Year XXXV, Number 1, March 2022
Mexico Proposes a Regional Organization to Replace the OAS
Graduate in International Relations
In the context of the celebration of the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Manuel López Obrador proposed a new geopolitical order for the American continent: the proposal suggested by the President of Mexico consists in replacing the Organization of American States (OAS) with a new body that integrates all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to resolve conflicts between them respecting their history, realities and identities.
“The proposal is neither more nor less than to build something similar to the European Union, but connected to our history, our reality and our identities. In that spirit, the replacement of the OAS by a truly autonomous body, not a lackey of anyone, but a mediator at the request and acceptance of the parties in conflict in matters of human rights and democracy should not be ruled out”.[i]
López Obrador’s call is seen as a breaking down of the geopolitical puzzle of the region, and as a confrontation of the Left-leaning governments in Latin America with the Right-leaning ones and the OAS.
It should also be emphasized that the Mexican president took the occasion of the 238th anniversary of the birth of Simon Bolivar to review the regional history and remember the US interference during the struggle for independence of Latin American countries, proposing a new direction for the geopolitical dynamics of the continent: “It is now time for a new coexistence among all the countries of America, because the model imposed more than two centuries ago is exhausted, it has no future, no way out, it no longer benefits anyone ”, he stated. Despite these words, Lopez Obrador stressed the importance of the collaboration with the United States and the growing influence of the new Chinese giant: "As I mentioned to President Biden (of the United States), we prefer an economic integration with the United States and Canada respecting our sovereign dimension, in order to recover what was lost in production and trade with China, than to continue weakening as a region, and to have in the Pacific a scenario plagued by military tensions. To put it in other words, it is in our interest that the United States is strong economically and not only militarily”.[ii]
The one raised by Obrador is a voice in the chorus of some Latin American governments mostly critical of the OAS and in solidarity with the regimes of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, which participated in the CELAC summit.
Bolivian President, Luis Arce, was the first to intervene after Lopez Obrador's words. He criticized the OAS and demanded an organism that works with democratic practices and that responds to reality by supporting the sovereignty of the countries and without interference. Cuban President Diaz-Canel also supported the words of the first two leaders, criticizing US interventionism .
It is worth remembering that the OAS is at the center of criticism from some of these countries for its denunciations of human rights violations in the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan autocracy and fraud in the 2019 Bolivian elections, where Evo Morales attempted a fourth consecutive term.
The OAS: Principles and its new challenges
The Mexican President took the opportunity to call for the Latin American region to constitute something similar to the EU. Despite the effectiveness of the OAS and its purposes still in force since its foundation, we notice more and more that in Latin America the multiple initiatives of regional integration are still far from giving results comparable to those of the EU and they are not immune to internal crises either.
Is it possible to replicate the structure of the European Union in such a different region and in another century? Is that really what the Mexican president is aiming for? Since its creation, and according to its Constitution Letter, the principles of the OAS are:
1) Strengthen peace and security on the continent;
2) Promote and consolidate representative democracy while respecting the principle of non-intervention;
3) Prevent possible causes of difficulties and ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes that may arise between the member states,
4) Organize their solidarity action in the event of aggression;
5) Seek the solution of the political, legal and economic problems that arise between them;
6) Promote through cooperative action its economic, social and cultural development;
7) Eradicate critical poverty, which constitutes an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the hemisphere, and
8) Achieve an effective limitation of conventional weapons that allows the greatest number of resources to be devoted to the economic and social development of the member states. [iii]
Although these principles are still relevant and applicable in the Americas, it is important to consider that the current scenario is diametrically different from the time when the OAS was established, in the post-war period, as part of the construction of the hegemonic system and with this institution as an instrument of America's soft power. There are currently a number of new challenges and demands for the Organization. First, the cold war era ended, giving way to a period of clear US hegemony both regionally and globally. Second, multilateralism of a more traditional nature has been and is the object of deep questioning. Both the UN and the OAS must face a series of questions about the effectiveness of their actions in relation to the costs involved in their operation. The new multilateralism and summit diplomacy take political weight away from the OAS and it is necessary to rethink and reactivate it. Third, Latin America today shows a scene of fragmentation and dispersion, after a stage in which, in general, there were a series of common elements that favored rapprochement and exchange, fundamentally at the ideological level. Today, roughly speaking, the region is divided into more populist governments that have a more distant relationship with the United States, and center-right governments which have established fairly close relations with the United States. Fourth, from a security perspective, profound transformations have occurred since the creation of the OAS. Latin America is today one of the regions with the lowest level of conflict in the world. There is no imminent risk of a conflict of interstate scope, but new and varied threats of a more internal nature have arisen, which have motivated a reconceptualization of security, in which the Organization of American States has played a central role. These changes in the regional and international scenario have had to be incorporated from different perspectives by the Organization and in a more prominent way in the field of conflict prevention and resolution.
