Note: Latin American Integration is a serious threat to the US neoliberal development model and has already stopped one massive corporate “trade” agreement, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). The latter part of this article explores the current threat that Integration poses to US interests in the region, in particular the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Trade in Services Agreeement (TiSA). While left governments in Latin America may challenge US imperialism, they are far from perfect and continue to organize their economies around extraction and the exploitation of indigenous peoples. Neoliberal “trade” deals like the TPP, TTIP, and TiSA will make it difficult for Latin America to break free from these historical chains–Mackenzie McDonald Wilkins.
Latin America’s integration: its dynamics and politics
UNASUR is actively constructing its own integration architecture that will soon include a Human Rights Commission which is likely to be counterposed to the usually biased OAS (Organization of American States) Human Rights bodies, but especially to the annual US State Department Human Rights Report usually deployed to discredit governments around the world (including in Latin America) –both, approved by Washington, often utilized as an excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries by wielding the threat of sanctions.There is also MERCOSUR, a sub-regional bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Venezuela; its associate countries are Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. New Zealand and Mexico have observer status. MERCOSUR began as a purely free trade area of four countries but it has become de facto part of UNASUR and has expanded substantially since its inception in 1991 via the Treaty of Asuncion. MERCOSUR normally aligns itself with UNASUR, as it did in the recent emergency meeting (held in Brasilia in July 2015) where it sided with Venezuela’s position of accepting the 1966 UN Geneva agreement as the framework for its territorial dispute with Guyana.There is also CELAC (Community of Latin-American and Caribbean States), the largest body of regional integration that involves all 33 Latin American nations. CELAC specifically excludes the United States and Canada. CELAC is, on a quantitative level, the most comprehensive challenge to US hegemony in the western hemisphere and plays a similar political role to that of UNASUR, although its institutional development is well behind.CELAC is likely to absorb and use existing regional integration bodies. It has been instrumental in voicing regional dissatisfaction with US exclusion of Cuba from regional summits and has expressed strong views on the need to lift the illegal US blockade against the Caribbean island. Furthermore, CELAC has made a point of fully integrating Cuba in its structures, even going as far as to give Cuba the pro-tempore presidency between 2013 and 2014.
CELAC, UNASUR and ALBA play an active and weighty role both in the conflicts caused by US plans of destabilization against progressive governments in the region, and the defense of their sovereignty. They all in different ways support the peace process in Colombia. Additionally, in 2014 CELAC declared Latin America a Zone of Peace, thus opening the possibility a substantial drive towards demilitarizing the region of US forces, especially in the Caribbean and Central America.The US Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba has been used for infamous purposes including gross human rights violations perpetrated by the United States. The US has currently about 36 military facilities in the region and has relaunched its Fourth Fleet (decommissioned in 1952) to patrol the Caribbean and South Atlantic, something that is rightly seen as a serious threat by most Latin American governments.Latin America, through regional bodies such as CELAC, is likely to not just support but demand and campaign to get the US to return the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba. Recently, Ernesto Samper, current UNASUR’s Secretary General made an open appeal to eliminate all military bases from Latin America.The politics underlying Latin America’s regional integration has defeated the US isolation of Cuba. This became apparent at the VI Summit of the Americas (Colombia 2012) when the region unequivocally told President Obama it would not tolerate another summit without Cuba. Thus the strong stance of the new Latin America of ALBA, UNASUR and CELAC lies at the heart of Obama’s policy of ‘normalization’ of US relations with Cuba. The same pressure explains Obama’s backtracking on his 9 March 2015 Executive Order that declared Venezuela a threat to the US national security. Likewise, Cuba’s reintegration into the Organization of American States was another manifestation of the political strength associated with regional integration.
Many governments in Latin America have come to the conclusion that they have a chance to eradicate poverty, reduce the existing gross inequalities, expand and consolidate democracy, develop a participating and conscious citizenry, grow economically, and strengthen national sovereignty only if they do it collectively. In this regard the ongoing process of regional integration is central.
This is the chief reason the US is seeking to develop the pro-market and neoliberal Pacific Alliance based in countries along the Pacific coast such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, but which lacks the strength visible in the integration process of the rest of the continent and as a project is severely limited by the structural economic decline of the United States, which, apart from military bases, offers very little else.The ongoing process of regional integration in Latin America, in all its practical manifestations (Telesur, Bank of the South, PetroCaribe, etc.) and in its organizational progress (ALBA, UNASUR, CELAC) offers the region substantial areas of mutually beneficial collaboration with very positive socio-economic results: reduction of poverty, social exclusion and inequality, especially for women, black and indigenous people, and the poor.Thus, despite undeniable complexities associated with Latin America’s structural legacy of underdevelopment and subjugation to multinational capital, the positive consequences of roughly 10 years of progressive policies – albeit applied unevenly in the region as a whole – can be seen in a huge reduction in poverty from 48 percent in 1990 to less than 27 percent in 2014 – about 100 million people.This can also be seen in healthy average rates of growth in the last decade; massive expansion of free health care and free education; subsidized housing; elimination of IMF and World Bank influence in economic policy; substantial reduction in external endebtedness; a robust stance towards multinational capital – sometimes involving expropriation, thus reducing the latter’s traditional clout; and nationalization of key raw materials and industries, reducing foreign capital’s influence further.
Impressive steps have also been taken to eliminate racism, bigotry, gender and sex discrimination, and intolerance towards sexual diversity. In all these regards Latin America shows not only that another world is possible but is being built right now.
The region, however, confronts a US that despite some promises and gestures from President Barack Obama in seeking to normalize relations with Cuba and Venezuela, includes many broadly unaccountable and unelected US bodies which continue with a Cold War-like policy of intervention and interference in the internal affairs of many Latin American nations. Many such destabilization plans involve the large-scale illegal funding by the NED, USAID, IRI, NDI, and many other more secretive US outfits of extreme right-wing and violent groups.
Since 1998, these US bodies, sometimes with the overt support of the White House, and in cahoots with extreme right wing currents in those nations, have conducted coup d’états in Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Honduras, Ecuador, and are or have been, arguably, involved in destabilization plans in Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and so on. Such coups succeeded only in Honduras and Paraguay. Had it not been for the politics of Latin America’s regional integration, there would be many more ousted governments.