A few months ago I watched the movie Invictus. It was my first approach to the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. I was so impressed that I went on to read more about him. I learnt he was part of the African elite before the British arrived. In fact he was educated to be an advisor for the regent of his community. When the British arrived he saw his prospects for an easy life destroyed and as a lawyer he went on to work for a white solicitors' firm. Later on he started to fight against the injustice of the regime and was put in jail for twenty seven years.
What strikes me the most about him is his intelligence to put at the center of his government the integration between blacks and whites. Despite the injustice against him, he lead a participatory an inclusive government. He understood that
was made of blacks and whites and the only way to achieve peace and prosperity was to try to integrate both societies. South Africa
This type of leadership is significantly different from that of
Latin America in the XX and XXI centuries. Instead of integration, politics have been based on social and economic polarization and politicians have used inequality and class differences as an electoral weapon. As a result, the economic policies of the last four decades haven’t achieved a fair representation of the different economic and social sectors. Thus, alienating different groups and ways of life. We can even argue that political polarization might be one of the mechanisms in which economic and social disparities feed themselves producing a vicious cycle that ends up being very difficult to escape.
In the Mandela example- as in many other successful revolutionary movements- the leader comes from a sort of middle class. He is well educated and understands the struggle and incentives of the different sectors of the population. This gives him the ability to understand the real harm posed by social disintegration and the limitations of top-down policies.
Thinking about this… I can’t help but wonder: Has inequality foster the sector and class-specific politics that we are seeing now in
Latin America? Can a Hugo Chavez succeed in a more equalitarian society? And more important, why is Latin America lacking of leaders that are willing to reconcile the different realities created by inequality? Does Democracy have a role in this?
One of my hypothesis regarding the “increasing returns of inequality” (i.e. the power of inequality to perpetuate itself) is that once the gap between the social classes reach a certain threshold the differences justify a “class pride”, an inter-class sentiment that ends up with the upper-class completely disenfranchised from the low class’ reality, often resulting in violent reactions against the upper class. Moreover, when a social group feels that its voice will never be heard, it abandons the “Voice Option” to take the “Exit Option” (Albert O. Hirschman, 1970).
For instance, in
Latin America during the 80’s and early 90’s some groups were still trying to use the “voice option” - a good example of this is the Chiapas Guerrilla. However, by the mid 90’s the excluded sectors opted for the “Exit Option” reflected in: the massive migration to the US; the increase in kidnapping crimes (one of the most cruel ways to show that the lower class feels entitled to get something out of the upper class); and, in the proliferation of informal and criminal activities mainly drug trafficking.
Two questions remain: Is it too late to convince
Latin America that the Voice option is still a viable one? Can a Mandela style leadership break the vicious cycle of inequality and create a more integrated society? I would like to think the social disintegration in our countries is not at the extremist level of that of the Apartheid …Who knows we might still have just enough time left.