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Conversations with Rafael Bielsa

“I’m a Peronist and time, far from moderating my ideological convictions, has strengthened my loyalty to my ideas”
Salim Lamrani
Cet article est une traduction de :
Conversations avec Rafael Bielsa [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Conversaciones con Rafael Bielsa [es]
Conversas com Rafael Bielsa [pt]

Texte intégral

1 Born in 1953 in Rosario, Argentina, into a family of eminent jurists, Rafael Bielsa developed a sensitivity to the plight of the underprivileged from an early age, thanks in particular to reading and religion. A practicing Catholic, he took a stand against the generals’ dictatorship, which broke the constitutional order in 1976. Arrested by the military regime, he was imprisoned and tortured, sharing the fate of thousands of opponents.

2With the return of democracy in 1983, Rafael Bielsa returned from forced exile in Spain, practiced law and entered politics, leading a brilliant career. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Néstor Kirchner, Member of Parliament and Ambassador to Chile. He was also Chairman of Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, one of the country’s largest companies.

3Rafael Bielsa is also a prolific writer, author of numerous books, including the best-selling Lawfare. A keen observer of international relations, he takes an experienced look at Argentina, Latin America and the emergence of a multipolar world.

4 In these conversations, Rafael Bielsa recalls his happy childhood in Cordoba province, his passion for literature and his political commitment to the underprivileged. He remembers the painful period of political repression, prison, torture and ostracism. He also recounts his return to the country, where he held the highest offices in the service of the nation. He talks about his great encounters with world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, Hosni Mubarak, Bo Xilaï and Dominique de Villepin. A passionate soccer fan, he confides in us about his favorite club, Newell’s Old Boys, and the figure of Diego Maradona.

5 Salim Lamrani: Rafael Bielsa, you were born in Rosario, Argentina, into a prominent family. Your father was an eminent lawyer and your grandfather a first-rate jurist. What memories do you have of your childhood?

Rafael Bielsa: I have very fond memories of my childhood. I remember the school years fondly. I loved my grandfather’s library, which was huge, with 30,000 or 40,000 volumes. I think that’s where I discovered the pleasure of reading.

In the summer, I would go to my mother’s native village, Morteros, in the Mediterranean-style province of Córdoba, a place that is very dear to me. It was a very happy period that lasted until the age of 12, until college.

6 SL: What were your main sources of inspiration in your youth?

RB: I read a lot. There was a collection in Argentina called “Robin Hood”, a series of adventure books by authors such as Emilio Salgari, Jules Verne and others. My head was full of all these epics, the Tiger of Mompracem, Borneo, Java. I think my models always came from these texts, which I devoured relentlessly.

There was one moment we dreaded as children: naptime. We didn’t like it, but we had to respect it. I remember taking a book, getting into the shade and reading for hours.

In fact, there’s a version of Don Quixote illustrated by Gustave Doré, with a drawing of him with a pile of books and smoke coming out of his head, along with depictions of Dulcinea, the villains and so on. I have to admit I was a bit like that when I was a kid.

Between the world of opulence and the world of the “workers” – as we say in Argentina – I’ve always had a penchant for the latter. That’s how my responsibility and my way of being were forged.

7SL: At the age of 18, you joined the Peronist University Youth. When did your first political questions arise? How would you define yourself politically?

RB: My political questioning came through religion, because I was a Roman Catholic. In the 1960s, there was a great vocation to help those in need. Constantly seeing the underprivileged and their living conditions brought me closer to disruptive political methods at a time when violence was legitimized. A common phrase at the time was: “Violence from above generates violence from below”. I think that’s still true today.

So, at the age of 15, I started reading post-war texts, notably by Albert Camus. Certain readings led me to my political position, which I adopted very early on: I’m a Peronist. In Argentina, we speak of “National and Popular”. “National” implies not being servile and not copying foreign models, while “Popular” refers to the collective rather than individualism. In other countries, such as Chile, we speak of “Progressism”.

