The Doorstep: The Evangelical Right Takes Latin America, with Francisco de Santibañes
October 28, 2021
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this edition of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Nick Gvosdev.
TATIANA SERAFIN: And I am Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow at Carnegie Council, very excited today to welcome Francisco de Santibañes, the director of the Argentine Council for International Relations and global fellow at the Wilson Center, here to speak with us about Latin America and everything that is going on there.
It's an exciting conversation, but before we get to that, Nick, I want to ask you about two things that have been on my mind, one of which I actually got my students to really care about. They came into class saying: "We believe we are such a woke generation. We cannot believe what is happening at the Poland-Belarus border" because in recent days there have been more videos taken of the refugees at the border and people dying at the border and nobody really talking about it. I relate this back, and we mentioned it briefly in our last podcast with Parag Khanna when talking about migration. We touched on it briefly, but I think the situation is getting more dire.
So, a little bit of background. There have been airplanes coming from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria funded by the government of Lukashenko in Belarus, bringing refugees to Belarus and explaining to them that they will get to Europe, and their way to Europe is being shoved to the border with Poland. Poland is, of course, turning these refugees back. They are getting in trouble with the European Union.
But what picks me up on this again is that Poland is now talking about building a border wall. What does that rhetoric remind you of? Then, in another article, I believe in Bloomberg, they called it the "new Iron Curtain." Nick, are you getting weird flashbacks on so many different levels? What do you make of it?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think it's an important point that dividing lines have returned. The idea that we are becoming a flatter world, a more open world, a world that is easier to travel, this is a rebuke to that, to say, "Nope, we're going to put a wall, we're going to make a border, we're going to say that there is a difference to being on one side and on the other, and that if you're not on our side we don't want you" for a variety of reasons.
But it also touches I think on some larger issues. It can be very easy just to say, "Well, this is somehow Polish particularism or just Eastern Europeans in general." This is touching on political issues and divisions around the world. The us-versus-them, my country, who belongs in my country, who has a right to be in my country, are issues that are animating political movements in the United States, as you have noted, in India, and all across the world. Something that I think we will be able to ask our guest in a few moments is the extent to which this is playing into the rise of a new type of conservative movement, which emphasizes particularism and which is against what it sees as globalizing elites that are trying to erase borders and erase distinctions.
On the other hand, this also points to another issue and what you have said about how these migrants have ended up in Belarus, which is not part of what you would expect to be the natural route for people coming from the Middle East, Afghanistan, or sub-Saharan Africa to come to Belarus, and that is the weaponization of migration, which is that you have a government in Belarus which is under enormous pressure from within, which is facing sanctions from the European Union, and this is a way to use the movement of people as a weapon to create problems within the European Union between other European countries and Poland, to create problems in Poland itself, and this may be a trend.
As you mentioned, in our last podcast Parag Khanna talked about the benefits of migration. He talked about that the future is going to be determined by this competition for human capital, but the dark side of what he discussed on the podcast and in the book and what you're seeing on the border between Belarus and Poland is the weaponization, how can this be used as a tool of pressure, intimidation, and coercion by saying, "If you don't do certain things for us, we'll allow migrants and refugees to enter your territory from ours." So I think this really speaks to some of these issues moving forward.
TATIANA SERAFIN: We'll see how it plays out, especially as winter comes up. In this situation, I am expecting it to worsen. We will keep following that story for you, our listeners.
The other story we are following is we will be talking about China, always talking about China, with our guest as an economic force, but this week China also took center stage as a military force, which sometimes we forget in this discussion of economic power that they are out there. It came out just yesterday that they were testing hypersonic missiles over the summer. Nobody really talked about it in the summer, and now all of a sudden General Milley saying that it was like a "Sputnik moment." How worried should we be about these hypersonic missiles, especially in relation to what we learned at our last book talk from Rose Gottemoeller about nuclear weapons and how to control them and manage them? China is outside of this rubric.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: "Sputnik moment" may be a bit overdramatic because it is not as if this is a major new technological breakthrough—the technology for doing this has been around for a while—but it's China's ability to put it together and to show that it has these capabilities. Where I think the comparison with Sputnik in 1957 is apt is that it's a reminder to the United States that it is not the only country in the world that has impressive military technologies, and it's a reminder too, because the whole idea of these hypersonic delivery vehicles is that they are designed to defeat missile defenses because you launch, it moves where it is, it's not on a fixed arc from launch to where it impacts, so it's harder to detect, and it's harder to defend against.
