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Integration of what? For whom?

Analyzing Latin American integration projects demands asking some vital questions: Integration for whom? For the privileged sectors of these societies? Integration so that capitals, whether they are national or transnational, can freely move across the entire continent? Or, on the contrary, for the peoples, the impoverished, excluded and subjugated majorities?

There is nothing in the idea of integration in itself that we can regard as favorable for the future of the peoples of the continent. It is not enough that it be a Latin American or South American integration so that it responds to the popular interests. It all depends on the integration model in question. Who promotes it? What for? For whom? With what values and in whose interests is it designed?

Depending on the answers to these questions, integration may strengthen the current hegemonic domination rules or it may create cracks to undermine it. An integration project aiming at further opening these economies to submit them to the dictates of the capital owners? Or, a defensive integration aiming at conquering spaces of autonomy and sovereignty to define public policies and appropriate economic options? In other words, a kind of integration that further contributes to erase the people’s democratic sovereignty spaces and territories or one aiming at recovering what centuries of colonialism and imperialist policies have taken away from the peoples of the continent?

A kind of integration guided by the values of possessive individualism, of competence among everyone, that guarantees the success of the strongest thanks to the exploitation and exclusion of the weakest, that is, a kind of integration that accentuates the current unacceptable inequalities? Or, a kind of integration guided by values of equality, participation, plurality, solidarity and community; a kind of integration that acknowledges values and facilitates, the development of the extraordinary variety of ways of life of the peoples of our continent? A kind of integration that exploits natural resources without any limits turning them into exportable goods to generate the necessary surplus to pay the foreign debt? Or a kind of integration aiming at the recovery and construction of other ways in which human beings can be part of nature instead of subjugating, controlling, exploiting and, thus, destroying it?

A kind of integration thought as a free trade area, mainly as the construction of an economic space for free circulation of goods and capitals? Or a kind of geopolitical integration designed as part of the process of resistance against the global order that seeks to impose an imperial and unilateral policy of the transnational capital and the government of the United States?


The main strategic project of the government of the United States towards the Americas over the last decade has been the FTAA or Free Trade Area of the Americas. With this continental-reaching agreement, the United States and its companies have tried to consolidate and make irreversible the policies of structural adjustment of the last decades in an attempt to give, once and for all, absolute priority to the rights of the capital over the rights of the people. By giving the neo-liberal order a constitutional character with a supranational pact of mandatory compliance, the intention is to limit the sovereignty, democracy and social regulation, all regarded as obstacles for the full and free movement of the capital.

Little more than two years ago, negotiations seemed to go ahead without any obstacles. Submissive governments in the continent negotiated secret texts on the back of their peoples and it seemed inevitable that by the set deadline, that is, by the end of 2004, the negotiation and revision of the text would be completed so that it could be ratified in 2005. However, things began to change in 2005. Social movements and organizations against the FTAA, mainly acting in a Continental Social Alliance, took the issue out of the limited negotiation among experts and placed it at the disposal of the people for public discussion and mobilization.

Trade unions, indigenous, environment, farming, women’s and academic organizations in the entire continent coincided on an increasing movement of resistance able to organize large mobilizations. Massive demonstrations accompanied the main meetings of the negotiators of the agreement (Quebec, Buenos Aires, Quito and Miami). The political changes originated with the election of Chavez, Lula and Kirchner, presented perspectives and negotiating positions that had not been foreseen.

During the meeting of the Committee of Trade Negotiations (MTN) held in El Salvador in July, 2003, it was evident - for the first time - that negotiations were at a standstill. New efforts to save the agreement were made through a lighter text (the FTAA light) or with an FTAA of two levels that would allow governments to preserve the content of the original text or assuming minor commitments. In an effort to resume negotiations, the United States called for successive “informal meetings” among different groups of countries.

