Integration to spur democracy vs. non-Democrats peddling non-integration

Out of focus

Out of focus

In her memoir The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher talks extensively about the evolution of the European Community, now the European Union. In discussing the obstruction of Greece to the entry of Spain and Portugal in 1984, in which Greece’s Prime Minister Andreas Panandreou demanded a large economic assistance package in exchange for agreeing to Spain and Portugal’s membership, Thatcher had this to say,

“Mr. Papandreou’s statement [asking for extra funds] threw the Council into disarray. Everyone resented not just the fact that Greece was holding us ransom, nor even the particular tactics used, but still more the fact that, though Greece had been accepted into the Community precisely to entrench its restored democracy, the Greeks would not allow the Community to do exactly the same for the former dictatorships of Spain and Portugal.” (emphasis mine)

Right now, a Commission of Unasur is visiting Caracas trying to mediate in Venezuela’s political crisis. As I was reading about it, I recalled Thatcher’s statement linking democracy and trade.

The European experiment was not driven by economics, but by politics. Europe in 1945 was coming out of a long and bloody war, and democracy in the continent was fragile, yet it existed. As Thatcher explains, the free trade promised by the European Community was not viewed as an end unto itself, but rather as a way of consolidating democracy and peace in the Continent – free trade helping to spur growth and consolidate democracy, free trade as a weapon to punish countries that deviated from democratic norms.

The most important factor is that it was not just consolidated in treaties or rules, but in the hearts and values of the people leading Europe. The European experiment was driven by democrats interested in democracy. The “trade” part was hugely important, but it was more an instrument than a goal in and of itself. Even a noted Euro-skeptic such as Thatcher understood that.

Unasur is a thing (I don’t know what else to call it) created primarily by Hugo Chávez and Néstor Kirchner, and that right there should give us pause as to its commitment to democracy. Other boosters include Rafael Correa and Evo Morales … Brazil, with its indifferent attitude toward democracy in the region, also plays a big role.

In other words, Unasur is about a lot of things. Democracy isn’t one of them.

As a consequence, neither is trade. Since Unasur is not a vehicle for democracy, one can only conclude it is a vehicle for consolidating the status quo – the elected, left-leaning autocratic governments that predominate in the continent. Free-trade champions such as Peru, Chile or Colombia play a marginal role in Unasur. And because Unasur does not have democracy as its goal, it does not even concern itself with trade, development, or other forms of integration. As it turns out, Unasur is superceded on trade issues by other trade blocs, such as Mercosur (emphasis on block, not on trade) and the Pacific Alliance (emphasis on trade, not on block).

These days, as we see Evo Morales’s foreign minister, Rafael Correa’s foreign minister, Cristina Kircher’s foreign minister lecture the Venezuelan opposition about democracy, we should keep this in mind. Regional bodies are a reflection of the people that lead them – and UNASUR’s current leader is Alí Rodríguez! We need democracy, we need trade, and we need regional bodies that support both, just like Europe. With Unasur we get none of these things.

Unless it’s remade from the ground up, Unasur will do nothing to advance either democracy or trade. Until such a day, it cannot play a constructive role in our conflict.

17 thoughts on “Integration to spur democracy vs. non-Democrats peddling non-integration

  1. I agree with your criticism, Juan, even though I find arguments that link free trade and democracy unconvincing.

    The main purpose of UNASUR is regional integration. Translation: be independent from the United States. And how do you become independent from the United States? By ensuring elected, left-leaning leaders stay in power (as you said). It’s all politics. When interests are involved (i.e. the energy security Venezuela gives its allies), UNASUR being an effective arbiter in the Venezuelan crisis is completely laughable. It is not a neutral body which is why it is the preferred method of arbitration for the government. The administrative centers are in Quito and Cochabamba!! That right there should let you know that their main concern is not democratic consolidation or free trade, but securing the stability of its founding members.


  2. I don’t think anyone is expecting a positive outcome from Unasur mission. Honestly, it’s not even worth the time invested in explaining why… (just think how democracies function in Bolivia, Ecuador, Arg, etc…)


  3. I studied economics with Andreas Papandreou when he was in exile in Canada. He told us on more than one occasion that if Greece was ever to join the proposed EEC, it would need a big $ assistance package to enter, because otherwise the new EEC currency, and decisions taken outside of Greece, could “swamp” the Greek economy at any time.

    Spiros Draenos’ autobiography of Papandreou adds interesting detail.

