From a global perspective, Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the regions with relatively stable political and economic situations. Although there are ideological differences in the region and unresolved border disputes among a few countries, overall relations between Latin American countries are relatively harmonious. And because countries in the region have many commonalities in language and culture, they have certain favorable conditions for integration. There are currently many regional cooperation mechanisms operating in the region, including the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Union of South American Nations, the Pacific Alliance, and the Common Market of South America. However, each mechanism has different geographical coverage, different focus and specific functions, and uneven development levels, and all face certain challenges.
The ups and downs of development
The integration process in Latin America started early, and its ideological germination can be traced back to the Latin American independence movement in the 19th century. Bolivar, the main leader of the liberation movement at that time, proposed a plan to unify all Spanish colonies, and once promoted the establishment of Gran Colombia, including current Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Gran Colombia eventually disintegrated due to internal political conflicts and economic deterioration. However, the Latin American people’s pursuit of unity and cooperation has not stopped. In 1949, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean proposed promoting Latin American economic development through market integration. Central American countries took the lead in taking action and established organizations such as the Latin American Free Trade Association and the Latin American Integration Association. However, these organizations are just formalities and have not achieved substantial achievements.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the “pink wave” swept across Latin America, and left-wing parties came to power in many countries in the region. The left-wing parties advocate strengthening regional unity and have a clear tendency to leave the United States. In 2011, under the initiative of left-wing leaders such as Lula and Chavez, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was formally established, becoming the only integration institution covering 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Subsequently, the organization hosted five consecutive summits with great momentum. In 2018, due to the intensification of the left-right game in the region and the intensification of conflicts in Latin American countries over the Venezuelan issue, CELAC was forced to suspend its activities. Afterwards, the Brazilian Bolsonaro government announced the suspension of its activities in CELAC, further casting a shadow on the development of the organization. As the COVID-19 epidemic spreads to Latin America, various countries face increasing challenges and calls for strengthening solidarity and cooperation continue to grow. At the same time, the “resurgence” of the regional left wing has provided a favorable opportunity for the recovery of CELAC. Driven by Mexican President Lopez, representatives of 31 Latin American countries attended the CELAC Summit held in Mexico City from September 17 to 18, 2021, and reached consensus on regional health cooperation, aerospace cooperation, and the establishment of a natural disaster response fund. . From October 27 to 28, 2022, when Argentina held the rotating presidency of CELAC, the CELAC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the CELAC-EU Foreign Ministers’ Meeting were held successively. The meetings reached many consensuses on strengthening overall Latin American cooperation and EU-LA cooperation. . In January 2023, CELAC held its seventh summit in Argentina. Brazilian President Lula attended the summit and announced that his country would return to the organization, injecting a boost into the revitalization of CELAC.
Currently, left-wing parties in Latin America have come to power in many countries, providing a good opportunity for CELAC to continue to advance. However, the left-wing forces have not gained a firm foothold, and the left-right game remains fierce. Latin American countries also have different positions and expectations for CELAC. In the future, CELAC still needs to strengthen regional consensus, insist on seeking common ground while reserving differences, strengthen the shift from virtuality to reality, promote the implementation of specific projects, and play a positive role in promoting the sustainable development of Latin American countries.
Sub-regional political cooperation under the left-right game
There are many countries in Latin America with different national conditions and demands, which has given rise to many sub-regional organizations. In recent years, the game between the left and right in Latin America has continued to intensify, and sub-regional organizations with different ideological colors are active on the regional political stage, showing the characteristics of periodic activity as the forces of the left and right wax and wane.
The Union of South American Nations is a sub-regional integration organization established under the initiative of Chavez and Lula. It aims to strengthen political mutual trust and economic cooperation among South American countries, but in practice it focuses more on political cooperation. Its predecessor was the Community of South American Nations established in December 2004, and was renamed the Union of South American Nations in 2007. At its peak, the organization had 12 member states. Since the conflict between the left and right parties in the region intensified in 2015, the organization’s operations have come to a standstill. In 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced his withdrawal from the organization. By 2022, the Union of South American Nations will have only five remaining member states: Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Suriname and Guyana. With the rise of the Latin American left, the organization is facing new development opportunities. In May 2023, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia announced their official return to the Union of South American Nations and held an alliance summit in Brasilia. All 12 South American country leaders and heads of government attended the meeting to discuss deepening regional integration. Reach a consensus. Lula also proposed the establishment of a unified currency and the restoration of South American defense cooperation at the summit to further promote unity and cooperation among South American countries.
The Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas is a sub-regional integration organization established in 2004 under the initiative of Chavez, Cuban supreme leader Fidel Castro and others. Its members include Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and other left-wing Latin American countries. and Caribbean countries such as Saint Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda. The organization has a distinct anti-American character. Its core principles include opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas and neoliberalism, opposing trade protectionism, and is committed to eradicating poverty and strengthening social inclusion. As of September 2022, the Bolivarian Alliance of Americas has held 21 summits. In the early days of the establishment of the organization, member countries worked together to help each other, promote economic and trade cooperation and social assistance projects, and made positive contributions to eradicating poverty and promoting social equality. After Chavez’s death, the Bolivarian Alliance of Americas came to a standstill due to the domestic turmoil in Venezuela, the leading country. Currently, with the “resurgence” of the Latin American left and the political crisis in Venezuela having eased, the organization’s regional and international visibility has increased.