Latin America and Europe: Two different stages of integration
A- Economy and geographical issues
The first difference between the EU and Latin America is the complementarity of their economies. The main trading partners of the Europeans are other countries of the block, while in Latin America trade with the United States and China is usually much more important.
This is reflected in the figures of trade within each block: while on average between 65% and 70% of the foreign trade of EU members is destined for other countries of the same block, in Latin America as a whole intraregional trade amounts on average to around 20%. "Regional integration fundamentally needs an economic base. It must allow the exchange of goods, services, capital and workers, and it must serve to adopt common economic policies among the member states"[iv], explains José Antonio Sanahuja.
The fact that many Latin American countries produce and export the same products (basically raw materials) does not favor integration. In other words, Latin American exports compete for the Chinese and US markets, unlike the European ones.
The enormous geographic extension of the region is another obstacle to Latin American integration that directly affects the possibility of increasing trade and people flows. But it is not only a problem of geographical extension, but also a lack of infrastructure such as roads, railways, ports and sufficient airports. In addition, there is a considerable problem of integration between the Atlantic side and the Pacific one.
B- Excess of national sovereignty
The key element allowing a real integration to exist in Europe is supranationality: the countries sacrificed part of their sovereignty so that a regional body be above them. The decisions taken in the community institutions (Council of the EU and European Parliament, for example) are mandatory for all Member States. Supranationality, understood as renouncing certain aspects of national sovereignty, has served as a development engine for the integration of Europe and nothing like that happened for the integration of Latin America.
The mechanisms established in the region have been created preserving a very strong notion of national sovereignty, due to the difficulties for countries to allow certain levels of interference or reciprocity in some issues, and in the region efforts have been made to have much more protectionist development models. The reason for that is due to nationalism, which in Latin America is very accentuated both on the left and on the right of the political space. This implies numerous difficulties in achieving a deep integration.
Ideological changes, the major issue
Among the elements directly related to the insufficient institutionalization of integration in Latin America there are, according to the experts, the ideological and orientation changes that the governments of the region have undergone during the last decades, including those who wanted to give a preponderant role to the State, and even those who were betting on deregulation. The ideological changes in the governments of Latin American countries and the discontinuity between different integration policies have prevented the development of a common thought in terms of democracy, human rights, interference in the affairs of other states. Integration in itself was used as a promise to impose one's way of relating to regional comrades and the whole world. Integration systems are made to rest on the ideological affinity of a group of presidents or governments, as for example happened with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA) and the Pacific Alliance.
The last question analyzed is the plan on which the leaders of the various South American countries are most confronted with. Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou actually criticized the posture of the Mexican representative, especially for the lack of freedom and democracy in member countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, ideologically supported by Lopez Obrador. “We want to be very clear about it. Both national governments and the governments of different agencies are essentially open to criticism, and they are also a matter of change. That is why you can disagree with a leadership, but you cannot distort an organism ”. And he added that “participating in this forum does not mean being complacent. And with due respect, when one sees that in certain countries there is no full democracy, when the separation of powers is not respected, when the repressive apparatus is used to silence protests, when opponents are imprisoned, when human rights are not respected, we, in a calm but firm voice, must tell with great concern what is happening in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela ”.[v]
López Obrador's proposal to draw inspiration from the European Union and reach a Latin American economic community, finally did not get much support. In large part because it is such an old and objectively unattainable idea. The Economic Commission for Latin America has been trying to build it for six decades without making progress. But also because Mexico, economically speaking, has turned its back on Latin America, with which it has trade exchanges for less than 13%, whereas its economy depends on the USA for more than 85%.
The failure of the idea was also seen in the fact that Mexico was unable to get the leaders of the world's main economic powers to attend the CELAC Summit on the 18th of September: Chile, Colombia, or the Argentine President Alberto Fernández, an ally of López Obrador who was to receive from Mexico the pro tempore presidency of CELAC, which he canceled due to the political crisis he is experiencing, was not there. Neither was Jair Bolsonaro from Brazil, although he was not expected to participate because he left the body last year. Without Brazil, however, any attempt at political unity or economic integration does not have clout or sufficient power to achieve López Obrador's dreams.