Year XXXV, 1993, Number 1 - Page 21



The call for Latin American countries to unify dates back to the time of the fathers of independence. Simón Bolívar, the foremost among them, wrote that “this new world has a single origin, a single language and religion; hence it requires a single government to unite within a confederation of the various states that are in the process of being born.”
Unfortunately, in contrast to what occurred in the thirteen colonies of North America in the wake of independence, the Latin American federation has remained to this day in the realm of fantasy. In the introduction to their work Le Système politique de l’Amérique Latine, Jacques Lambert and Alain Gandolfi explain this situation as being “due to insurmountable geographical obstacles” which at the time of the battles for independence, obliged “Hispano-American population centres ... to obtain by force from a weakened Spain, a separate independence, through military operations that were isolated and spread out over the period 1811 to 1825.” They give equal emphasis to the fact that “in Latin America, where the circumstances of independence offered the possibility of union along the lines of Anglo-Saxon America, the Latin temperament did not prevent the vast Portuguese-Brazilian empire from strengthening its unity until it formed the United States of Brazil.”
The political system of the powerful and unsettling neighbour to the north has nevertheless influenced the political framework of Latin America; proof at the level of internal federalism is provided by the federal constitutions adopted in the 19th century by some of the largest countries of the sub-continent: Venezuela (1818, following an initial failed effort in 1811), Mexico (1824), Brazil (1834) and Argentina (1853).[1] It is also worth remembering numerous fruitless attempts at federalism in Chile (1828-1830), Peru, New Grenada, renamed Colombia after its independence (with several experiments between 1853 and 1866, not to mention the failed project for a Grand Colombia between 1822 and 1830), and in the United Provinces of Central America (1821-1838) which, following the execution of the Honduran Francisco Morazán in 1842, are still in search of their lost unity.[2] Nevertheless it is worth emphasising the formal nature that most often underpinned this type of federalism: Jacques Lambert and Alain Gandolfi defined it as “centralising federalism”; and the British writer K.C. Wheare was led to comment in his book Federal Government that in essence, the republics of Latin America did not provide the necessary conditions for a federal system to become established.
As regards plans for Latin American unity, various attempts in the first half of the 19th century came to nothing. The Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda had proclaimed federalism since the end of the preceding century. In 1823 Bolívar invited Mexico to join a Confederation of American States. This proposition was the central feature of the 1846 Congress of Panama, where the principal concern was to “organise a Confederation of American States that guaranteed a sound defence” against both Europe and the US, whose pretext of protecting “America for Americans” deriving from the Monroe doctrine of December 1823 poorly disguised her imperialist ambitions.[3] Bolívar, as well as the Cuban José Martí and other Latin American thinkers, had understood from the outset the danger of involving the “Northern colossus” in the affairs of the sub-continent, and it was in this vein that he wrote in 1829 that “the United States seems destined by Providence to fill America with misery in the name of liberty.”
It is clear that throughout the 19th century the multiple expansionist or colonialist aims and activities of the Europeans and North Americans greatly influenced Latin American pro-unity thought. It was in effect the invasion of Mexico by France, the last in a long line of aggressive acts, which brought about the creation in Chile in 1862 of the Sociedad de la Unión Americana de Santiago which can be considered as the first popular-based federalist organisation in the continent. This society had counterparts in other towns such as Lima, Valparaiso, La Serena, Quillota; contacts or correspondents in other countries as far apart as the US, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; and included among its members the heroes of Chilean independence and numerous intellectuals of renown under the direction of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna. On top of its support, also by providing funds, for the Republic of Mexico against France’s Second Empire, the Unión Americana of Santiago published two important collections of texts and documents in 1862 and 1867. In a letter of June 1862 to its affiliate in Santiago, the Unión Americana of Valparaiso wrote that “it is not up to governments but to the people to embark on and carry out the task of destroying barriers and to bridge the gap that currently separates the differing nationalities which reside on American soil, with the aim of uniting them in a whole.”[4] Francisco Bilbao, a member of the Unión of Santiago and known by his contemporaries as the “apóstol de la libertad de América”, published in 1865 his “Iniciativa de la América. Idea de un congreso federal de las Repúblicas” in which he concluded “What do we want? Liberty and Union. Liberty without union is anarchy. Union without liberty is despotism. Liberty and union, that will be the confederation of the Republics.”[5]
During the 20th century the perspective of unification, even if not necessarily always of a federal nature, underlay the politics, at least on a rhetorical level, of all the individuals and political thinkers concerned with the development and emancipation of Latin America. Moreover, this was clearly visible in the new political ideologies (at times populist) which inspired “revolutionary nationalism”, a common characteristic of different periods and regimes (Argentine radicalism and Peronism, Peruvian aprism, Chilean socialism, Mexican Cardenism or Brasilian Varguism), all of which did affirm one day their validity as a continental model. The best example of this is the Peruvian Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) whose leader and founder Raul Haya de la Torre declared in Paris in June 1925 that “one of the most important projects of imperialism is to maintain our America divided. Latin America united, federal, would make one of the world’s most powerful countries and would be regarded as a danger for the imperialist Yankees”; he made political union one of the five demands of his political programme.
