Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Punching Above Your Weight in International Affairs

By Ludovico Feoli

At a recent event in San José co-hosted by CIAPA, the newly elected president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, presented his vision of a foreign policy for his administration. One may question the relevance of the subject for such a tiny player in the global sphere, with only 52,000 square kilometers, four million inhabitants, and no army. But the fact of the matter is that the country has historically played an outsized role in international affairs, punching well above its weight.

Standing up to the Reagan administration in the late 80s it helped broker the peace process that ended the Central American wars. It later spearheaded an initiative at the United Nations to regulate the international trade of small arms that culminated in the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty by the General Assembly in 2013. The country has twice occupied a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council. It is recognized for its leadership in international environmental policy, being among the first to negotiate debt for nature swaps and establish a large-scale program of payments for ecological services. It is also recognized for its respect for, and leadership in, the field of human rights, and serves as the host for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

This active international profile has been informed by close adherence to a set of core values: disarmament, denuclearization, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and respect for human rights and the environment. By enhancing the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s â’‘¬Å“soft powerâ’‘¬Â such a stance has enabled it to act as a â’‘¬Å“moral powerâ’‘¬Â on the world stage. Yet the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s bearing has also been pragmatic, embracing early adherence to GATT and global integration, for example, and being the first country in Central America to recognize the Peopleâ’‘¬’“¢s Republic of China. Because Costa Ricaâ’‘¬’“¢s â’‘¬Å“realist idealismâ’‘¬Â has been path breaking in these ways the new presidentâ’‘¬’“¢s foreign policy vision may therefore be of more than just local interest.

In fact, President Solís is not complacent about the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s recent international profile. He made the case for a better articulation of its foreign policy. Latin America, in his view, has not to date been treated as the strategic space it is. Costa Rica has focused, historically, on its relations with Central America, the United States and Europe. Only a few Latin American countries have commanded attention, and then but insufficiently and inconsistently. Solís proposed Costa Rica should be an â’‘¬Å“impactful actorâ’‘¬Â, constructing a regional dialogue about security, climate change, human rights, migration, socio-economic equity, and trade and investment. These last two areasâ’‘¬‘€trade and investmentâ’‘¬‘€have commanded too much attention from recent governments, in his view, and, while important, he believes they should be driven by the broader political considerations of foreign policy, and not the other way around.

While recognizing the importance of a Latin American focus, the President understands the region to be diverse and believes that policy should be tailored accordingly. He distinguishes four sub-regions with different relevance for national interests. First is Central America, the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s natural geographic and historic reference point. But he proposes that this region should extend to the Caribbean Basin, his second sub region, incorporating not only its insular territories, but also those of important countries on the coastal areas, like Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. Third is North America, understood not merely as the United States, but also Mexico and Canadaâ’‘¬‘€all countries with which Costa Rica already maintains meaningful and fruitful relations. The fourth sub region is South America, which he sub-divides into the Southern Cone and the Andean Region. Relations with these countries have been the least active but hold great potential, particularly in the case of Brazil.

Where does this leave the United States? The President acknowledged the long history of positive, albeit sometimes tense, relations with the U.S., which is currently also the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s leading trade and investment partner. He expects this to continue, but not at the expense of the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s autonomy. In line with his vision of a realist idealism, he wishes to stir clear from positions that, for the sake of alignment, would limit the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s freedom of action. This would be true in general, not merely for the U.S. For example, he distanced himself from U.S. regional security policies, which he considered to be â’‘¬Å“militarizedâ’‘¬Â, but he also announced that Costa Rica would not be joining Venezuelaâ’‘¬’“¢s Petrocaribe.

