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Historiography: Brazilian Hegemony in South America

(Mar. 31, 2008) The last explanation we will analyze here is what we are referring to as the "Brazilian hegemonic" explanation. This position holds that Brazil, given the much larger size of its population, economy, and territory relative to the rest of the region, is the natural hegemon in South American regional affairs.[1] This position also maintains that UNASUR is a Brazilian initiative to more effectively allow it to promote its interests abroad. [2] [3] [4] The first part of this claim rests on the undisputed size of all things Brazilian while the second highlights the protagonistic role of Brazilian foreign policy in the late 1990s and into the present century.

From a socio-economic point of view, Brazil represents about half of South America. To list some of its superlatives, the country itself is slightly smaller than the U.S., occupying roughly 50 percent of the continent; it is the home of more than half of the population and produces slightly less than half the t…

Historiography: Historical-Cultural Explanations

(Mar. 30, 2008) Other explanations for why the region has decided to pursue a strategy of South American unification focus on the cultural similarities between these nations. This interpretation emphasizes the post colonial Pan-American unification movement, begun by the early Liberators like Bolívar, Sucre, San Martin, or O'Higgins who said, “la patria de los americanos debía ser el continente entero.” [1] It also highlights the similarities of languages (Portugese and Castillian), a common Christian religion (Catholicism and Protestantism), legal philosophy, shared multiethnic cultures, etc. as examples of this inherent similarity. [2]

The identification of a regional union with the historic Pan-American movement has its most vocal supporters in governmental institutions who describe the current integration process in terms of an ongoing historic process begun two centuries earlier. This connection is made explicit in the preamble to the 2004 Declaration of Cuzco that states:

&quo…

Historiography: Economic Explanations of South American Integration

(Mar. 29, 2008) There are several ways of approaching the question of South American integration; depending on which facet of society you choose to analyze you get a different answer. The most popular explanations are economic, historical/cultural, and Brazilian.The emphasis on economic explanations is succinctly explained by Vanden and Prevost who note, "In Latin America one cannot fully understand the political game without understanding its economic underpinnings."1 because of the strong influence of the Marxist school of structuralism economic explanations tend to focus on the region's dependent peripheral commercial status.2Cultural explanations highlight the similarities that exist between the nations of South America, emphasizing the shared history of European colonialism and the similar historical challenges faced by many nations in the region.3Finally, by "Brazilian" we mean those theories that view the current integration movement as an extension of B…

Regularity of Interaction Among South American Nations

(Mar. 28, 2008) The final factor we will look at in this section is the degree to which South American nations interact with each other. The formal political institutions that link the entire region are the United Nations and the Organization of American States. If Guyana and Surinam are removed the list increases to include the Organization of Ibero-American States, ALADI, the Rio Group, and the World Trade Organization. The level of diplomatic interaction is varied between nations and ministries but there at least two high level presidential meetings between South American presidents each year. The number of international reunions increases at the ministerial level, and if the subregional institutions of MERCOSUR and CAN are included, the degree of formal interconnectivity between the states increases even more. The nations of the region are also interconnected through a series of nonpolitical links including sporting and cultural events, intraregional immigration, cross-border in…

Definitions and Limitations I: Initial Assumptions on UNASUR

(Mar. 26, 2008)The decision to analyze the countries of South America as a regional subsystem of Latin America is based on the membership criteria of UNASUR itself. While it may be debatable that all of the territory southeast of Panama actually forms a single analytical subsystem, given that the region has opted for a union based on this geographic division, it is necessary to analyze the similarities and differences present between these nations. To do this we will analyze four factors, suggested by G. Pope Atkins, these are: 1) physical borders; 2) regional and extra-regional powers; 3) perceptions of shared identity; 4) regularity of interaction among the nations.[1] The chronological limits of this study were determined by a detailed analysis of government documents as well as expert interviews that haves led us to conclude that the latest wave in the ongoing process of regional integration began historically with the end of the Cold War but it was not until the 2000 Summit of B…

Definitions and Limitations II: Physical Borders

Geographically, South America refers to the territory located roughly between 12.5 degrees north and 56 degrees south latitude, and 34.5 east and 81.5 degrees west longitude, corresponding to the nations located southeast of Panama: Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Physically it is bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Internally it is divided by the Andean highlands in the west, the tropical northern lowlands and the Guiana Shield, the Amazon rainforest in the center, and the relatively drier southern cone. The northern Caribbean States of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and parts of Colombia and Brazil are isolated from the rest of the region by a vast series of wetlands and rainforest while the countries of the more populous western portions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia are isolated on the western Pacific coast by the Andes Mountains, the longest and second hig…

Definitions and Limitations III: Regional and Extra-Regional Powers

The broad geographic zones outlined in the last entry also correspond to the general separation of historic interests in South America.

According to Atkins, the economic and political interests of the Caribbean states of Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname have been predominantly influenced by the hegemonic influence of the United States and their respective European colonial powers, while what he calls the "southern cone" nations beyond the Caribbean basin have maintained themselves relatively independent of the influence of foreign powers.[1]Although outside interference may have been less acute in the southern states than in northern ones, none have been entirely free from it.