We have talked with many of our Doorstep guests about the sense of "How prepared should the United States be to compete with China?" This is a reminder that competition with China has costs, and I think that the Biden administration found this an unpleasant moment because this is a reminder that if we're going to be competing with China, and as Americans are looking at China and saying, "We're going to compete with them," that there are costs and risks, that there is a point at which China can also compete with us. So I think it's that unpleasant reminder that the United States does not simply sit at the center and prevail in every moment.
It also is going to highlight I think a question—and we're going to see this come up again and again—about things like, "What does this mean"—as we saw with Sputnik in 1957—"for our educational institutions? How should we be paying for higher education? What type of higher education should we be paying for? What should we be encouraging students to do?"
Because again, what Sputnik did and what this is doing again is reminding you that you need engineers, you need scientists, you need technicians. That requires investment in education. It requires investments across the board. It also means that you have to, in encouraging people to go to college, you have to find a way to encourage people to study things that tie into the science and technological base. "College for All" is a great slogan, but "College for All for Everyone to be a Film Major" may not produce the kind of outcomes that we're looking for. We're going to need chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and engineers. How will this play out in our domestic debate, as we're seeing now in paying for school and paying for education? We will see how this develops.
But it will also I think re-spark this doorstep conversation to some extent about "At what point is it not in the interests of average Americans to always be competing with China?" and it will reawaken the question that the Chinese first raised in the 1990s, when we had the first series of crises on Taiwan, the United States saying: "Well, we're going to intervene here and there throughout Asia, but what are we willing to put at risk at home? Are we willing to trade New York for Taipei?" This hypersonic vehicle says that that equation is back on the table.
TATIANA SERAFIN: We will see how China plays into our relationship with Latin America in just a moment. I think all of these salient issues will come up. I am very much looking forward to our conversation.
Thank you so much for joining us today. We here in the United States are in election season. Next Tuesday we have elections across the country. November 2 here in New York where I am, we have elections for mayor and lots of elections, and it got me to thinking, What's going on in the world with elections? and it got me to reading about the Brazilian election, which led me to your piece, Francisco, about popular conservatism rising in Latin America.
We here at The Doorstep try to link what is going on in the globe to what our citizens should be thinking about, and certainly the rise of conservatism is a big topic here. There are even more and closer links as you lay out in your piece and as we know. Just this month the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), run here by the American Conservative Union, hosted a conference in Brazil, which had Donald Trump Jr. speaking remotely and really showed the connections between American conservatives and Brazilian conservatives that I don't think many of us here in the States are talking about enough.
Thank you today for coming and explaining what is going on, but I would like to start with your piece, "Popular Conservatism Rising in Latin America." You had three points: What is it, how is it shaping Latin American society, and is Bolsonaro the beginning of a new era? If you could walk us through those three points to start off, that would be wonderful. What is this idea of popular conservatism?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I think there is a new political movement, and you can see this not just in the United States and Brazil but in other countries. What you are seeing is a new generation of leaders who are conservatives and who support the traditional conservative agenda.
But they are also profoundly anti-elitist. They attack the elites. You are familiar with that in the United States in the case of Trump and not just Trump. I would say that the Republican Party now has changed in the last years, Trump, for instance, against Hollywood, against political elites in Washington, etc.