    Mrs. Thatcher may have felt annoyed that Greece hijacked her agenda, but I don’t think Papandreou was wrong in demanding concessions. As Venezuelans know, economic shocks also can pave the way for authoritarianism.


    • “…but I don’t think Papandreou was wrong in demanding concessions.”

      Yes, but perhaps it was the EU which should have been demanding ‘concessions’ from Greece. What eventually happened in Greece, as was true in Spain as well, was the removal of the power of the central bank and its transferal to Brussels. Both Spain and Greece saw the advantages of this new set-up and went on a borrowing binge on low interest rate loans from their ‘new’ central bank. They then promptly plunged their economies into a bottomless pit of debt. Little transparency, few fiscal controls. In Greece it was made even worse by corrupt politicians. “Hey! We can borrow enough Euro’s to finance an Olympic games!” They did. Billions lost. Like Venezuela today, basic accounting is almost nonexistent. Whoosh! All the money gone! (read: Bandes/Fonden) It will take Greece another 10 years to recover.


  4. It’s been kind of an either or proposition in Latin America.

    OAS was THE regional body progressively charged with “collective defense of democracy”, but its democratic charter has no success story, in a region with at least three important presidential crisis (Chavez, Zelaya, Lugo) spanning a decade, due to its lack of teeth. It also lacks a trade element, given the spectacular failure of FTAA (aka ALCA).

    Since the failure of FTAA, there’s been a proliferation of US-centric bilateral and sub-regional FTAs without any political component, that promote trade but no democracy.

    There’s also the love of redundancy in the region. Latin Parliament, Andean Parliament, Central American Parliament and MERCOSUR Parliament; OAS, CELAC and UNASUR. Their true mission appears to be providing a dignified retirement vehicle for politicians and diplomats.

    Of all the regional trade blocks, I think the Pacific Alliance is the one more likely to eventually become a champion of democracy and trade.


    • These hocus pocus regional organizations, when they meet, give the member country officials a highly lit venue in which they can shine , make theatrical speeches , engage in grand pronouncements , make believe they impress each other and of course impress their local constituencies with how internationally important they are . Its a measure of the narcicism of the local pols and how much they think they can profit politically from playing the grand international statesman role before their fimpressionable followers back home. !!


    • Interesting observation about the bilateral FTAs in the Americas, where the collective wisdom seems to be: open up trade and democracy/rule of law will come. The decoupling of trade and human rights issues seems to be a central tenet of this approach. I guess Thatcher would have been outraged!


      • She would be outraged AND right. PR China and Singapur are keen to sign FTAs as well, and that doesn’t democracy is any stronger now than it has been in those countries.


  5. This organisation is just another way for heads of state to meet.
    I remember a Belgian “philosophy” student I met last year, usual French-speaking lefty PSF.
    He asked me about this organisation, with a smile, almost expecting me to tell him it was what the EU should be.

    He was shocked when I told him actual cooperation between Venezuela and any other country in South America – beyond the promotion of Venezuela-subsidized imports from the rest – is just at the state Western Europe was in 1945.


    • You mean to say it has “reverted intentionally/willing/purposefully” to a state approximating Western Europe in 1945 where issues of sovereignty have priority over human rights and the rule of law. The UN Declaration of Human Rights first saw the light of day in December 1948. One wonders if UNASUR will soon create its own HR declaration that is, if it is true to form, at best ambivalent to human rights.


  6. Margaret Thatcher might have done some things right, but she probably isn’t the best contemporary witness to understand European Union. The whole thing has been very complex from its beginning and at any time motivated by a lot of factors. The political idea of the german political leaders at the beginning consisted explicitly in the idea to stop german waywardness and anchor the country in the deeper democratic traditions of our western neighbors. Nevertheless economic goals always played a very important role from the very beginning of European Community of Coal and Steal of the mid 50ties.
    Perhaps you find more EU trucks on a service area of the autobahn at night than trucks that take the Paso de Libertadores rallye (most important border pass between Chile and Argentina) on a whole day.
    Unasur may prove its usefulness one day. Not with the current Governments of Argentina and Brazil, certainly.


  7. I wonder how Unasul would react to a right-wing dictator in Venezuela… I can foresee tanks and paratroops being deployed to “liberate” the unfortunate country.


  8. Well, if UNASUR was created by Venezuela then isn’t it possible that when and if venezuela is remade from the ground up,the same will happen to UNASUR?
    I would ditch the whole thing altogether anyways, but what are your thoughts on this?


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