Indeed, Solís vowed to follow a â’‘¬Å“pluralisticâ’‘¬Â approach to regional relations, one that recognizes the inherent value of the different integration institutions in the region, and defends their relevance. The CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which excludes the U.S. and Canada) will have pride of place, given that Costa Ricaâ’‘¬’“¢s pro-tempore presidency provides a unique opportunity to exert the kind of leadership the President advocates. However, he does not believe that the Organization of American States should be written off. As the historical repository of inter-American integration and international law it must, in fact, be defended. But insofar as its political functions have been displaced to other fora this should be recognized as part of the new regional reality. As should be the fact that the U.S. can no longer strong-arm regional actors or inhibit the presence of extra hemispheric ones.

The SICA (Central American Integration System) will also be a focus of attention for the President, given its relevance to Costa Rica. The country has tended to retract from a full engagement with its Central American peers and the President believes it is time to change this, making the country a pacesetter for the sub-region. He pledged to pursue SICAâ’‘¬’“¢s next Secretary General post for a Costa Rican, from which vantage point he would seek to reform and update the institution.

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Out America (ALBA) will also merit attention and consideration, although they will not be central. Solís seemed less enthusiastic about the Pacific Alliance (PA), an integration effort spearheaded by Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile, and eagerly embraced by his predecessor. Primarily a trade block, the PA exemplifies Solísâ’‘¬’“¢ concern about trade driving foreign policy priorities. While not dismissing the relevance of trade or the potential of the PA, he suggested it should be pondered carefully, respecting the concerns of Costa Rican productive sectors. This in turn reflects the Presidentâ’‘¬’“¢s ideological convictions that the state should play a more important role in guiding the economy, a central theme throughout the campaign in the run-up to his election.

In sum, the Presidentâ’‘¬’“¢s foreign policy will be, in his own words, a form of â’‘¬Å“conservative inter-Americanismâ’‘¬Â and â’‘¬Å“progressive neostatismâ’‘¬Â. It will be principled, in that it will continue to be inspired by the ideals of disarmament and denuclearization, human rights, environmental stewardship, and equity. It will be pragmatic, focusing on those geographical regions and partners that have greatest potential for the country and actively promoting its interests and defending its rights. It will be pluralistic, engaged with international institutions to the extent that they fit the countryâ’‘¬’“¢s needs. And it will be integral, not surrendering policy to particular objectives, like trade and investment, or conceding the directive prerogatives of the state to the forces of the market.

Whether this will enable Costa Rica to continue punching above its weight in international affairs remains to be seen. But the President has articulated a comprehensive vision for a foreign policy which he clearly believes will do so.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Permanent Researcher and CEO, CIAPA, Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University

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Teaching and Understanding Women's Activism in the Face of Violence

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(Description via Vanderbilt CLAS)

Join Vanderbilt CLAS and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University for a teacher workshop about incorporating topics of social justice and gender equality in the curriculum. In 2019, Amalia Rubin and Parker Benedict joined forces to create She Stands Up, a project that aims to spark meaningful conversations in high school classrooms about the power of women’s activism in the face of violence. While the project’s lesson plans focus on social mobilization in Latin America, where reporting of violence against women has been steadily increasing in recent years, She Stands Up creators hope to inspire teachers and students alike to tackle relevant and difficult topics in the classroom. In this special workshop, Amalia and Parker will take us through the research behind the project, introduce us to their website (full of resources!), and lead us in an activity from one of their lesson plans. Current and aspiring high school educators are encouraged to attend, and all educators are welcome.

Data across the Disciplines: Notes from Field Research in Latin America

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This discussion will focus on how Latin Amercanist scholars use data in their research. Marcello Canuto (Tulane University) will present on the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and other geospatial methods in his work in Maya archaeology. In a discussion moderated by Claudia Brittenham (University of Chicago), we will then discuss benefits and challenges, helpful tools, and various approaches to implementing new technologies into field research. This event workshop is for students in any field who are thinking about the possible uses of spatial imaging and other types of technology-collected data in their own research.

