A United States of Latin America or a European Union in the region. Regional integration is a political question that depends on nationalist and progressive governments jointly seeking to take a united approach to the formation of a region of truly independent, prosperous and happy nations.
Regional integration in Latin America and the Caribbean has been a concern for the political and social forces practically since the independence processes themselves in the 19th century.
It has been so despite the balance of this process showing very modest advances and the dominance, in practice, of these countries’ links with successive metropolitan and colonialist powers and to a much lesser extent with each other. Their external commercial relationships are carried out (very partially) with their neighbours and their political and diplomatic relationships are equally tied to Washington and its metropolitan allies.
But in recent years the region seems to have understood the profound changes that are happening on the world stage with the appearance of new powers (China, in particular) and the decline of the United States which, with its “Manifest Destiny”, has always considered Latin America and the Caribbean as its “backyard”.
Even so, the countries that already have strong commercial relationships with these new powers – such as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, especially – for the most part maintain only a tenuous relationship of integration with each other and the rest of the continent south of the Rio Grande.
The Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and other regional coordination and integration bodies are even weaker if they are compared to the hugely dependent links that these nations maintain with the traditional metropolitan centres.
The lack of real integration in the area and the predominance of links with the metropolises are very advantageous for the creole bourgeoisie.
It is not, therefore, surprising that the structures of regional integration are for them minor formalities that barely affect these relationships.
The metropolitan governments, large transnational companies and the international financial institutions – such as the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD – prefer to negotiate with individual countries to having to reach agreements with truly representative regional entities which would allow the countries of the south and of the Caribbean to reach advantageous agreements on important matters.
Here we are talking about external debt, foreign investment, the exploitation of natural resources, the management of migration, access to new technologies, international commerce and other key topics in which the current unequal dependencies on the metropolitan centres of capitalism are reflected.
The way these dependencies are structured today significantly benefits the metropolises and the creole dominant classes and there does not appear to be any discernible interest in change.
Regional integration projects are either pure formalities without significance or are promoted by progressive governments who in return receive all kinds of hostility from the world’s centres of power and from the creole bourgeoisie who are fearful of changes that may turn out themselves to be quite revolutionary.
On the fate of such changes depends, then, the fate of these real integration projects.
For this aim to prosper depends, then, on the fate of governments such as those in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico, who have made known their aim of promoting effective regional integration.
If, as all the polls indicate, Lula manages to return to government in Brazil in the coming months, the balance of power will be much more favourable for this objective.
The initiative to reform the Organisation of American States, or simply wind it up, will go in the same direction, since it has not been a co-ordinating body of regional interests but has always been, since its creation through Washington’s initiative / imposition, an instrument through which the United States has controlled the region.
If the continent’s new social and political tendencies drive radical reforms (that is, ones that go to the root of the problems) by changing the relationships of property and of power in favour of the majorities, the process of integration will advance. And it will advance on solid bases that allow true regional autonomy and sovereignty to be reached in order to manage common problems, relationships with the world and making reality of the complementarity of the region’s economies on new bases.
In part, it is a matter of overcoming the whole of the current neoliberal model, which takes the traditional form of dependency of these countries to dramatic levels and deepens their suicidal isolation from each other.
This neoliberal model responds above all to the necessities of the metropolises and, as a by-product, provides benefits to the local oligarchies.
The so-called “opening up”, for example, with its free trade agreements, has caused the decline of local industry and agriculture by flooding the local markets with leftovers from the metropolitan markets at the same time that it encourages financial speculation, so-called “extractivism” and the painful process of massive migrations of people turned into cheap labour in the metropolitan markets.
This overcoming involves of course removing the traditional and dominant classes from political power and progressing the widespread democratisation of property (starting with consolidating public property, so debilitated by neoliberalism). Regional integration, the coordinated efforts of these countries, is then an essential pre-requisite.
Regional integration should address the building of broad networks of exchange (in all spheres) to create an internal continental market of sufficient size; the integration must promote joint scientific research projects to overcome the current dependency on multinationals, for example the pharmaceutical companies.
Covid-19 has shown clearly how progress in this field of science is strategically necessary. The region already possesses sufficient basic resources for this purpose. Would it not therefore be realistic to create a large continental pharmaceutical company to take advantage of the advances of Cuban science in this field and of the many resources of the other countries? And what is valid in the pharmaceutical sector is equally so in other strategic areas.
Bolivia, for example, possesses lithium to sell to the world not as a simple raw material – as the multinationals would like – but as articles of greater added value in such a way that the majority of the profits would remain in the Andean country.
Regional integration is then a political question, whether it is achieved depends on the joint action of nationalist and progressive governments who, as well as overcoming the neoliberal model with new forms of developmentalism (as a starting point), decide to take a united approach – just as The Liberator Bolívar dreamt of – to form a big family of truly independent, prosperous and happy nations. Transport links, as well as being oriented towards the export ports, need also and with a greater intensity to unite peoples and nations and to eliminate borders, to really unite the peoples from the Rio Grande to Patagonia. If the Europeans, so given to warlike conflict, have managed their integration into the European Union, why should it not be achieved in the New World?