Increasingly, U.S. policy has been at odds with the agenda of the majority of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Recent examples include the coup in Honduras – where the U.S. clashed with the majority of other countries in the region over its support for elections held under a coup regime – and a controversial new military agreement between the U.S. and Colombia that met with strong opposition from most of the governments of South America. As a result of these and other strong differences between the U.S. and the rest of the region, Latin American governments have been developing new multilateral venues that do not include the U.S. (or Canada), such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). In February 2010, all the governments in the hemisphere — with the exception of the U.S., Canada and Honduras (whose government still hasn’t been recognized by many Latin American countries) — convened and unanimously decided to establish a permanent group to work together on a broad common agenda. This was the latest in a series of regional political, economic and security initiatives in recent years that have strengthened ties between governments in Latin America.
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) is a coalition of countries devoted to regional integration based on principles of solidarity, cooperation and complementarity. Hugo Chávez proposed such an agreement in 2001, inspired by Simón Bolívar’s vision of uniting the region in a single political body. It began with a 2004 treaty between Venezuela and Cuba, and was expanded to include Bolivia in 2006, Nicaragua in 2007, and Dominica in 2008. In 2009, Honduras, Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda joined as well, although Honduras withdrew after its 2009 military coup d’etat.
ALBA initiatives include aid and development projects among the member nations, as well as trade agreements that prioritize mutual cooperation over competition. Diplomatically, it has allowed these nations to speak with one voice on issues such as the 2009 Honduran coup. They have also placed great emphasis on working together to promote a social agenda for the region that addresses socio-economic disparities and the need to expand health and education in poor communities. Currently, ALBA leaders are working on the introduction of the Sucre, a new regional accounting currency that will not take the place of local currencies, but instead allow for transactions between member governments, with the goal of expanding trade relations and breaking their reliance on the dollar as a unit of account.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) aims to create a South American common market and regional government. It aims to build on the successes of sub-regional groups such as MercoSur and the Andean Community of Nations, and to expand beyond the bounds of trade and economic cooperation. UNASUR’s initiatives include ongoing projects such as a common market with common external tariffs, a South American parliament (in Cochabamba, Bolivia), and a Permanent Secretariat (in Quito, Ecuador). It also includes cooperation on regional infrastructure projects such as cross-continental highways and energy corridors, and cooperation among defense ministers.
UNASUR has gained increasing political weight over the last few years. In September 2008, the country members of the group worked together effectively to halt a violent destabilization campaign that threatened Bolivia’s democracy. In recent months UNASUR has taken on the controversial issue of the U.S.’ expanded military presence in Colombia and has created a Defense Council in which military cooperation is discussed openly and transparently.
Banco del Sur
The Banco del Sur is a development bank and lending authority. It is intended to be an alternative source of finance to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in South America, allowing nations to borrow for development projects or for liquidity during economic crises, without the neoliberal austerity conditions often attached to loans from the Washington-based international financial institutions. The Banco del Sur project has financial backing from some of the largest economies in the region, including Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, and smaller economies such as Paraguay, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
In February 2010, all the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean (except Honduras, which was excluded from participation due to the non-recognition of its government by many countries in the region) signed the “Latin American And Caribbean Unity Summit Declaration,” (also known as the Cancun Declaration). This declaration establishes the groundwork for the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a political forum where the United States and Canada are not members. It will combine the political themes discussed until now at the Rio Group Summits, and the economic themes at the Annual Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development.
David Harris and Diego Azzi, “ALBA Venezuela’s answer to “free trade”: the Bolivarian alternative for the Americas.” Focus on the Global South, October 2006.
Bank of the South page from the Bank Information Center.
Mark Weisbrot, “Independent Latin America Forms Its Own Organization.” Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 25, 2010.