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Image by Palácio do Planalto from Brasilia, Brasil – May 30 2023 – Official photograph of the Presidents of the countries of South America, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Article originally published on Knowledge, Ideology, and Real Socialism In Our Times by Charles McKelvey on Jun 3, 2023

The worldwide movement for a pluripolar world advances

Brazilian President Lula da Silva, known as Lula, recently convoked a meeting of South American presidents. In response, ten South American presidents arrived on May 30 to the Palace of Itanaraty, headquarters of the foreign affairs office of Brazil. They included the presidents of Argentina, Alberto Fernández; Bolivia, Luis Arce; Chile, Gabriel Boric; Colombia, Gustavo Petro; Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso; Guyana, Irfaan Ali; Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez; Surinam, Chan Santokhi; Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou; and Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. The President of Peru, Dina Boluarte, sent the president of the Council of Ministers, Alberto Otárola.

Lula outlines the project for the renewal of regional integration

Lula outlines the project for the renewal of regional integration

In the inauguration of the meeting, Lula stressed the importance of regional integration. No country, he declared, can confront present threats in an isolated manner. Declaring that integration must become a permanent sentiment, he called upon the chiefs of state to overcome ideological differences. He expressed lament that in recent years the region has permitted ideologies to divide and to interrupt the process of integration, dialogue, and cooperation, so that everyone has lost. He called for addressing the common needs and hopes of South America. He urged the retaking of instruments of regional integration, such as UNASUR (South American Union of Nations) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). He maintained that South American integration is fundamental for the strengthening of the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Lula maintained that for ten years following its founding in 2008, UNASUR was instrumental in advancing the institutionalization of relations and the consolidation of ties among the South American nations. Through UNASUR, initiatives of cooperation in health, infrastructure, and defense were implemented, which permitted important commercial agreements. Although progress was interrupted by the government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Lula expressed confidence that the commitment to Latin American integration can be revived.


The South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) was established in the context of the revitalization of the progressive forces of the region, which was rooted in the rejection by the peoples of the neoliberal project imposed by the Western powers, for its negative consequences with respect to the standard of living of the majority. The establishment of UNASUR was led by Lula, whose Worker’s Party had taken power in Brazil in 2002. The Constituent Treaty of UNASUR, signed by all twelve governments of South America, proclaimed that “South American integration and union are necessary in order to advance sustainable development and the welfare of our peoples as well as to contribute to the resolution of the problems that still affect the region, such as persistent poverty, exclusion, and social inequality.” The Constituent Treaty affirmed a number of economic, social, and ecological objectives: social and human development with equity and inclusion in order to eradicate poverty and to overcome inequalities in the region; the eradication of illiteracy; universal access to quality education; energy integration in order to utilize in solidarity the resources of the region; the development of an infrastructure for the interconnection of the region; the protection of biodiversity, water resources, and ecosystems; cooperation in the prevention of catastrophes and in the struggle against the causes and effects of climate change; universal access to social security and to services of health; and citizens participation through mechanisms of dialogue between UNASUR and diverse social actors.

UNASUR was a dimension of a larger social process of Latin American union and integration, which included the formation of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) by Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro in 2004; and the formation of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) in 2010, which reached a culminating moment with the Declaration of Havana at its 2014 Summit. And the process of Latin American unity and integration was a dimension of the still larger historical and global process of Third World unity, which dates to the Bandung conference of 1955 and includes the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. The Third World project reached culmination with the UN Declaration of a New International Economic Order in 1974, and it renewed in reaction to neoliberalism beginning with the 2006 Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana. This historical and worldwide process has reiterated the principles of the sovereign equality of nations, non-interference in the affairs of states, and the right of nations to control their natural resources and to formulate their own plans of socioeconomic development. See “A more just world under construction: Circumventing imperialism in decadence,” April 28, 2023.

Regional integration is an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist process. The capitalist world-economy was established by the Western colonial powers with a geographical division of labor between core and peripheral regions, in which the function of the periphery is to provide natural resources and cheap labor and raw materials for the core and to provide a market for the surplus goods of the core economies, beyond the capacities of their national economies to consume. Such a structure promotes the economic underdevelopment of the peripheral zones, leaving them with limited industrial capacity and weak internal markets, and subjecting them to unequal terms of exchange between manufactured goods and high-tech products and services, on the one hand, and raw materials and agricultural exports, on the other. It establishes patterns of trade between core and peripheral zones, with weak transportation and commercial connections among the nations in a region.

