Two hundred years after Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar proposed creating a League of South American Republics, some Latins are calling for the establishment of a political and economic union to rival the EU. Some have even begun calling it the United States of South America.
The idea sprang from plans by Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur) members to invite other countriesbesides full members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguayto join the bloc. With Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela already signed on as associate members and Mexicos application under review, supporters now envision a broader region-wide pact.
Former Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde, who heads the Mercosur Commission, says the United States of South America would become the worlds third-largest economic bloc, behind the EU and NAFTA, and the worlds largest food supplier, with substantial oil and mineral reserves and a population of some 380 million.
While the plan calls for drafting a unified constitution and adopting a single currency, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez have taken smaller steps toward unification. Venezuelas PDVSA state-owned oil company has agreed to repair its tankers in Argentina, where it will also have eight new tankers built. Both countries also signed a letter of intent to create Petrosur as an energy company that aims to put all Latin American state-run oil companies under a single umbrella.
The proposed bloc poses a challenge to the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a hemispheric trade bloc initially set to go into effect next year. It has since been pushed back by mounting concerns among several Latin governmentsled by Brazilthat the bloc may be more beneficial to the US than to its partners.
Duhalde concedes the plan may seem Utopian for now, but many recall similar charges hurled at Europeans who launched discussions for a European Union 50 years ago. More recently, few would have imagined that Mexicowhich one Mexican president lamented was so far from God and so close to the United Stateswould one day enter into a free trade pact with its northern neighbors under NAFTA.