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Brazil does not give up: Culture and Creativity, Solidarity and Lives

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Paraphrasing Jorge Amado, a famous Brazilian literary writer of the twentieth century, in his popular novel ‘The country of carnival’: “… Sometimes we understand that something is missing in our lives. What is missing? We don’t know.”

Today, what we do know is that the C-19 event has destabilized the world in a multi-dimensional way. Everything is upside-down. In every corner, we have experienced a shift in human behaviour and daily attitudes. 

Suddenly, the world has moved from globalization to isolation. From hugs and kisses to social distancing. From physical touch to virtual chats. From high-consumerism towards a world with a greater environmental conscience. From egocentrism towards a human-centred approach. Against this controversial background – culture, creativity and connectivity have become the backbone of society – keeping people who are physically apart, tied together.

One example of the importance of culture to Brazilian identity is Carnival, which creates not just joy but revenue, tourism and jobs. Carnival 2020 was held in February, just before the start of the pandemic, which hit Brazil in mid-March. During Carnival, the country explodes with creativity and dancing for three consecutive days. This year it injected R$8 billion into the national economy and offered 25 thousand temporary jobs. This income has helped to partially mitigate the cumulative losses so far estimated to be R$62 billion resulting from COVID-19 crisis, which is deeply affecting culture and the creative industries, destroying over a million jobs in these sectors. In contrast to the celebrations just a few months ago, tourism, culture and the creative economy, now integrated into the same Ministry, are having to join forces to overcome the current difficulties, trying to preserve jobs and anxiously preparing for post-crisis.

The economic, social and cultural consequences of this pandemic are far-reaching. The COVID-19 crisis has not only robbed us of over half million lives around the world but it is exacerbating inequality, knocking-down the global economy, re-shaping global governance and free trade, destroying national health systems and urban life and aggravating social instability. Nevertheless, probably the most profound positive legacy of this chaotic situation is the growing sense of solidarity and citizenship that is encouraging people to do better, to engage and to act.

In Brazil, the pandemic has made inequality more visible. Creative and digital industries, in particular the audiovisual sector, social media, online news and press and communications services, have been powerful in showing the cruel reality of poverty at the current time. For the most vulnerable, social isolation is considered a luxury. It is difficult to be at home to avoid contagion when there is no money to be able to afford to eat. It is difficult to be confined in social isolation when a big family lives in a small room in a shanty town. It is difficult to wash your hands several times a day and have hygienic practices when there is no water and proper sanitary conditions at home. Under these circumstances, the Brazilian government has allocated 4.6 per cent of national public budget to implement the COVID-19 emergency package that also includes fiscal and monetary measures to assist small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), micro businesses and the self-employed. The COVID-19 voucher scheme has wide coverage; 65 million beneficiaries have followed instructions for digital eligibility and are receiving financial assistance for three months as compensation for their revenue losses. At the end of June, the government decided to extend the emergency salary for two additional months until August 2020, bringing total governmental expenditures to mitigate the continuous spread of the pandemic during the first semester to nearly R$1 trillion. 

It is noteworthy that digitalization and creative services (in the form of an official mobile app) have made it possible for the government of a continental-sized country to put in place in a relatively short time a massive outreach programme. It not only captures nearly 13 million unemployed people, plus 3.7 million informal workers, but also the self-employed who are left with no income and those who were previously completely invisible (even from the family poverty reduction scheme which covers 15 million families). Hopefully, in the future this big data will be used to design appropriate public policies and more effective educational, training and cultural programmes to address the lack of economic and social inclusion. In this context, creative activities, especially those associated with arts and cultural festivities, are conducive to the inclusion of usually excluded minorities and marginalized youth.

Solidarity and citizenship

In parallel to digital innovation, a feeling of solidarity has emerged and civil society has been mobilized. Citizens have started to act in a collective manner in response to the needs of vulnerable communities. Private sector companies of all sizes have become more engaged with social responsibility. Enterprises are more committed not only to meet customers’ demand but also to be more sensitive to the socio-economic impact of their activities locally. Aid packages including basic food baskets, hygiene products and masks are being widely distributed by firms, non-profit organisations and individuals.