Marcello A. Canuto is Director of the Middle American Research Institute and Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. He has undertaken archaeological excavations in the Maya region, South America, India, north Africa, and the northeast US. His primary research interest in the Maya area has been on the integrative mechanisms that the ancient Maya used to build and maintain a socio-politically complex society throughout both the Preclassic and Classic periods. He now co-directs a project in the understudied Northwest Peten, Guatemala where he investigates the construction of social categories and the mechanisms by which complex socio-political organizations develop and were maintained.

Claudia Brittenham is Interim Director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the ways that the materiality of art and the politics of style contribute to our understanding of the ontology of images. Her current book project, Unseen Art: Vision and Memory in Ancient Mesoamerica, explores problems of visibility and the status of images in Mesoamerica. Ranging from carvings on the undersides of Aztec sculptures to Maya lintels, and buried Olmec offerings, it examines the distance between ancient experiences of works of art and the modern practice of museum display.

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Sponsored by the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, under the auspices of the Tinker Field Research Collaborative.

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A Discussion of Obscuro Barroco: "Imaginaçoes de Carnaval"

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Join Drs. Ana López, João Luiz Vieira, Leslie Louise Marsh, and Catherine Benamou for a discussion of the documentary film Obscuro Barroco.

Obscuro Barroco is a documentary-fiction film about the dizzying heights of gender and metamorphosis in Rio de Janeiro. Following the path of iconic transgender figure Luana Muniz (1961-2017), the film explores the different quests for the self, through transvestism, carnival and political struggle. In turn, it asks questions about the desire for transformation of the body, both intimate and social.

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Kaqchikel/K'iche' Language Table: K'iche' Language Learning

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Join fellow students, teachers, and native speakers to practice your Kaqchikel language skills and deepen your understanding of Kaqchikel culture. This event is held on the last Thursday of each month for the duration of the Spring 2021 semester.

The April 29th session will focus on K’iche’ language learning with guest speaker Nela Petronila Tahay Tzay. It will be facilitated by Ignacio Carvajal.

Global Read Webinar Series Spring 2021

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The Stone Center for Latin American Studies coordinates the annual CLASP Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and is excited to collaborate with other world area book awards on this exciting online program. Join us this spring 2021 as we invite award winning authors to join us in an online conversation about social justice, the writing process and an exploration of culture and identity across world regions. This annual Global Read Webinar series invites readers of all ages to join us as we explore books for the K-12 classroom recognized by world area book awards such as the Africana Book Award, the Américas Award, the Freeman Book Award, the Middle East Outreach Council Book Award, and the South Asia Book Award.

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  • January 12 – The Américas Award highlights the 2020 Honor Book, The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
  • February 3 – The Children’s Africana Book Award highlights the 2020 book award winning, Hector by Adrienne Wright
  • March 11 – The Middle East Outreach Award presents 2020 Picture Book award winner, Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron
  • April – Freeman Book Award, a project of the National Consortium for Teaching Asia will present a book TBD.
  • May 13 – South Asia Book Award presents The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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All sessions are free and open to the public. All times listed refer to Eastern Standard Time (EST). Sponsored by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, the South Asia National Outreach Consortium, the Middle East Outreach Council, and African Studies Outreach Council, The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia.

Reading Latina Voices Online Book Group for High School Educators

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This spring 2021 we invite all K-12 educators to join us once a month in an online book group. This past year has been a challenging one for everyone but especially K-12 educators. Sign up and join us as we explore the stories of women confronting identity as Latinas in the United States. Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies, AfterCLASS and the New Orleans Public Library partner to host this online book group. The books selected are recognized by the Américas Award and focus on the Latina experience. The group begins with the work of award-winning author and poet, Elizabeth Acevedo who will speak in a unique online format on March 23rd presented by Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Newcomb Institute.

  • B) Free – you find your own copies of the books at your local library.

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Reading Schedule – Thursdays at 6:00 PM CST

  • February 11 – Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • March 18 – The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • April 15 – American Street by Ibi Zoboi
  • May 13 – The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

Sponsored by AfterCLASS and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the New Orleans Public Library.