week 7

Week 7 – The Export Boom as Modernity

This week’s topic discusses how the history of the Latin American continent was shaped by the role exportation played in the economics of its countries, as well as all the socio-cultural changes that came from an increasingly connected and interdependent world economy.

The chapter takes a close look at the place Latin American countries occupied in the scheme of world trade and how that influenced their domestic economy. Sometime after these countries had gained their independence and emancipation had come for a significant part of the population, they entered the international dynamic through exporting their raw materials and commodities to the developed economies of the North (Europe and the United States), and importing industrialized and sophisticated products. The usual take on this dynamic for some time had been that Latin America had been on the “wrong side of the international division of labour”, as Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch put it: the countries’ exports were based on one or two raw materials such as cotton, sugar and coffee, creating a dependency on these materials that made it difficult for production of other items to develop. What’s more, the increase in GDP from the exportation wasn’t distributed more or less evenly among the population, instead being heavily concentrated among the land-owning elites.

Dawson argues for a more comprehensive and nuanced look at the matter. He discusses how the countries that used revenues from its exports to invest in and promote economic diversification benefited from the increase in wealth, as well as how the foreign capital infused in the Latin American economies allowed for important economic and social developments such as railroads and telecommunications systems that might have taken a long time to be implemented otherwise. Clearly, this topic is not black and white – different interpretations based on different values will yield multiple differing opinions on the gains or losses from the export boom.

The exports were not only material products – they also included cultural aspects. As the text points out, the Latin American elites highly valued the European aesthetic, modeling their urban architecture and landscape on their Northern counterparts. In my experience back in Brazil, I think, up until some time ago, this was still a reality in our culture: European heritage was really celebrated, while Indigenous culture was left to the wayside as lesser than. More recently, this has been changing. More and more, nature has been valued and used as an inspiration in modern architecture, especially the natural landscapes and formations particular to Brazil. For the discussion question, I wonder if this recent valuing of local beauty and culture as pushback is something experienced in other countries of Latin America as well.