The objective of the Meeting of Presidents of South America, held this Tuesday (30th) in Brazil, was to discuss ways to increase regional integration in the subcontinent. The only approved practical proposal was to create a working group to continue the discussion. But Lula revealed how he wants the process to happen: by restructuring the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), an organization that has already failed in the past due to its great left-wing ideological influence.
Unasur was founded in 2008 by twelve presidents at the time, most of them from the left, including Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Michelle Bachellet (Chile), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Hugo Chávez (Venezuela) and Lula himself.
The body’s members used the forum to discuss the use of resources and mechanisms to increase the social, economic and political realignment of member countries with a predominant leftist bias.
But as the years went by, politicians more aligned with the right-wing agenda came to the Presidency of several South American countries and stopped treating Unasur as a priority.
According to analyst Paulo Roberto da Silva Gomes Filho, who holds a master’s degree in military sciences from the Army’s Command and General Staff School, the natural alternation of power creates an “ideological pendulum” effect in several countries in the region, which makes their international integration difficult.
This process in itself would make it more complicated for countries to join a supranational bloc that does not have a specific ideology. But Unasur had at least the reputation of being a leftist bloc, which led to the bloc’s collapse.
The group’s decline began in 2016, when Michel Temer took over as president of Brazil. At the same time, Maurício Macri took charge of Argentina; the Colorado Party, Paraguay; Pedro Pablo Kuczynskin became president of Peru and Sebastian Piñera ran for election in Chile in 2018. In other words, left-wing governments gave way to right-wing governments.
At the same time, Unasur suffered from a lack of financial resources and debts left even by leftist governments, to the point that the organization’s headquarters in Ecuador was closed due to non-payment of employees.
In 2019, former President Jair Bolsonaro made Brazil’s withdrawal from the organization official. He stated at the time that the group was experiencing a “protracted crisis”. Soon afterwards, Bolsonaro announced that the country would become part of another body, the Forum for Progress and Development of the South (Prosul), which would have agendas more aligned with his government. The initiative also aimed at regional integration, but with a more right-hand presentation.
This year, on April 6, Lula signed a decree reintegrating Brazil into Unasur, which still exists on paper. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the measure is part of the resumption agenda of its main international alliances.
Lula says he has experience to guide the restructuring of Unasur
After the meeting of heads of state in Brasília on Tuesday (30), Lula said in an interview to the press that he does not want to keep Unasur the way it was created, because many current governments did not participate in its creation.
What he did not mention in his speech is that the current configuration of governments in South America is also predominantly left-wing, as at the time of the creation of Unasur in 2008.
But the words of the Brazilian president had no practical effect. The Brasilia Consensus, the document prepared at the meeting that points out the issues on which the countries converged at the meeting, does not mention Unasur. According to the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile would have vetoed the mention of the organism in the consensus.
Right-wing Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou did not hide his opposition. The Chilean representative, Gabriel Boric, who is on the left, even confronted Lula, contradicting the Brazilian version that the dictatorship in Venezuela was just a narrative. For his country to join Unasur, Boric would need approval from his country’s parliament, which is controlled by the right.
For the doctor in social sciences and researcher at the Araporã Foundation Rogério Pereira de Campos, in order to work, this regional integration group model (UNASUR or Prosul) still demands a “long-term commitment that can distance itself from political instabilities within America of the South”, including ideological agendas.
The group must also be inflexible to “variations of mood within each member”, according to Campos. That is, for it to advance, the purpose of the group as a whole must override the individual interest of each nation.
“Today, the lack of clarity about projects and ideals for the population of the subcontinent makes it difficult for Unasur to advance. Without clearly demonstrating what would be the benefits and commitments of each country, it is difficult to see the progress of this bloc”, points out Campos.
Without ideology, Unasur could benefit South America
Greater regional integration can be positive for the Brazilian economic recovery, according to the assessment of analysts consulted by the People’s Gazette. “The country can get out of stagnation and capitalize on possibilities to lead combined economic projects”, explains Campos. Specialists understand that, in theory, Unasur could be an opportunity for Brazil to show itself as a great and potent leader to the rest of the world.
“It is an attempt to reinforce South American integration and increase the country’s role in South America”, says Paulo Filho. Although in a different geopolitical context than in the first decade of the 21st century, when Unasur emerged, Brazil’s position in the group can add “points” with other blocs – in addition to strengthening the South American countries.
“As the dispute between China and the United States intensifies in the subcontinent, demands will arise that can be better answered as a group. Not in defense of the interests of extra-regional powers, but in the greater interest of countries in the region itself”, he points out Paulo Filho.
But the analyst says that in practice there are no reasons to create great expectations in relation to Unasur. “One should not expect this type of body to have much prominence in the countries’ decisions. It serves as a coordination forum, for launching proposals, for discussion, but not as an issuer of binding decisions. The economic blocs [como Mercosul e Comunidade Andina]by their nature, are capable of determining commercial practices, for example, that directly impact relations between countries”, he points out.
Lula says that the South American bloc should be inspired by the African Union
In his conception, Unasur would have been inspired by the European Union, which has a Parliament and a Commission (executive body) capable of making binding decisions. That is, the countries have to actually comply with the deliberations created together.
But this is not the case of Unasur. Lula mentioned some aspects of the European Union that can be copied, such as facilitating student exchanges and reducing bureaucracy in import and export processes between the bloc’s countries.
He also defended the adoption of a common currency, not necessarily along the lines of the Euro (in Europe most countries abandoned their local currencies). He suggested the creation of a common currency that would facilitate commercial operations between the bloc’s countries without the use of the dollar for the conversion of values.
The Brazilian president said that Unasur should follow the model of the African Union and not that of the European Union.
The African bloc was created in the early 2000s with the aim of economic integration. But it failed to implement a common currency and in practice it also has a military role of sending peacekeeping forces to African countries suffering from revolutions and armed conflicts. Lula did not explain in which aspects the African Union should be copied.
Brazil wants to increase military cooperation with neighboring countries
In his speech at the opening of the Meeting of Presidents of South America, Lula said he wants to increase military cooperation with neighboring countries, including Venezuela.
His idea is to use Unasur (possibly through its body, the South American Defense Council) to improve military education and training, reinforce military doctrine and create a defense policy.
According to Paulo Filho, this does not mean that a military alliance will be formed between the member countries. Such an alliance would be meaningless because the subcontinent does not suffer from a common military threat.
But military cooperation (which already occurs through bilateral treaties) could improve each country’s defense capabilities and improve the fight against organized crime, especially drug trafficking.
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