To mark the first anniversary of the adopton of the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Dorval Brunelle, a sociology professor at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and director of the Research Group on Hemispheric Integration, published a study in La Chronique des Amériques journal in which he examined the treatment of cultural diversity within three inter-American forums since 1994: the Community of Democracies, the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas, and the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas. The author claims that these three forums, which are as much about coordinating meetings between heads of state and government in the Americas as meetings between parliamentarians, were put in place with one sole aim: advancing the project of large scale integration between the countries of the Americas.
However, the author points out, given the themes raised in all three cases and the importance accorded to cultural diversity by some partners, including Canada, matters directly or indirectly relating to culture should have featured prominently in all declarations and recommendations to come out of such meetings since they began. But cultural diversity only began to receive star billing from 2001 onward, only to disappear again following the Summit of the Americas, its evocation restricted to parliamentarians. In an attempt to understand this situation, the author provides a quick review of the circumstances surrounding the Convention’s adoption, reminds readers of a few points concerning inter-American processes, and examines cultural diversity through the prism of the three processes.
Spotlighting the disparity between progress in negotiations on declarations and conventions on issues like cultural diversity and the rights of Aboriginal people worldwide and the treatment they receive within inter-American processes, the author concludes that the evolution of processes at these two levels remains completely separate. In turn, this disparity reinforces still further the influence the United States is liable to exert on cultural diversity in particular through bilateral free trade negotiations. Both these factors could delay the implementation of the UNESCO Convention and block the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas. They could even make themselves felt at a still later stage when it comes time for the signatories of both instruments to proceed with implementation of the standards arising out of these instruments’ internal law. This is why, according to the author, given the lack of true complementarity at the worldwide and inter-American levels on the one hand, and the lack of homology between the protected sectors and domains at both levels on the other hand, there is a risk that cultural industries—increasingly isolated from all other cultural and linguistic expressions as vectors of identity, values, and meaning—will be more easily dismissed as mere traded goods and cut to ribbons by the numerous free trade agreements currently being negotiated in the Americas.