On a daily basis, the TV news presents a list of projects, campaigns and new creative initiatives to assist those who need them. An example is the Table Brazil SESC-RJ project (SESC) which is engaged in fighting hunger and reducing food waste. The project collects food donations for the poorest while educating them on how to prepare healthier food. There is also a link here between these efforts and cultural institutions, public audiences for theatrical performances and shows presented in SESC’s theatres (before and after social isolation) can get cheaper ticket prices if they bring food for donation. This project, which already existed, was expanded on during the COVID-19 period. Another SESC project is #MesaSemFome through which well-known personalities donate their time, knowledge and experience to support solidarity in many different ways; by calling elderly people for story-telling and shopping for them, by giving musical instrument lessons, and by improving bakery skills. Every week many activities are offered through Instagram’s Lives Solidarias

Artificial intelligence and robotics are also playing a role in fighting the pandemic. With a population of 217 million people, Brazil does not have an adequate number of COVID-19 medical tests for all of its inhabitants. In order to cope with this deficit situation, the Health Ministry is using robots to call elderly people with high risk of contagion for a brief diagnosis by phone. The TeleSUS platform started in early April monitoring the flux of contagion with the aim to reach millions of people through an active search by phone and consultations by tele-medicine. Though this initiative has not been sufficient, it has been positive for enhancing a feeling of citizenship. 

Cultural policy responses

In terms of culture, all cultural spaces such as cinemas, theatres and museums have been closed and events including artistic shows, festivals and exhibitions were suspended in mid-March 2020, to comply with social distance measurese. Art and culture brings about R$170 billion annually to the Brazilian economy providing jobs to five million people accounting for nearly six per cent of the national workforce. Artists, cultural producers, technicians and creative professionals were the first to stop their activities as a consequence of the pandemic and will probably be the last to restart, making them one of the most affected categories. Thus, a Law for Cultural Emergency (Lei Aldir Blanc) was finally approved by Congress allowing the use of resources from the Federal Cultural Fund (R$3 billion) to provide emergency aid for three months to help compensate for the loss of revenue and to provide tax exemption for up to six months for the cultural industry and creative businesses.  

Guidelines for implementation of cultural projects during the COVID-19 pandemic have now been revisited. Projects should be well documented and producers should provide evidence for every action taken, in particular for projects financed by the Law for Stimulating Culture (Lei Roanet). Three measures were designed to alleviate the pandemic’s impact and guide the execution of projects: 

1. Projects will be allowed to use up to 20 per cent of the estimated capital

2. The project can now be modified at any time (previously, there was a limit)

3. Project evaluation will be more flexible in the form and use of resources. 

Furthermore, special measures were adopted related to the cancellation of services and events in the areas of tourism and culture during the pandemic. The measures cover cinemas, theatres, digital platforms, artists and all professionals contracted to work in cultural events and shows. Those affected by the lock-down who were unable to perform, will have up to one year to provide the services already contracted.

For the State of São Paulo, cultural and creative industries account for 4 per cent of GDP. This year, the loss in the state caused by COVID-19 is estimated at R$34.5 billion and over 650 thousand people have been left with no revenue. A credit line of R$500 million for SMEs and R$150 million for microcredit was offered with special conditions for micro, small and medium business in the cultural and creative sectors. In addition, Festival #CulturaemCasa is a platform launched by the Secretary of Culture and Creative Economy of São Paulo to stimulate social distancing while improving the access to virtual cultural contents from public cultural institutions. Through the platform the public can visit shows, concerts, museums, talks, conferences, read books, see films, watch theatre and plays. There are many different options for a range of ages and interests, and content is freely available and updated daily. This streaming platform was successful in reaching 850 thousand views in two months from 107 countries. All cultural content will remain available for the extent of the COVID-19 lock-down.   

The Secretary for Culture and Creative Economy of Brasilia formalized a financing scheme of R$750,000 to assist local artists and cultural creative professionals affected by the cancellation of festivals and cultural shows. The scheme provides three differentiated credit lines for micro business, self-employed artists, as well as loans and investments to support cultural and creative SMEs. The Secretary of Culture and Creative Economy in the State of Rio de Janeiro launched an official bid for online cultural production projects. #culturapresente will receive R$3.7 million from the State Fund for Culture. It will cover music, literature, visual arts, audiovisual, dance, theatre, circus, fashion, museums, typical cultural food and new cultural popular expressions. Another project “Story-telling by phone” called volunteers to contact elderly and people who live alone to tell stories, as a way to minimize the feeling of solitude. This allows poets, musicians and story-tellers to be engaged by offering hope and solidarity to lonely people.

