Cooperation is a complex topic worth exploring. We know that development aids have existed for years, attempting to foster economical, social, and sometimes even political change. But nowadays the options for giving and receiving aid have broadened, and this implies that sometimes traditionally powerful actors become relegated or altogether excluded. In subsequent articles, we will be examining diverse experiences that have actually taken place in Latin America in recent years, accounting for these changes. However, we first intend to present how some key concepts in cooperation have evolved over time, providing us with the current tools available for analysis. The focus will be on four elements: development itself; the evolution of aid; South-South cooperation (SSC); and decentralized cooperation.
In the very beginning, the concept of development was born out of a concrete necessity amidst the alignment process during the early years of the Cold War. The Western bloc (a.k.a. the United States) needed to provide assistance to the European countries’ reconstruction processes – which was done through the Marshall Plan – to accelerate the economic recovery, thus dissipating communism threats at the very core of the United States’ sphere of influence.
Over time, the focus shifted. It became crucial to get the attention of other regions of the world that were not particularly inclined towards aligning with one bloc or the other. For years there was a constant flow of resources springing from the “great North” towards the underdeveloped, peripheral and dependent South. To this day, development aids remain a very important part of cooperation initiatives; with Latin America still a key recipient.
This is the second notion that we can delve into. As the concept of development evolved, so did the understanding of how aid was to be provided. Initially, cooperation was all about fund transfers – a model, as already acknowledged, based on the Marshall Plan. However, today options are diversified, and it is not possible anymore to consider development cooperation without taking into account elements such as: a) ownership, meaning that aid receivers must make whatever strategy in use their own; b) capacities, understanding that sometimes exchanging experiences is worthier than trying to impose one single-minded view on a local community; or c) accountability, that is, having responsibility during the process of a cooperation initiative.
It is reasonable to understand why, as the traditional cooperation model evolved, the rest of the world also started looking into alternatives. Through the work of the Group of the 77, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the literature derived from the decolonization processes during the 1950s and 1960s, it was made clear that joint efforts would be important to have a stronger stand against the will of the great powers. That is how South-South cooperation was born.
Nowadays we witness a very different geopolitical scenario, yet the concept is still strong enough to get attention from the international community. South-South cooperation has played a key role in integration processes around the world – an established reality of the post Cold War era; it has also illustrated the economic growth that many countries have experienced over the past fifteen years: as a result, although they may not be suitable for development aids anymore, they have the means and capacities to provide cooperation mechanisms for other states in a less favourable condition.
At the same time, decentralized cooperation has been a growing trend since the 1990s. This term encompasses diverse cooperation strategies that promote efforts to include Non-State Actors (NSAs) into the international cooperation framework.
NSAs have become relevant to execute cooperation strategies in policy areas where the national state is not the ideal performer – either due to the inefficiency of its authority or its plain and simple absence. NSAs can be institutions, associations, non-governmental organizations, or local authorities.
But the decentralized cooperation also takes into account local governments, the quintessential example of empowerment in the public sphere: more and more they are assuming responsibilities that used to rely on a central authority. And as a natural result, they are visibly becoming one of the most relevant actors in the international arena.
By taking into account these four elements that we have just examined – development, aid, South-South cooperation and decentralized cooperation – we are able to portray the basic scenario from which many examples of cooperation initiatives derive from in Latin America. Their combination surely helps shape the dynamics of cooperation in the region, with varied and interesting results.