Today's Paper Newsletters LEARNS Guide Asa Hutchinson 2024 Today's Photos Public Notices Crime Distribution Locations Obits Puzzles Digital FAQ Razorback Sports

Brazil’s president calls for regional integration

by CARLA BRIDI THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | May 30, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

BRASILIA, Brazil -- South America's leaders will gather in Brazil's capital today as part of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's attempt to reinvigorate regional integration efforts that have previously floundered amid the continent's political swings and polarization.

Analysts say Lula senses an opportunity for integration because of the political affinities of the region's current governments and appears to want to test leaders' willingness to cooperate through a revived Union of South American Nations, or Unasur.

Lula said at a news conference Monday that the leaders should discuss cooperation in energy and crime-fighting, and suggested he might consider floating the idea of a regional currency to challenge the U.S dollar. But he said nothing would be decided during the meeting.

"The main idea is that we need to form a bloc to work together," Lula said.

First established 15 years ago in Brazil's capital during the second presidential term of Lula, a former trade unionist, the regional bloc sought to integrate the 12 South American nations culturally, socially, politically and economically.

Unasur's promoter was Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, who saw it as means to counteract U.S. influence in the region and the group had a reputation among some as having a leftist bent.

But a subsequent swing to the right on the continent saw the group fracture. The last meeting with all Unasur's members took place in 2014. After 2017, disagreements over Unasur's leadership and the participation of Venezuela's authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro led seven countries to withdraw, including Brazil in 2019 under Lula's predecessor, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

"Unasur's greatest problem is that it was built in a moment when there were leftist leaders, and it shattered when right-wing leaders came along," said Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university and think tank in Sao Paulo.

Today's meeting in Brasilia will bring together 11 South American presidents and the leader of the Council of Ministers of Peru, whose president, Dina Boluarte, faces charges and cannot leave the country. The meeting has been officially promoted as an encounter for South American heads of state, as Brazil does not want to impose Unasur's revival.

The challenge to unity, analysts say, will be having a bloc that can survive the region's political shifts and instability.

While the majority of South America's current presidents are leftist or centrist, there's no guarantee the situation will remain that way. This was underscored in May by the success of right-wingers in Chile in a vote to select commission members to write a new constitution. That success came on the heels of voters' rejection of a leftist-influenced draft to replace Chile's dictatorship-era charter. A similar swing toward the right is possible in Argentina, given that incumbent President Alberto Fernandez will not seek reelection this year amid rampant inflation.

Under Bolsonaro, Brazil prohibited Venezuela's Maduro and many members of his government from entering the country, and it recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

At a joint news conference with Maduro later Monday, Lula said it is a "historic moment" for both countries.

"After 8 years, President Maduro returns to visit Brazil and we get back the right to do our foreign affairs policy with the seriousness we always had, especially with countries which share borders with Brazil," Lula said.

Maduro pointed out that both leaders reestablished "an open and permanent dialogue between Brazil and Venezuela's governments."

Information for this article was contributed by Almudena Calatrava, Carlos Valdez, Frankin Briceno, Jorge Rueda, and Gonzalo Solano of The Associated Press.

Print Headline: Brazil’s president calls for regional integration


Sponsor Content