Bolsonaro is a similar case. He defends traditional conservative values, but he has this characteristic that is different to previous conservatives in Brazil, as Trump is different to previous conservatives in the United States. They are very violent in their attacks against the traditional establishment because they see it as too cosmopolitan, too urban, and that doesn't represent any more the values and interests of the population. So you see a lot of similarities, not just between Bolsonaro and Trump but Erdoğan, Putin, and other leaders around the world.
TATIANA SERAFIN: I will add one to that because the next CPAC conference is supposed to be in Hungary.
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: Exactly.
TATIANA SERAFIN: So Orbán as well.
How is this movement tied together by CPAC? Do you see a lot of activity, even where you are in Argentina?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I will say that the important story is not CPAC per se but the links between these conservatives, and there are many. There is a profound [link] in the case of Bolsonaro and his supporters especially about Trump, not necessarily the Republican Party as we knew it, but this new Republican Party. If you see, they have similar supporters. For instance, the evangelical churches are very important in Brazil. It is a traditionally Catholic country, but in the last years the evangelical movement has grown a lot.
It is very similar to the support they provide to the Republican Party in the United States. It is one of the main electors in primaries in the United States of Republican Party is the evangelical movement. It is the same in Brazil with Bolsonaro. They are very close allies to Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro also has the support of the military. Bolsonaro comes from the Brazilian army and from the countryside, and there are some similarities there also with the Republican Party, which is stronger not in the big cities but maybe in the rest of the country, and Bolsonaro has more problems winning elections in big cities. So, as you can see, there are many similarities.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: What I think this points to, in both your article and as our conversation is evolving, is first, the idea that Donald Trump in the United States was just simply an aberration and a one-time happening. This suggests, as you have mentioned and as Tatiana's questions have pointed out, that there is in fact a global network of leaders and political movements that share this orientation.
As you said, and I think this has very important ramifications for foreign policy and international affairs, it is directed against what it sees as a cosmopolitan elite and it stands against globalization or the idea that from Hong Kong to Houston to Havana, eventually the world is moving towards sort of a single culture and a single set of values. This is a movement that preaches particularism in each country. It is suspicious of globalization. It is suspicious of international organizations.
From what you are saying here, it sounds like what you're suggesting is that this is a movement which is going to continue to have ramifications in the 2020s in the domestic politics of a variety of countries, including those in Latin America but also in Europe, in North America, and in Asia as well. Do you see the staying power of these ideas, perhaps not, as you said, in the big cities, but there appear now to be constituencies around the world for this type of populist conservatism and appeal to conservative social values but not necessarily supporters of economic globalization across borders?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I totally agree, and I will give you two examples, one from the past and one from the present.
One is Brexit. The pitch of the supporters of Brexit was to go against the elites in Brussels that didn't represent the interests of the British people, and I guess immigration. Again, it is the same rhetoric.
Another—this has happened in the last weeks—is that you will have an election in Chile. There was a lot of discussion—I am sure you read in the newspapers—about a new constitution and the revolt against the establishment.
What happened in the last two weeks is that there was a new candidate that comes from the new right, similar to and an admirer of Trump and Bolsonaro. He is called Kast, and now he is leading in the polls. So, a popular conservative in a couple of weeks has taken the right by himself. So the traditional conservative libertarian parties that ruled the center-right camp in Chile disappeared.
It is similar to Bolsonaro and Trump. No one was expecting them. I remember no one expected Trump to win the primaries in the Republican Party. It was crazy. And then, no one expected him to win the election, and he won. He almost won reelection against what most people believe.
Bolsonaro was similar. He was a very marginal representative in the House in Brasília. Most people thought he was crazy, but he won the election. This is something that happened in our case. In a relatively short period of time, you have a new candidate with this pitch, who collaborates with other popular conservatives, and they do a very good use of social networks—that's another characteristic—and they are very competitive in electoral terms.
TATIANA SERAFIN: Let me ask—and thank you for bringing up Chile because I think one of the things we want to do is not lump all the countries in Latin America together but really to distinguish characteristics and what's going on in each.
