Latin American-Caribbean Unity: If Not Now, When?

Javier Tolcachier

There are occasions in history that must be seized. They are windows of opportunity that indicate that the time to move forward decisively has come. Indecision in such circumstances is inadvisable and even reprehensible. Such is the current case with regard to the possibility of producing a qualitative leap towards the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The opportunity

History provides plenty of examples of junctures at which peoples tend to leave behind outdated yokes and moulds. These crossroads occur when the decline of oppressive forces is evident or in times when conflicts between powers leave open a crack for liberation.

In the first case, the problems accumulated by internal contradictions weaken the once invincible power, revealing its feet of clay. In these moments, the certainty of a coming end of the cycle is affirmed and spreads. In the second, other constructions grow in parallel, challenging the sole power of the previous hegemony.

This was the case with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, in which various invading tribes took advantage of the decadence produced by internal divisions, corruption and the difficulties of maintaining militias and power over vast territories. Different kingdoms emerged (Frankish, Thuringian, Anglo, Saxon, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, Bavarian, etc.), which would form the cultural basis of what would later become the European states. However, a new empire also appeared, which would place its stamp of domination on those lands, that of the two-headed Christian church with its centres in Rome and Constantinople.

Centuries afterwards, with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and after decades of further plunder by France and Britain, the states that today make up the political map of the Middle East and part of the Balkans achieved national independence. Likewise, most of the peoples of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, subjugated, exploited and enslaved by the European empires, opened the way to self-determination in the second half of the 20th century, after the collapse of the war between the Axis powers and the Allied forces.

The world went from 51 national entities signing the original UN Charter in 1945, to 127 states in 1970, to the 193 sovereign countries (197 recognised) of today.

Something similar had happened in the previous century in Latin America, where the second and third decades of the 19th century marked the period of independence from the Spanish crown. The forerunner Haiti had already managed to expel the French in 1804, the Dominican Republic separated from the French in 1844, Panama from Colombia in 1903, and Cuba managed to free itself from Spain in 1902 and from the suffocating tutelage of the United States only after the 1959 Revolution. The United States of America tried to take over the tutelage of the entire region through the Monroe Doctrine in order to supplant the hegemony of the previous empires with its own hegemony. Almost a century on from the speech with which the fifth US president unveiled it, that vain and illegitimate claim to dominance seems about to vanish forever, offering the possibility of overcoming the artificial divisions imposed by the republican elites in post-colonial America.

The balance of forces today

After Lula’s victory in Brazil, the political map of Latin America and the Caribbean can be summarily grouped as follows: In South America, of the twelve independent countries (not counting French Guiana), nine qualify firmly in the integrationist category (Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Guyana, Suriname, Peru and Brazil) and only three governments still respond to the disintegrating neoliberal order aligned with imperialism (Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay).

In Central and North America, Mexico, together with Honduras and Nicaragua, are today firm pillars of integration, while other countries, governed by various right-wingers, maintain serious disputes with the United States, largely caused by differences of geopolitical interest over the advantages granted by the presence and support of China, among other issues.

In the Caribbean, together with an indomitable Cuba, the nations emancipated from British colonialism form a relatively compact bloc of support for processes of brotherhood and community, beyond their political nuances. Their insular status, the size of their territory, population and economy, together with a spirit of freedom emanating from a past of cruel slavery, have probably convinced their leaders early on that unity is the only possible path to sovereignty.

This propitious panorama is accentuated by observing how previous governments addicted to vassalage in places such as Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru have collapsed, emptying out instances of disarticulation. Entities such as the Non-violent Alliance, the Lima Group or the ProSur group have lost their pivots, and today voices are being raised for the definitive replacement of the OAS, the “ministry of the colonies” subordinated to the orders of US diplomacy.

In the latter case, the supposed empire is trying to make up for the situation in order to prevent the final demise of an organisation that emerged in the heat of the Cold War with the aim of dictating the rules for the continent’s alignment with the capitalist power of the North. The montage underway aims to resolve the situation with the replacement of the current Secretary General Luis Almagro, due to his amorous relationship with a subordinate, frivolising and obscuring the complicity of the OAS in the coup in Bolivia in 2019, the final validation of the double fraud in the unconstitutional and flawed election of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras and, above all, the ferocious and persistent attack against the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its president Nicolás Maduro, just to mention some of the misdeeds of a long recent record.

