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The Latin American Revolution (Part 6): Countries in Latin America Move to Regional Integration: Leaders and Activists Building Alternative to Capitalism

By Asad Ismi

“The people have risen like a great Lazarus… so let’s hurry with our unity, to speed up the changes that have already been on their way, the Bank of the South….the unity of our oil, energy companies, the social programs, the economic support. We have walked long along the path and we need to accelerate the march to give more clarity and articulation of the great project, the transnational project of Latin America, we need a “Nuestra [Our] America” project, the great nation. In Venezuela we are always ready to put our heart, our passion and our efforts for this unity project in Latin America.”

So said President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in his speech at the 2009 World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil. He shared the stage with four other Latin American presidents, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Each leader spoke of the revolutionary integration of Latin America.

The Bolivarian Revolution currently underway in Venezuela is named for Simon Bolivar,who liberated South America from Spanish colonialism. He wanted Latin American countries to unite partly to prevent another imperial power, the United States, from dominating them. Latin America’s most famous revolutionary, Che Guevara, too called for it to be united in a socialist community of nations. Integration is central to the Latin American Revolution because only through it can the region’s countries become truly independent, defeat U.S. imperialism and enhance the spread of socialism. Today the framework for a Latin America united both economically and politically is being created.

The campaign is being led by Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia and Cuba with many other countries participating. Their initiatives include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), an integration of 12 South American countries which consists of a parliament, a presidential forum, a secretariat and a military alliance. In February 2010, 32 Latin American and Caribbean nations agreed to create a new regional bloc that will include every country in the Americas except for the U.S. and Canada. This grouping intends to replace the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS).

Latin American nations have also come together to also form the Bank of the South, the television network of the South known as Telesur, and the petroleum company of the South called PetroAmerica. Eight South American and Caribbean countries have established a progressive trade group called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA).

With UNASUR, the Bank of the South, PetroAmerica and ALBA, an entirely new socialist-oriented continental economy is being created. This economy does not function according to capitalist market rules but rather responds to the development needs of the Latin American people.

Joao Batista Lemos is Assistant Secretary, International Relations, of Central dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Brasil (CTB) (Brazilian Central of Workers), a federation of 50 Brazilian unions that supports the government of Lula da Silva. I spoke to Batista at the Belem World Social Forum. According to him: “Integration today is key for whichever country that is trying to become more developed. Things must happen collectively among Latin American countries, not just nationally, there is no path alone. It is necessary that one’s culture, people, and history all take part in preparing to overcome the imperialists and become united.

“Only in this way will Latin America free itself from the imperialist countries who try to utilize our Latin countries as public services for themselves. We can’t let that continue to happen; we must always want to evolve ourselves together equally, to better all our conditions of life. This way we will also be able to defend ourselves from all limitations that help oppress us while eliminating imperialism.”

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), was formally constituted by 12 South American countries in May 2008, at a summit in Brasilia, Brazil. The countries are Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, and Uruguay. UNASUR represents 377 million people with a GNP of 1.5 trillion dollars, and it signals to the world that South America is ready to control its own destiny. UNASUR’s main tasks are eliminating poverty and illiteracy.

The UNASUR member states, except for Colombia, also agreed to the formation of a South American Defence Council aimed at ensuring that the countries’ armed forces are committed to the construction of peace. The Defence Council is aimed at creating a military alliance without the United States–an absolutely unprecedented event. The formation of UNASUR is a historical event and for President Chávez of Venezuela, it is the culmination of Latin America’s two-century-long search for unity.

Rosemary Irusta is an activist on housing issues in Bolivia. I interviewed her at the Belem World Social Forum. As Irusta put it: “Concerning the advancement of the Latin American union and the economic integration on a continental scale, I believe that this is the best thing that can happen to us. I believe that this is addressed by ALBA and the UNASUR. Most importantly, we need to break away from the imperialist model and become independent. We need to be confident and assured that we have enough resources and a better supply of capital opposed to the yankees who have mostly benefited from our wealth of resources.”