Cultural experiences in the digital age

Creative initiatives by artists and institutions have also emerged, and some are likely to remain post COVID-19. Two strong trends from these initiatives have been solidarity and live streaming media. These two trends may end up dominating culture in the “new normal” – the combination of live streaming and solidarity has already resulted in the “Lives Solidarias”. In Brazil, more than 120 shows online raised R$17.6 million in donations to fight COVID-19 in poor communities. The mobilization of artists brought about innovation and is a way to engage celebrities and individuals in social causes. 

Livestreaming concerts like #tamojunto became the Saturday night fever during the pandemic. Top Brazilian singers (particularly country music singers), are performing at home, attracting a huge virtual audience and millions of ‘likes’ on YouTube and Instagram. Among the top 10 most attended live concerts worldwide, seven are from Brazilian artists. Marilia Mendonça, who received 3,31 million ‘likes’, was ranked number one globally, followed by Jorge & Mateus with 3,24 million. This is partially explained by the fact that 70 per cent of the music consumed in Brazil is locally produced. Moreover, the country ranks thrid among the major producers of creative digital content and as consumers of digital services. 

During confinement, online festivals like Festival EuFicoEmCasa are bringing entertainment to people through social networks. As shows and concerts have been cancelled, musicians and visual artists are working virtually to provide entertainment and expand their audience and network via Instagram and YouTube. The first festival gathered 78 artists, providing over 40 hours of music during the first weekend at home. Thanks to its success, the same format is being used for festivals which now take place every weekend. 

In summary, after more than 100 days of social distancing, the cultural sector and creative industries without day-to-day activity are re-inventing themselves in their struggle for survival. Paradoxically, online cultural consumption and creative production are escalating. Music is leading innovative models with live concerts but theatre companies are also producing plays for web performances with no public audience. Drive-in cinemas are back. Virtual short-film festivals are attracting newcomers. E-books and a new generation of smart video games are in high demand. Auctions of visual and street art are attracting culture lovers, and TV audiences have increased with re-runs of older broadcasts and small format productions.

Web channels, podcasts, live streaming, film series, conscious donations, hybrid collaborative creative productions, crowd funding and virtual public are emerging alternatives. Certainly, there are more questions than answers. As live streamers are using social platforms that were designed to be ephemera, will live cultural experiences survive? How do we ensure that online cultural productions will resist the continuous search for novelty? If a social platform closes, will its whole cultural content disappear? Famous artists are finding big sponsors but a great majority of artists are offering their services for free or small fees. How do we ensure that artists and cultural institutions will be able to survive in the long-run?  

More than ever, creativity is needed to optimize digitalization and find feasible monetization and sustainable solutions. The present circumstances are a challenge and the future is uncertain but art and culture will always find its way in contemporary society. 

Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg, economist well-known for her pioneering work in shaping the policy and research agenda about the creative economy and its development dimension. At present, she is associated expert for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). She is also vice-president of the International Federation on Internet and Multimedia (FIAM). She collaborates with universities in Europe, Asia, in the United States and Brazil. Ms. dos Santos had an international career of nearly 30 years at the UN in Geneva. She founded and became chief of the Creative Economy Programme at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); directed and is the chief author of numerous UN Creative Economy Reports (2008 and 2010), and set-up the UNCTAD's Global Database on Creative Economy providing world trade statistics for creative products. Ms. dos Santos graduated in economics and business from the University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

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Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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Latin America and the challenges for true political and economic independence

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Latin America – and its core countries, namely Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – has become a region of high global strategic value due to its vast territory, abundant resources, great economic development, unique geographical position and active role in global and regional governance.

Factors such as history, geography and reality, combined with the complexity of the region’s internal political logics, have once again made Latin America a place where major powers pay attention to and play key games.

Latin America’s cooperation with ‘external’ powers has become ever closer, leading to unfounded suspicions and malicious provocations among the countries of the region concerned.

What bothers ‘democrats’ and ‘liberals’ is the presence in the area of countries without a colonialist and exploitative past.

Historically, Latin America and the Caribbean were the coveted location of various Western forces. Since the Latin American countries’ independence – and even today – large countries inside and outside the region have competed in this area.

The complexity and uncertainty of the current global political and economic situation in Latin America lie behind the competition between the major powers in geopolitics and international relations.

Latin America’s vast lands and resources are linked to global food security, the supply of agricultural and livestock products, and energy security. It is an important ‘product supplier’ that cannot be neglected.

