The Bolivarization of South America: The Rise of Pan-Americanism
The Bolivarization of South America: The Rise of Pan-Americanism


Recently, the nations within South America have been experiencing what has been referred to as a rise of the “new left.”  As various new regimes come into power, including Ollanta Humala in Peru and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, the political scene in the continent continues to transform. Included in this transformation have been a rise in social inclusion, and especially the rise of Pan-Americanism, directly related to the original political views of Simón Bolívar.

In the early 18th Century, Simón Bolívar was one of the key military and political leaders that helped pave the way for South American independence. He had an extremely influential career in the region, including presidencies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru, and his prominence is felt to this day.

One of the key attributes of Bolívar’s philosophy was the idea of Pan-Americanism. This involved the concept of complete regional integration. At one point, he even consolidated the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru into Gran Colombia, and he held the more controversial goal of creating one sovereign nation from the entire continent.

While his dream of one country, one continent will likely never manifest, the region has lately displayed one of the largest showings of regional integration and solidarity in its history. This is shown by the rise of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the compromise of regional leaders to create a more unified continent. Overall, the general consensus involves the rise of progressive governments and “Latin American [sic] scampering away from U.S. control toward regional solidarity, and major social and economic developments.”1

The Rise of UNASUR and Fall of the OAS

The regional bloc, UNASUR, was created in Brasilia, Brazil on May 23, 2008 in order “to foster political, social, economic, cultural, environmental and infrastructure integration among member states.”2 Twelve nations of South America are members in the bloc. Mexico and Panama are only observers and French Guyana is not a member. The Secretary General is María Emma Mejía of Colombia.

The current rise in prominence of UNASUR in the region has been facilitated by the coinciding decline in importance of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United States’ policies and actions, especially concerning the Great Recession. For example, during the recent U.S. budget crisis, the Republican Party attempted to remove the almost $49 million annual contribution to OAS from the budget.3 In addition, many Latin American leaders view the OAS “as a yanqui poodle,” further represented by the fact that it is “the only regional diplomatic body which includes the United States.”4

Furthermore, prominent Latin American policymakers tend to hold a negative view of the OAS due to its checkered past. Recently, Roy Chaderton, the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS, claimed that UNASUR had more credibility than the OAS. He asserted that UNASUR is more efficient since it is free from the bureaucracy of the OAS, and finally pointed to the past history of the Organization and how it was used to validate anti-democratic invasions. His final justification was the fact that Latin America was free from the “tentacles” of North America.5

The growing solidarity of the continent has also been promoted by a reaction to recent US actions and the effects of the Great Recession. “The consolidation of regional international structures has been hastened by disappointment with the Obama administration.”6 Specifically, this refers to the reaction to the coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and the continued refusal to reinstate Cuba into the OAS. Since “the United States did not name the coup a violation of international law nor demand the immediate return of Zelaya from exile,” politicians in Latin America saw this as a firm representation of the need for an international body that was not greatly influenced by US interests.7

Concerning the Recession, many policymakers in Latin America blame the U.S. and Europe for drawing the world into the worst economic period since the Great Depression, and emphasize their own countries’ ability to work through it. “Latin America took full advantage of the distractions of its giant neighbour and traditional partner to spread its wings in search of different political, diplomatic and, above all, economic directions.”8 Analysts emphasize how “The loss of US dominance is most strongly felt in the economy.”9

For example, they point to the failure to pass various Free Trade Agreements in the region, as well as the rise of China as an important economic partner. According to Geoff Thale, the Program Director for the Washington Office on Latin America, “’Many countries learned the lessons from their political and economic dependence on the United States and they want to diversify their relations.’”10 Therefore, the rise of UNASUR and other options can be directly credited to the deterioration of relations with the United States.

