On Friday, May 23, twelve South American states joined together into an economic and political union dubbed Unasur, short for Union of South American Nations. Already one member, Venezuela, led by a radical leftist, has declared this new body's number one enemy to be the United States.
Yet for most members, the union is much more peaceful and less antagonizing in tone. For them, Unasur is a way for South American nations to more effectively compete in an increasingly globalized economy, and for them to have a voice in world affairs.
But the states comprising Unasur are diverse in their histories and their current political views. For instance, while Venezuela is vehemently anti-American, Colombia--also a member of Unasur--is one of the United States' closest allies in all Latin America. It is debatable whether or not the union will be an effective organization such as the EU, or rather a practically pointless talking shop such as ASEAN. Here's a comparison:
vs. the EU
For all its faults, the EU is an extraordinarily effective economic organ, and is the most powerful political bloc of its kind, short of a full-fledged federal state. The fifteen older members and the twelve newer all share a common history, whether as aggressors or defenders. The devastation caused by the two world wars ironically was the cause for reconciliation between European enemies. Most are developed or almost developed countries--only Romania and Bulgaria would fall out of this category. Geographically, the EU is somewhat small. Furthermore, the new states--the so-called EU-12--view membership as a sign of modernity and acceptance as being part of the West. Several EU states were once leaders on the world stage, and now they seek to turn the EU into a new global power.
In contrast, there is still much enmity between Latin American nations. Although the two major countries in the continent, Brazil and Argentina, have largely made amends, there is still a lot of discord. Colombia has poor relations with Venezuela and Ecuador. Chile with Peru and Bolivia (both which lost land to the former, and Bolivia lost its Pacific coastline). And Uruguay is not too hot about Argentina these days.
There is a wide variation of development in the region. Argentina and Chile are at the threshold of the low end of developed status. Bolivia is extremely poor, while Brazil is still quite the developing state, although it is the largest economy in all Latin America. There is also little 'modernity' factor in the equation, besides acting similar to Europe, which Latin Americans are wont to do anyway. All South American economies combined would be smaller than either the EU's or the United States.' Unasur would have a greater voice, but not necessarily a great one.
Or will Unasur end up the way ASEAN--the Association of South-East Asian Nations--is now? ASEAN is infamous for being a forum where member governments give grandoise speeches, but implement very little useful policy. Supposedly an economic and political union, ASEAN fails at both, with member states making bilateral free trade agreements with other states to the detriment of the other members of their association--and with ASEAN being ineffective in promoting greater freedom in Communist Vietnam and Laos, along with Cambodia and now much-maligned (deservedly) Burma. Due to the members of ASEAN's failure to act together, the region has largely lost out to its great neighbors China and India. One member, the Philippines, has fallen from being the second largest Asian economy (excluding the Soviet Union), to being one of the poorest in East Asia, noted for corruption and and oligarchy which strangles the nation's ability to develop (to be fair, this is partly due to sensationalism and freedom of the press--the Philippines is very corrupt, but actually less so than countries such as Vietnam, which has still been able to attract massive amounts of investment). Religiously, ASEAN has states that are majority Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and (officially) Atheist. States such as the Philippines and Indonesia are ethnically diverse, as they are largely Western constructs. European powers conquered many tribes and unified them into a single colony. Now, there is a considerable amount of division among those tribal components of those states.
Because of this ineptitude, China is gaining more and more power over the group.
In contrast to ASEAN, Unasur could actually come out stronger. Although South America might receive somewhat less foreign investment than South-East Asia, South America has other strengths. Notably, there is not a major power next door who is trying to take over, as China is in ASEAN. Contrary to some Latin Americans' views, the United States does not have designs on South American states. Having Latin America rise economically in in the United States own interest as that would decrease the number of immigrants--legal and illegal--flooding the United States and putting an economic and cultural strain on the country.
As opposed to ASEAN, South America is largely religiously and denominationally unified. All the member states of Unasur are majority nominal Christian, and the bulk of them are majority Roman Catholic. Similarly, South Americans largely share Iberian origin cultures--with other influences mixed in, of course. South America also has considerable land area and resources, and there is no nearby economic magnet drawing investment from South America the way China and India draw investment to themselves to the detriment of South-East Asia.
Not so bad, not great
So, in conclusion, Unasur seems to have a decent future ahead of it, although with many challenges, largely related to the member states working together and for peace, not aggression. It might not be in as great a position as the EU, nor is it set to be as effectively organized, but Unasur starts off leaps and bounds ahead of ASEAN. There is a moderately bright future for the Union of South American Nations.
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