At the same time, not to be outdone, regional right-wing forces established the South American Progress Forum to compete with organizations such as the Union of South American Nations and the Bolivarian Alliance of Americas. In 2019, under the initiative of Colombian President Duque and Chilean President Piñera, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and other countries signed the “Santiago Declaration” and announced the establishment of the South American Progress Forum to promote regional integration and consolidate and deepen sustainable development. Duque and Piñera also declared that “the Forum for the Progress of South America will replace the Union of South American Nations.” In the early days of its establishment, the South American Progress Forum played a certain positive role in promoting regional private economic development, infrastructure construction, production capacity cooperation, and clean energy development. However, as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and other countries have turned left in recent years, the organization has fallen into “idling”. Currently, Paraguay is the rotating chairman of the South American Progress Forum. Due to the lack of participation from regional powers such as Brazil and Argentina, the regional influence of the organization has been declining.
“Open regionalism” and sub-regional economic integration
After the end of the Cold War, the process of globalization has continued to advance, and more and more regional economic organizations have begun to practice “open regionalism” and promote the development of trade liberalization. Especially in the 21st century, as international economic and trade cooperation continues to deepen, the export-oriented nature of the Latin American economy continues to strengthen. At the same time, intra-regional trade has also developed, and some sub-regional economic organizations have emerged. However, due to the differences in the industrial structure and foreign trade structure of Latin American countries, the development of each sub-regional economic organization shows different levels, which can be said to be “some are happy and some are sad”.
The Pacific Alliance is a sub-regional economic integration organization established in April 2011. Member states Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru are all Pacific coastal countries with relatively open economic systems. They advocate promoting regional trade development through internal integration and emphasize active integration into Asia-Pacific economic and trade cooperation. The above-mentioned four countries attach great importance to practical cooperation and are less entangled in ideological similarities and differences with each other, which provides a favorable foundation for promoting cooperation. Since its establishment, the Pacific Alliance has achieved positive results in promoting domestic and foreign trade and personnel mobility. As of 2023, the Pacific Alliance will achieve zero tariffs on 98% of trade in goods and services among member countries, and plans to eliminate remaining tariffs by 2030. At the same time, the Pacific Alliance continues to promote foreign cooperation. In 2020, the organization completed free trade negotiations with Singapore and is advancing free trade agreement negotiations with South Korea, Ecuador, Australia, Canada and New Zealand; its observer countries have reached 61, including the United States, China and other major world powers. In 2022, Singapore became the first associated country of the Pacific Alliance. In addition, the Pacific Alliance is also exploring expansion, and Ecuador is accelerating the process of becoming a full member. It is expected that in the future, the Pacific Alliance will continue to promote integration and play a positive role in promoting economic development in Latin America.
Compared with the rapid progress of the Pacific Alliance, the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) appears to be tepid. In 1991, four South American countries, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, established Mercosur to strengthen regional economic and trade cooperation, promote regional inclusiveness and sustainable development, and achieve economic integration among member countries. Over the years, Mercosur has actively promoted economic and trade cooperation within and outside the region, and has achieved positive results in reducing tariffs among member states, facilitating personnel exchanges, and promoting energy integration. In 2012, Venezuela briefly joined Mercosur, and Bolivia also signed the protocol to join Mercosur, taking important steps toward formal accession. However, Mercosur is greatly affected by regional and national political factors. After the rise of right-wing forces in Latin America, rifts emerged among Mercosur member states. In December 2016, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay suspended Venezuela’s membership. In 2019, Bolivian President Morales was ousted in a coup, and the interim government suspended the country’s membership of Mercosur. Despite some internal problems, Mercosur continues to advance its development. At the regional level, it maintains interaction with other integration organizations such as the Bolivarian Alliance of Americas and the Pacific Alliance. At the global level, Mercosur attaches great importance to strengthening cooperation with other regions and countries. In June 2019, Mercosur and the European Union reached a free trade agreement. According to the agreement, most tariffs on product trade between the EU and Mercosur will be eliminated, which will help enhance the export competitiveness of EU cars and their parts, machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, wine and other products. However, because France, Ireland, Poland and other countries were worried that agricultural products from South American countries would have an impact on their own agriculture after the agreement came into effect, the agreement has not yet come into effect. Recently, the EU has proposed new environmental requirements to Mercosur, which has been opposed by Brazil and other countries. Therefore, the prospects for the agreement are still unclear.
In addition to the regional integration organizations mentioned above, Latin America has also established some regional and sub-regional organizations based on specific areas of cooperation, especially the Latin American Energy Organization, the Regional Energy Integration Commission, and the Latin American and Caribbean Renewable Energy Organization in the energy field. Initiatives are relatively active in promoting Latin American energy integration. However, these organizations are limited to their own fields and have limited influence.
It’s not easy to “integrate”
Overall, political factors in the Latin American integration process cannot be ignored. Under the influence of regional political ecology, Latin American integration sometimes progresses, sometimes stagnates or even regresses. To a certain extent, this has restricted the ability of Latin American countries to unite for warmth and enhance regional cohesion. At present, Latin American integration still faces many unfavorable factors. Although the Latin American left is in power in many countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, it is still facing strong challenges from right-wing forces. At the same time, the economic development difficulties of Latin American countries have not only led to their own slow economic recovery, but also made economic cooperation in the region even weaker. In addition, the United States has long adopted a “divide and rule” strategy in Latin America to strengthen its control over Latin American countries. In the context of continued great power rivalry and an increasingly multi-polar world, the United States is probably even less willing to see a Latin American region that is united, cooperative, and open to the outside world.
The fundamental purpose of promoting integration in various regions is to promote peace and development in the region. To achieve sustainable development in the region, Latin American countries need to abandon historical grievances and ideological differences, seek to maximize areas of cooperation, continue to adhere to independent foreign policies, and provide a more favorable development environment for integrated development. This cannot be achieved overnight. Latin American governments not only need to reduce political infighting, formulate long-term plans for national development, and strengthen policy continuity, they also need to fundamentally eradicate self-interest and base everything on the interests of the people, so as to fundamentally eliminate the “vicious cycle” of underdevelopment in Latin America. .