The Bank of the South has been formed by Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay. Each country gives a portion of its GNP to the Bank, which has assets of $7 billion. The Bank gives Latin American countries credit at low interest rates. This means the end of 25 years of U.S.-imposed neoliberalism that reduced these nations to beggars through enforced privatization, free trade, and structural adjustment programs or SAPs. Whenever Latin American countries wanted a development project, they had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and/or the World Bank (both U.S.-dominated) which would offer loans at usurious interest rates that the states could not afford.

When the countries could not pay back the loans, they had to carry out the World Bank and IMF’s SAP conditions, which included selling whatever valuable national assets they had to multinational corporations that then controlled their economies. This was known as “the Washington Consensus,” and from 1980 to 2005 it created immense poverty in Latin America. Now Latin American countries can get loans for development projects at low rates and fulfill their people’s basic needs. This is crucial in terms of making integration a socialist process.

Lilian Celiberti is from Uruguay and is Coordinator of Articulacion Feminista Mercosur, AFM, or Feminist Articulation Mercosur. AFM promotes the role of women in Latin American integration. Based in Montevideo, Uruguay, AFM is a collective of feminist organizations from various countries including Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. I talked to Celiberti at the Belem World Social Forum.

She said about the importance of the socialist aspect of integration: “I don’t believe in a socialism that resembles capitalism so much that there is not a big difference between the two. We need to go beyond a term or a name and address our relationship to the environment, our energy alternatives, our growth and how we exploit our natural resources. This a very complex task which requires us to figure out solutions to these issues. Maybe we don’t need to rely on one mode of thinking. Instead we should borrow from different approaches which can help us construct better alternatives.”

A socialist integration is especially important given the present crisis of capitalism. Ramon Cardona is Secretary of the World Federation of Unions which consists of unions from 84 countries. Cardona was formerly on the secretariat of the CTC, Cuba’s trade union central. I spoke to him at the Belem World Social Forum. Said Cardona: “We can’t go looking for alternatives in those places where the conditions that brought about this disaster originated. This economic disaster that is unfolding is most definitely a failure on the part of capitalism itself which proves to us that this model has nothing more to offer to our nations.

“We will not find any solutions by resorting to this model. We cannot resolve the problems of capitalism with more capitalism. We believe that we need to look for another model that provides us with an alternative and a way through which we can realize the integration of our nations. We need to rely on our strength and not that which is found elsewhere. We have resources, we have the potential, we are intellectually capable to carry out this project of integration and for this to happen we are certain we need to struggle and collaborate together.”

In September 2005, energy ministers from eleven Latin American countries agreed to move towards regional integration in the energy field by consolidating the PetroAmérica energy project promoted by President Chávez. The countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Rafael Ramírez, the Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Oil at the time, called this agreement the “axis of continental integration.” PetroAmerica is a multinational oil company formed by the state oil companies of Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, and Trinidad. The joint company will control 11.5% of world oil reserves.

PetroAmerica is aimed at achieving full energy cooperation within Latin America so that its oil can be used for the development of its people rather than that of Northern countries. As President Chavez said “We need the oil to develop our own countries, to create a diversified economy that includes an industrial sector and viable agriculture so we can feed and employ our own people.”. PetroAmerica also involves Venezuela sharing its oil with countries that do not have any. Venezuela has given 14 Caribbean countries cheap financing for oil purchases, to be repaid over 25 years.

These are countries that often find it difficult to buy oil. There are barter arrangements as well. Venezuela gives Cuba 90,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for the 20,000 Cuban doctors who are working in the poorest areas of the Venezuela. Such South-South cooperation means a new economic focus on serving the needs of the Southern people, not the greed of multinational corporations and Northern governments.


Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, June 2010

Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent and author of the anthology The Latin American Revolution which can be ordered from the CCPA. He is also author of the radio documentary with the same title which has been aired on 40 radio stations in Canada, the U.S. and Europe reaching about 33 million people. This article is the sixth in a series on the Revolution. Special thanks to Susy Alvarez, Cristina Maria Santos and Robin Nieto for translation of the interviews and speech cited in this article.