On March 22nd, eight South American presidents signed the “Santiago Declaration” in the capital of Chile, launching a new proposal for regional integration: the Forum for the Progress of South America or simply, Prosur. The idea was developed by Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera and Colombia’s Ivan Duque, they invited all countries of the continent to join – besides Venezuela. Prosur’s goal is simple: encourage development and cooperation in South America, prioritizing integration in the areas of infrastructure, energy, health, defense and security. Sounds promising and even resembles the goals of the European Union, the difference is that there was already an institution with those goals, purposes and prospects, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Therefore, why was a new organization created based on the same goals and with almost the same members?
UNASUR was a project by former presidents who governed the region during the “Pink Tide”, the era of leftists governments with Kirchner in Argentina, Chávez in Venezuela and Lula in Brazil.
On March 16th, Piñera tweeted: “It has been more than 5 years since the South American Presidents held a meeting/met. Unasur failed due to an excess of ideology and bureaucracy. Prosur is a Forum without ideology nor bureaucracy, so that all democratic countries of South America can dialogue, coordinate, cooperate, and listen to our voices”.
Prosur promises to act as a platform for democracy, without partisanship or ideology. Although its own foundation represents a shift to the opposite of what Unasur’s goals intended. However, as observed by the Financial Times: “Prosur appears to suffer from the same original sin of the institution that it aims to replace”.
Regional integration in Europe as it is known today emerged from the search for a replacement of the Nation-State sovereignty logic after the wars. Where in order to be effective and legitimate the institution should rely on organizational and legal parameters, transferring State’s sovereignty to international organization’s bodies. In contrast, South America conceives integration as a product of convenience, not altruism or the idea of “uniting the region”. Since Bolívar’s endeavor of unification failed, other approaches were also in vain. Regional unity was never an easy task to be achieved in the continent, even though the region shares several similarities, when it comes to integration most attempts seem to recoil.
As endorsed by Ernst Haas in his theory of Neofunctionalism: Latin American integration is difficult to sustain in the long-term because the stakeholders are only committed to it if it’s to their own benefit, which usually occurs first as economic integration, where the results can be shown fastly and in substantial ways. Although the first steps to European integration were based on economic exchanges as well, there was a certain commitment to improve and entangle political relations likewise. Integration can only move forward if it overcomes ideological presumptions, and this is exactly the point where regional institutions in South America have failed.
According to journalist and international analyst Raúl Sohr (2019), in opposition to UNASUR, the Forum for the Progress of South America does not have regional identity, due to the alignment of its members to the United States, which may represent a threat to the region’s autonomy. Although self-declared non-ideological, the group is composed of countries whose present governments are fierce defenders of neoliberalism and the right wing. As well as being the same countries which constitute The Lima Group, becoming evident the intention to put pressure on Maduro‘s government in Venezuela.
In terms of power distribution in the region, the mass withdrawal of UNASUR, bloc headed and promoted by Brazil (which since the impeachment of the Dilma’s government in 2016, has been characterized by a less expressive foreign policy too) could mean a switch in the axis of power from the Atlantic to the Pacific, tending to the prominence of Chile.
Observing the new direction that integration is pursuing, led by right-wing governments with agreements and new blocs it is worth to call into question how much we are jeopardizing the already existing mechanisms of integration instead of remodeling them. Thus, widening a breach to external interferences from the Global North and compromising our sovereignty.
Lack of leadership and interest will remain to hold down regional institutions in South America until a consensus is reached and integration becomes a goal instead of a fast lane to profit. Prosur is fated to join others in the institutional graveyard that Latin America has become.
Authors: Ana Carolina Marcondes Venialgo (Global Governance – University of Rome Tor Vergata) and Raissa Pessotti (International Relations – Academic Center Dinâmica das Cataratas).
Haas, E. B. (2008). Beyond the nation state: Functionalism and international organization. ECPR Press.