UNO July 2023

Culture: key to a horizontal relationship

Both Europe and Latin America have overlapping interests. Now is the time for both regions to prioritize transatlantic relations, and Spain’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2023 is a valuable opportunity to make this a reality.

This is an invaluable opportunity to overcome historic imbalances that cooperation frameworks offer, almost by default, a relationship characterized by paternalism, hierarchy, and verticality that Europe tends to impose on Latin America. 

There is little doubt that the current post-pandemic and war situation has accelerated the reimagining of this relationship that may find culture as the current, and perhaps the most viable avenue for the egalitarianism that Latin America demands.

Beyond the confines of formal institutional channels, focusing on the cultural dimension allows for a more holistic view of the way in which Latin America and Europe interact. Continuing to do so would be truly wonderful.

This is perhaps because managing culture outside of institutional channels allows us to avoid bureaucracy. 

Perhaps because the enduring resilience of a region frequently burdened by political and economic challenges that leave wounds and scars in its social fabric, such as Latin America, is increasingly translated into creative endeavors that flourish in Europe. This trend reinforces the importance of culture as a domain where Latin Americans, who prioritize broad multilateral cooperation with Europeans, can effectively pursue their desired cross-cutting interactions while navigating the challenges posed by globalization.

Focusing on the cultural dimension allows for a more holistic view of the way in which Latin America and Europe interact. Continuing to do so would be truly wonderful

Recognition through literary awards, curatorships in prestigious art institutions, accolades at film festivals and acclaimed performances in concerts highlights the exchange and validation of Latin American voices in Europe and of European perspectives in Central and South American countries. This demonstrates the existing strategic approach to integration in which the paradigm is that of equals. 

They also contribute to the multicultural aspects that define the societies today.

“I am full of Spain,” the Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas said in April of this year when he received the Cervantes 2022 Award in Madrid. The award is the highest distinction in Spanish-language literature. 

Another example is the quote from the Catalan Joan Manuel Serrat, who said, “I always feel like a Latin American in Barcelona.” In his farewell world tour he held five concerts in Buenos Aires, where he was given the warmest sendoff.

Latin America should not only serve as a reliable supplier to Europe so it can increasingly detach itself from dependency on politically adversarial powers, such as Russia today, or China who is dangerously on the rise.

It is not without reason that most Ibero-American cooperation programs are around culture, due to its cross-cutting nature

It is not without reason that most Ibero-American cooperation programs are around culture. Because of its cross-cutting nature in generating social capital for cohesion between communities that share, for example, historical ties such as Europe and Latin America.

On the other hand, the cultural dimension is primarily the realm that enables Latin Americans to transcend the perception of Europe as a haven of stability and refuge, which they often find lacking in their own region. Latin America, marked by its ruggedness rather than its gentleness, remains one of the most unequal regions on the planet.

Whether formal or informal, cultural cooperation policies are, by nature, horizontal. They are also committed to the mutual benefit of both parties and enriching exchange for both shores.

In the publication titled “Challenges of cultural relations between the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean”, financed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, the diagnosis of cultural exchange between the two continents raises issues that, at first glance, may go unnoticed.

“We take on the cultural relations between the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean without considering the elaboration of the ideology and the effect it has on our perception,” states Francisco Guevara, a Mexican visual artist and curator. Guevara is a specialist in management and planning of development cooperation projects in the field of education, science and culture. He adds, “more often than not, cultural exchanges can embody a fantasy representation of mutual exchange and reciprocity, and cooperation then becomes co-optation and appropriation, especially in artist residencies, where locality and mobility play such an important role”.

Guevara highlights an interesting aspect when he said, “therefore, any discussion of mobility or cultural exchange, between the European Union, or even the United States, and Latin America and the Caribbean will be incomplete if the implications of ideology are not considered —he assures—. The effects of ideology are profound and multidirectional, affecting everyone, especially when varied ideologies intersect to create different perceptions about gender, class, race, culture, etc., in a given place and context.”Delightfully exaggerated and theatrical, the writer and journalist from the Canary Islands Juan Cruz often says that “without the Latin American boom, we would be different people today”.

While the term boom once defined the literary and publishing phenomenon of the 1960s may be questioned today, there is no doubt that the magical realism of that literature created by a select group of writers including Gabriel García Márquez from Colombia, Julio Cortázar from Argentina, the Mario Vargas Llosa from Peru, Carlos Fuentes from Mexico and José Donoso, from Chile. These authors and more profoundly influenced literature on both sides of the Atlantic for a number of years.

A redesign of the relationship between Latin America and Europe has been activated in which both regions can look each other in the eye and stand on the same step

The allure of the Latin American essence, which was once captivating due to its distant and seemingly improbable nature in a pragmatic Europe, gave way to a more symmetrical interaction. This shift has been facilitated by the cultural agents who were instrumental in redesigning the relationship between Latin America and Europe so both regions can look each other in the eye and stand on the same step. 

In 2017, the “Differently Equal” campaign to promote cultural cooperation was launched in 22 Latin American countries by the Ibero-American General Secretariat. May the transatlantic relationship mirror Europeans and Latin Americans, who are as different as they are equal. That is its essence.

Marina Artusa
Clarín's Correspondent in Spain
She started at Clarín as an intern. She edited Viva magazine and, since 2012, she has been a correspondent in Europe and currently works from Madrid. She holds a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University and taught at New York University. She obtained a scholarship from the European Commission to do a PhD at the Università di Bologna, in Italy. In 2019 the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) awarded her the Major Award for Investigative Journalism.

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