Latin America has a huge surface of over 20 million square kilometres, covering four sub-regions of North America (Mexico), the Caribbean, Central America and South America, with 33 independent countries and some regions that are not yet independent, as they are tied to the burden of the old liberal-colonialist world.

Latin America is blessed with favourable natural conditions. For example, it has become a well-known ‘granary’ and ‘meat provider’ because of its fertile arable land and abundant pastures. It is an important area  for the production of further agricultural and livestock products. At the same time, other countries in the region have huge reserves of natural resources such as oil and gas, iron ore, copper and forests, and have become important global suppliers of strategic materials.

Secondly, the Latin American region has a relatively high level of economic development and has brought together a number of important emerging economies – a significant global market that cannot be ignored.

The Latin American region plays an important role in global economy. Brazil and Mexico are not only the two largest economies in Latin America, but also the top 15 in global economy.

At the same time, recent calculations on 183 countries (regions) with complete data from the World Bank and related studies show that the group consisting of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, etc., has entered the ranking of the “30 emerging markets” (E30) worldwide. According to World Bank statistics, Latin America’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 was about 5.78 trillion dollars and the per capita GDP exceeded 9,000 dollars. With the exception of a few, most countries in Latin America are middle-income and some have entered the high-income ranking.

Therefore, Latin America has become a large consumer market that cannot be ignored due to its relatively high level of economic development, high per capita income and a population of over 640 million people.

Indeed, as Latin American region with a high degree of economic freedom and trade openness, it has been closely connected with the economies of other regions in the world through various bilateral and multilateral agreements, initiatives and free trade mechanisms.

Thirdly, Latin America’s unique geographical position has a significant impact on global trade, shipping and climate change.

Latin America is situated between two oceans. Some countries border on the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or are even bathed by both oceans. This special position gives the Latin American region the geographical advantage of achieving ‘transpacific cooperation’ with the Asian region or building a link of ‘transatlantic cooperation’ with the European region. Thanks to the Panama Canal, it is the fundamental hub for global trade.

Besides its strategic relevance for food security and clean energy production, the Amazon rainforest, known as the ‘lungs of the earth’, has a surface of over six million square kilometres, accounting for about 50% of the global rainforest. 20% of the global forest area and the vast resources covering 9 countries in Latin America have become one of the most important factors influencing global climate change.

Finally, as an active player in the international and regional political and economic arena, Latin America is a new decisive force that cannot be neglected in the field of global and regional governance.

Firstly, as members of organisations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the major Latin American countries are both participants in and creators of international rules.

Moreover, these countries should be considered from further aspects and viewpoints of multilateralism.

The major Latin American countries, particularly regional powers, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, are members of the G20. Brazil belongs to both BRICS and BASIC.Mexico, Chile and Peru are within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Mexico, Peru and Chile are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), while Mexico and Chile are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

They are playing an irreplaceable role in responding to the economic crisis and promoting the reform of global governance mechanisms; in promoting the conclusion of important agreements on global climate change; in advancing economic cooperation between the various regions; in leading ‘South-South cooperation’ between developing countries and in holding a dialogue on the main current issues (opposition to unilateralism, protectionism, protection of multilateralism, etc.).

It must also be said that Latin American countries are naturally also active in regional organisations and institutions – such as the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, etc. – so that they can participate directly and try to oppose U.S. hegemonism.

Within the Latin American region, these countries first initiated a process of cooperation and integration and later established various sub-regional organisations -such as Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur-Mercado Comum do Sul) and Alianza del Pacífico (Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru) – to cooperate with other regions of the world and shake off the unfortunate definition of “America’s backyard”.

Located in the Western Hemisphere, where the well-known superpower is present, Latin American countries have long been deeply influenced by the United States in politics, economics, society and culture.

In 1823, the United States supported the Monroe Doctrine and drove the European countries out of Latin America with the slogan ‘America for the Americans’, thus becoming the masters of the Western Hemisphere.

The Monroe Doctrine also became a pretext for the United States to interfere in the internal affairs and diplomacy of Latin American countries.

In 2013, 190 years after the aforementioned declaration, the United States publicly declared that the Monroe Doctrine era was over and emphasised the relationship on an equal footing and the shared responsibility between the United States and Latin America.

Nevertheless, the current Latin American politics shows once again that the end of the so-called ‘Monroe Doctrine’ era is nothing more than a common myth.

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