Pacific Alliance Offers Hope for Latin American Collaboration

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Oct 18, 2013, 11:17 am

EspañolThe disintegration of Latin America has been a slow but relentless process that began in the last century for several reasons — naturally because of political and economic differences among Latin American governments themselves. However, the emergence of Hugo Chávez’s populist, military regime in the early days of the new century contributed to the acceleration of the process.

As soon as he came to power, El Commandante restored the old dream of the Castroist left in the region: an alternative integration, a “Bolivarian” and revolutionary one, that, over the years, was openly described as “21st century socialist.” These individuals had in mind an exclusively Latin American, rather than an all-American or PanAmerican, integration. They have also sought an essentially political integration, in contrast to the kind of integration that had been sought during the 20th century: a classical, democratic, free-market view — primarily based on trade and various private relationships, and less on political alliances.

UNASUR leaders gather in April of 2013 to support and legitimize Nicolás Maduro’s election in Venezuela. Source: Cancillería de Colombia.

This integrationist ideal — which, as Chávez stated himself, “aimed to create a bloc of alternative power in Latin America to curb the American empire, and to expand and institutionalize revolutionary socialism” — was promoted in every one of the already-existing regional blocs. All of these blocs then began a gradual polarization process towards internal divisions and conflict, from the oldest and most organized ones, such as the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), to the newest and least organized ones, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The decision made in 2006 by President Chávez for Venezuela to withdraw from the CAN was largely due to the fact that the bloc was not following his alternative integration model. This was also the reason for his many threats to leave the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as every other Regional-American organization. That included the Court and the Commission of Human Rights, which was partially put into practice on September 6, 2012, when his administration decided to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights.

Today, the ineffectiveness and stagnancy of the aforementioned blocs show how much the disintegration process has advanced in the last 15 years. The CAN — once a regional example for the largest degree of integration by virtue of having created a partial free trade zone — is in the worst situation of all. Last month, CAN members agreed to end the Andean Parliament due to its high costs and the growth, albeit with deep internal differences, of the UNASUR.

The MERCOSUR is stagnant; the CELAC is yet to be fully established; and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) — which was never really an alternative integration bloc, but rather a group of political and ideological allies — is undergoing a natural decline. ALBA has been too dependent financially and politically on just one of its members; that is Venezuela’s financing and the international leadership figure of the late Hugo Chávez.

In the midst of this predicament, it is of particular significance that we are seeing the consolidation of the Pacific Alliance, the youngest of the regional integration organisms. Created in April of 2011 by Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, Costa Rica is soon to join the group. They aim to achieve deep-integration as an influential mechanism for the free mobility for goods, services, individuals, and funds in order to better allow development.

In contrast to the existing regional organizations, this body has just concluded its negotiations to reach a 100 percent tariff reduction, sign a broad trade agreement that lays the institutional and legal foundation required for investment and free trade, and establish a significant fund intended to finance social, educational, tourism, environmental, and scientific cooperation projects, among others. This new integration bloc really has the potential to grow and foster modernization among its member countries. According to its sponsors, the Pacific Alliance already represents the 8th largest economy and the 7th largest exports supplier on a global scale. It also contributes 36 percent of Latin American economic activity, carries out 50 percent of the region’s trade with the rest of the world, and receives more than US$70 billion in direct foreign investment, which accounts for 41 percent of total investment in the region.

This week, the “revolutionary” presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela claimed that the members of the Pacific group are part of a conspiracy engineered “from the North” (that is, the United States) aimed at dividing the UNASUR. It is no coincidence that the politicians who, even if only through incompetence, foster Latin American disintegration are the ones who question the Pacific group, seeking to discredit and destabilize it.

There was no doubt that this would happen as the the Pacific Alliance grew and consolidated itself. So be it, since they have begun to reverse the disintegration process that the hemisphere has been suffering from over the last 15 years.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.

