Integration: Communication is the Key

2006-12-18 00:00:00

While integration has become a recurrent issue for some time now, little or nothing has modified the fact that, although we live so close to each other, and share a common geography and history, we remain distant and separated because we continue seeing one another through foreign eyes, which prevents us from recognizing and getting to know each other.

Beyond the lack of political will that has characterized the fragmented processes of integration, one of the roots of this state of affairs is the fact that the importance of communication has practically not been taken into consideration as a key factor of unification for the reunion and solidarity of the nationalities involved. This involves the recognition of a common destiny over real or forged rivalries. At the official levels, communication is usually reduced to public relations or marketing or, at best, information transmission.

The history of Latin America and the Caribbean has been marked by the slogan: \"divide and conquer.\" It was implemented by the colonialists of the past and present to impose their power, using weapons as well as rhetoric. For that reason, the language of the colonizer (mediated by the Creole elites) has caused suspicion, disgrace and rivalry to be common among the “collective imaginary” of our countries, as well as adverse relationships with neighbors, and indifference and ignorance regarding the most distant.

Lately, these elites, with their gaze fixed to the North, have systematically announced that it does not make sense to look to our neighbours, because it would only unite us in poverty and send us backwards, when what we really want is to not miss the train going in the direction of the first world. They tow the line dictated by the North – in the vicious circle that maintains economic, political, social, and cultural dependency.

In this dynamic, the information and communication system of the establishment is increasingly influential (given the increasing importance of this sector), conforming precisely under the parameters of subordination and dependency. Thus, the information that we receive, for example, about the rest of the countries in the region (and the world in general) comes from news agencies and transnational mass media. Not to mention the programming offered by the \"entertainment industry \", predominantly made in the USA.


Twenty-six years ago, this reality was revealed and closely documented in the MacBride Report (Many Voices One World), the most significant inheritance of the project of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) that had UNESCO as its epicenter. It is worth remembering that this project basically laid out six crucial aspects and the corresponding alternatives: the existing imbalances and inequalities in the world of information and communication; the negative effects of monopolies and excessive concentration; the internal and external obstacles to free circulation and to a more ample and better balanced dissemination; the recognition of cultural identity and the right of each nation to world-wide public opinion about its social and cultural interests, aspirations and values; the right of all peoples to participate in international exchanges of information, based on fairness, justice and mutual interest; and the right of the public, of ethnic and social groups, and of individuals, to access sources of information and to participate actively in the communication process.

This brief reminder is to emphasize the urgency of reactivating and updating the debate begun by NWICO (due to its national and regional implications), since the imbalances pointed out then not only continue, but have intensified through the implementation of free market and deregulation policies. These deepening imbalances occur mainly in the telecommunications area, and are oriented to eliminate any governmental regulation or space that could stand in the way of transnational expansion and its move towards concentration.

In this scenario, the large domestic mass media (consciously or subconsciously) have lost their way in the area of integration. In a study on the subject, Maria Nazareth Ferreira states: \"the role of the media continues to be one of the great obstacles for the integration of Latin America: the system implanted in the framework of modernization in the region had, as a main objective, to integrate the peoples through projects of formal and non-formal education, through communication policies of the different governments (whose main function has been to misinform and alienate through the manipulation and distortion of information for and about Latin America). The region’s efforts for unity and integration would present quite a different story if only Latin America could count on progressive, independent TV, radio and newspapers, on news and information agencies, in short, the whole complex that composes modern media, at the service of informing and raising awareness about its internal problems. If it were possible to change the participation of the media, the task of integration would be easier.\"(1).

Agenda building

The integration processes that are underway have been virtually limited to governments and entrepreneurs. But it would seem that new courses are being opened through the changes taking place on the regional political map. This new scenario is in a certain sense novel, due to the presence of presidents who proclaim autonomy (some more-so than others) regarding the agenda drawn up from Washington, and to the support they receive from social movements, which are precisely reconstructing their organizational web – attacked by the dictatorships and neo-liberal policies – to escape invisibility and to project themselves politically.

In effect, the Summit of Cochabamba begins a new chapter, owing to the attention that the host President has given to the participation of social movements, with the perspective that integration should be based on solidarity, cooperation, and respect for sovereignty and self determination of the peoples.

In this setting, it is a challenge for social movements to insist that this process of integration allows for dialogue and, consequently, enables the channels and spaces of encounter and brotherhood between peoples. In other words, so that culture and communication are seriously contemplated as dimensions for the advancement in mutual and brotherly understanding, which is essential for breaking away from a history of subordination and dependency.

Accordingly, it is paramount to recognize and esteem the contributions of societies and their organized expressions, in bringing together peers and tightening solidarity links among them. This is what is really enabling the great re-encounter of our peoples and, thus, the contributions of synergy of social and civic networks with communication networks.

