The election in Brazil of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) is being hailed by some as the confirmation of Latin American around a shared leftist project, yet even the left can't agree with itself. It's a story that goes back centuries, and can only change with a commitment to move beyond ideology.
BOGOTÁ — In 1826, the liberator and then president of (a much larger) Colombia, Simón Bolívar, convened the Summit of Panama, in Panama City, with the aim of uniting the recently liberated provinces of the Spanish empire. Bolívar's guest list excluded the United States and imperial Brazil. In spite of good intentions, the summit proved an utter failure.
There was no Latin American integration then, nor is there today, 200 years on, as the continent remains fragmented and divided. In geopolitical terms, there is no Latin America.
For years, we might have attributed this lack of unity to the vast shadow of our northern neighbor, the U.S., and its Monroe Doctrine. But since the wave of democratizations in the 1990s and the end of the Cold War, we should have been taking a closer look at ourselves. Latin American countries have been unable to establish a bare-minimum, shared agenda centered around democratic values, practical measures and socio-economic development.
EU as model
Ideologies and anti-U.S. posturing have prevailed instead. Let us recall that the European Union was born of an accord between six states over coal and steel, and revolves around a Franco-German axis. We have nothing of the kind around here.
Advocates are once more heralding regional or continental unity, based this time on the back of a string of "socialist victories" in Latin America. It is as if leftist governments were assumed to be sharing an agenda and conservative governments were non-existent.
The farcical reactions to the impeachment of Peru's president, Pedro Castillo, as parliament foiled his attempted coup, show there is no unity even among left-wing governments. In another sign of our geopolitical aimlessness, the same governments have failed to find a common response to the suppression of the democratic order in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Lula and AMLO
Meanwhile, there is a glimmer of hope: the Pacific Alliance of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, created on pragmatic principles of trade and cooperation, has proved a success so far, as has its predecessor the Andean Pact. Both emerged with Colombia's active and practical role, and may provide an example to follow.
Luis Inácio Lula da Silva's return to the Brazilian presidency on Jan. 1, with considerably less room to maneuver than before, heralds another tumultuous phase. What relations will he have with Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), a president who has suddenly shown a penchant for regional interventions? Will Lula seek to revive the dying Union of South American Nations, an organization he inspired and which was never a good fit for Colombia?
As we approach the bicentenary of the Congress of Panama in June, it is time to forge Latin American integration — and that starts by learning from past errors. It will be a difficult task on a continent that seems averse to the very basics of learning.