Disagreements persisted. Finally, against all odds, what seemed impossible happened. Continental resistance has defeated the FTAA, maybe definitely. No formal meeting has taken place since early in 2003. In fact, although it is not publicly admitted, negotiations have been postponed indefinitely [1].

Different organizations of the continent have suggested that January 1st, 2005 - a date in which the agreement was supposed to be ready - be celebrated as a day of victory for Latin American popular movements against the FTAA. Popular victories do not abound in these neo-liberal times, so, we have to celebrate them.

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)

The derailment of the FTAA certainly represents a victory for the resistance against the imperial project of free trade. However, the strategic agenda of the US government towards the continent has not been defeated: it continues through other ways. As the FTAA negotiations faced the opposition of mainly three countries - Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela -, Washington chose to continue with FTAs with practically all the other nations.

It negotiated and signed a FTA with Chile, it concluded negotiations with Central America, and it is in what is supposed to be the final phase of negotiations with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Due to the division of resistance and friendly positions (towards both free trade and the US government) of the government in question, these agreements strengthen the neo-liberal agenda. They not only go beyond the agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but also beyond the rough draft of the FTAA. The extraordinary disparity between the two negotiating parties is evident when one looks, for example, at the content of the chapters about intellectual property and agriculture of the Andean FTA - agreements that would have a catastrophic impact on the health and diet of the peoples if their current version were approved.

The United States has demanded patenting plants and animals (defined as inventions!) as well as surgical, therapeutic and diagnostic procedures. Reaffirming once more that it considers more important the profits of its pharmaceutical transnationals than public health, in addition to diverse measures aiming at obstructing the use of generic medicine, it demands the invalidation of the Declaration Relating to the Agreement on TRIPS [2] of Doha (2001) that authorizes certain flexibility in the interpretation of intellectual property rights of medicines and allows the member countries of the WTO “to protect public health and, particularly, to promote access to medicine for all.”

Regarding negotiations on agriculture, the United States demands de elimination of all instruments of agricultural promotion and protection used by Andean countries while it categorically rejects discussing its huge agricultural subsidies. This combination leads to the devastation of the Andean agriculture and undermines the conditions of food security and forces millions of people out of the countryside.

In spite of the firm popular opposition and massive mobilizations of Andean and Central American political and social organizations [3], thus far it has not been possible to stop these negotiations.

MERCOSUR and the Andean Community of Nations

Are MERCOSUR or the Andean Community of Nations (ACN) alternatives to this model of development and integration? Integration can not be seen as something different from national projects and societies of every nation-state. Integration projects in the continent depend on the political processes, the production structures, and the force correlation that exist at regional and global levels and also in the participating countries.

The current integration projects and efforts in Latin America have production structures and ideological and political conditions that are very different from those that existed when Latin American integration was being discussed in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result of military dictatorships and the implementation of neo-liberal policies of structural adjustment, these societies have changed not only their production structure but also their social composition. As a consequence of repression, the de-industrialization and labor reforms, the trade union movement is significantly reduced and weakened and most of the new jobs are created in the so-called informal sector.

The weight of businessmen whose production was mainly oriented to the internal market has also decreased. The property of the land is even more concentrated than three decades ago. The more dynamic sectors of the economies of the continent - those that equally have more political influence and more possibilities to have an impact on public policies - are the sectors that have succeeded in these economic transformations. They are mainly the financial groups, service groups - telecommunications, for example - and the exporters of primary products: in the case of South America, mainly the agro-industrial sector. These sectors are controlled or closely linked with the foreign capital, their benefits depend on economic opening, deregulation, privatizations, and access to the international markets. They are the internal dynamic forces behind free trade policies.

The neo-liberal common sense that today is hegemonic, and the interests of these sectors that benefited from political transformations and the economic structure created in the last three decades, determine the basic orientation of integration projects that are currently being negotiated in the continent. It is also possible to realize that the main reason for which Brazil and Argentina firmly opposed the FTAA is that the benefits that these sectors were expecting were not guaranteed in the negotiation.