Alongside the irreversible deterioration of the bodies created to undermine the new structures of regional cooperation and coordination born of the wave of popular governments in the first decade of the new century, voices are now being raised for the institutionalisation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the recomposition of UNASUR, paralysed since April 2018 by the concerted action of six of its member countries, at the time governed by the right.

Resistance to new models

Emerging multilateralism in an interconnected world implies a determined and courageous willingness to collaborate and repair, tending to overcome, once and for all, financialised capitalism and the systemic and multidimensional crisis it has produced.

The national states, once projects of unity of differences within the framework of a growing self-determination of the peoples, today lack the necessary force to resist on their own the continuing depredations of transnational corporations. Hence, the constitution of regional blocs with a sense of sovereignty and equitable redistribution is essential to balance the asymmetries generated by the excessive concentration of power based on neoliberal policies.

But it is worth asking if mere inter-state associationism will be enough in this new stage of integration that is approaching. The very essence of liberal democracy within each of the states is being torpedoed and disarticulated by the accumulation of real, economic and media power and its long tentacles within the military and the judiciary, the latter being the main agent of a second regional Condor Plan against the main popular leaders.

Alongside the destabilising premises of the declining hegemon of the North and its local allies, a new vector opposed to integration stands out on the horizon. This is the ultra-right trend, which, shielded by supposed nationalism and supported by conservative values, is now gaining support among excluded and subjugated population groups. The other reactionary variant, which uses power to impede the progress of transformations, is of a similar disposition, although with secessionist designs.

Before tackling possible ways out of these retrograde traps, it is necessary to deepen our understanding of the phenomenon. On the one hand, in the framework of a mere administration of the capitalist system, it is clear that there is only room for despair or rebellion for millions of poor, hungry and suffering inhabitants, in particular for young people with no future in the current system. The lukewarmness of the reformist discourse fails to convince in the face of the howls of the radical pack whose simplistic narrative, as in other historical epochs, effectively connects with the irritation and righteous indignation of the people.

On the other hand, the right has managed to naturalise its despicable argumentation, has managed to amalgamate locally and internationally, has taken advantage of (and encouraged) the divisionism in the ranks that advocate real social transformations, and already has a wave of demonstration effects – once hardly feasible – of individuals who manage to reach the pinnacle of political power.

Obviously, none of this would have been possible without a strategy defined by a sector of real power, which has seen in this populist conservative radicalisation the appropriate tactic to counteract (or at least delay) any attempt at systemic change of an evolutionary nature.

But there are also profound subjective factors that pave the way for the incursion of violent right-wing ideologies and practices. In short, two trends operate simultaneously to create uncertainty and destabilisation in the collective consciousness. One of these trends is the speed of the transformations of the external landscape driven by rapid technological changes, which modify the environments of production, social organisation and human relations, clashing with habits rooted in the formation landscape of broad social sectors.

On the other hand, social fragmentation undermines solidarity, warm and fraternal ties, leaving millions of people in a heartbreaking loneliness, lacking closeness and containment.

It is in this psychosocial scenario of uncertainties and suffering that regressive redemption proclamations, combined with a sense of identity shelter, are easily incarnated in the most vulnerable sectors. These sectors have been neglected not only by neoliberal states, but also by the hegemonic cult, which is now trying, with a kind of modern “counter-reform”, to recover some of the roots lost in the popular sectors. However, the void of meaning and future experienced by the people cannot be filled with outdated moulds.

The unity of the peoples towards a new revolution

No revolution is possible without massive popular participation. This principle refers not only to the hinge of historical change that is usually dated in books in a precise manner, but to the continuity and permanence of the transformation within the people themselves and their orientation of life.

However, “people” today is a multiform concept, which, if it refers unequivocally to the majorities, also encompasses a broad category of socio-economic, cultural, gender, generational and other segments. Diversities that must find a new common denominator in order to amalgamate creatively in this new era, in which previous belongings no longer offer a solid basis.

The convergence of diversity has emerged as a fundamental tactical necessity to conquer political pre-eminence in different places and appears on the horizon as a certain direction to build an inclusive future from the social base.

A real, participatory democracy, a multiculturalism of multiple and varied colours and beliefs, an end to violence, the reparation of injustices and the search for a new economic paradigm that is socially equitable and environmentally proportionate, are undoubtedly part of the programme that will enhance the possibilities of human development in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A revolutionary programme that can be realised from the recognition of common humanity beyond differences, transcending fictitious borders towards a Latin American and Caribbean unity of a humanist character with the direct participation of its majorities.