South American presidents seek greater integration in Brasilia

South American presidents seek greater integration in Brasilia

The South American presidents meet on May 30 in Brazil convened by Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, who seeks to reinforce their devalued integration and revalue the role of the region on the international stage, a challenge at a time when many are facing political conflicts, crises economic and strained bilateral ties.

The meeting in Brasilia is an initiative of Lula, who after his return to power for the third time in January aims to reinstate him as a leader among his peers after the recent reincorporation of Brazil into regional mechanisms such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac).

Tuesday’s summit will promote a “frank dialogue” between all the presidents to identify common denominators, discuss prospects for the region and reactivate the South American cooperation agenda, said a statement from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry.

The presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname and Venezuela attend. Alberto Otárola, president of the Council of Ministers, will attend Peru.

“Lula is concerned and busy retaking the leadership lost by his predecessor (the right-wing Jair) Bolsonaro at the regional level. He applies his political logic and feels that Brazil’s weight is great and his status as a regional leader would be strengthened if he manages to unite the countries of the region behind common interests,” Argentine Jorge Arias, director of Polilat consultancy.

The president convened the meeting a month after announcing in April the reincorporation of Brazil to Unasur, the forum that he helped create in 2008 together with other leftist counterparts and from which, a decade later, Bolsonaro (2019-2023) distanced himself because he considered it useless and destined to wrap up populism in Venezuela.

Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay were other countries that suspended their participation in the bloc between 2018 and 2020, arguing that it was based on political-ideological alignments and lacked an operational secretariat.

Unasur, which came to include 12 South American nations in order to encourage commercial, social and political integration, is currently inactive and is only made up of Argentina, which also rejoined in April, Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.

According to Arias, the Brazilian president considers that Unasur “was subjected to polarized games” and would seek to give his current South American integration initiative a less ideological stamp, in order to achieve some unity and ensure that it lasts.

“It is not that it is a Unasur summit… At this stage of his new presidency Lula wants to listen without preconceptions to see if the presidents can establish coordination mechanisms, he wants to generate an ambitious agenda for Latin America around common interests” , the analyst maintained.

The current call takes place when left and center-left forces govern in several countries and the right appears in others as a political alternative, which could hinder the attempt to improve cooperation.

In Argentina, the Peronist Alberto Fernández will not stand for re-election in the October elections and conservative forces appear better placed, in addition to the fact that the extreme right-wing leader Javier Milei is rising in the polls.

In Paraguay, a conservative economist was recently elected president, and in Chile the ultra-right swept the election of the drafters of a new constitution.

The conservative Uruguayan government said that it hopes to know what will be the architecture for regional integration that “Lula” will propose.

For the pragmatic Brazilian president, harmony within the region is necessary, and that includes Venezuela.

Under Bolsonaro’s government, Brazil banned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from entering the country, since opposition leader Juan Guaidó was recognized as president by part of the international community, including Brazil.

But “Lula” will receive Maduro before or after the summit, confirmed an official from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity because he cannot comment publicly on the matter.

“Venezuela is a neighbor and cannot be ignored or have diplomatic ties broken, as we have practical issues that need to be resolved,” said Carolina Silva Pedroso, a professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Sao Paulo.

Lula could also invite his colleagues to discuss some issues that he considers urgent.

Some are climate change, the war between Russia and Ukraine and how it affects subregional trade, food security, the debt burden, the fight against drug trafficking and the search for mechanisms to expedite trade in the region.

The definition of an agenda of common interests meets the different needs of the countries, some of which suffer political and economic crises or maintain disagreements.

Argentina is suffering from accelerating inflation and is trying to bolster its flagging foreign exchange reserves after enduring a historic drought.

Chile wants the regulation of migratory flows after facing uncontrolled illegal immigration, mainly of Venezuelans, until the end of February, when the government deployed the military on its border with Bolivia and Peru.

Peru seeks to position its image battered by criticism of President Dina Boluarte in her handling of the violent repression of anti-government protests that followed the December ouster of her predecessor, Pedro Castillo. Among the most critical is Colombia, a country with which it broke diplomatic relations.

Bolivia maintains a long border disagreement with Chile. Relations with Peru have also cooled as the Boluarte government was not recognized by La Paz.

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