I’ve never given up on that. Contrary to what usually happens, over the years I’ve become more radical. Time, far from moderating my ideological convictions, has strengthened my loyalty to my ideas, which would probably not be viable recipes today. But I remain faithful to my ideas, as Silvio Rodríguez's song “El necio” says: “I die as I have lived”.

8SL: Which popular movements were a source of inspiration for young people of your generation?

RB: Chile from 1967 until the coup d’état in 1973, with its poets, writers, essayists, artists and musicians, had a huge influence on our upbringing. We didn’t distinguish between Argentinian and Chilean music, nor between Argentinian and Chilean literature.

The only distinction we made was class. In Buenos Aires, there were two places: Florida, where well-to-do writers gathered, and Boedo, where those more involved in social reality met. So, we differentiated between “ivory tower” literature, as we called it, and proletarian literature.

I’ll make a confession: I was a “double agent”. In fact, there were writers from the “Ivory Tower” whom I adored. I couldn’t say it openly, but I was fascinated by Borges. Poets like Philip James Bailey and Carlos Mastronardi were a delight. They belonged to the “Ivory Tower”, but I read them all the same.

9SL: What led you to study law and become a lawyer? Was it a family tradition? An interest in the field?

RB: I was studying law and music at the same time. I studied music at a public conservatory, conducting, but I wasn’t a talented musician. I was hard-working and assiduous, but I lacked talent.

So, I opted to study law. It’s worth noting that studying law and becoming a lawyer is a very simple thing. You don’t need to be very smart. You need to have a certain speed of reading and a good memory.

SL: You started working at the Rosario Federal Court in 1974, at the age of 20. Two years later, in 1976, the generals staged a military coup that shattered the constitutional order. Like many young people, you rejected the coup and resisted the repressive authorities. You were arrested and tortured by the army in El Castillo prison. Could you tell us a little about this episode in your life?

RB: Allow me to make a few corrections, or rather a few clarifications. The place where I was sequestered was in fact La Calamita. For many years, after the return of democracy, it was believed that there was only one detention center in Rosario. In reality, there were several, five in all.

During the trial, I reconnoitered the sites and there were some things that didn’t add up. For example, the Funes detention center had no basement. El Castillo had a staircase that was too narrow. When I was arrested, I was hooded. So, I reconnoitered the place by feel, by touch, until I arrived at La Calamita. At that point, there was no doubt in my mind. This was my place of detention.

There were in fact two procedures in the early days of the coup. The first was brutal, destructive, barbaric detention, but you’d end up in prison, in a mess. Then there was another practice called “breaking a subversive”, which was totally outlawed. These were paramilitaries who worked without any respect for the rules. It was a parallel structure. I dealt with this parallel structure. The Fisherton, La Calamita, El Castillo and Funes police stations were all clandestine centers. There was no official detention center. There were people imprisoned with me, whom I could recognize by their voices. I think two girls survived. Most of the others were murdered. That’s the story I tell in the novel Operation Mexico, which was later made into a film.

10 SL: After your release from prison, you had to go into exile in Spain. How did you cope with being sentenced far from your native country?

RB: It was very difficult. That’s when I understood what ostracism was. Leaving without being able to return was intolerable for me. I used to go to the ports in the towns where I lived to watch the boats leave, imagining they were going to Argentina. Such was my level of alienation, my psychic collapse, at the time.

This also coincided with a process called “the second counter-offensive” where comrades had gone to fight in Argentina. In reality, it was a trap designed to eliminate opponents. They passed through the city where I lived, Barcelona. A week later, we discovered that they were missing. So, it was a very dark period. I didn’t make the most of it, except to harden my character.

The Chilean exiles were very studious. We, on the other hand, were still involved in politics in exile, which was somewhat futile. We used to meet up in bars to talk about our faraway homeland, rather like the Spanish Republicans who had taken refuge in France. It was an extraordinarily bitter time.