The problem was identified by exceptional Third World leaders as early as the 1950s, who explained that such established global economic structures ensure the deepening underdevelopment of the colonized regions, continuing after they attain independence. They therefore called for the adoption of a strategy of South-South cooperation and mutually beneficial trade among the nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Regional integration has emerged in the twenty-first century as the driving force in the practical implementation of the concept of South-South cooperation. It is formulated as a strategy to circumvent the exploitative unequal exchange between core and peripheral zones by develop mutually beneficial commercial relations among nations, with the intention of diversifying their economies.

The challenge that South-South cooperation and regional integration confront is that the economies of the nations of the South are dependent on structures of the core-peripheral relation, exploitative through they be. The established structures generate, for example, jobs that pay less than what is needed to live, but the people need the low-paying jobs. South-South cooperation and regional integration is an alternative construction, requiring capital for new investments by countries that have been left with limited resources by the core-peripheral exploitation. And the alternative construction unavoidably invites opposition from Western imperialism and from regional interests tied and subordinated to imperialism.

However, the logic of alternative and cooperative construction is compelling, because in objective terms, it is the necessary road to overcoming underdevelopment and poverty. It therefore has had its defenders in all regions of the world, especially among people’s movements and the exceptional leaders that they lifted. So governments throughout the Third World have paid some attention to South-South cooperation and to other strategies of development, to the extent possible in the context of a neocolonial world-system. As a result, in recent decades, historically peripheralized and colonized nations have been ascending, gradually accumulating a level of capital, enabling them to construct, step-by-step, alternative structures. BRICS, ALBA, UNASUR, and CELAC can be seen as leading examples of this project of alternative construction.

Some of the leaders in the process of South American unity and integration maintain that it is apolitical, and they criticize the USA and the Latin American Right for politicizing the process, that is, for seeking to rupture the process from the vantage point of a particular ideology. At one level, this criticism is valid. Because when it is accomplished, integration is attained despite ideological and political differences among the governments. However, at another level, Latin American unity and integration is a process that is decidedly anti-colonial and anti-imperialist, standing against Western interests in maintaining practical control of the natural resources, raw materials, labor, and markets of the world. It is a process, therefore, that is opposed by Western political/economic interests and by the interests within regions that are allied with and subordinated to the Western political/economic elite. The struggle for the true sovereignty of states and the self-determination of peoples is a historical political struggle that is central to conflicts in the present world.

In reaction to the emergence of the process of Latin American and Caribbean unity and integration from 2004 to 2014, the United States has waged a counterattack during the last decade, enlisting the support of the Latin American Right. It sought to take advantage of a certain level of discontent among the people with the pace and the direction of change, which is a normal dimension of social change processes. In this campaign, the USA often supported politicians in the region who presented themselves as moderates, without revealing their imperialist alliances and true intentions. As a result, and with the aid of soft coup d’état strategies, progressive governments that had been central to the process of change fell in Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay. The restauration of the Latin American Right in critical nations brought the process of Latin American and Caribbean integration nearly to a halt. The last summit of heads of state of UNASUR, for example, was held in 2014, and several nations left the organism.

However, in the last couple of years, progressive forces in Latin America have renewed, as a consequence of the fact that the governments of the Right, once back in power, demonstrated an incapacity to formulate a new vision for the region. Their plan was to return to discredited neoliberal polices and to domination of their countries by imperialist interests. With the people rejecting this return to the past, progressive governments returned to power in Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil; and new progressive governments arrived to power in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Honduras.

The Brasilia Consensus

At the May 30 meeting of the presidents, Lula put forth a series of proposals, including investments in infrastructure, the confrontation of climate change, and regional programs in vaccination and defense. He proposed placing economic reserves in the service of regional development; deepening the economic identity of the region in order to reduce dependency on foreign currency; and amplification of cooperation in services, investments, and electronic products. He also proposed the creation of a South American energy market to ensure supply, efficient use of resources, and environmental sustainability. And he proposed the creation of a high-level group formed by representatives of the presidents to prepare in 120 days in new project for the integration of South America. In subsequent declarations to the press, Lula also expressed the possibility of creating a new currency for commerce or using national currencies in South American commerce, thus reducing dependency on the dollar.

