Peter Birle is Scientific Director of the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin and former President of the German Association for Latin American Research. He is also co-editor of Elites en América Latina.
This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.
Ideas and convictions play an important role in politics. This applies both to national politics and to international relations between states. It is not without reason that Benedict Anderson spoke of nations as “imagined communities”, i.e. entities that are held together and kept alive by the imagination and convictions of the people who belong to them. The term “region” also has a lot to do with ideas and beliefs. Of course, it is also about geographical neighbourhood or proximity between states, but that is not all. Nowhere in the world is this more visible than on the American continent, where a lot of different ideas and notions related to the concept of region circulate. Therefore, before we can talk about the reasons for Latin American regionalism, we must first deal with the different ideas about the region we are talking about.
The broadest understanding of the region refers to the entire continent of the Americas. Both Pan-Americanism, whose origins go back to the 19th century, and Inter-Americanism, a concept that has been more commonly used since the 20th century, interpret all of North and South America as a common region and advocate the closest possible cooperation between all countries of the continent, from Argentina and Chile in the south to Canada and Alaska, which belongs to the United States, in the north. After 1945, the Inter-American system was born on the basis of these ideas, including organisations such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) and international regimes such as the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights (ISHR) and the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR). The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), initiated by then US President George Bush in 1991, also emphasised the common interests of all countries in the region. As we know, the idea of a free trade zone “from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego” was buried in 2006 because many people and governments in the southern part of the continent were convinced that such regional cooperation would not be in their interest. The OAS was also criticised for its instrumentalisation by the US as an element of the Cold War. Since the 1990s, it has been perceived by fewer and fewer people and governments in the south of the continent as “our regional organisation”. This was an important reason for the new Latin American regionalism and for the creation in 2010 of a regional organisation, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to which all Latin American and Caribbean countries can belong, but not the United States or Canada.
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