When I had the opportunity to return home, I immediately seized it. A disciple of my grandfather’s, Roberto Luqui, to whom I owe a great deal, had a small government post. He said to me: “Go home, I’ll protect you”. I went home, but I couldn’t go back to my city. I stayed in Buenos Aires, in a very precarious situation.

11 SL: You returned in 1980. What were your living conditions like during that period, until 1983 and the return of democracy?

RB: Living conditions were very difficult. I rented a very small apartment in the center of Buenos Aires, a dark apartment with no light. I was very careful when I went out. It was a semi-clandestine life. I don’t have a single pleasant memory of that time. It was a period of great melancholy. You had to look for people, try to see them again.

I wanted to continue my studies, but I couldn’t go to university. I had to take separate courses. So, I studied linguistics and psychoanalysis. My friend Roberto Luqui also offered me a little food work to help me survive.

The repression had subsided somewhat. There were few bloody episodes after 1981, with the notable exception of the assassination of two Montonero leaders, kidnapped in Rosario. Then came the Falklands war. So, it was a very turbulent period, and I remember it with a great deal of sadness.

12SL: In 1983, democracy returned. You held several positions in the Ministry of Education and the Presidency. Could you tell us a little about these positions?

RB: I worked in a very different discipline from today, namely legal informatics. Computers were just beginning to be applied to law, and they were very rudimentary. We thought we had to learn how to program. I have no mathematical or engineering skills, so I was studying a number of computer languages such as Basic, Fortran or Cobol. Computers were useful for storing huge legislative texts. We had a universe of 23,000 laws. You had to read these laws, give them a description and store them. You could then retrieve them quite efficiently thanks to a big computer center.

13SL: Tell us about your time in Italy and the duties you performed on your return home.

RB: In 1985 and 1986, I went to live in Italy for my studies. It was there that I understood the difference between leaving your country out of obligation and leaving your country with the possibility of returning at any time, because it was a completely different experience. I really enjoyed those two years. I learned a lot. It was a much more pleasant life. I fell madly in love with Rome. I think it’s the place in the world I like the most.

On my return, I was appointed Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs, until Carlos Menem came to power. “Menemismo” was a Peronist experiment, but it was based on the Washington Consensus, on the liberalism of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School. It was a disaster because it established a system of parity between the Argentine peso and the dollar. It was a fictitious parity, because the peso could not match the dollar, and it was financed by debt. The debt was paid off by the liquidation of state-owned companies, at a derisory price. It was an era, a decade, of corruption. Above all, it was a cultural rupture in the Argentine Republic. It used to be said that certain behaviors were unacceptable, and that the value of things went beyond the material, monetary or financial aspect.

This decade was marked by many battles. I was very involved in the law. I wrote and published a lot. It was my most fertile period in terms of legal research.

14SL: In 1995, you were a United Nations human rights expert in Guatemala. What can you tell us about this mission?

RB: Guatemala was emerging from decades of internal war, with an impressive death toll. The social fabric was practically destroyed. There are 23 languages spoken in Guatemala, including Spanish. When voting is organized, the ballot boxes sometimes have to be placed in one place and another polling station 300 meters away, because of rival ethnic groups. These rivalries are 500 or 600 years old, and it was very difficult to operate in this context.

We denounced Otto Pérez Molina, who later became President of the Republic, for serious human rights violations. During that decade, Guatemala was a society with an almost feudal right-wing. That’s the characterization I could give you, based on the way it treated the little people, the way it expressed itself and the attributes it displayed with pride. These had nothing to do with Guatemalan tradition, but imitated the American way of life.

It was very common to witness the opening of clandestine graves or to visit prisons. So, it was a very difficult job. I didn’t realize how hard it was until the end of my mission, after two years. That’s when I realized that I had started to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, thanks to the work of the doctors and the psychologist. Yet I had lived through prison, physical and psychological torture and exile.

