The political winds are definitely changing in South America and they are blowing from the south. Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador have already left behind right-wing governments and we hope that the wave of change will blow throughout a continent that, in the midst of the worst pandemic in recent decades, has no real political dialogue between the heads of state to jointly face the serious health and economic crisis that plagues the region. Of the 12 countries that were once part of the Union of South American Nations or UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), today only four remain: Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela. This is the result of the change of cycle and the arrival of conservative and short-sighted governments in international matters. The remaining eight, i.e. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, first suspended their participation and then withdrew definitively, between 2018 and 2020, steeped in isolationist rhetoric, alien to the principles of integration and solidarity.
Someday the story of this real stampede will be revealed and how it triggered the overthrow in Brazil of President Dilma Rouseff, in 2016; the arrest of President Lula the same year - who finished his term with 80% approval - on charges of corruption and then was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison in what turned out to be a set-up. A similar situation was experienced by the former president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who governed two consecutive terms, 2007-2017, with high popular support and ended up being sentenced in 2020, for corruption, to eight years in prison in a fraudulent trial orchestrated by his successor. A similar situation occurred with the coup d'état against Evo Morales in Bolivia, in 2019, or the interventionism of Colombia and Chile to overthrow the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, that same year. A special chapter would deserve the performance in the continent of the current Secretary-General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, whose role will undoubtedly remain in the dustbin of history. His performance has been pathetic or, as the current Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Solá pointed out during his recent visit to La Paz: "He is an absolute immoral person (who placed himself) at the orders of the strongest, at the orders of Donald Trump". In Latin American politics very few things happen by chance. This series of coups and convictions for corruption, imprisonment of leaders, the arrival of the right-wing in those same countries and the immediate abandonment of what was the main force for dialogue and political integration, UNASUR, hardly happened by chance. From the history of the 20th century we know very well the force, interventionism and power of Washington over what it has always considered part of its strategic interests or backyard, such as Latin America, and the humiliations to which practically all countries have been subjected.
UNASUR was born as a mechanism for consultation, coordination, integration and political dialogue created in 2008, in Brasilia, as a continuation of the South American Summits that had begun in Cuzco, Peru, in 2004. In fact, it was an initiative triggered by Brazil at a time of boom and expansion of its foreign policy favored, as was the case throughout the region, by the high prices of commodities. The move left out Mexico, Brazil's eternal rival in geopolitical ambitions on the world stage. The weakness of the organization was to rely only on the affinity and ideological strength of its leaders and not to generate a strong institutional framework to avoid the paralysis in which the organization was plunged due to the lack of consensus in the succession of the last Secretary-General, Ernesto Samper. However, Latin American countries, despite their differences and rivalries, have always sought unity in one way or another; to identify with common interests, to overcome the great geographical barriers of endless jungles, mighty rivers and mountains that almost touch the sky to improve trade and overcome foreign interests and local oligarchies.
To be fair, the guerrillas and revolutions that the continent has known have also ended up feeding the distrust of the middle sectors that began to grow from the second half of the last century in Latin America. The 20th century was rich in integrationist initiatives and in the optimism of their leaders, but they have always ended up failing either because of the instability of governments or U.S. influence, but more than anything else because of the inability of politics to generate institutions, to visualize and put permanent national interests into perspective. This was the great merit of UNASUR, which also served as a stimulus for the birth of CELAC (Community of Latin American and the Caribbean States) created in 2010, which groups 32 countries and in which neither the United States nor Canada were invited to participate. MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market), created in 1991 and which will celebrate its 30th anniversary, seemed to be the path to economic integration, but the asymmetries of its economies, internal political crises and lack of political dialogue between Argentina and Brazil have kept it at a standstill. They have been negotiating an association agreement with the European Union for 20 years, with no results so far.
The history of Europe teaches us that all integration processes undergo crises, advances and setbacks. There can be no better example of this than the European Union, which was born to ensure peace after centuries of confrontations and wars among its peoples. The two world wars initiated by them in the last century, with all the horrors they meant for the history and dignity of the human species, were the basis for the search for understanding. Latin America learned something from those examples and should not let the UNASUR or MERCOSUR project die. With all the mistakes that may have been made in its implementation, many of them as a consequence of old caudillismos, they can be overcome with political will and vision. If necessary, UNASUR should be given mouth to mouth so that it is not filed in the inventory of failed integrationist initiatives and reformulate the project under some elementary principles: only together we can make our voice heard in the international concert and that together we can achieve respect for our sovereignty and independence.
UNASUR cannot be based only on the political or ideological trust of transitory leaders, but must be based on permanent principles, modifying its statutes, adapting to the new times in which we live and, most importantly, generating a robust institutionality, beyond the governments in office. Just as the shift to the right of four countries in the region led to the paralysis and subsequent abandonment of the organization, the same thing will happen with the created ProSur or Forum for the Progress of South America, founded in 2019, turned into a virtual instance by the same countries that abandoned UNASUR. Its expiration date is getting closer every day and will hopefully remain in the books, as a footnote. This does not mean that a new regional organization should be created. It should not happen that every generation of Latin Americans will have to grow up listening to speeches promising that now true integration will take place.
The recovery of the region will probably take many years, with common and greater challenges for all. UNASUR has 450 million inhabitants and 17.8 million square kilometers. We must be the integrating force of the entire Latin American region and strive to develop strategies that facilitate the deepening and materialization of physical integration, which will allow us to increase investment and intra-regional trade, which does not reach 20%. Although it may seem like a dream, we must seek to move forward to develop a large internal market, which is the path to true independence. Jointly confront the threats of climate change, ensure peace, protect democratic systems and human rights. Dialogue to deepen trade agreements by seeking to harmonize trade rules, address migration problems, crime and drug trafficking that is expanding every year, and the challenges to employment presented by the fourth industrial revolution driven by digital technology, robotization and data processing. All of these will have a major impact on productivity, employment and of course on how we educate the new generations. These and many more are the challenges we will face and for which we must try to have a common vision to better protect our interests.