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December 9, 2004
South America To Try An EU Strategy?

The Washington Post reports this morning that South America intends on forming a political and economic union between its nations, emulating the EU model in order to compete with Europe and the United States. The notion of unification aside, economic alliances already abound, point out some critics of this latest effort:

Twelve South American countries signed a declaration Wednesday creating a political and economic bloc they hope will put them on a more equal footing with the United States and Europe.

The pact was signed at a two-day summit beginning Wednesday in the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco. But the absence of three presidents - Ecuador's Lucio Gutierrez, Uruguay's Jorge Batlle and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner - raised questions about the strength of their commitment to forming a powerful regional alliance. ...

"In the last 30 years we have sought a Latin America with the capacity for effective international action and we have not achieved it because the countries of South America have been scattered, not unified," Peruvian Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez said. "With this new community, Latin America will be fortified."

Strictly speaking from a hypothetical basis, an EU program for South America should prove easier to implement than in Europe. Culturally, the nations share a common experience of colonization and independence, religion, and natural environment. Economically they have all lived in the long shadow of the US, some more successfully than others. Almost all of them share the status of significant underdevelopment. They have not fought long, disastrous wars against each other. Most importantly, they only have two primary languages in use on the entire continent -- Spanish and Portugese -- and so have much less grounds for disagreement and misunderstanding.

Why, then, have their associations generally dissipated into oblivion?

Critics of the new regional organization abound. They note that Latin America already has several political and economic blocs and argue they have little to show for their existence.

Blasco Penaherrera, a former vice president of Ecuador and ambassador to the Organization of American States, said the regional meetings deal with general themes like improving education and battling poverty and never bring concrete results. ...

Penaherrera also was skeptical about South American nations creating a common market, noting that in many cases they export the same products. "The trade situation among South American countries is tremendously negative," he said. "There is no real possibility of increasing sales because they compete with the same products."

Part of the reason for the failure of such organizations as Mercosur may be from a lack of diversity in exports -- a situation that fresh investments could rectify -- but also of that shared colonial experience, something that Europe has never known, being the colonizers themselves. Nations which have freed themselves from the yoke of foreign domination look suspiciously on any attempt to reduce their hard-fought sovereignty. The exceptions in Europe would be the Eastern Bloc, which probably sees the EU as a guarantor of fair trade between themselves and the larger nations of France and Germany.

Another issue that presses on their decision, one that Europe also has blessedly avoided, is the continued presence of Marxist revolutionaries in parts of South America. The nations involved that have remained stable do not necessarily wish to buy that particular problem for themselves. If twenty percent of the EU member-states had significant revolutionary activity happening within their borders, I doubt that the EU as it exists today would ever have gotten off the ground. Political stability has to be an absolute requirement in order for the necessary trust to build between the nations involved in any ambitious confederation, just as an initial prerequisite.

South America might benefit from an EU-type market and political aggregation now, but cannot hope for its success until these underlying issues are resolved. The irony is that once they're resolved, the need for such a confederation probably disappears.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 9, 2004 7:51 AM

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