Given the importance that communication has attained in the contemporary world, it is a democratic and civic necessity that this process situates as one of its fundamental constituents the Right to Communicate. It should also engage the commitment of the parties to adopt public policies based on democratic mechanisms of social control, which enable interconnection between the local, regional and national dimensions of integration, in order to resist schemes of deregulation driven by the processes of transnationalization and monopolistic concentration. This way, clear game rules can be established according to the collective interests that, among other things, demand support for endogenous production, distribution and exchange, as well as protection of the wealth of cultural diversity that characterizes the region.

In this matter, it also becomes indispensable to formulate a specific strategy of cooperation within the realm of information, communication, culture and knowledge. Agreements should be contemplated to connect regional networks of public and citizen information and communication, that are equitable with respect to the media.

It is worth emphasizing that in this perspective, there are signs of progress, such as the creation of the New Television of the South, better known as Telesur. The main objective of Telesur, according to its general director, Aram Aharonian, \"is the development and implementation of a televised hemispheric communication strategy of world-wide reach that drives and consolidates the processes of change and regional integration, as tool in the battle of ideas against the hegemonic process of globalization\" (2). The over-hasty offensive unleashed against this initiative, before it even got on the air, is a clear sign that on this front there will not be any truce.

But there also exists an important integration process set in motion by social and citizen expressions. Confronting the empire of free trade, they postulate that \"another communication is possible\". In this endeavor we find networks and coordinating bodies of alternative news agencies and media, of community and regional radio and TV, of blogs and websites, of social video and cinema, of media observatories, etc. It is a strategic sector for change and integration – since it encourages participatory processes that promote a sense of citizenship and the appropriation of communication as a right – that, nevertheless, is not considered in the official plans.

Another outstanding area is the action being undertaken journalists\' unions that espouse the cause of integration, as part of their efforts to rescue the public service character of communication.

Similarly, the involvement of social movements and organizations in this field is growing all the time. Their agenda of struggles incorporates the democratization of communication, recognizing its increasing strategic importance, as a fundamental condition for \"creating fair rules of the game\" in this domain, in order to be able to engage in the dispute around meaning and projects of society.

Another fundamental component to move forwards in this perspective is the link to investigators and the academic world. In the process in favour of the democratization of communication, which had as its reference point the proposal of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), very significant contributions came from Latin America, with input from a wide range of institutions. One of the present challenges is, indeed, to rearticulate that ample institutional infrastructure. This is indicated by Bolivian Luís Ramiro Beltrán, who was an outstanding player in the debates of NWICO as the proponent of National Communication Policies, who proposes as an initial task the completion of \"an inventory-diagnosis of the characteristics of the domination and dependency in the realm of communication in the era of the Information Society,\" and the updating of public policies from the expressed conceptual proposals (3).

Paraphrasing the proclamation \"without democratizing communication, there will be no democracy\", we can now say that an integration process that is not sustained in the democratization of communication could be anything, except for integration.

ICTs: a strategic issue

The new information and communication technologies (ICTs) constitute one of the strategic areas for regional integration, as much to facilitate the intercommunication between countries and peoples, as to benefit from their potential for economic and socio-cultural development.

At present, most countries of the region leave the development of telecommunications and Internet access in the hands of foreign investors, under the market model. Although communication in the cities has improved, rural and remote zones are still left aside, and it continues to be more expensive than in the North. The governments, up to now, have given a low priority to the development of sovereign regional policies in the matter. The IIRSA projects make a mention of telecommunications infrastructure, but apparently under the same model of transnational investment. It would be important to extend the fiber optic networks (cheaper than satellite communications), under regional criteria and control. The Regional Plan E-Lac 2007 (adopted in 2005 within the framework of the World Summit on the Information Society) talks of creating Network Access Points (NAP) and root servers within the region, which would generate greater autonomy.

Other key aspects of cooperation could be the development of contents and free software programs, research, training, and homologation of cellular telephone systems and digital television, and the defense of common positions on which to negotiate in international forums on telecommunications or Internet, among others.


1) Ferreira, Maria Nazareth (1995). A comunicação (Des) Integradora na América Latina: Os Contrastes do Neoliberalismo, Edicon-Cebela, São Paulo (pp. 44-45).

2) Aharonian, Aram (2005). \"Telesur, el añejo sueño de la integración comunicacional\", América Latina en Movimiento, No. 399-400, ALAI, Quito, September 12 (p. 33).

3) Intervention of the author in the 4th Latin American Congress of Communication, Sevilla, November 15, 2006.

- Osvaldo Leon is the director of the magazine América Latina en Movimiento - ALAI