Copyright © 1995 Depósito legal pp.76-0010 ISSN 0378-1844. INTERCIENCIA 20(3): 121-122.

CARTAS AL EDITOR
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
CARTAS AO EDITOR
De acuerdo con el principio de Interciencia de alentar la discusión libre de opiniones e ideas, dentro de un tono de altura, nuestras páginas están abiertas a las personas e instituciones que deseen expresar puntos de vista aunque no necesariamente coincidan con los que se publican en la revista.

El Editor


TECHNOLOGICAL MODERNIZATION IN LATIN AMERICA

Felipe Cabello

C. M. D. New York Medical College Valhalla, NY 10595

CABELLO@NYMC.EDU


I am writing to comment on the article "Technological modernization in Latin America" by Dr. Charles Weiss, published in Interciencia 19:229-238 (1994). I would like to request that my comments be considered for publication in Interciencia because I strongly believe a debate is more than necessary, and overdue on some of the points raised by Dr. Weiss.

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I was surprised to find that an article that is directed to the important issue of "New paradigms in Economic Policy, Markets and Technology" contains virtually no hard statistical economic and scientific information, and it is also Almost devoid of references at the end of the article. This results in a text in which sweeping generalizations and recommendations are made with total lack of supporting data, inviting the reader to believe these statements more as articles of faith, based perhaps on the authority of the author, than as the result of a methodologically sound and scientific analysis. The author also describes a series of detrimental economical and political changes during the last years in Latin America, that have impinged negatively on the development of science and technology, as if they were the result of invisible and immanent agencies without attempting to identify the policies and causes responsible for them. After all, planning has to do with finding the causes of problems in order to remediate them, and the author, in his capacity as advisor for Science and Technology to the World Bank, must be aware that this institution was instrumental in prescribing and overseeing the implementation of economic and social policies that contributed to the sharp deterioration of science and technology and as well as the fortunes of most of the population in Latin America (1-7). The acceptance by Dr. Weiss of these changes, which adversely influence all aspects of scientific and technological practice in the Continent, gives the impression that he takes them as part of the natural order. This colors his recommendations with a hue of fatalism, leading him to suggest that Latin American scientists will be forever condemned to react to external events that escape their control.

This article also contains numerous contradictory statements, with no attempts to resolve or explain them. For example, if government intervention was fundamental to developing Latin America's incipient science and technology before the 1980s, as it has been for the growing economies of the Pacific Rim, and in the past, for countries like Germany and the United States, what reasons the reader is given to believe that it should no longer be the case for Latin American countries and that the private sector will suffice? Dr. Weiss seems to be aware of the scientific and technological successes in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. He paternalistically assumes that there are no individuals and groups like those responsible for these achievements who could implement the changes in science and technology needed in the rest of Latin America at the present time, independently of external advice which is usually expensive, accountable to no one, and as the Mexican tragedy recently has demonstrated, groundless and Oblivious to the needs of the majority of the population.

A disquieting thread in the article is the suggestion that Latin American countries should relegate the practice of science and the creation of new knowledge to the back seat in favor of imported technology. Such an approach which may have some success in the short run will ultimately fail in turning Latin economies and science around. As the author himself suggests in the case of biotechnology, this strategy will still end up "mobilizing cheap labor to produce disease free plantlets", generated with imported technology that has to be paid for. Also, the drain of capital that could be incurred by such recommendations can be appreciated by analyzing the amount of royal and license fee payments from Latin America to the United States that according the U.S. Department of Commerce (Bureau of Economic Analysis, June 29, 1994), increased from 2 million dollars in 1962-1971 to 189.5 million dollars in 1992-1993, These numbers illustrate the relevance of using actual economic data while making recommendations and plans for science and technology, and this also makes more glaring the absence of these data in the article of Dr. Weiss. Moreover, the replacement of science aimed to creating new knowledge with a technology-oriented scientific enterprise, will have stifling effects on the ability of society to face future challenges creatively, thus increasing its economical dependence on cheap labor and irrational exploitation of natural resources.

Statement in be article such as that the "structural adjustment policies ... have as one of their objectives to eliminate policies that inhibit the demand (his italics) for improved technology ..." are also unsupported. Indeed, this does not appear to be the case even in Chile, one of the countries where, according to the author, these adjustments have been successful. While it is true that Chile has experimented a sustained expansion of exports, this expansion has been almost totally based on the cheapening of labor costs, first by violent political repression and later by legal means (8-10), coupled to a relentless exploitation of non-renewable natural resources of such an intensity that, in the cases of fisheries and forestries, in less than 15 years has produced the exhaustion of many stocks (11-13). Moreover, these adjustment policies, as even as some of the World Bank statistics show (8-10, 14), have deteriorated the educational systems at all levels, have impeded the development of infrastructure such as roads, railroads and ports, have produced a catastrophe in health care for more than 80% of the population (8-10, 14-17), and regarding salaries, have created a novel situation where One of the most important causes of poverty, even among scientists and professionals, is not unemployment but subemployment and low wages (8-10, 14-17). Historically, all these changes have been shown to be inimical to the development of science and technology. The author's attempt to extend unspecified, and probably few and isolated successes, to the whole economical situation of Chile appears unwarranted to say the least.

In this article, as in others that have appeared recently, Latin Americans are admonished to follow the path of development of the countries of the so-called Pacific Rim, including the "little tigers" (sic) of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, based apparently only in their macroeconomics statistics. The role of imported technology in their economical "miracles" is usually stressed. In contrast, articles in the international press, reports of human rights organizations and the World Health Organization indicate that, behind the glittering facade of their economic growth and performance, lurks the grim reality of human misery that still affects the majority of their populations

(18-22). Low wages and unemployment, malnutrition, child labor, infant mortality, prostitution, lack of adequate housing and health care, a fast deteriorating and polluted environment, high incidence of diseases such as typhoid, malaria, infant diarrhea, tuberculosis and AIDS result in a short life expectancy, accompanied by the kind of brutal and pervasive political repression necessary to keep "a stable business environment" (18-25).

Although the article makes some important points regarding the shortcomings of the scientific and technological establishment in Latin America such as its need for integration with the productive sector of the economy, on the imperative of merging the scientific and technology development from different countries to common goals and on the requirement to improve the quality of industrial and agriculture products. Unfortunately, the recommendation that the solution to these problems should rely principally on imported technology appears to be seriously flawed, as it will curb the development of indigenous science and technology, with disastrous long range societal effects, Moreover, in some of the countries where this model has been applied, it has failed to improve the standard of living of We man of We population and has required the highly undesirable abrogation of democracy and human rights.

REFERENCES

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