During the colonial period the region responded to Spain and Portugal's Euro-centric interests.[2] After independence in the early nineteenth century the British became the most important, but not only, foreign power in the region.[3] The Spanish tried to regain control of some of their form…

Definitions and Limitations IV: Perceptions of Shared Identity in South America

The interplay of different cultures in South America is another important factor in analyzing regional politics.The interaction between European immigrants, Africans, and later on immigrants from all over the world with the indigenous communities already living there has created a unique social atmosphere of syncretism and conflict. A crude division can be made along cultural lines between the indigenous, European (Spanish, Portuguese, and others), and African ethnic groups. These groups can then be further subdivided into numerous others that will not be studied here. There are four official languages spoken; Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Dutch with a number of other minority languages spoken throughout the region. Ironically it is South America's shared history of European colonization that gives rise to some of the strongest divisions observable in the region.[1]The strict social hierarchy that elevated European culture over the indigenous during the colonial period has h…

Problematizing Regional Integration in South America: UNASUR in the 21st Century

(Mar. 26, 2008) In South American integration literature there is a puzzling divide between primary government sources and secondary analysis. On the one hand you have a series of regional declarations signed by the 12 presidents of South American nations stating their intent to form a new continental block. On the other hand you have a public that remains largely unconvinced and skeptical of the union's long-term chances of success. The fundamental question seems to boil down to whether or not the nations of South America can overcome their traditional conflicts to achieve the goals of the new union.

Critics cite the numerous historical conflicts that still exist between South American nations like the inability to agree on national borders in Chile-Peru, Chile-Bolivia, Chile-Argentina, Colombia-Venezuela, Venezuela-Guyana. Others greeted the news with enthusiasm and pointed to the numerous areas of shared interests that the region could capitalize on in terms of integrated infras…

Ecuador Threatens More Diplomatic Problems with Colombia

(Mar. 24, 2008) The Colombian government announced Monday that the second man killed and removed during its attack on a FARC base camp in Ecuador territory was in fact Ecuadorian. The announcement seemed likely to trigger further diplomatic protests by Ecuador's government after President Rafael Correa threatened to reopen the case last Saturday if he found out that the attack had claimed the lives of any Ecuadorians. The new turn of events comes after nearly a month of emergency meetings and special investigations by the Organization of American States that resulted in a joint resolution, signed by both Ecuador and Colombia that both rejected the Colombian incursion and outlined the process for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two. Even though both sides agreed to the resolution, Ecuador has since been unwilling to let the issue drop. Why not?Last Friday, before news of the killed Ecuadorian made headlines President Correa said, "While the Colombian …

Unasur Founding Summit Cancelled Over Minor Regional Conflict

Mar. 21, 2008) The March 28th meeting of South American heads of state has been cancelled because of ongoing disputes between Ecuador and Colombia. Leaders had planned to sign a foundational constitution establishing the institutional procedures for UNASUR, a new union composed of the 12 nations of South America. The cancellation was not a surprise after Colombia bombed an Ecuadorian base camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) earlier this month, but is a disappointment nevertheless. The attack caused Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to sever ties with Colombia and call for an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) to negotiate a settlement to the conflict. The cancellation seems to prove critics right who say that the region is not yet ready for this kind of a union. Regional diplomats have been working for decades to try to create a South American Free trade agreement but it wasn’t until 2004 when South American presidents signed the fou…

Unasur Founding Summit Cancelled Over Regional Conflict

Revolution In The Air - No Respite For The Poor

(March 12, 2008) There's an oft quoted phrase that you can't win for losing, but how can you lose by winning? Ask Venezuela where the revolution of the little guy is in its ninth year. President Hugo Chavez is the undisputed leader of a social movement that was to have refocused his country's priorities and oil profits to help alleviate the gross poverty of more than half the population.

In a new report by Francisco Rodriguez, former Chief Economist for the Venezuelan National Assembly between 2000 and 2004, published in this month's edition of Foreign Affairs, the author analyzes various socioeconomic indicators to test the popular belief that the Bolivarian revolution has changed life for the poor. Surprisingly, he concludes that the revolution has not only failed to live up to expectations, but has actually increased poverty, inequality, and decreased living standards in the poorest homes.

Below is a link to the article for those





Counting the Chips: Political Solution Reached Between Ecuador and Colombia

(March 10, 2008) The crisis that erupted last week over Colombia's bombing of a FARC base camp inside Ecuador seems to have come to an end. A political solution was reached between the region's foreign ministers at the OAS special session while a more personal agreement was reached between the presidents of several Latin American nations at the Rio Group summit in Santo Domingo. The whole crisis, from invasion to resolution took one week. During that time Venezuela mobilized 85 percent of its military to the border with Colombia, severed diplomatic and commercial relations, and traded verbal insults with Colombia's president in what is being called a microphone war. Ecuador also mobilized thousands of troops, severed diplomatic relations, and threatened severing commercial relations as well. Both nations have now taken steps to normalize relations with Colombia.From Ecuador's national perspective, it achieved what it wanted. Colombia made a formal apology, it set a str…

Colombian Attack Sets Off Unexpected Alarms Around South America

(March 5, 2008) On Sunday Colombia's military bombed a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) military camp in Ecuadorian territory. The attack killed an estimated 23 rebel combatants, including FARC's second in command, Luis Edgar Devia, a.k.a. Raúl Reyes, reportedly the first secretariat member to be killed in combat during more than 40 years of civil war. The attack also set off a string of repercussions across the hemisphere as regional governments reacted to the apparently undisputed invasion of a foreign nation.Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reacted unexpectedly to the attack on Ecuador by mobilizing his military to the border with Colombia and ordering the border sealed to all traffic, severing all diplomatic and commercial relations between the two nations. Ecuador expelled Colombia's ambassador and severed diplomatic ties but has left commercial ones open so far. Colombia responded to these actions by releasing incriminating evidence they claim was found …