Latin American Integration and the Formation of Mercosur

By Pires-O'Brien, Joaquina | Contemporary Review, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Latin American Integration and the Formation of Mercosur


Pires-O'Brien, Joaquina, Contemporary Review


A common cultural identity is a must for a group of independent states seeking integration in order to construct and sustain regional trade agreements. Historically, no such identity existed for Latin America (LA) outside the discourse of American foreign policy. Even Simon Bolivar's vision of integration, described in his Letter from Jamaica, referred to a 'Hispanic' America rather than to a 'Latin' America, a sectarianism that was re-imprinted many times over in history. Only towards the end of the 20th century the gulf between Hispanic and Portuguese LA was shortened sufficiently to allow a cultural identity to emerge. This was largely due to the all-round picture of LA formed to facilitate global market liberalisation. Although 'Latin America' literally refers to the American nations that speak a Latin-derived, Romance language, after globalisation, the term became consolidated to denote one of three regional emerging markets, the others being Asia excluding Japan, and Eastern Europe.

The merit for LA's cultural identity is not entirely due to globalisation but to a century and a half of painstaking work of diplomacy as well as of a number of isolated thinkers. Most diplomatic initiatives to integrate the LA nations were instigated by the United States. On December 2, 1823, President James Monroe, during his annual message to Congress announced his policy of supporting the nations of the American continents against foreign aggressions as well as of seeking trade opportunities. The 'Monroe Doctrine', as this foreign policy became known, promoted the creation of a Pan-American Alliance that would empower Latin American countries in case Spain decided to re-conquer its former colonies. A series of Pan-American Congresses took place. The first Pan-American Congress was held in Panama in 1826, the second in Mexico City in 1900, the third in Rio de Janeiro in 1906, and the fourth in Buenos Aires in 1910. These conferences not only promoted a better understanding among the American nations but a lso had an important role in furthering the development of Latin American diplomacy. The Monroe Doctrine was mainly ignored until 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt reformed it to include US interference in the internal affairs of Latin American nations under certain circumstances (known as the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine). He was a scholar, an explorer and a diplomat. He promoted the building of the Panama Canal (1904-1914). He became concerned by a threat of Great Britain and Germany to invade certain Latin American territories in the Caribbean. Nevertheless, his attitude to the small Latin American countries was that of 'big brother knows best', typical of colonial imperialism. After he left office in March 1909, he travelled to Africa and then toured Europe. Some years later he explored the Amazon jungle of Brazil and Bolivia in the company of Marshall Candido Rondon.

The Monroe Doctrine was once again forgotten for two decades, until it was lifted again during the 1930s by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The US resumed its policy of interference in internal affairs and also promoted the creation of the Organisation of the American States (OAS). President F. D. Roosevelt also launched a programme of cultural integration which brought many Latin American artists to the United States, to act as cultural ambassadors of their countries. One of the most successful was Carmen Miranda, the petite 'Brazilian bombshell' (who was in fact Portuguese). She starred in Broadway shows and in several Hollywood movies.

The United States' interference in the internal affairs of Latin American countries eventually led to the distrust which predisposed them to seek alternative alliances. In 1958 the Cuban revolution placed Fidel Castro at the head of the Cuban government and ties were forged with the Soviet Union (see Alan I. Davies' article on Cuba, below). Castro wished to integrate Latin American countries by transforming them into Marxist states, away from the influence of the US.

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