Yale Bulletin and Calendar

April 23, 2004|Volume 32, Number 27















Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes calls for changes to close
gap between First and Third Worlds

The global economy, said author and statesman Carlos Fuentes, is a lot like Mt. Everest -- impossible to move and therefore here to stay.

"The question is how to climb it," said Fuentes in a Yale-sponsored lecture on April 14.

For developing countries, such as many in Latin America, keeping up with the fast-paced economic and technological changes propelled by globalization is a huge challenge, Fuentes told a full audience at the Center Church on the Green.

Fuentes spoke on the topic "Globalization: Pros and Cons" as a Yale Chubb Fellow. The renowned author of such classics as "Terra Nostra," "The Death of Artemio Cruz" and "The Old Gringo," Fuentes was honored with a Chubb Fellowship for his literary contributions and his work as a diplomat. He formerly held posts as Mexico's ambassador to France and as his country's director of international cultural relations, among others.

International economic integration has essentially created two worlds -- a First World and a Third World, said Fuentes. He cautioned that the drive for economic viability in the globalized world has often come at the expense of human development and the provision of social services, such as health and education.

During the Cold War, he said, social policies in Latin American countries "were confused with the policies of Soviet communism," and calls for social reforms were thwarted by political leaders. Government policies, he noted, resulted in the region's debt crisis in the 1980s as well as rising unemployment, among other negative effects. The military dictatorships that were a feature of Latin American politics "paralyzed" opportunities for change, Fuentes declared.

"We lost 40 years in the refrigerator of the Cold War ... a consequence of the postponement of urgently needed reforms," he told his audience.

Those lost years of development, Fuentes added, make it especially difficult for Latin American nations to keep up with the explosive technological changes now sweeping the world, which have resulted in benefits such as greater access to information and the sharing of knowledge.

"We celebrate the astonishing technological development, perhaps the speediest the world has ever known, yet we fear that this very velocity will leave behind forever the countries unable to keep up," said the author. "How can we catch up if we only account for 1% of the world's scientists?"

Fuentes recalled that President Bill Clinton once told the United Nations General Assembly that 1.3 billion people throughout the world live on less than $1 a day. In the United States, Fuentes noted, the cost of a hamburger is equivalent to four minutes of work, while in Latin America, it is the equivalent of four hours of work.

Fuentes shared other statistics on today's world that he found "daunting." He noted, for example, a UNESCO report that claimed that it would cost $9 billion to cover the basic needs for education in the Third World, precisely the amount that Americans spend each year on cosmetics.

"We have to realize that the First and the Third are really one world, united by global economic integration," Fuentes told his audience.

Fuentes also decried the limitations placed on people such as migrant workers to move about freely in the global world.

"About $6 million in capital is moved around the world in a day, but this freedom is not accompanied by a comparable free movement of workers," the author stated. "Things are free to move; people are not."

Fuentes argued that, by working in many of the jobs "that are needed but shunned," migrant workers contribute to a nation's wealth rather than detract from it. He said that new international laws and sensitive diplomacy are needed to address the movement of labor that accompanies an increasingly globalized economy.

"The Pilgrims came without visas or work permits. Here they are, coming back, defying our humanity, our sense of justice," said Fuentes of the migrant workers. He described them as "the new nomads of the local village moving toward the global village."

Fuentes said that a major focus on education is another important way to close the gap between countries that are benefiting from the world economy and those that are not.

"Education is the maximum investment, even for production ...," he commented. "We cannot wait for the economy to get better in order for education to get better."

Both basic education and continuing education for adults, he argued, "should be at the center of our preoccupation."

The author told his audience that the world is currently "in danger of returning to the most barbaric and perilous of practices -- that of the pre-emptive attack." Nations, he suggested, must instead work through international channels to solve conflict.

"If international organizations aren't perfect, our duty is to make them better, not throw them into the trash can," Fuentes said.

Sharing with and embracing others in the world, he said, is one of the most essential actions today's citizens can take.

"No one loses knowledge by sharing it with one another," he said. "Cultures perish in isolation and prosper in communication. Colleges and universities are called upon by their very name to play a mediating role between cultures, defying prejudice, extending the idea we have of our limits, increasing our capacity to give and receive, our intelligence for understanding what's foreign to us. Let's embrace the cultures of others so that others can embrace our own culture."

He concluded by reminding his audience that the world's history is unfinished.

"The lesson of our unfinished humanity is that when we exclude, we are poor and when we include, we are rich," Fuentes said.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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