UNASUR’s Many Roles

The significance of UNASUR is already extremely apparent given the amount of work the Union has already achieved. Examples include the decision to create a Bank of the South, Economic and Finance Council, Ministerial Energy Council and a Council of Defense. The Ministerial Energy Council is planning to draft a proposal, “which will become the energy axis to guarantee ‘energy stability and security’ for the region for the next 100 years.”11

The Defense Council has a seemingly loftier goal. Nicolas Maduro, the foreign minister of Venezuela, “announced that soon UNASUR member countries would sign a declaration of regional peace, rejecting the use of force and military power against governments or peoples in South America.”12 In addition, Ms Mejía, the Secretary General, stated that she foresees the continent being a region of complete peace and solidarity by 2020. Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos reinforced her statement by emphasizing that “we are strong countries, but united we can become a world power.”13 In this way, the Union is attempting to shy away from previous reliance on US intervention in security issues.

Finally, the Economic Council has made significant efforts to try and prevent repercussions from any further crises abroad. According to the Economic Minister of Argentina, Amado Boudou, the bloc is “working on setting up a countercyclical regional fund that would confront a financial crisis.”14 In addition to this, he further emphasized the release from the grasp of US policies by, “defin[ing] the group’s mission as creating solutions made by and for South Americans, rather than following what he called the bad advice of global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.”15

Furthermore, the Economic Council is trying to learn from the mistakes of other regional blocs. For instance, they have chosen to forgo the creation of both a central bank and the adoption of the common currency. This comes as a result of the crisis in the European Union, where countries have become mired in debt crises as a result of not being able to control the valuation of their currencies.16 Instead, they have chosen to focus on replacing the US dollar as the reserve currency of the region and try to aim at trading in local currencies.17

US Reactions

At this point, there is no turning back in South America. The region has chosen its own path, and it will only become more united as time goes on. Therefore, it behooves U.S. policymakers to realize that the region is changing, and changing fast. For example, “Brazil now often carries more weight in much of South America…than the United States does.”18 It has become clear that the current US policy framework is not working in the region. And if the dichotomy continues, “rivals like Iran and China would gladly fill the void in the region left by the United States.”19

As a result, the U.S. needs to both accept and foster the growing unification of the region. By showing that it is not only more tolerant, but also more willing, the U.S. will be able to continue the mutual beneficial relations that have existed in the past. This would involve the passing of the dormant Free Trade Agreements, and greater cooperation within the one International Organization which comprises both regions, the OAS. The Latin American nations have made it clear that the age of US dependency and primacy in the region is over, and only by accepting and cooperating will the two areas be able to create a more stable and profitable hemisphere.

1 Bray, Donald. “The Latin American Spring.” The Huffington Post. September 1, 2011.
2 “South American Nations Create Defense Council, Bank of the South.” Correo del Orinoco International. September 9, 2011.
3 “The United States and Latin America: Partnership and its Obstacles.” The Economist. September 3, 2011.
4 Ibid.
5 Chaderton, Roy. “La Unasur tiene mas credibilidad que la OEA”. Union Radio. September 10, 2011.
6 Bray, Donald. “The Latin American Spring.” The Huffington Post. September 1, 2011.
7 Ibid.
8 Marquez, William. “Latin America thrives during US ‘Lost Decade’.” BBC Mundo. September 6, 2011.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 “South American Nations Create Defense Council, Bank of the South.” Correo del Orinoco International. September 9, 2011.
12 Ibid.
13 “Unasur to achieve a ‘South American continent united and in peace by 2020.’” MercoPress. May 11, 2011.
14 “Unasur creates three task groups to protect the region from ‘industrialized north crises’.” MercoPress. August 15, 2011.
15 Ibid.
16 “
Unasur, looking at the EU, freezes project for common currency and central bank.” MercoPress. June 13, 2011.
17 “Unasur creates three task groups to protect the region from ‘industrialized north crises’.” MercoPress. August 15, 2011.
18 “The United States and Latin America: Partnership and its Obstacles.” The Economist. September 3, 2011.
19 “The United States and Latin America: Collateral Damage.” The Economist. August 2, 2011.

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