Back to development
Jaime Ornelas Delgado*

But the aim of development, as proposed by the West, was not only that non-Western people should overcome underdevelopment, but also that they distance themselves from communism.

At the height of the Cold War, in 1961, the president of the United States John F. Kennedy revealed the colonial undertones of his “aid to development” policy when he said: “foreign aid is a method by which the United States maintains a position of influence and control around the world, and sustains a good many countries which would definitely collapse, or pass into the Communist bloc” (Hayter,1971: 5).

Anticommunism was the mark of Western governments’ relationship with underdeveloped Latin American nations throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

Once our countries were classified as underdeveloped, coloniality strengthened as the central powers imposed a task on periphery nations: to stop being what they were and set out on the road to capitalist development. It was a case of ceasing to be ourselves, and becoming more like them. The essential task was a change of attitude in the face of development, an indispensable requirement for leaving underdevelopment behind and forming part of the Western, capitalist, civilized world.

Thus development emerged as a kind of generous opportunity offered by more developed, capitalist countries to Latin American countries, eagerly looking for formulae to overcome their secular problems of poverty, inequality and exclusion.

Development through industrialization was offered to underdeveloped countries as the way to grow and modernize their production and consumption patterns, and to prevent them from falling into the dream world of communism. And so dodging their history of colonial plunder and exploitation, but above all Latin American dependency on them, the United States and the more developed economies of capitalist Europe fabricated the myth of the ideal development process, proposing external “help” and industrialization to be the only legitimate path to development in Latin America.

Bearing this in mind, and considering how the growth strategy was proposed by the Neoclassicists and Keynesians, we can conclude that development as a concept was built, as Walter Gonçalves puts it, as “a colonial idea in the precise definition of the word” (Gonçalves, 2009: 45). This was so because in no instance was growth planned from within, sustained by the market, internal resources, and scientific and technological advances; to the contrary, on the basis that our nations lacked those “engines of growth” it was proposed they be obtained from metropolitan countries, always willing to invest where capital was scarce, the labor force abundant and where natural resources still existed to be exploited in the name of modernity and capitalism.

This colonial view of development also refers to how the periphery world is seen from the viewpoint of central countries:

It is the world viewed from the center of imperial structure; the view from which a hierarchical structure is established, of cultures, races, people and stages in history, from the naturalization of existing order; it is the view that classifies humanity as a whole in a hierarchical order in which there are inferior nations and superior nations, nations in the present and nations in the past; structure that is for its part an expression of the hierarchical structure of colonial order (Lander, 2004: 170).

Even more so in metropolitan thinking on development, “liberal industrial society appears to be a model of modern social order and is the path along which humanity inevitably advances, the benchmark that confirms the inferiority or the backwardness of the others” (Lander, 2004: 171).

Imposing development in Latin America via the sole path of capitalism was not a simple process. Diverse thinkers recognized that this concept set out a path before dependent nations that was impossible to follow. They recognized that development in the United States and Europe had come about in historical conditions totally different to those that determined underdevelopment in the present.