Guatemala is a paradise on earth, with monuments that bear witness to the beauty, ingenuity and precocious calculations of the native groups. At the same time, there was the ferocity to kill each other in a cruel way. I prefer not to evoke the images that come to mind. It was a mission that produced a fairly reasonable result.

15SL: In 2003, after the election of Néstor Kirchner to the presidency, you were appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, a strategic position which you held for almost three years. What can you tell us about this experience? Which world figures made the greatest impression on you during those years?

RB: I’ve always lived through interesting times. Argentina was in default with multilateral organizations and bondholders. We had to get out of that situation. I was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Worship. So, it’s quite an imposing universe.

To give you an idea of the pace of a Foreign Minister, the average over the three years was 275 airplane days a year. You do that when you’re young. I don’t know if I’d do it again, because there’s a question of physical endurance. This rhythm has an impact on the spine, on the vertebrae, and your mood is affected. It’s as if life goes by faster.

In terms of personalities, I knew all the people in charge at the time. I have to say that the person who impressed me the most, and this was at a time when he hadn’t yet given his all, was Vladimir Putin. I was truly dazzled. He was a man with few tools at his disposal. Russia has one tool, which is its territory, but it has few inhabitants, all concentrated from the Urals westwards. Russia’s infrastructure was exhausted, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had just been dissolved. Boris Yeltsin’s leadership had been erratic and directionless. Putin had an extraordinary vision of the future. He brought order and direction. This goal was linked to many fundamental elements of the Russian condition. He didn’t want a tsarist Russia. He didn’t reject capitalism dogmatically, but neither was he willing to cede his best assets to the most perverse part of the West. So, he struck me as a titanic leader. That’s the impression I got.

16SL: What other figures made an impression on you?

RB: I was also very impressed by other people. Some were not at their best. For example, Hosni Mubarak received me at the Ras el-Tin Palace in the early hours of the morning. You could see that he had once been a man of enormous energy and iron will, but he no longer had the necessary strength.

I was also very impressed by Dominique de Villepin, who was an extraordinary man. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time. He was a remarkable man, an adventurer, very daring. He had traits that were not strictly democratic. He had a certain autocratic outlook, particularly in the way he wanted France to be perceived in the world. But I got on well with him. It’s a very intense relationship. They don’t last long. They can be mistaken for friendship, but in reality, the important vector is to have power. You’re interesting insofar as you have power in this world. If you distance yourself from power, you lose interest.

I don’t want to forget one person who is currently in prison. I’m talking about Bo Xilaï, who was China’s Minister of Foreign Trade at the time. He was an exceptional man, in terms of his intelligence and dynamism. He was a tall, slim Chinese man. He had been Olympic swimming champion for his country. It seems to me that he had a more Maoist conception of what the party wanted. His disgrace is undoubtedly linked to this, because he could perfectly well have been number one. He was a man I knew well. I traveled a lot in China, no less than six times. He came to Argentina three times. So, I remember him as a man with whom I liked to talk and discuss things. In fact, all the foundations of the important trade we have with China – the phytosanitary protocols, the lifting of customs duties – were negotiated at that time. That’s still the structure we have today.

I think these are the personalities who left their mark on me, along with the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, who is now an advisor to President Lula, Celso Amorim. He’s also an extraordinary man, hyper-professional, intelligent, creative – in short, everything that can be said of a good person.

17SL: In 2005, after three intense years as Minister of Foreign Affairs, you were elected Member of Parliament. What can you tell us about this period as a representative of the Argentine people?

RB: I must confess that it wasn’t for me. Not all public offices are suitable for everyone. The Chamber of Deputies of the Federal Republic of Argentina has 253 members. It seemed to me that there were a lot of people who spoke only to have their participation recorded. It was a duel of vanities that I found unbearable. It had nothing to do with the suffering of the country. So, it’s not a position in which I felt comfortable.

