UCLAS was established in the 1980s and gained a high profile through its activities in service of the needs of the government of the day and the publication of its Bi-Annual Journal, the Latin American Report. The centre emerged as a DFA intiative, to advance relations with Latin America through the centre, as well as the element of counteracting the isolation of SA during the 1980s.
UCLAS was conceived as a transdisciplinary centre of research, information and community engagement on political, economic and social/cultural dynamics in Latin America and the Caribbean in the context of the changing global south and how these impact South Africa and Africa. Its mandate is to promote scholarly research and exchanges, policy engagement, business interactions and cultural contact between South Africa/ Africa and the region.
It became defunct in the late 2000s and since then IGD and Unisa has undertaken steps to revive it in response to the growing importance of understanding the Latin America and the Caribbean region in a changing global south and how this impacts on Africa.
At a bare minimum the revitalization hinges on the mandatory focus on ‘Latin America and the Caribbean’ in arriving at an updated version of the old UCLAS. A bare minimum, because a strong case can be made for nesting an expanded ‘Latin American and Caribbean’ scope within a larger hemispheric ‘inter-American’ context. This is because of the intimate interplay between Central and North America, with particular emphasis on the Mexico-US connection and the ‘Latinizing’ (‘reconquista’) demographic changes these are having on the US. The ‘inter-American’ dimension will become even more pronounced now that the hemisphere is moving into a period of US-Cuban normalization.
The other dimension within a ‘Latin American and the Caribbean’ and ‘inter-American’ context is the importance of the western hemispheric African diaspora. The African diaspora dimension of western hemispheric studies has never received the attention warranted. Indeed, this dimension can even be said to be virtually ‘invisible’ in the study of the Americas. As such, there is no way that a revival of an updated CLAS programme at an African university and especially a post-apartheid South African university can have any credibility unless it has a strong African diaspora dimension.
In historical perspective as setting the stage for contemporary studies, the development of the Americas should be conceptualized as a dialectical trinity in its macro-dimensions: Amerindian-African-European. The conflict and accommodationist interplay between these three macro socio-racial and cultural blocs must be understood as foundational in the making of the Americas. The contemporary political, economic and cultural dynamics of different regions and subregions within Latin America and the Caribbean reflect this history and can be observed in contemporary developments.