We have now had Biden in for almost a year. Have you seen a change in his foreign policy towards Latin America? How has some of what he and his administration done supported more popular democratic movements in Latin America? Or maybe they aren't.
I was just looking, by the way, at the list of ambassadors, and 50 percent of ambassador positions from America to other countries aren't filled, including to Brazil and other important Latin American countries. Does the United States still have a voice in Latin America?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I think the rhetoric has changed, for sure. There is more focus on human rights, for instance, and that was not the case with Trump.
But I will say that the main concern is China. China is becoming a major player in the region, especially in the Southern Cone countries—Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay. It is the main trading partner of these countries. It is the nation that has more resources to offer, for instance, in terms of infrastructure development. So I will say that American foreign policy with Trump and now with Biden, of course, with many differences, but its main goal is China, the main preoccupation.
Of course, there are other realities. It has different relations with the Caribbean countries and Central America because of immigration. That is a major concern also because of domestic politics in the United States. But overall, with the big countries—Argentina, Brazil, and even Mexico—there is a growing focus on China's presence in the region and how to compete with China in terms of—for instance, there is a new American program that has to do with providing funds for infrastructure. Remember that many countries in the region have already signed the "One Belt, One Road" initiative with China. The big ones have not, and that is an issue of concern for the United States. The United States doesn't want these countries to adopt, for instance, the 5G Chinese technology. The United States doesn't want Latin American countries to be part of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative. So I would say that what you have seen in the last years is that major change. It is also immigration, climate change, but the main concern in my view is China's presence.
TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that's a great example. I have a colleague who is now doing business in Colombia, going outsourcing, and Colombia and America have had traditionally a long history with a lot of foreign direct investment and a lot of support, and he thinks that Colombia is just the best country to do business. Yet, I was looking at the numbers, and China, from out of nowhere, is now Colombia's number-two trading partner.
To your point, has the United States been proactive enough against some of the work that China has done, even in terms of providing vaccines? Let's not forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. I know that numbers in Latin America are going down, but we still are in a global pandemic. Has China been able to make inroads over this last year because of their providing vaccines, etc., and more support?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I think at the beginning of the pandemic some countries—and I would say Russia, at least in the case of Argentina—were more active than the United States, selling vaccines while the United States was providing vaccines to the American population and not exporting them. But after a period of time, the United States has been quite active donating vaccines throughout the region. I think it is by far the main player in that sense.
But I would say the United States has an advantage. In terms of values, most people feel closer to the United States than to China, not necessarily to the American government, but the United States still has an advantage in terms of soft power. That's for sure.
The thing is, it takes time to develop a new strategy I think, and a rhetoric that works. Sometimes it seems to me that the United States uses a rhetoric that is quite similar to the one used during the Cold War. It is not necessarily the same because Latin American countries felt threatened—societies, elites—of a Soviet presence because of communism. You have the church, the private sector, they are fighting for their lives if the communists arrive.
But it is not the same with China. Elites seem to see China as a more pragmatic player. So maybe it is more difficult for the United States to develop a rhetoric in this competition with China in Latin America because we don't feel as threatened by the Chinese as we felt with the Soviets.
In Asia it is different because Asian countries really feel threatened by the Chinese in terms of security. But each region has a different reality, and because we are far away from China and our relationship is mostly economic, I don't perceive that there is that sense of threat.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think that raises an interesting point, going back to your discussion about the rise of populist conservatives in the region in that, one, you don't have this sense of existential threat from China. It's a pragmatic relationship. One of the things that does seem to mark these political leaders and movements is that they are much more transactional. They are willing to bargain if they can see and show a benefit.
At the same time, because of this emphasis on the distrust of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and elites that appear to be anti-national, which is part of the rhetoric we hear so often, that this may create a problem for a specific U.S. administration, in this case, the Biden-Harris administration, which is seen in its foreign policy as wanting to, as you said, promote human rights but promote human rights which include whole groups and categories that popular conservatives would say strike at the family, strike at traditional religious organizations, gender relations, and the like. Is there a risk you might see that if these movements gain more traction in Latin America and you have a Biden administration that is saying, "On the one hand, we have China, please join us against the Chinese threat," which Latin America doesn't feel, and on the other hand, the United States is perceived as wanting to change?