I always did my job, in a scholastic way. I never missed a session. I went, I studied, but I didn’t feel I was contributing to anything. In fact, after losing the election by a few votes in the province where I was born, Santa Fe, to a candidate called Hermes Binner, who was already governor, I resigned from the Chamber of Deputies because I felt I couldn’t claim to be governor of Santa Fe and continue to represent the people of the city of Buenos Aires as if it were the same thing. I resigned with two years left in my term and went to work.

18SL: Between 2011 and 2013, you were Secretary of SEDRONAR, responsible for the drug prevention and anti-drug trafficking program. What can you tell us about this issue?

RB: Firstly, the greatest tragedy is experienced by the poorest people, because they are the ones who consume the worst substances.

Secondly, the United States is the biggest consumer. The problem cannot be solved as long as we have a demand as strong as that of the United States. These are the same people who then want to sell us the recipe for solving the problem. Our countries, from Mexico to Argentina, don’t have the institutional tools to fight this trade.

So, the United States is lobbying Congress to impose its ideas on us, such as the famous “war on drugs”, which was the worst way of dealing with the problem. As Latin America is not united, it becomes very difficult to coordinate a single agenda.

19SL: Between 2013 and 2017, you were president of Aeropuertos de Argentina 2000, a company that manages the concession of some 30 airports in the country. Tell us a little about that experience.

RB: It was a great experience, because it was very stimulating from a technological and technical point of view. The world of aviation and airports is very complex and constantly evolving. Up until the Covid-19 crisis, it required more and more space because there were more and more flights. Given that the company had airports in other parts of the world, in Italy, Portugal, Brazil and Peru, this enabled me to have many exchanges and keep abreast of the latest technologies, which often came from the military industry.

It was a very pleasant experience, which ended badly because President Macri asked the company owner to fire me. It has to be said that I was never a docile person. I spoke my mind to his Minister of Infrastructure, and that’s not always well received. So, he asked for my resignation. So, the owner of the company, who is a very interesting man, promoted me to Chairman of the company, which is the controlling company. We had the public works company, the airport company, the micro-conductor manufacturing company, we had land. It was a great diversity of activities and it was also very pleasant.

But when President Fernandez asked me to be ambassador to Chile, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. A fantastic process lay ahead in a country with a very interesting idiosyncrasy. As Neruda would say, “I confess I lived”.

20 SL: You were Argentina’s ambassador to Chile for four years. What can you tell us about this position and the state of relations between the two countries?

RB: Let’s start with the most complex issue. There is a tension linked to territory. Chile is a country that always has the territory in mind, and it probably over-interprets Argentina’s attitudes, which are much more the product of neglect than will.

Argentina has many problems, but there’s one it doesn’t have: chauvinism. We love foreigners and always welcome them with open arms. We’ve never had any problems with neighboring countries. It’s not the same with Chile, which attributes to us designs that Argentina has never had, such as the existence of a 120-year-old plan to take control of part of Chile. Argentina can’t sustain a plan for 120 days. Imagine 120 years.

On the other hand, our bilateral trade relations with Chile are the largest in the world. Argentina has a larger trade surplus with Chile than with any other country. So, these are two complementary economies. Cultures are also complementary. The effort we have to make is to try to understand each other, so as not to make mistakes in our political interpretations. That’s the role of the ambassador.

21SL: How was the 50th anniversary of Pinochet's coup d’état commemorated in Chile?

RB: There’s one thing that really impressed me. The commemoration showed that 40-50% of the Chilean population is still very attached to some of the things Pinochet stood for, namely order, authority, respect for hierarchies, the obsession with counting everything. In Chile, everything is measured: the number of hours worked, the amount of brown sugar consumed. It’s an extraordinary habit that Argentina doesn’t have, but at the same time, it’s a bit rigid.

As a result, half of Chileans did not take part in the commemorations. They were very moving and rich from a historical point of view. It was a privilege to be there. But to be honest, they were far from unanimous.

