Latin-American integration: an obstinate tradition

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Juan E. Notaro
Executive President of FONPLATA – Development Bank

After more than two decades working in international organizations, I must say that despite the efforts towards the integration of Latin America, most people in the region still refer to it as a dream, a desire, a utopia.

In fact, if we ask people on the streets of any city in Latin America about integration, most likely we will get two types of answers: the ones referring to milestones and those referring to everything there is to be done.

And both answers are right. Even if concrete actions were taken and ambitious agreements were signed to move towards integration, we are not where we thought we would be.

Nonetheless, the current challenges faced by humankind and, more specifically, in Latin America, such as the COVID-19, the economic slowdown, and the climate change, lead me to conclude that integration eagerness has always been much stronger than a simple wish.

To start with, today we have in the region at least 15 organizations which have the integration of our nations among their most important goals, and many of these organizations have alliances with their global counterparts.

Some of these international organizations were founded in the middle of the last century, others around the 70’s, and others in the beginning of this century, and they have been working despite conflicts, economic crises, pandemics, and natural disasters.

They have also coexisted with governments of various ideologies and quite different conceptions regarding the organization of the State, national priorities, and the management of the economy.

As I write these lines, absolutely all States of Latin America and the Caribbean are members of at least two integration schemes. Some of them are real “integration champions”, as they are members of more than a dozen organizations.

It is true that the achievements of these organizations have been dissimilar, and it would be naïf to position integration among our outstanding achievements as a region. Nonetheless, the vocation for integration and the awareness of its advantages persist.

According to a report prepared by the IDB, INTAL, and Latinobarómetro  “La tecno-integración de América Latina” (Technical Integration of Latin America), more than 70% of the people in Latin America approve economic integration and are aware of its benefits. Even better news is that the percentage of support is higher among young people.

The figure is lower with regard to political integration, but it is still encouraging that more than half of the people in the region believe it is positive and necessary (53%, according to the study “La opinión de los latinoamericanos sobre democracia, instituciones e integración regional” – The opinion of Latin-Americans on democracy, institutions, and regional integration – conducted by the same organizations).

The study also points out that, in general, Latin Americans perceive integration processes as opportunities to improve the economy and as a guarantee of best practices by our governments.

In other words, integration is one more way to improve satisfaction with democracy and the perception of the economic situation, making us prone to support integration. A clear sequence of events of a virtuous circle.

This brings us back to the current situation. The public health crisis has been a hard challenge for our health-care services and its negative effects on the economies will be felt for many years to come.

Regardless of ideologies and styles of government, the results of the handling of the pandemic by our countries and its economic effects have been dissimilar and have a common denominator: the individual interest and actions. Naturally, those with more resources have better opportunities. One clear example is the different access to health supplies and vaccines. 

Despite everything, the integration vocation remains. It remains as a dream, as a plan, but also as a necessary daily reality that lifts us up in this moment of challenges: in the measures to face the COVID-19, the migratory crises, the economic consequences of the pandemic; all issues in which we share a struggle and a destiny.

We may still have a long way to go to achieve integration, but it has the support of a population that aspires to more democracy and stronger economies. That is why those of us who work to make it a reality persist daily in this obstinate tradition

Text originally published in the monthly column of Huffington Post.