Magazine article The Spectator

Lessons from Latin America

Magazine article The Spectator

Lessons from Latin America

Article excerpt

Euro-diplomats are grinding their teeth in frustration. For 15 years they have been urging the nations of South America to form a supra-national union in mimicry of the EU. They have held seminars to teach the Latinos about the joys of integration. They have funded campaigns for a pan-continental parliament. They have declared that the EU will sign trade and aid deals only with blocs, not single states. But the colonials just don't get it. Satisfied with their free trade zone, they doltishly refuse to see why they need political harmonisation too.

It's hard not to sympathise with the Eurofederalists. The notion that 'the world is dividing into blocs' is a vital part of their Weltanschauung. And if ever there was an obvious bloc, it is South America. Its peoples share a common language (all right, the Brazilians speak Portuguese, but they can understand Spanish -- although, rather unfairly, the converse is not true). They have a shared religious and cultural background.

They watch each other's abominable soap operas. Yet they show no interest in merging their political systems.

I have just been to Uruguay, the seat of the main Latin American free trade organisation, Mercosur, and I found it astonishingly like my native Peru. There are some differences, to be sure: Uruguayans are, as Greg Dyke might say, hideously white and, by South American standards, rather square, albeit in a charming, bourgeois way. They are a sober people, as I found when, in a Bateman cartoon moment, I jovially told a group of congressmen that Homer Simpson calls their country 'Are-You-Gay'. But they are recognisably part of a common South American civilisation. Montevideo looks and feels like the posher parts of Lima: flatroofed houses squat behind iron railings;

gardens are planted with palm trees and hibiscus and bougainvillea; busts of 19th-century generals, with Flashman-style whiskers, scowl in little parks; streets are named after famous dates and other South American countries; walls are daubed with communist party slogans; and near the town centre, as in any other South American capital, sits a mounted statue of that ur-federalist, Simón Bolívar.

This may not seem surprising. But remember that Lima and Montevideo are three time-zones and more than 2,000 miles apart.

Travel the same distance from London and you'd be in Cairo. Which raises the awkward question: if regional integration won't take root in South America, why should it succeed in Europe among far more disparate nations? Or, to put it another way, perhaps it is the EU, rather than the rest of the world, that is swimming against the current.

Simply by existing, the sovereign states of South America undermine the sense of historical inevitability on which European integration rests. Not that the Eurocrats are taking it lying down. On the contrary, they are doing everything they can to push South Americans into a transnational federation.

Just as they are doing in Central America, South-east Asia and Africa, the Eurocrats are firehosing financial and technical support at the local regional bloc.

Mercosur, though, is their main target, a 14-year-old common market comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Chile and Bolivia as associates. These countries have largely European-descended populations, which makes their souvereignty especially hurtful to Eurosophists. …

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