Of course, this is a big part of Viktor Orbán's appeal in Hungary, that the United States and European cosmopolitan elites want to "change our national culture." Do you see that down the road we could end up with some degree of dysfunction between the United States and governments in Latin America where popular conservatives will have taken power?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: Yes. I think it's possible. You see that in the case of Bolsonaro, who was clearly in favor of Trump against Biden.
The other thing to consider is that the Chinese say that they don't care about what happens inside a country. They just provide assistance. They don't promote—at least they say that they don't promote—a specific regime. They don't promote a human rights agenda. In that sense, if you have leaders who are more transactional, they may feel closer to what the Chinese are offering.
It's a good point. I think it is a possibility, and we are starting to see that. We see a government with Bolsonaro, who was very close to Trump, but with a change of administration things changed, both in Washington, D.C., because of course there is animosity from certain progressive sectors of the Democratic Party towards Bolsonaro because of climate change and because of human rights, and the same thing in Brazil. There are certain conservative sectors that see Biden as a rival of Bolsonaro and promoting a social agenda that goes against their values and their interests.
TATIANA SERAFIN: Since you mentioned climate—that is kind of the elephant in the room as the Conference of the Parties 26 (COP 26) begins this weekend—we should talk a little bit about it. What do you see coming out of this conference for Latin America? Is there something specific, an agenda that you feel can be embraced, or do you feel that it is kind of a Western agenda being imposed on some Latin American countries?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I will say that it is a consensus among elites and the population that climate change is a big issue. So there is support of this agenda.
What may happen in the near future is that you start to see some kind of rejection when the population starts to feel the pain of the measures Latin American countries have to adopt to collaborate in this fight.
That is what you saw, for instance, in France. If you remember, Macron reformed to increase the taxes on oil for buses, cars, etc., and that's what provoked the reaction against Macron, the "yellow vests." There was a complaint because you have these people in Paris, far away from the population, that do not understand that outside the big cities people spend a lot of money on their cars because they don't have public transportation.
I think you may start to see a similar phenomenon, not just in Latin America but in other developing countries, that you have to increase taxes or you have to go against some sectors of the economy, and that will raise rejection. You cannot see that yet because there is a gap between are governments in favor of some changes and everyone agrees because global warming is bad, but then, when you have to pay the bill, you will start to see some problems. Maybe the danger is that Latin American governments go against this commitment. So this may start to happen in one or two years from now. It is what is happening in France but also in the United States. I think Trump had a lot of support from sectors of the economy or even states that did not agree with a drastic change, for instance, in how we produce energy.
TATIANA SERAFIN: Let's go back to elections then and how elections can change on a dime. Steve Bannon, a Trump advisor, who now runs the movement which supports some of this conservatism that we are talking about said: "This election"—the Brazilian election—"is the second-most important election in the world, and the most important election in South America. Bolsonaro will win unless it's stolen by the machine." So here we go, the same rhetoric used now, still, today here in the United States being picked up and promoted there.
What is your commentary on this idea of using this "stolen election" rhetoric? How dangerous is that? Is it working in Brazil? Is it exportable to other countries in Latin America, this idea of stolen elections?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: It may be. It will be very dangerous for our societies because as a result of this distrust against the elites—that's what you see in the polls in Latin American—has increased a lot because economies don't grow and we suffer a lot from the pandemic, the political system is polarized. If you compare it to what happened in Latin America 10 or 20 years ago, you have presidents that are farther to the left or farther to the right in different countries, and the dialogue, reaching consensus, both within countries and between countries and the regions, has become more difficult because of this.
