Latin America’s Integration Muddle

SANTIAGO – Regional integration is usually regarded as a way for countries to strengthen themselves. But today’s efforts at regional integration in Latin America seem to have a different purpose altogether. They are put forward to help the proponents of various plans jockey for power and influence on both the regional and global stage.

Indeed, none of the current initiatives to boost Latin American regional integration resemble at all the European integration process. Nor can they be considered the first tentative steps towards such a shared destiny, in the manner of the 1952 European Coal and Steel Community Treaty, which began the project for European unity.

At first glance, the almost constant bombardment of integration proposals in Latin America makes it appear as if the region’s presidents are trying to outdo each other in seeing who can come up with the greatest number of proposals. All the while, scant attention is paid to the region’s already established bodies, which are in sad shape.

Consider MERCOSUR, the main post-Cold War regional initiative. According to the Argentine scholar Roberto Bouzas, MERCOSUR is in a critical state of affairs, owing to the inability of its institutions to maintain “the common objectives which drove its member states to engage in the process of regional integration and the consequent loss of focus and capacity to prioritize underlying political problems. Similar diagnoses are made with respect to the Latin American Economic System (SELA), the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), and other regional organizations.