The meeting of the presidents emitted on May 30 a declaration, “Brasilia Consensus.” It declared:

The Presidents reaffirmed the common vision of South America as a region of peace and cooperation, based on dialogue and on the respect for the diversity of our peoples, committed to democracy and human rights, sustainable development and social justice, the rule of law and institutional stability, the upholding of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. . . .

Agreed that regional integration should be part of the solution to the common challenges of building a peaceful world; strengthening democracy; promoting social and economic development; fighting poverty, hunger, and all forms of inequality and discrimination; promoting gender equality; managing migration in a safe, orderly and regular manner; tackling climate change, including through innovative financing mechanisms for climate action, among which could be considered debt-for-climate swaps by developed countries; fostering ecological and energy transition through clean energy; strengthening health capacities; and the fight against transnational organized crime.

Committed to work towards increasing trade and investment among the countries of the region; improving infrastructure and logistics; strengthening regional value chains; effectively implementing trade facilitation and financial integration measures; reducing asymmetries; eliminating unilateral measures; and increasing market access through the network of economic complementation agreements…

Decided to establish a contact group, headed by the Foreign Ministers, to evaluate the experiences of South American integration mechanisms and to draft a roadmap for the integration of South America, to be submitted to the consideration of the Heads of State.

The bus driver and the factory worker

The bus driver and the factory worker

In the context of the Summit, Venezuela and Brazil reestablished diplomatic relations, interrupted four years ago by Brazilian right-wing president Jair Bolsonero during an intensive US-directed campaign against Venezuela. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expressed the hope that the doors between Venezuela and Brazil will never again be closed, and that the two nations will be able to advance in bilateral relations. He called for the construction of a new geopolitical reality in which a fundamental component is the union of South America and of “our America,” referring to Latin America and the Caribbean. For his part, Lula characterized Maduro’s visit to Brazil, his first in eight years, as historic; and he announced that he would support the integration of Venezuela in BRICS. The two nations signed various agreements for strengthening bilateral cooperation in agriculture, animal husbandry, and food security. Bilateral trade between Venezuela and Brazil had reached 6 billion dollars in 2013.

In his intervention at the meeting of the presidents, Maduro declared that a new geopolitical world has emerged, in which the nations of BRICS are in the vanguard of processes of change, replacing the unipolar world in which the North American empire was hegemonic and dominant. As an indication of the phenomenon, various nations are now expressing their desire to become a part of BRICS. Maduro also noted that the establishment of UNASUR in 2008 provided a valid architecture with strength, which is a point of departure for advancing to a new stage.

Luis Arce, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia

Luis Arce, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia

One of the emerging exceptional leaders in Latin America today is Luis Arce, President of Bolivia. Arce was elected president during the restoration of democracy in Bolivia, a little more than one year after the OAS-supported coup d’etat against Evo Morales. Arce had been the Minister of the Economy in the government of Evo Morales, who had been one of the exceptional leaders in the process of political change in the region from 2002 to 2014, and who today continues to serve as head of the Movement Toward Socialism in Bolivia.

During his intervention at the meeting of the presidents, Arce pointed out the need for a true regional integration for the benefit of the people. He noted that there have always been interests within and outside the region that stood opposed to the consolidation of a true space of integration and coordination among the countries. We are now, he expressed, at a crucial movement in history, in which world geopolitical dynamics of the last two years has demanded a profound reflection on the role of cooperation, integration, and multilateralism as the foundation for constructing a more just, democratic, equal, and safe world.

We need to impulse integration to a higher level, Arce declared. He noted that present global challenges with respect to climate, health, food, energy, water, poverty and inequality cannot be resolved by a single country. They require a collective response.

Arce maintains the source of these problems is the multidimensional crisis of the hegemonic system and world order that intends to maintain itself on the basis of imposition and domination, and not dialogue. We are witnesses, he declares, to significant changes in the international scene, with a tendency toward the configuration of a new world order that is based in the equilibrium of power and in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states.


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