"Pink tide"

The return of Brazil and Argentina to UNASUR: a reintegration of South America?

Relationship with Venezuela and strength of the right-wing will be challenges for the bloc, researchers say

Brasil de Fato | Buenos Aires, Argentina |
The ambassadors of Brazil, Gisela Padovan, and Argentina, Luciana Tito, in Buenos Aires: meeting marks the countries’ return to UNASUR. - Casa Rosada

The Lula government began its third term with an intense international agenda, seeking a reintegration of Brazil with the world and Latin America. With the country’s return to the Union of South American Nations (USAN or UNASUR), by means of a decree, the government makes an important gesture to the countries of the south of the continent.

Argentina followed the decision and, in the same week, announced its return to Unasur. As the first move towards a joint return to the bloc, the Brazilian ambassador Gisela Padovan delivered the Letter of Ratification of the Constitutive Treaty of Unasur to the Argentine ambassador Luciana Tito, in Buenos Aires, on Tuesday (11).

Mariana Vázquez, a member of the Global South Observatory, observes that UNASUR's recovery could mean a joint reintegration into the international political and economic context. "The international projection of our region's geographies is very different if thought from the standpoint of unity, and not from the perspective of isolated countries", she says.

In concrete terms of regional integration for the relationship with other regions – especially the powers – two main experiences of UNASUR are usually highlighted: the South American Defense Council and the Health Council.

"The South American Defense Council was an unprecedented project in the history of South America: regional cooperation without the presence of the USA in such a sensitive point for US hegemony in our region", says the doctor in International Relations Carolina Albuquerque. 

"UNASUR was able to define a South American defense doctrine centered on our interests, for example, in defense of our natural resources, or common goods, in tension with the global perspective", highlights Vázquez.

In the case of the Health Council, the UNASUR countries had the possibility of making joint purchases of medicines, which is advantageous in terms of price and guarantees greater negotiation capacity. "Something that was greatly missed in the pandemic", highlights Albuquerque, citing the case of Brazil.

Unasur headquarters in Quito, Ecuador / Disclosure

Venezuela and the new UNASUR

Dismantled in 2019 with the departure of key countries by decision of right-wing governments, the bloc today suggests a resurgence under a new type of right-wing permeability in civil mobilization in the countries of the region.

The governments that decided to leave the bloc - Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Guyana and Ecuador - devised a new mechanism that would bring together, in particular, that right-wing that was consolidating in the region, as was the case of Prosul: the Forum for Progress and Integration of South America. Aligned with the interests of the United States, the bloc was an asset of the White House onslaught against Venezuela.

"How this [a right-wing with a deep social base] can affect the integration process remains to be seen; however, it will not be the only challenge. We don't know what the relationship between the new Unasur and Caracas will be like, beyond the interests of our current left-wing government elites", says Albuquerque, highlighting the tough embargoes of the international community that have fallen on Venezuela in recent years.

This is even reflected in the attitude of some of the current left-wing leaders in the region, as is the case of the President of Chile, Gabriel Boric, who usually criticizes the management of Nicolás Maduro. "Considering that we will be able to treat Venezuela as it was in that first moment [of UNASUR] is not realistic", concludes Albuquerque.

Venezuelan international analyst Sergio Gelfenstein adds: "Venezuela has been practically excluded from the inter-American system. And more: for the first time in history, a multilateral mechanism was created within Latin America, the Lima Group, to overthrow a government", says Gelfenstein.

New horizon

The reintegration of two important countries like Brazil and Argentina opens the possibility of a new chapter. The topics discussed so far between Brasília and Buenos Aires include health, defense, cross-border trafficking, integration of production chains and infrastructure, in addition to ties with other regions of the global South, with emphasis on initiatives with Arab and African countries. 

A new headquarters for Unasur is also under discussion, as the then president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, demanded the emptying of the bloc’s headquarters in 2019. However, Argentina is going through an election year and its destiny is uncertain. "This is essential to make a prediction about what will happen to UNASUR", says Vázquez.

Edited by: Thales Schmidt e Flávia Chacon