Alejandro Alvarez: A Question of Identity
Jorge Luis Esquirol
Florida International University College of Law
April 20, 2007
Alejandro Alvarez is the grand architect of Latin American International Law. His work asserts the separate identity of law in Latin America. More than just a style or an approach, Alvarez's Latin American law consists of specific rules and doctrines which he characterized as particularly salient, if not exclusive, to Latin Americans. His identity project remains of great relevance to progressives today. This is especially so to those working in the field of comparative law and Latin America specifically. Identity projects have elicited much debate in recent years, and many scholars are still drawn to them.
With respect to Latin American law, however, most progressives reject the category's emancipatory potential and most others deploy it solely as a foil to suggest better, more efficient laws. Indeed, the notion of Latin American law since Alvarez has taken a beating. It has been re-encrypted with meanings of deficiency, obsolescence, incompatible Europeanism, inefficiency and corruption. If anything, the identity marked by Latin American law as received by us today signals backwardness and oppression. Rather than a tool for empowerment, the mention of Latin Americanness produces the opposite - a call for reform. Alvarez's innovative and challenging appeal to greater autonomy and positively-valenced specifity of Latin American law has given way to images of deficiency and decay.
This piece focuses on the elements of Latin American specificity that Alvarez deploys to construct his vision of a Latin American legal identity. Many scholars working in the field today are grappling with exactly this problem. How does one employ Latin legal identity in progressive projects in light of its overwhelmingly negative associations affirmed by both the right and the left? This is a question that would not have been unfamiliar to Alvarez. He himself was working against the backdrop of Latin America as not clearly within the realm of civilized nations and its nations as not fully members of the international community.
Specifically, my Essay focuses on Alejandro Álvarez's seminal article, Latin America and International Law, published in 1909 in the American Journal of International Law. Offering an in-depth analysis of the text, it foregrounds the strategic meaning of Álvarez's work in light of the international politics of his day. It posits that, more than simply a diplomatic history of Latin American particularity, Álvarez presents the case for a different hemispheric international order, based on an American International Law extending to the United States. He draws primarily on Latin American precedents - based on historical and situational commonalities - to argue for a common public law. He then engrafts an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine as the U.S.'s main contribution to this common law, as well as the fact of U.S. sponsorship of various Americas-wide conferences resulting in the ratification of regional treaties. Notably, and this is one of the main points of this Essay, Álvarez elevates certain Latin American states as leaders in regional international law and capable agents of its enforcement across the hemisphere. In short, this Essay advances the claim that Álvarez's project of pan-American law in effect entreats the United States to share its hegemony and wield its power in the region, jointly, with Latin America's better constituted states.
Date posted: June 25, 2007