Most Latin American countries fear civil conflicts more than international invasion. A regional union is the best way to assure stability and lawfulness in a troubled but culturally cohesive continent. The EU shows us what that would look like and how to make it happen.
BOGOTÁ — As Europe once more feels the winds of war with the threat of a Russian invasion of the Ukraine, we in Latin America might take this as an opportunity to reconsider ourselves. We should not do this from a nationalistic point of view, as we usually do. Instead, it should come from the perspective of global power blocks. If the European Union could come about after centuries of destructive wars on the continent, then the same can be done in Latin America, given its singular level of linguistic and cultural unity.
All of us, Peruvians, Guatemalans, Argentines or Colombians, have been unable to forge an economic and political union that would have a far bigger vote and voice on the global stage. This has been for a number of reasons: chauvinistic clumsiness, the presence of the natural barriers of forests and mountain ranges, or the mutual envy of greedy elites guarding local markets as they would a private estate.
Our reference should be the European Union and the steps taken toward its creation. First a common market. Second, a single currency with a central bank independent of local political powers. And third, frontiers open to the employment of all citizens. The goal and aspiration should be common political and judicial institutions.
United in language
We in the republic of letters, the writers and scientists of Latin America, realize what and who we are when we leave home. We start out as people from Antioquia, Bogotá or from the coast, until we find ourselves in Bucaramanga, say, and suddenly become Colombians. Likewise, we become Latin Americans when we are in Europe or the United States as Colombians, Mexicans or Uruguayans.
One thing is for sure: the need to travel. Politicians should also get out more. Some of those autumnal patriarchs — Mexican president López Obrador, former Colombian president Uribe Vélez, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or former Cuban president Raúl Castro — barely leave the territories they control. They know that outside their borders, they are no longer little monarchs and become like the rest of us — ordinary folk.
Quite a few of our poets and writers have made us understand Latin America's profound unity. Rubén Darío, Mistral, Rulfo, Alejo Carpentier, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Villarino, Cortázar, Lispector or Roa Bastos never ceased to be Paraguayan, Cuban or Nicaraguan. But they made us see we're all Latin Americans. In the world of politics and economics, we haven't had the outstanding personalities who perceived or aspired to our intrinsic unity.
"We realize what we are when we leave home."
A limit on the power of national presidents
Why are Colombia's outlying regions backward places, neglected and left at the mercy of local bosses, mobsters, guerrillas or paramilitaries? Because we have never feared a foreign invasion. Ecuador, Peru or Brazil don't threaten us. We enjoy considerable international stability in Latin America, but suffer little civil wars across our territory and the streets aren't safe. Even our subversives and criminals are absurd little nationalists.
The Latin Union would prevent local messiahs turning into dictators
There must be an overriding body on the continent to counter the excesses of national presidents, the delirium of demagogues, killings by fanatics and military coups. It would be the Latin Union, with solid democratic norms that prevent local messiahs turning into dictators, as has happened in the recent history of almost every country in the region — and still does.
Every time I find myself exasperated with the pettiness and mental limitations of our national politics, I look beyond our frontiers. A broader perspective calms you down: you realize that from afar, Maduro, Bolsonaro, Ortega and Bukele are tragic and harmful to their countries. But one after another, they will fall and pass into the museum of history, or rather, infamy. With a Latin Union, each would weigh less. There would be tools to curb their actions. We must rise above ourselves to become tolerant and overcome our pettiness.
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