If you introduce to that situation the idea that you are stealing elections, it can be very dangerous. Remember that we used to have military governments for many times. It is not the same in the United States, that has a long institution and tradition and no one will think about that possibility. We have a different history, and in that context I think that kind of rhetoric will be much more dangerous than in the United States.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think that's a very critical point that you have raised. It is an important lesson I think for Americans here. It is very easy to throw around this rhetoric as you said—"Well, the election was stolen, I didn't like the outcome"—but how it erodes trust and that, if the institutions weaken, then over time you are prey to where elections no longer are seen as a way in which power is legitimately granted or transferred. So I think, as, you said, that with Latin America's history, where questions about the validity of elections or election results being overturned by force is part of the political history, it may behoove Americans who are very casual with throwing around things like "election fraud" and "stolen election" to take a minute to see how very corrosive this is to the continuity of liberal democracy.
TATIANA SERAFIN: Continuing on from your point, another erosion is, of course, freedom of the press. I think it goes hand-in-hand. To have a strong democracy I believe you have to have a strong press. Of course, my bias is that I am a journalist, so I believe that.
How, if at all, has the press suffered or been supported by this change and this movement to popular conservatism? Are the press in Latin America being vilified and targeted as much as they are here in the United States?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I will say two points. One is technological change. Because of social networks, journalists have less power. They don't have the power they used to have. The editors, for instance, could just say which news was true, which was false, or what kind of opinion is valid or not. Now it is open to any kind of rhetoric. That is one point that has weakened traditional journalism.
The other point—and you saw that in Argentina in the past and with Bolsonaro—is that they tend to identify traditional media outlets—newspapers and TV stations—with the ruling elites. For instance, Trump did that with The New York Times. Bolsonaro did that with the Globo group, the main media group in Brazil. Again, you see this with other popular conservatives around the world. It has been an important issue.
I don't see examples of big Latin American countries where you have violence against journalists. Colombia may be an exception, but because of its history it is a different story. At least I don't see it in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. You still have freedom of expression and independent media. Of course, that can change. But I agree with you. It is important to give importance to that subject and to the dangers the media faces.
TATIANA SERAFIN: One of my passions also is to look at how the youth, how Gen Z, as we call it here—we talk about Gen Z a lot; you have your own Gen Z—how are they swinging? What direction? Are they more conservative, more socialist? We have a lot of anti-socialism rhetoric here. Even here, where I am in New York City, we have "Stop Socialism" political signs, believe it or not. How is Generation Z in Latin America, and what do you expect of them?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: That is very interesting because I would say that in some countries what you are starting to see is that they are moving to the right, the younger generation. One example is in Argentina. We had elections a few weeks ago, and you had a new candidate that came from the right, and he won among the youth voters in the seat of Buenos Aires. That was a surprise, and it is in the media in the social networks an important development because, as in many countries, we tend to think that the youth tends to be more progressive.
But I think it has to do with the rejection of elites. If the youth believes that elites are left wing now, are more progressive, they will move to the right to be anti-establishment. It is part of the rhetoric of these anti-establishment candidates, where the establishment is the social progressive elites, and we shall go against them. You are starting to see that having some success among younger voters.
TATIANA SERAFIN: How interesting.
What about social issues? They are perhaps anti-establishment because they feel the elites are too progressive, but is that really true for social issues like abortion or climate? I feel like maybe that parsing of issues needs to be discussed too, or is it really based on this blanket statement, "antiestablishment?"
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: No, I agree. In issues such as abortion and climate change, the new generations tend to be more progressive in their views in those particular subjects. You have had some changes in the case of abortion in Argentina. It has become legal. That is a big change. But in most countries you still have a majority against that agenda.
Again, you have a very active evangelical movement, similar to the United States, that is playing an important part in politics. You may say even that the Catholic Church with the new pope who is a Latin American—an Argentine, Francis—has adopted more progressive views, but the evangelicals have not. So maybe the ones who are playing the most important role in that political fight are the evangelicals, and Bolsonaro is an example. He has adopted that agenda. He is quite active.