22SL: You’re a prolific author and, like all writers, you're above all a great reader. Which works have had the greatest impact on you?

RB: There are many, because it’s true that I’m a great reader. I’m currently reading several books at the same time: Ariel Dorfman’s latest book, a book from Primo Levi's trilogy and a book by Carlos Droguet on the death of Salvador Allende.

If I had to name three works, I would first choose Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. In moments of great anguish, I have to say that reading Proust calmed me down a lot, even if the story wasn’t a happy one. But this genius, this capacity for observation, this heightened sensitivity, brought me great inner peace.

Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet is a work that has influenced me in many ways, especially the first three volumes, and a little less so the last one, Clea. But Justine, Mountolive and Baltazar are books I always re-read.

Finally, the work of James Joyce, including Finnegans Wake, which is an experimental book, very difficult to understand, translate or transform into a play.

In the midst of all this, there are many writers who have impressed me. I could mention Emmanuel Carrère, Edouard Limonov and all the new South American literature, which is full of authors.

I really like good writers. You can find a good writer in someone who isn’t a writer. Recently, a friend of mine went to Palestine, a friend and mayor of Recoleta, a municipality in the Santiago metropolis, Daniel Jadue, and wrote a book about the trip. He went to visit his relatives and honor the graves of his ancestors. He spoke of the terror of being refused entry, the bureaucratic problems and the mistreatment he might suffer. It’s a great book. Yet he’s not a writer. He’s a Communist Party politician. But it’s a magnificent book. I’m unprejudiced in my choice of current or future readings.

23SL: You’re also a prolific writer. Your latest book, Lawfare, is a great commercial success. What can you tell us about it?

RB: It’s a book that evokes the oppressive methods of the United States, which has been a hegemonic power and is now trying to preserve its predominant place in the concert of nations. There are many modes of domination: soft power and hard power. With a few exceptions, the armed forces are very much discredited in all our countries.

As a result, we have found fertile ground in the judicial world. We began with the judicial and media persecution of political figures who endanger capital’s big profits. The aim is to continue the madness of the current phase of capitalism, which has a very strong financial component, with a monopoly in the production of technology.

Income concentration has never been as high as it is today, with the phenomenon of billionaires. It’s a phenomenon that needs to be studied, because it leads us to find certain things natural that are not. In this way, words are emptied of their real meaning and used with a different meaning. We are thus deprived of the elements that enable us to construct our thinking and conceive of acts of rebellion and resistance. What’s more, the current system is unsustainable because it’s destroying the environment.

24 SL: As well as being a writer, you are also a poet. You've written several works such as Espejo negro and Esplendor. What is the role of poetry?

RB: That’s a good question, because it’s one that a true poet would never ask himself. In reality, we write in spite of ourselves. There’s a line by Caetano Veloso in a song that says: “I only sing what I can’t keep quiet about”. That’s what poetry is all about. Words marry in spite of the poet. Very often, the poet writes a line and ignores the impact of his words on the soul of a sensitive person.

For many years, poets were social augurs who stood between the earthly lyre and the celestial lyre. Today, this is no longer really the case, because people no longer read much poetry, and because the poet no longer has the same prestige. For example, a phenomenon like Yves Bonnefoy in France has not been repeated in poetry. But I think poetry will always exist, and the voice of the poet will be important whenever there are civilizational setbacks.

25 SL: Let’s talk about soccer. You are the brother of Marcelo Bielsa, the world-famous coach. But you are first and foremost a fan of Newell’s Old Boys, and have even written a book about your beloved club. What does soccer mean to you?

RB: I don’t have a single memory in my life, good or bad, that I can’t associate with a Newell’s soccer match, team or player that I loved at the time. From the age of four or five, all my memories are associated with a soccer episode. So, I’d say soccer is like second nature to me. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly selective. When Marcelo was managing Leeds United, I was a Newell’s and Leeds fan. Now, of course, I follow the Uruguayan national team and hope they have the best possible success.

