CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Regionalism in Latin America

March 2nd, 2012

Lecture Synopsis

Olivier Dabène
Regionalism in Latin America: the current stage of flexibility and pragmatism

On February 6, 2012, Tulane’s Center for Inter-American Policy welcomed Dr. Olivier Dabène, Director of the Political Science Department at the Paris Institute of Political Studies and President of the Political Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean, to discuss regionalism in Latin America. Dabène began his presentation by underscoring that the number and scale of regional agreements found in Latin America is unequaled anywhere else in the world. However, these regional agreements have not, overall, been successful in terms of increasing interdependence, integration, and institutionalization across the continent. As an example, Dabène cited intra-regional trade, which accounts for a modest 25 percent or less of the region’s overall trade. However, integration efforts persist, both through the subsistence of old schemes and the emergence of new ones.

What might explain the persistence of multiple integration efforts in the face of such ineffectiveness? Dabène argues that a key factor is the flexibility that characterizes these regional agreements, both in design and governance. For his analysis, he divided flexibility into three realms: flexibility in time, flexibility in space (variable geometry) and flexibility in projects (agendas “a la carte”). With respect to time, Dabène outlined the salient examples of the Quito Protocol (1987), the American Treaty (MERCOSUR, 1991), and the Guatemala Protocol (SICA, 1993), in which “gradualism” in integrating the member nations was made explicitly integral to the agreements themselves. With respect to variable geometry, Dabène highlighted the myriad ways in which the regions’ agreements are structured; bilateralism (Brazil/Mexico, Chile), bi-multilateralism (Chile/MERCOSUR), tri-lateralism (URUPABOL, NAFTA), regionalism (MERCOSUR, CAN, SICA, CARICOM, ALBA), trans-regionalism (Pacific Arc), mega-regionalism (UNASUR, CELAC), and inter-regionalism. In terms of flexibility of projects and agenda diversification, Dabène focused on UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), which he described as reactive and pragmatic. When UNASUR was first founded in 2000, it did not have a fixed agenda. Dabène explained that since then, UNASUR still maintains a fluid agenda but has also developed a capacity to react to developments in the region, signaling its potential strength as a regional union.

An illustrative example of this was UNASUR’s adoption of a democratic clause in 2010 that now renders democracy a necessary prerequisite for membership in UNASUR. Dabène explained that this clause was adopted in response to a police uprising in Ecuador, and it subsequently enabled UNASUR to act as an effective broker for a similar democratic crisis in Bolivia. Dabène added that UNASUR might also serve as a platform for Brazil to develop its position as a regional leader in the Americas. Brazil was influential in the adoption and use of the democracy clause in UNASUR. It also prompted UNASUR to establish a security and defense council. As a result, the union’s agenda currently includes health, defense, infrastructure and planning, drugs, energy, economy and finance, security, social development, etc. With respect to the rise of Brazil as a regional leader, Dabène questioned whether Brazil is ready to become “the Germany” of the Americas. In his view, even if Brazil has not yet officially embraced regional leadership, it is quietly developing that role.