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South American Regional Integration in the labyrinths of a Globalized World April 8, 2009

Posted by mundoproject in Uncategorized.
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by David Díaz

The potential of South America’s regional integration is enormous. Yet, it’s a process that stales indefinetely. Such it is the promise of uniting the continent that even back in 1824 the Libertador Simon Bolivar made it its priority. Back then, most of South America shared the fact of being oppressed by the Spanish. Yet, not even Bolivar’s firm fist could prevent the Gran Colombia to implode, and with it, his ambitions of a united continent. Eventually, South America became a fragmented mosaic of different entities, different pieces of a same puzzle.south_america_map3

      The US’ progressive rise to world hegemony has had an impact in South America like none other factor. The United States’ foreign policy towards the continent has shaped in many respects the structure in which countries evolve; from explicit military interventions to tacit neoliberal domination, the US have effectively organized the Americas mosaic in their own interest. “Pan Americanism” as an ideal of collaboration, of mutual respect between The United States and the rest of the nations of the Americas has proven to be an elusive chimera. In spite of the rhetoric, an undeniable hierarchical relationship has linked the United States with the South American continent.

South America cannot be the US’s “backyard” anymore

      In their conception of the continent, US foreign policy makers have always conceived South America as a “block”, and as such, policies have reflected this conception. From an all out war against communism to nowadays external pressures to consolidate the neoliberal model, Washington’s policies have conceptualized South America as a block: policies for the continent slowly penetrating each one of the fragments of the mosaic, each country.

      Ironically, countries in South America struggle to conceive themselves as parts of a block; a staling process of regional integration, border conflicts, diplomatic crisis, unilateral negotiations of trade agreements are only symptoms of the continent’s struggle to converge in a common agenda.

    Indeed, while encouraging integration initiatives have seen the light of day, they remain nonetheless unachieved and dysfunctional. Both the MERCOSUR and the Andean Community gathered a limited number of countries in the commercial and political domain, but the lack of convergence in a common agenda has seen the progress of these two entities stale; as pointed by president Evo Morales, “Lamentablemente ya no creo mucho en la región andina (CAN), pero como miembros vamos hacer los esfuerzos necesarios. Lo que avanzó hasta el momento en la integración latinoamericana es Unasur“. His disappointment stemmed from the CAN’s inability to set common objectives within Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, failure stressed by Bogota’s and Lima’s intense lobbying for bilateral trade agreements with the US and the European Union.

       Instead, the Bolivian leader seems to put his sights on the latest integration process: the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR), an organization he hopes can become a coherent block, only, “without the United States.” UNASUR was born out of the constitutive treaty signed in Brasilia on May 23rd 2008 in order to fulfil the mission of constructing an area of integration and union in cultural, economical and political affairs.

The Chimera of Simon Bolivar Reloaded, 2009 copyright

  Regrouping every country of the South American continent (with the exception of the French Guyenne) this new regional undertaking is by far the most ambitious yet. As pointed by the final version of the constitutive treaty, UNASUR was born out of “los ejemplos de nuestros Libertadores(…)que construyeron, sin fronteras, la gran Patria Suramericana interpretando las aspiraciones y anhelos de sus pueblos a favor de la integración, la unidad y la construcción de un futuro común.”

    Three dynamics of this newly founded block can help us understand the inherent complexity of the South American integration process.

       Politically very ambitious, vying for a further deepened political (not only economical) integration; UNASUR bears an undeniable resemblance with the European Union. No wonder one of the priorities of UNASUR is to eventually set a common monetary devise.

     Latent throughout the constitutive treaty, rhetoric of “social equality, and solidarity”    underline UNASUR’s ambition to find new ways to conciliate capitalism with social imperatives. It might be purely anecdotic, but the symbol of the newly born organization is a red flag with the South American continent at its core, choice influenced by the continent’s latest pink wave perhaps? An implicit rejection to aggressive neo-liberal politics is latent in the rhetoric, accounting maybe in a subconscious will to set the continent apart as much as possible from US influence.

        Nonetheless, in spite of the ambitious nature of the project, the concrete realizations of UNASUR so far have raised the question of its viability. There’s a huge gap between the ambitious nature of the constitutive treaty and its impact in internal politics, or external for that matter. Huge contradictions make the viability of the union questionable with countries allegedly working for further integration while lobbying for unilateral politics that will obstruct the union process. Still, UNASUR’s slow yet steady progress give hope to the believers of a united continent and the pertinence of such a project.

To which extent does South America constitute a viable zone capable of gathering all the countries in an institutionalized political union?



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