 42-1 | 1993, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 1996, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL :

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