An intense joint effort developed at this time between Latin American intellectuals on the theme of anti-imperialism and continental union. This is demonstrated by the much-vaunted signing-up of the Argentine José Ingenieros as a member of the APRA in 1927; he was a founder of his country’s socialist party and Union Latinoamericana movement.
It was within this context that the crisis of 1929 revealed the need for another model of economic development, by necessity centred on continental integration; that Brazil was moving closer to its Spanish-speaking neighbours, for the first time and in a lasting way; and that certain voices, at first isolated, such as that of the Chilean Eugenio Orrego Vicuña, began to make themselves heard.
In the post-second world war period, and above all in the framework of the UN, the will for unification came to be demonstrated in a more concrete manner, leaving the realm of ideas to find its first limited applications in the economic field. In September 1957 the Comisión económica para América Latina (CEPAL) of the UN, created in 1947 and long presided over by the Argentine economist Raul Prebisch (whose interest in Jean Monnet and his European action is well-known), concluded at Buenos Aires some of its work by stressing “the opportunity to establish gradually and progressively a multinational and competitive Latin American common market open to all the countries of Latin America.” Numerous experiences of free trade and economic integration have been attempted since then.6[6] Initially the directors of CEPAL and the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) (created in May 1958 despite the initial doubts of the US) gathered around Raul Prebisch and the Chilean Felipe Herrera, and worked in a clearly integrationist perspective.
Some political movements, organised to a greater or lesser extent on a continental level, were engaged in the parallel battle for union or federalism and had been so since before the second world war. We mention briefly the name of some of these that we were able to identify for the period from the end of the second world war up to the middle of the 1970s, when the last of them seems to have disappeared: the Argentine Unión Federal which, before being banned by a pro-Nazi military regime had had a parliamentary group, its own publication, and had played an important role in the establishment of a Customs Union treaty with Chile (that was never ratified due to the change of regime in Buenos Aires); the various groups of anti-fascist European exiles, such as Italia Libera or the anti-Nazi groups in various countries which gathered around the publication Das andere Deutschland; the Movimiento de Integración Latinoamericana (MILA) which united for a time some Chilean Christian Democrats and Socialists at Valparaiso in the 1960s; or the Movimiento Acción para la Unidad Latinoamericana (MAPLA), created in Buenos Aires in 1963, and which nominally counted national committees in 18 countries.
The most interesting and well-known of these movements was the Movemiento Pro-Federación Americana (MPFA), founded in 1948 in Bogota on the occasion of the creation of the Organisation of American States (OAS) by the Colombian world federalist Santiago Gutiérrez; it published his review, Nuevo Mundo, first in Bogota then in Buenos Aires from 1953 until the beginning of the 1970s, and remained in regular contact with the World Movement for World Federal Government (WMWFG), to which Gutierrez was even affiliated for some years after the Asociación Pacifista Argentina (APA) became the sole continental contact of the WMWFG from the time of its creation immediately after the end of the war.
The economic difficulties encountered by Latin America since the 1960s (deterioration of exchange rates, worsening of foreign debt) as well as the role played by the military dictators, who were nationalistic and opposed to all moves towards integration,[7] did not permit the achievement of convincing economic results nor lead political integration to a positive conclusion. The decade of the 1990s seems to be opening under more favourable auspices. New perspectives have emerged with respect to pre-existing plans for integration, such as those established by the Presidents of Brazil and Argentina signing in July 1986 the Programa de Integración Argentino-Brasileña. This programme concerns matters as varied as agriculture, payment systems, advanced technology, commerce, culture, energy (in particular nuclear energy) and military cooperation. The project, initially bilateral, has since been extended to Uruguay and then to Paraguay, with the signature in March 1991 of the Treaty of Asunción which defines the outlines of the Mercado Común Austral (MERCOSUR).
Three other Latin American countries, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela (“the Group of Three”), have in turn announced their intention to create a free-trade zone in 1994. Mexico is simultaneously pursuing the negotiations of the NAFTA treaty (North American Free Trade Agreement), signed with much publicity on the 12th August 1992, with the US and Canada (and to which Chile is tempted to “tag on”). Mexico is undertaking a role at the sub-regional level in re-launching the integration of its neighbours in Central America.