It is not a matter of ignoring that these governments have not had common positions and that there have been tensions between positions more oriented toward free trade and others that claim more autonomy for the promotion of national public policies. However, over and above the speeches, the true reason for which the FTAA negotiations stopped was that the FTAA did not guarantee the products of the MERCOSUR agricultural industry a larger access to the US market and that Washington was not willing to consider a reduction of subsidies for its agricultural production.

The only government participating in the negotiations that made fundamental political and doctrinaire questions about each of the aspects of the integration model presented by the United States with the FTAA was Venezuela. These same interests have been encouraging negotiations between MERCOSUR and the European Union. According to denunciations made by the main social organization of South America [4] , in exchange for a limited access of the products of the MERCOSUR agricultural industry to the European market, the negotiators of MERCOSUR are making concessions that would have harmful effects upon family agriculture, would limit the ability of the states to have autonomous industrial policies and would turn into goods critical areas such as the so-called “cultural services” and “environmental services”.

Similarly, the European Union may have been granted preferences for purchases in the Public Sector. There is no reason to believe that European transnationals can be more benevolent or less rapacious than the Americans or to assume that the European governments may be less aggressive in the defense of the interests of their corporations. Any illusion in this sense vanished with the recent Argentinean crisis.

The South American Community of Nations

The governments of South America celebrate what they call a new historic moment in the continent, the realization of Bolivar’s dream: the creation of the South American Community of Nations. Could this agreement effectively become a starting point for new economic and geopolitical projects that can be an alternative to hegemonic models? The text of the Cuzco Declaration, signed by the presidents or foreign ministers of 12 South American countries [5] appears to effectively point in another direction. A different language predominates instead of that which has favored hegemonic free trade that has lasted these past decades.

Beginning with the “shared and supportive history of our nations”, it underlines “a South American identity that shares common values such as democracy, solidarity, human rights, freedom, social justice, respect for territorial integrity, diversity, non-discrimination, autonomy, equal sovereignty of nations, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

It acknowledges that economic development itself is not enough, and requires strategies that bring together “an environmentally responsible consciousness and the recognition that differences exist in the development of its nations; and seeks a more just and equitable distribution of wealth, access to education, social inclusion and cohesion, as well as the preservation of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development.” As fundamental tools for the development of the peoples, it emphasizes an “essential commitment to the struggle against poverty, the elimination of hunger, the creation of decent jobs, and access to health care and education for all”.

In the international arena it calls on “the values of international peace and security by underscoring international law with a renewed and democratic multilateralism that effectively and efficiently includes economic and social development in the world agenda.” From an institutional point of view the South American Community of Nations is regarded as a project that transcends a free trade area, and rather “develops a South American space that is integrated in the political, social, economic, environmental and infrastructure that strengthens the very identity of South America and - from a sub-regional and regional integration perspective - contributes to the strengthening of Latin America and the Caribbean, thereby granting greater influence and representation in international forums”.

According to the text this is a project to integrate the peoples. It states that: “Our conviction is that the realization of the shared values and interests that unite us - aside from committing our governments - will only be viable in the sense that the peoples assume their role of the protagonist in this process. South American integration is, and should be, an integration of the peoples.”

Beyond the crucial issues that are absent from the text - such as the external debt and the relation of this project with the signed free trade accords, or the process of negotiation with the United States and the European Union - can one expect that the current governments of South America (the signatories of the Cuzco Declaration) will be consistent with these statement of intention? Is this a new language destined for the public gallery, or is it an expression of a new political willingness by the governments of South America?

Rather than rejecting the Cuzco Declaration beforehand as pure rhetoric and the decision to create the South American Community of Nations as a mere formality, one should analyze this process for its potential to offer new terrain for struggle and tension between different visions and social forces over the future of Latin America. Do those governments that have signed the Declaration (or some of them) seek to adapt their public policies to the stated objectives of the South American Community of Nations?