But you also see it in other countries. That has been an important change. You have more secular societies with some exceptions—Chile may be one—but you have societies with fewer Catholics and more evangelicals, and that is having an important political effect as it happened in the United States, from what I have read. The rise of the Republican Party was really in part because the evangelicals got involved in politics, and it was very important for the Republican Party in the southern states and to win presidential elections. There is a similarity about that in Latin America.
TATIANA SERAFIN: I learned something from that today. Typically we traditionally see Latin America as quite Catholic. It's so interesting to see this new movement and this worldwide movement and the global connections.
My last question is something you mentioned several times, this rise of digital media allowing people to speak with each other. Here in the United States there is a Facebook reckoning going on. We had the "Facebook Papers" published, and every day there are more and more stories. We are probably looking at—my prediction is before the end of the year—some sort of regulation against social media companies. Are you finding the same backlash against social media companies in Latin America? Or is it a free for all? How would you describe the situation there?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I would say I don't see a rejection. One interesting point when we were discussing China and the United States is that we are talking about American companies. We use Twitter, Facebook, and Google. It is interesting to think if that will have some effect, some consequences in our relations with the United States, because if there is a rejection—which I have not seen so far, but it may happen—it will be against American companies. So you may have a diplomatic matter there in the near future, because in Russia and in China you have domestic social media companies as a rejection to the American influence. That is not the case in Latin America, so I will say almost all the market is controlled by American social media companies.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: And the Chinese companies haven't really made much inroads, so people don't switch from Twitter to Weibo, and they are not switching from Facebook to Vkontakte or anything. They are still sticking with the U.S. platforms. I think, as you said, that is an interesting development because perhaps that still means that Latin America stays within the U.S. conversation, so to speak, rather than being part of the Chinese or Russian ones.
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: It is the same. Social media, movies, and Netflix—everyone watches Netflix or Amazon Prime—you don't have the presence of the Chinese or Russian media. You haven't seen that so far. There is a discussion about 5G technology. That is another thing.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: That is the technological side, but the content side—and that actually may be, to close out, we have talked about the United States and Latin America as if they are in essence two separate entities, but of course the United States is an important part of the Spanish-speaking world. Increasingly cultural products and soft-power products in both English and Spanish go back and forth.
Is there a sense that you are seeing that as we move forward into the 2020s that there is going to be more of a sense that at least communities or parts of the United States—you certainly already see this in Miami and South Florida—the idea that being part of a single community in the Hemisphere may become more important for Americans, who traditionally have seen the Rio Grande as a very defined border between cultural spaces? Is there a sense that more interaction and influence back and forth throughout the Hemisphere—and driven by the Spanish language increasingly as more Americans use it and as more cultural products come from Spanish-speaking artists, who then are fluent in both English and Spanish and can cross better—are you seeing the kind of soft power that develops from that, not just simply that people are watching Netflix but they are jointly producing content, which is then being enjoyed both in North and South America and Central America in the middle?
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: I think so. We have been discussing about nation-states, but also civil society is quite active. I think relations between Americans and Latin Americans are closer than ever, and this has a lot to do with the Latino influence in the United States. It is an important part of the population. I think culturally and socially that is an important and positive development. But I would also add the political influence of the Latin population in the United States and how that affects American foreign policy.
For instance, Trump won Florida in the last election. It was a surprise, or it was a difficult state to win, and in part it was because of his foreign policy towards Venezuela. You have an important Venezuelan community. It has a Cuban community, and the kind of rhetoric that the Trump administration and the policies it implemented towards Cuba and Venezuela was very important in electoral terms. It is the same with the Democrats and other Latino communities. So what you may see is a growing interest in the perceptions Latin American countries have and also because of domestic electoral reasons, and that may be good.
TATIANA SERAFIN: We are going to see as we ourselves head into the important 2024 election. Hopefully we can have you back for more commentary. Thank you so much for your time today.
FRANCISCO de SANTIBAÑES: Thank you very much.