Among the most recent initiatives it is worth highlighting finally, and particularly due to its democratic and electoral implications, the decision of the countries of the Andean Pact to create a common market by 1995, even foreseeing, following the European example expressly cited, the election of an Andean parliament with direct universal suffrage; and this despite the serious difficulties in which it was hammered out, after the failure of the Quito meeting in June 1992, which was supposed to conclude the customs union, and which caused Marcel Niedergang of Le Monde to write that the Andean Pact was in a state of “disintegration” and “in crisis”, torn between the requirements of Colombia and Venezuela (concerned about attaching themselves to the Mexican economy) and those of the other members.
These new perspectives could and should be exploited now that the weakness and inadequacy of the national state as the exclusive framework for modern economic and political life seem increasingly clear; as the most recent studies of the directors of the Instituto para la Integración de América Latina (INTAL) and BID show. While along with the return to democracy it is worth celebrating (as for INTAL in 1989) the renewed activity of regional parliaments, it is indispensable in order to achieve the democratic and federal unification of Latin America (which alone will permit it to enter the 21st century on a firm footing) that a new generation of militant federalists emerges and that they organise themselves politically in a supranational manner, respecting the basic principles that were declared by the militants who preceded them: those of the Uniones Americanas of the last century who stressed the principle of calling on the constituent people; or more recently those of the MPFA who have, on many occasions, correctly insisted on the need for the federalist movement to be autonomous in relation to the states and national politicians.
Jean-Francis Billion

[1]We have intentionally quoted in brackets only the date of the first federal-style
constitution adopted by each country.
[2]As for those dating from the post-second world war period in various countries of the EEC, the Central American constitutions currently in vigour contemplate (with the exception of Costa Rica’s) the possibility of abandoning some sovereignty on condition of reciprocity. That of Honduras has even recognised that the country is “un Estado disgregado de la República Federal de Centroamérica”. Further south, the 1967 constitution of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay contains a clause which allows for Latin American integration within a very broad context.
[3]It is important not to confuse pan-Americanism and Latin American federalism. As far as pan-Americanism is concerned, grouping together not only the states of Central and South America but also their neighbours to the north, it has had progressive successes: in creating in Washington in 1889 the Oficina Comercial de las Repúblicas Americanas; at the conference of 1938 which aimed to achieve the entrance of the majority of Latin America into the second world war on the side of the Allies; at the Conference of Chapultepec of 1945, concerning the problems of the war and subsequent peace; and finally at the 9th Inter-American Conference in Bogotà, 1948, at which the Charter of the Organisation of American States was approved. Regarding the Conference of Chapultepec, which preceded that of San Francisco where the UN was born, it is worth highlighting the position of the Latin American states, almost the only states of the Third World to be independent at that time: refusal of the right to veto; demands for a permanent place on the Security Council for Latin America; a federal structure for the UN, rather than confederal, as being the only possible guarantee of maintaining peace in the opinion of the numerous state officials and diplomats gathered there (in particular Ezequiel Padilla, then Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs).
[4]See Ricaurte Soler, prefaces to the Panamanian and Mexican reprints of 1976 and 1978 of Unión y confederación de los pueblos hispanoamericanos, the first of these two volumes (notice that the second of the two collections was never republished). Apart from important documents relating to the Congress of Panama of 1826 and to the Inter-Parliamentary Congress of Lima of 1848 (which had adopted a treaty of confederation that united New Grenada, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile but which ultimately failed to pass the hurdle of national ratification), these two volumes, despite certain omissions due to the difficulties of communication at that time, include numerous texts and essays by Bernardo Monteagudo, Pedro Félix Vicuña, Juan Bautista Alberti (father), Benjamín Vicuña Maquenna, Manuel Carrasco Albano, Francisco Bilbao, Francisco de Paula Virgil and José Mariá Semper.
[5]See Historia de las ideas de integración de América latina by the Colombian historian Javier Ocampo López. Among the federalist thinkers of the second half of the 19thcentury, also his compatriot José Mariá Torres Caicedo, author in 1865 of a book on the Unión Américana para la defensa comun is quoted.
[6]Asociación Latinoamericana de Libre Comercio (ALALC) in 1960 (transformed into the Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración-ALADI in 1980), Mercado común centroamericano (MCCA) in 1961, Asociación de Libre Comercio del Caribe (CARIFTA) in 1965, Mercado Común del Caribe Oriental (MCCO) in 1968, Grupo Andino (GRAN) in 1969 and Comunidad del Caribe (CARICOM) in 1973.
[7]It is worth recalling on the one hand the withdrawal of Chile under Pinochet from the Andean Pact; and on the other the role of this body in the re-establishment and consolidation of Bolivian democracy.

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