What is clear is that there are flagrant contradictions between the objectives and goals presented in this declaration and the main direction of the public policies in most of the South American nations. The objectives included in the Cuzco Declaration are not, at all, compatible with the public policies and economic trends that, thanks to the foreign debt, international financial organizations continue to impose in the continent. Can the popular political and social movements of our continent capitalize on these tensions to present and promote counter-hegemonic initiatives?

Does it have any sense that the Andean governments today are negotiating a FTA with the United States, a project that constitutes a serious threat to health, education and the environment of those countries and, at the same time, they are committing to guarantee health, food and education to their people and to preserve the environment? Is there any sense in demanding a decent job when the policies of opening, privatization and deregulation, de-industrialization, labor flexibility and the reforms to labor legislation promoted by those governments continue to systematically deteriorate employment conditions? Why proclaiming autonomy and sovereign equality of the states while trade agreements that increasingly limit the exercise of sovereignty are being negotiated? Why should anyone talk about equal distribution of the income, unity and social inclusion when experience says that the current policies of the dogmatic dominance of free trade lead only to social disintegration and the increase of social inequalities? What sense is there in underlining the importance of the preservation of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development if - as it is clear in the case of Brazil - current policies aiming at generating a surplus in the commercial balance to pay the foreign debt demand the unsustainable and predatory over-exploitation of natural resources? What kind of infrastructure is going to accompany this integration process? Will the priority of infrastructure investment continue to be aiming at facilitating exports and consolidating the outwards model of growth, the economy of ports? Will this infrastructure put the Amazonia and its resources at the disposal of transnational companies? Could priority be given to the demands of an endogenous development, to the expansion of continental internal markets and the effective integration of the peoples? Would it be possible to advance in the direction of an alternative model of integration when the South American Community of Nations is incorporating, in a non-critical manner, the regulations and legal base that the MERCOSUR and the Andean Community of Nations articulated during the recent years of neo-liberal hegemony?

The Latin-Americanist rhetoric, the demand for sovereignty, democracy and peoples’ rights, could lower the guard of popular political and social movements regarding negotiations among governments of the continent while they keep a vigilant eye in the face of agreements negotiated with extra-continental powers (FTAA, FTAs, MERCOSUR-EU). However, there is nothing in the South American idea of integration that indicates that it may, in itself, for its Latin American or South American condition - be necessarily more favorable to the interests of the peoples. It all depends, as it was noted at the beginning of this text, on the integration models in question.

With the South American Community of Nations, a new field of continental struggle opens up. The fate of this integration project and whether it may or not favor the interests of the people will depend, rather than on the content of its texts, on the result of the political and social struggles, on the ability of popular forces to change the current hegemonic economic and political trends in most of the continent.

Will it be possible to turn the South American Community of Nations into a new means of effectively articulating the struggles of the peoples of the continent for democracy, equality, and cultural plurality? Could this new integration project play a role in the resistance against the imperial hegemony of the United States? It is these new challenges and questions that the Latin American popular struggle faces today.

[1] However, rumors have circulated that the co-presidents of the final phase of the FTAA negotiations, US Ambassador Robert Zoellick and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin, would meet in January 2005 to explore possibilities to resume negotiations. While all fundamental negotiations have been suspended, the struggle has continued among different cities that want to be the permanent venue of the FTAA

[2] Trade-Related Intellectual Property Subjects (TRIPS)

[3] See, for example, the joint declaration of the four main Colombian trade unions: Declaration regarding the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the labor subject, Bogotá, December 3, 2004. In Colombian Network of Action against Free Trade (Spanish acronym Recalca)

[4] Self-Call No to ALCA (Argentina), “European Union-MERCOSUR agreement: profits for a few, a threat for the majority”

[5] Cuzco Declaration on the South American Community of Nations, South American Presidential Summit, Cuzco, December 8, 2004. Countries that signed the declaration: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela