Renewed South-South Cooperation impetus

The growing dynamics that South-South Cooperation (SSC) has acquired this past years, undoubtedly has contributed to facilitate relations between emerging countries. The mid-2000s financial crisis faced Latin American countries with a considerable decrease of “traditional” donors’ official development assistance (ODA), and so SSC emerged as an alternative arena for interaction. Based on comparatives advantages from each country, SSC aimed to create a cooperative awareness that would empower the southern countries, in order to diminish global asymmetries and generate more autonomy.

SSC it is not a recent phenomenon: in most cases, the role of supplier countries it is not new, rather it goes back to the 50s and 60s when emerging independent states sought to develop an alternative to the Bretton Woods system. While trends of SSC flows have tend to varied over time, depending on the country, there´s been a common trait of supply takeoff since the 90s, and countries like Cuba, Brazil and China since the 80’s.

Framed in the context of the last decades, international relations have experienced significant changes, evidenced through processes such as the transnationalization of institutions, as well as the need to deepen bilateral relations between states as a palliative against the limitations imposed by multilateralism over trade[1]. And so, SSC has sought to emphasize both the regional and particular characteristics of each one of its member as emerging countries in search of a differential positioning in the international arena, but at the same time place them as relevant actors operating on it.

So with this in mind, this type of cooperation main components are financial, technical and economic assistant, which constitutes a non-conventional supply, differentiating it from that offered by traditional North-South Cooperation (NSC) -subventions and loan concession – as it would be the Government-Sponsored Investment (GSI) from China, and the Agreements for Energy Supply (ASE for its acronym in Spanish) in Latin America.  Also, SSC it’s characterized by the fact that provider countries base their supply on comparatives advantages, and that’s why there’s a geographical distribution based on the specialization of each provider country and the need to cover from the claimant country. In general, it presents a social oriented profile, but it’s also considered as an instrument of states foreign policy as a way to strength a positive image, focused on regional or global background.

Nairobi’s Conference criteria

Though there’s still a long way to go on the path to defining SSC by its own parameters, after the Nairobi Conference in 2009 there’s been common agreement within members that this type of cooperation must be based on “respect for national sovereignty, national ownership, and independence, equality, non-conditionality, non-interference in domestic affairs and mutual benefit”[2]. Centered on these declarations, this essay would like to address in particular the issue of non-intervention and sovereignty, and thus pose some questions.

Non-intervention and sovereignty where conceived as a fundamental way of differentiating from traditional NSC. By this, conditioning aid would be prevented. Traditional donors would usually support conditioning aid, aiming for political reforms that would promote good governance. On the contrary, SSC providers claim a pragmatism-based standard for aid[3]. This comes hand in hand with the idea that Southern countries will develop together and thus, it will not only enable them to overcome the inefficiency of the current status quo, but also its flexibility will allow transferring “good practices”[4]. Nevertheless, under this developing paradigm, diverse questionings should emerge:  what could really be the consequences of this pragmatism? Could it really be expected to promote “good practices” oriented towards openness and democratization? To what extend can this cooperation pretend to be pragmatic and dismiss political/ideological issues when many of its members are actually impregnated by them? What if this pragmatism would mean to favor a regime that massively violates Human Rights?

Pragmatism in the field: Cuba-Brazil relation

Cuba-Brazil bilateral relations under the “Mais Médicos” program will be taken as a representative example of this SSC progress and dynamic, that at the same time has also generated controversy within several sectors of the civil society and the media.

It’s been a linkage that has experienced an unprecedented dialogue, resulting from internal reform process in Cuba and the pragmatic turn in Brazil’s foreign policy. The Cuban case responds to its necessity to project a benign image to rest of the world, based on the success and generosity of its health system. Brazil case, on the other hand, has a long story in SSC issues –more than four decades-, managed since 1987 by the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC for its acronym in Portuguese). Since Lula da Silva came to power, Brazil sought to moderate its relationship with the USA in order to encourage relations with southern countries as a priority for Brazilian foreign policy, offering itself as an important contributor for infrastructure.

The “Mais Médicos” program was implemented in 2013 in Brazil. It was supported by the  Pan American Health Organization (PHO), and aimed to provide around 6000 Cuban medical doctors for the less favored regions of Brazil, in order to cover those positions which local or foreign professionals weren’t willing to take. These measures are expected to achieve a more equal access to health in Brazil, where in the meantime Cuba will receive new commercial fluxes as well as a strong boost to infrastructure investment. And they did.

On the other hand, strong criticism from both Cuban and Brazilian public opinion indicates that the technical cooperation agreement between the two countries is a violation of international labor law, encouraging “slave labor” -since most of the remuneration of Cuban professionals it is significantly lower and appropriated by the Castro regime-. Likewise, living conditions for Cuban working in Brazil do not escape from the oppression of the Cuban regime, since each activity is monitored by a Cuban supervisor assigned to the program[5].

This is precisely one of the reasons why questionings arise –or should arise- towards the pragmatism that characterizes this kind of cooperation agreements. Evident economic and social benefits driven from this interaction –with the possibility of implementing industrialization programs and training that would serve as propellants in developing new strategic sectors, improving live standards for the population-, cannot ignore the fact that it is also contributing with authoritative regimes, even if by this cooperation countries expect to contribute to enhance “good practices” or even promote political transitions. This hasn’t happened yet, and maybe if pragmatism remains as a main feature of SSC, it probably won’t.


[1] Danglin, François, “Pacto democrático entre potencias del Sur”, Le Mond Diplomatique, Ed. Cono Sur, 2011. [online]  (Consulted: February 2015)

[2] Nairobi outcome document of the High-Level United Nation Conference on South-South Cooperation, 2010. [online]    (consulted: March 2015)

[3] Hirts, Mónica. (Jun-2013) “Cuban-Latin American and Caribbean relations: challenges beyond normalisation” Report published for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center.

[4] Legynel, M., V Thury  Cornejo and B. Malacalza (2010), “Potencialidades y desafíos de la Cooperación Sur-Sur: lecciones de la experiencia latinoamericana en Haití”,  Research advances series, n° 34, Carolina Foundation.

[5] Taken from the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH for its acronym in Spanish), “Cooperantes sin derecho”, 2013, [online],, (Consulted: February 2015)

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