Historical Analysis of Interamericanism: The Disintegrating Integration

Felix Caballero Escalante

Throughout the history of Latin America there are centrifugal tendencies represented by local oligarchies that prioritize connections with other power centers. In this scheme, through the exchange of the multiple comparative advantages offered by the region, the relationship of dependence is strengthened and rooted in the global system of the center and periphery.

Latin America, a concept proposed by Michel Chevalier in 1836, which delimits the region by prioritizing its common historical and cultural aspects rather than its economic profitability [1], was centralized under the orbit of the Empire, then, already in the republican era of the continent, two models of integration between the new republics came into dispute:

On the one hand, the Bolivarian model of integration, with its project of the South American Confederation based on a Perpetual League of Spanish ex-colonies of the Anfictionía, institutionalized with the celebration of the Amphictyonic Congress of Panama in 1826, in order to consolidate the sovereignty of the Newly independent states in the region.

On the other hand, there is the model that finally prevailed, Pan-Americanism, whose root is found in the Address to the Congress of President James Monroe of 1823 and materialized, after a long process of balkanization of the region, with the convocation of the First Pan American Conference held in 1889 in Washington.

Panamericanism: Sounding board of North American imperialism

Let’s first examine the Pan-Americanism whose conceptual elaboration was promoted by the Secretary of State for that time, James G. Blaine and consisted of a reissue of the Zollverein (Customs Union) formulated by the German Chancellor Otto Van Bismarck, through which he manages to integrate the German empire in 1871.

The basis of Pan-Americanism is to generate a system where the economic and commercial flows of the region were centralized by the US, which by then was eager to find its niche in the Eurocentric world order for that time. To achieve this objective, as a result of the First Conference, the Commercial Office of the American Republics was created, approved on April 14, 1890, with headquarters in Washington.

Making a general conclusion of the 20th century of the balance of power in the region, we can say that the hegemony of Pan-Americanism was total and Bolivarian or Latin Americanist initiatives were drowned either by force of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market or the ‘visible hand’. ‘of military interventions and dictatorships. Thus, this model of domination was perfected and was able to keep the Latin American and Caribbean region disconnected from one another, but integrated into the sphere of influence of the USA, centralized since 1948 in the Organization of American States ( OAS).

After a long process of maturation of this multilateral system, now called the inter-American system, it begins to transcend the economic sphere and includes two areas to highlight in this analysis:

Military: The founding of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (1946) and the signing of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR)) (1947) aimed to standardize the doctrine of national security of the countries of the region and thus on the one hand, it can block the left movements in Latin America, promote the counterinsurgency fight against communism and, on the other hand, allow the creation of a coalition of armies in case of an extracontinental threat.

Legal: Since the signing of the Charter of the Organization of American States through the celebration of the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights (1969) where the so-called Pact of San José de Costa Rica is signed, a regional legal framework is defined, currently administered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) where liberal conceptions of democracy are imposed.

Thus, the US manages to impose itself as rector of Latin American regional policy for the last 129 years using it as a laboratory of neoliberal policies first under the doctrine of shock led by military dictatorships as in Chile (1972-1990) or Argentina (1976-1981) and then under the so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTA) originated within the inter-American system within the framework of the First Summit of the Americas held in Miami in 1994 and now expressed in the conformation of the Pacific Alliance block (2012).

Flow and ebb of the “Progressive Cycle”

It seemed the end of history for the self-determination and sovereignty of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Monroism was superimposed on Bolivarianism. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, the phenomenon known as the “progressive cycle” emerged.

There are authors who identify this stage of Latin American history (1999-2013) as the fourth wave of populism [2], where around 12 governments of Latin American nations propose a total reform or break with the Washington Consensus and apply measures opposed to those known as the first generation of reforms, that is, the recipes of the IMF and the World Bank to privatize and liberalize the economies and industries of the region and thus consolidate their role as peripheral economies in the international system.

Therefore the (re) nationalization and expropriation of companies and industries, increased public spending for social development, greater control in the financial sector [3] were some of the measures applied by these governments and their synergy helped to form a new Bolivarian multilateral model materialized in the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (2004), PetroCaribe (2005), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) (2008) and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) (2010).

The symptomatology of “Suramexit”

All this network of multilateral organizations act as a geopolitical counterweight to the influence of the US administered  by the inter-American system, however, for various reasons both internal and external, most governments of the “progressive cycle” have been removed by different means, either democratic or through mechanisms of “soft power”.

This phenomenon began to be identified as the “Suramexit” [4], a name that synthesizes very well the process of disintegration that in parallel produces a re-centralization of the South American relations to the unilateralism of the USA. For example, in UNASUR, in April 2018, six member states [5] suspended their membership indefinitely because they did not achieve consensus in the election of the Secretary General. Ecuador, on the other hand, being one of the most important countries in the ALBA-TCP scheme, in August of this year it suspended its participation due to the turn of Lenin Moreno towards the orbit of the Pacific Alliance.

CELAC, although it has not suffered the same disintegration processes due to the consensus-building efforts of El Salvador and the core of the ALBA-TCP countries, has not been spared from stagnation and inertia due to the regional polarization atmosphere.

Another of the symptoms of the Suramexit is the Lima Group, who now strengthened with the radical positions of the government of Iván Duque and Jair Bolsonaro aligned totally to the US, have promoted an interventionist policy [6] directed towards Venezuela through the ignorance of their constitutional government preceded by Nicolás Maduro who on January 10 assumes the presidential term 2019-2025.

The living history of Latin America allows us to ignore the cosmetic discourses on Human Rights, the fight against corruption and democracy of the OAS and discover its origins and true intentions.

We are not facing another “end of history”.  Centrifugal and centripetal waves in the multilateral space are a constant in the region and a multilateral system is necessary to allow self-determination and sovereignty within the framework of reciprocal and complementary relations that allow the Great Homeland to get out of dependency and subordination.


[1] The unilateral benefit of this system is evidenced in the Malvinas Conflict of 1982 where the United Kingdom attacks Argentina without the TIAR being activated, however there are cases in which units of South American armies participate in US conflicts as in Iraq or Afghanistan.


1. Bermudez T. César A, Integration projects in Latin America during the twentieth century. A look at regional integration in the 21st century. Revista Investigación & Desarrollo, Vol 19, No 1. June, 2011 http://rcientificas.uninorte.edu.co/index.php/investigacion/article/viewArticle/2869/4604#4
1. Dong Jingsheng, Populism in Latin America: a debate between theory and practice http://biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/clacso/se/20180907030157/Antologia_China.pd
2. Your Zhenxing, The necessary and urgent sectoral restructuring
3. in Latin America and the Caribbean http://biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/clacso/se/20180907030157/Antologia_China.pdf)
4. Herrera Juan C. Why Latin America has to overcome the crisis of ‘suraméxit’ August 23, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/en/2018/08/23/por-que-america-latina- has-to-overcome-the-crisis-of-suramexit /
5. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru suspend participation in Unasur block https://lta.reuters.com/article/topNews/idLTAKBN1HR2J3-OUSLT
6. Statement by the Group of Lima January 4, 2019 https://www.gob.pe/institucion/rree/noticias/24270-declaracion-del-grupo-de-lima

Translation by Internationalist 360°