Is Latin American integration on the move?

Mexico wants to lead a new attempt at integration in Latin America. That’s a good idea, because all other integration projects in the region are at a standstill. But it doesn’t look like the economy can benefit from the initiative.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung


This was surprising news at the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) two weeks ago: Mexican host President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared that his country wanted to relaunch the integration process in Latin America. The EU, he said, was the model. These were the first publicly announced multilateral integration intentions in Latin America in a long time.

It seems that Mexico wants to fill the vacuum left by Brazil in the region. For almost a decade Brazil has been concentrating more on itself and has kept cooperation within Latin America to a minimum.

Mexico’s government has already become active in foreign policy in recent weeks as a supporter of the negotiation process between the Venezuelan opposition and the regime.

Nevertheless, the prospects for a new push for economic integration are slim: CELAC is divided. The community, founded ten years ago but hardly active, sees itself as a political alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), of which Canada and the USA are also members, but not Cuba.

Thus CELAC acts primarily as a platform for the more left-wing governments, which also shy away from pointing out the democratic deficits in Venezuela, Nicaragua or Cuba. Thus the presidents of Chile, Colombia and Argentina were not represented at the Mexico meeting. Brazil, under President Bolsonaro, has already left CELAC at the beginning of 2020. With the exception of Mexico, the economically most important states in the region are therefore not active there.

But all other integration efforts in Latin America are currently asleep as well Mercosur’s integration projects with the EU, EFTA, Canada and Singapore are not moving. There is also discord within the South American community. Uruguay wants to start its own negotiations for an agreement with China. The Pacific Alliance, founded by Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, is constantly expanding with new members. But synergies between the countries of the community hardly emerge.

Nevertheless, Mexico’s attempt to revive political integration could well succeed: For that to happen, left-of-center candidates would have to win in the next elections in Colombia, Chile, and Brazil; which could well happen. Still, a widespread slide to the left in Latin America is unlikely to accelerate economic integration.

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