It’s true that there was a time in my life when I really followed soccer. I never missed a match in the first, second or third division. Unfortunately, the strong presence of money in soccer has made it less attractive. The sport was much more attractive when it was close to the amateur world. With professionalism, there's less room for sentiment. Players change clubs after six months, and it's hard to become attached to a particular figure. In my opinion, we’ve gradually lost the humanity that made soccer so endearing.

26 SL: What does Diego Maradona symbolize for the Argentine people?

RB: Diego Maradona is both the man we’d all like to have been, and the man we are, without daring to admit it. We love Messi very much. But we idolize Diego. Diego moves us. Messi delights us. These are different feelings.

We identify with the life poor Diego had, with all its excesses. We admire his courage in ignoring the official authorities, his Donquichottesque commitments that lasted all his life.

He perfectly expresses the true essence of Argentina: individuals capable of genius, but also of stealing a fork in a restaurant. Diego was that. We were speechless at his moments of genius, and in his moments of weakness, we laughed softly, without showing it too much, but as if to say: “Ah, that Diego”. He’s someone we love.

27 SL: A question about Latin America. How do you see the continent today? What are its main challenges?

RB: It’s very difficult to talk about the continent because it’s one of the most fragmented periods since the 1980s. There is no continuity when it comes to progressive governments. Without union, it’s not possible to achieve the mass needed to face up to certain issues in multilateral organizations with a single position. So, it seems to me that each country has its own agenda.

Where do you place Peru, a country that has been going through an enormous institutional crisis for ten years? Where do you place Colombia, which, after many years of right-wing hegemony, is now run by a left-wing government? Social processes take longer than periods of government.

We’re looking for providential leadership, whereas the collective seems to me to be the only way to find a solution to the continent's problems. So, it’s very difficult to talk about a Latin America.

28 SL: How do you see the strengthening of the BRICS and the emergence of a new multipolar world?

RB: First of all, let me stress that the existence of the BRICS is a positive thing. But I’m going to be critical of certain aspects. What’s the problem? The history of the BRICS has shown that weak institutionalization is an obstacle, when the winds are against us. The BRICS enjoyed a boom period that coincided with the rise in the value of raw materials. After the crisis of 2008, the BRICS went through a slump and were virtually forgotten.

Today, they’re making a comeback thanks to the energy of Lula, who’s like a fish in water in this universe. Brazil is lucky to have Lula, because Lula is like a Brazilian Mandela. So, he’s a wonderful figurehead. Since Brazil has excellent foreign policy executives, it seems to work. But you always have to take into account the institutional framework. If it’s solid, the BRICS have a chance of enduring. On the other hand, if it’s weak, they’ll be vulnerable. For the moment, the BRICS are more a good idea than a powerful tool.

Multipolarity is the immediate trend, but it’s not the definitive one. I wish it were. The United States will remain important and a leader in certain areas for some years to come.

29SL: Could you say a few words about China?

RB: China’s advance is more solid than the United States’ decline. Nobody seems to have noticed that China, which sells everything imaginable, doesn’t export ideology, unlike the Left in the 1960s and 1970s, which exported revolution. China exports its money, its projects, its ability to carry out work with the best possible financing, at rates that defy all competition. From my point of view, this is a better formula. China is smart enough not to go to war.

30SL: Last question, you’re a great connoisseur of France. What does France mean to you?

RB: If soccer is second nature, France is third nature, because my mother and maternal grandmother spoke Piedmontese, which is a language close to French. I started studying French when I was very young. From Monsieur et Madame Vincent to La condition humaine, nothing French is foreign to me. It’s an extraordinarily important country because, again, it’s hard for me to find episodes in my life that I don’t associate with a French book or the French language. France is part of my life.

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Salim Lamrani, « Conversations with Rafael Bielsa »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 57-58 | Avril-Août 2024, mis en ligne le 29 mai 2024, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Salim Lamrani

University of La Réunion

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