In the picture
Official photo of the PROSUR's constitutive meeting , held in 2019 in Santiago de Chile [PROSUR].
Regional integration is one of the great unresolved issues in Latin America. The state revenues of the 'golden decade' (2004-2014) generated a confidence in governments that led them to promote an organisation for Latin America and the Caribbean, CELAC, for the meeting of presidents, and another for South America, UNASUR, more oriented towards the integration of government policies. But a growing Bolivarianism meant the rapid politicisation of both entities; when the political colour of some governments in South America changed, they went on to annihilate UNASUR and create PROSUR. A new back-and-forth may now put an end to PROSUR: Boric's Chile is already distancing itself; let's see what happens in this year's elections in Colombia and Brazil.
On 22 March 2019, the Forum for the Progress and Integration of South America, better known as PROSUR, was created in Santiago de Chile. In the preceding months, South America's main regional integration organisation, the Union of South American Nations or UNASUR, had been crumbling due to the blockade to succeed the pro tempore presidency and the Venezuelan crisis that was plaguing regional politics. In addition, the region was governed by presidents who moved between the centre and the right, with the exception of Uruguay, Bolivia and Venezuela. To overcome this crisis, eight of the thirteen South American republics decided to leave UNASUR, in which only Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname remained, and replace it with a new regional organisation: PROSUR.
PROSUR was created with the express purpose of continuing and accelerating the integration work that UNASUR had begun. The purpose was to set aside the ideological positions on which this other organisation had so insisted (although it did express a desire for regional leadership in favour of democracy, as opposed to the aid that UNASUR had sought to provide to Maduro's Venezuela) and move towards 'more effective' integration. To this end, six thematic areas were decided on: energy, infrastructure, health, defence, security and the fight against crime, and management risk and defence. Likewise, groups and subgroups were created at work, creating a hierarchical structure ranging from meetings of presidents and ministers to those responsible for implementing the policies decided in each country, through coordinators in each sector.
While PROSUR's intentions seemed ambitious, its achievements have been markedly modest. In the 2020report of management , presented by the organisation at the end of Chile's pro tempore presidency that year, it could be seen that despite the various meetings of presidents, ministers and groups of work (almost all of them had to be virtual due to the pandemic), no concrete action of any magnitude was agreed upon. The 2021report , published in December at the end of the Colombian presidency, only pointed to the creation of a portfolio of 31 regional infrastructure projects, yet to be finalised, and the desire to move forward with actions leading to the production of pandemic vaccines in the region. The Colombian president, Iván Duque, set out to increase PROSUR's presence in the media on speech, but in reality the organisation has not been particularly visible to the public.
The meetings held have basically been limited to information sharing between country representatives, often with invited experts from other organisations such as the OAS, the United Nations Development Programme development, WHO-PAHO and especially the Inter-American Bank development. The only concrete action that can be found in its report of management is the joint purchase of certain medicines and medical supplies following a meeting with WHO-PAHO in the context of the 2020 coronavirus, in which not all countries participated.
The lack of concrete actions is not the only problem facing PROSUR. The polarisation that characterises the region and on which the organisation itself was founded is the main challenge to its survival. If when PROSUR was founded there were only three governments on the political left, today it is the right that is being left alone in the continent. Only four countries are still governed by this side of the political spectrum: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay, the latter having inherited the pro tempore presidency this year. Brazilians and Colombians will face presidential elections in the coming months where the left looks favourable: its victory could mark the definitive end of PROSUR.
The lack of results and the shift to the left have been crumbling the project initiated less than three years ago in Santiago de Chile. From the outset, Guyana, the only non-Ibero-American member, showed timid participation, absenting itself from more than half of the tables at work. In the case of Bolivia, which participated as an observer member, it stopped attending the conferences once democratic normality was restored in La Paz and Luis Arce won the elections. The same happened with Argentina, where President Alberto Fernández decided to prioritise the relaunch of CELAC in a tandem with Mexico, due to his closeness to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and has been a continuous absentee in PROSUR. The latest setback for the organisation has been the recent victory of Gabriel Boric in Chile, one of the countries that had pushed hardest for project integration. Boric recently refused to accompany Piñera to the PROSUR summit in late December, considering it a diary staff by Piñera, suggesting that the new Chilean government is likely to do without the organisation. Instead, Boric proposed focusing on the Pacific Alliance, to which Mexico, Colombia and Peru belong, which so far has had a purely economic rather than ideological profile : the Pacific Alliance is not intended to be the backbone of any political integration process, but is basically an area of free trade.
Barring an unexpected turn of events, PROSUR will find it difficult to consolidate and may become increasingly irrelevant. The point is that, for the moment, there is no alternative for the integration of South America, a subcontinent in which integration processes make even more sense than those that aspire to the framework of the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. The alternative may come if Lula da Silva returns to power at the end of the year in Brazil (without Brazil there is no credible South American project , although it is a sine qua non condition, but not sufficient): meanwhile, the South American left prefers to look to López Obrador's Mexico to point to the broader framework of CELAC.
In the near future, we can expect Latin American integration to continue to be a pending task and that, as a result of polarisation, countries will continue to prioritise one or other international organisations according to the ideological stance of the presidents that make them up, rather than the strategic value they contribute to foreign policy. This strategy will lead to the continuous loss of weight and voice on the international stage that Latin America has been suffering in recent years.