The Humanitarian Crisis of Migration in Central America

By: Sofía Ramírez Fionda - Oct 17, 2013, 2:13 pm

Español In 2010, Óscar Martínez published Los migrantes que no importan, the story of immense suffering that Central Americans experience if they want to pass through Mexican territory and reach the United States' southern border. Published three times in Spanish, the English version is out this month as The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Verso Books. After introducing the newest release in New York over the weekend, Óscar Martínez spoke with the PanAmerican Post. In particular, he shared his experience researching and writing the book and the significance of the English version. The Salvadoran's story starts in 2008, when the journal and the Ruido Foto agency launched the En el Camino project (On the Road), with the aim of researching and documenting the Central American migrant journey. Martínez, who had already been involved in minor projects about the topic, started with his colleagues to live and travel together with the migrants, as thousands of them do every year. After that experience, he has only one way to describe their plight: a "humanitarian crisis.” The Genesis of the Migration Project (Spanish) [audio mp3=""][/audio] “We decided to share the trip with undocumented people, to travel with them,” Martínez says, "as journalists, in order to understand what happens to them and to get their testimonies.” This way of working and the journalists' commitment was very different than that of the local media. They did not get involved, but rather chose to analyze it from a distance. The Role of Conventional Media (Spanish) [audio mp3=""][/audio] The En el Camino project went on for two and a half years, and Los migrantes que no importan was one of three final products. The other two were a pictorial book from the the photographers, also entitled En el Camino, and a documentary, María en tierra de nadie (María in no man's land), directed by Marcela Zamora, also an journalist. The main objective was to shed light on the population suffering from organized crime. Migration, according to Martínez, is an invisible phenomena the world needs to see, but “migrants do not speak up because they have a justified, deep fear of public authorities.” "Journalism is a lamp which lights up the dark corners of a room." (Spanish) [audio mp3=""][/audio] Óscar tries to explain the situation: “People are seen increasingly by politicians as mere electoral assets. I believe a population that does not vote, which is characterized as gang members, violent, and poor — even in Mexico which is adjacent to Central America — and who cannot formally respond . . . that is a society that does not disturb you as a politician, a society to which politicians are not going to pay interest.” Furthermore, invisible migrants transit a desolated Mexico, far from major cities and media. These are places where the state has decided to give control to organized crime. Many years ago they started to exploit the abandoned situation of the migrants, turning them into targets for kidnappings, rape, and human trafficking. “We even had to ask permission from drug traffickers to move to certain locations,” he shared. What about each migrant's home state? Martínez is skeptical about the Central American states' capacity or will to resolve the problem: "Instead of raising their voice about the humanitarian tragedy that the Central American population experience in Mexico, they have decided to shut up because governments know that these people represent about 20 percent of gross domestic product when sending remittances from the United States.” The Impact of His Research (Spanish) [audio mp3=""][/audio] Óscar believes his work has brought some changes along the migrant route. In his book, he denounces several areas where abuse occurs, both by organized crime and by Mexican authorities — which appear to be one and the same sometimes — and this knowledge, he contends, has prevented and reduced some serious crime. The Importance of the English Version (Spanish) [audio mp3=""][/audio] For the author, the main objective of the book now is to reach the English-speaking public, predominantly in the United States. Most importantly, he wants it to be a "political weapon" for those politicians who dare to demand solutions relating to the border with Mexico. "I would like them to know about a topic over which they have direct control, which is the border with Mexico and its murderous design.” Violence Becomes Normalized (Spanish) [audio mp3=""][/audio] Migrants in Mexico are people who have lost all their rights, Martinez says — but not only are changes necessary at the political level; you also need to make people aware of the problem. We need to "explain the experiences that people went through to be the gardener who cuts your garden or the woman who cleans your house." The root of the problem, he says, is that so many people see an immigrant population subject to violence as normal, simply on account of their social class. "I was very surprised by the human capacity for indifference. The path of migrants is one of the most desolate places that we can find in America. Then there is the indignity to which they are subjected, the constant and increasing crime against them — and yet it goes on and becomes normalized." It is essential that journalists shed light on the subject to begin to reverse the process.

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