Brexit echoes in Latin America
The far-reaching effects of isolationism
Social conduct relies heavily on convention, but when a convention is broken, when important norms are compromised, we enter a period of uncertainty while we search for a new source of predictability. Until it stabilizes, or is pushed, in one way or another, it will remain in a state of uncertainty. On June 23, 2016, in a 72% national turnout, 51% of voters in the UK decided to leave the European Union—effectively ushering in a new convention that would have far-reaching consequences.
As part of former Prime Minister David Cameron’s re-election efforts, there was a campaign to bolster popular opinion surrounding the UK’s membership in the EU. Arguments to remain were based mostly on economic observations, namely, that the abandonment of the EU is an implied renegotiation of trade agreements, which could end in expensive and potentially damaging future dealings. The “stay” campaign also highlighted the benefits, and misinterpretation, of immigration to the UK. The secessionist arguments, on the other hand, were mostly inspired by sentiments of political disenchantment and a perceived loss of national sovereignty.
As a Mexican, Brexit shocked me twofold. It shocked me with its xenophobic rhetoric—still fashionable, and becoming more so, in politics—and how quickly the Mexican Government reacted. Just a day after the referendum passed, more than 8000 kilometers away, the Mexican Finance Minister announced a new cut to public expenditures, in a move to calm nervous investors in the face of volatile markets. Even though the commercial ties between the UK and Mexico are far from strong, it took the Mexican Government less than 24 hours to cut public spending for a second time in a year. This means less funding for education, healthcare, and public infrastructure. This means greater disparity. But this is just one example of Brexit’s global reach.
Brexit is hopefully the first and last domino to fall in a series of votes, referendums and elections using rhetoric to stoke the distrust surrounding international cooperation. Subsequently the British population opted for abandonment rather than integration and collaboration. Brexit and its proponents have driven the international community to forced reconfiguration. And now, the UK has to manage its role as an unwanted guest at the dinner table, quietly eating until it’s finished and may excuse itself permanently.
In order to function successfully as a global system, we, the voters, must acknowledge the interconnectedness of the system. What Brexit has in common with Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and various nationalist, populist movements that have been popping up across the globe, is the desire to nullify longstanding international agreements. And, in many instances immigrants, immigration and refugees are presented as the cause of crisis—threatening security and destabilizing the economy. But this type of view tends to overlook the broader issue of inequality.
Brexit poll analysis revealed a deep divide within the UK population. Namely, that northern voters—the Scottish and the Irish population, uncomfortable subjects of the English crown—wanted to remain in the EU, while Great Britain and Wales—with the exception of London—were game to leave. Interpretation of the distribution of the vote suggested regional and economic inequality translated to the split; the Scottish and Irish dreaded a “leave” vote because they would lose the benefits and advantages of the EU while remaining subjects of the UK, while Great Britain and Wales comfortably voted away their EU status. Poll analyses also revealed the age divide at work. It was estimated that an overwhelming majority, 75% to be exact, of British citizens under 24 voted to remain in the EU, while more than half of people over 50 voted to leave. Protests and shouts of foul-play followed, but the die have been cast.
The past decade has seen an international network severely criticized for its perceived distance from the citizens it’s meant to serve. And as Brexit or the Greek referendum now show, there is widespread disapproval to supranational organizations. But international agreements, such as the EU, prove to be successful in promoting regional development. A more just network would recognize that migration and conflict are, in fact, a consequence of the inequality gap many individuals are trapped in. As long as this remains swept under the rug we cannot sustain successful close politics.
If we do not push for this soon I’m afraid the system will remain broken, and citizens will remain skeptical. And meanwhile, Latin America, without a regional organization like the EU, must contemplate and deal with the consequences of global uncertainty while we manage our own internal pressures, our own struggles for representation.
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