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Latin America offers Europe lessons in regional integration

Submitted by on 24 Apr 2015 – 09:30

Europe is currently living a process of change. In Europe’s periphery, a growing number of people are challenging the aggressive neoliberal policies imposed on the working class by Europe’s institutions, which are perceived as undemocratic by a growing number of people. Marina Albiol Guzmán MEP, Vice-Chair of EuroLat argues that the EU must learn from Latin America’s strong popular movements and democratic regional integration

We cannot forget the similarity between this process and the one that took place in Latin America after the draconian plans of the IMF were firmly rejected by Latin American populations. This led to a historical moment of empowerment of the people and sparked the beginning of revolutionary change across the continent. Putting people before profits was then the goal, and now it is ours in Europe.

There are many lessons we can learn about these movements, but one of the most important ones is the possibility of creating a different model of regional integration; a model based on cooperation and solidarity rather than on the free market. The European model of integration has based itself on impositions coming from unelected institutions such as the European Central Bank which have benefited a small elite while having terrible consequences for the well-being and democratic rights of the European people. In the same period, Latin America has gone the opposite way and their regional integration is based on mutual recognition and respect, as well as the capacity to cooperate in order to improve people’s lives. An example of this is the thousands of Cuban teachers who are working all over the continent to end illiteracy, and have managed to practically eradicate it in countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, according to figures published by UNESCO.

Therefore, Europe and Latin America represent opposite models of regional integration. Despite a series of principles enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, the daily practice of the European Union only serves the interest of multinational companies and as we are currently seeing with the constant blackmailing of the Greek government, does not hesitate to prioritize economic interest over democratic values.

That is not to say that the processes of Latin American have ignored the economy. Some of these countries have the fastest growing GDPs in the world, yet they manage to distribute this wealth among all the population. Likewise, different bodies have been created, such as Petro Caribe, to favour trade amongst these countries  from a perspective that emphasises cooperation within the South. Through this programme, Venezuela sells cheap petrol to Cuba in exchange for the island’s skilled doctors and nurses who are well known for their key role in the control of international epidemics, as they have recently demonstrated in the outbreak of the Ebola crisis in Africa.

Market-led forces coming from the North have tried to impose integration processes similar to those we have experienced in Europe, like the ALCA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), which the United States once tried but  failed completely to introduce. To oppose this project, the progressive governments of Latin America created the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), which opposes the neoliberal policies which were previously implemented in the continent and encourages a development based on solidarity, or CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), borne from the premise that America is a rich continent and that its wealth should be shared by the population.

Granada, Nicaragua Photo: elaine faith

Granada, Nicaragua
Photo: elaine faith, Flickr

The two previous examples show us that the problem of Europe is not integration itself but the model it follows. The European Union has given up its goal of being an institution to promote peace and solidarity, but the South has managed to bring back hope. Latin America has proven that strength comes from unity and solidarity. This has made it possible that today, in its relations with the United States and the European Union, the sovereignty of the Latin American people is to be respected by all actors.

In Europe, this is not the case after governments have silently accepted antidemocratic memorandums.. This is why the model we want for Europe is one based on cooperation and mutual recognition between peoples , respect for popular sovereignty and the right to dictate our own economic policy.

To conclude, the working classes of Europe and especially those in its periphery are currently living a dramatic situation characterised by unemployment, the destruction of public services and lack of access to basic rights.  There is an interest in making the workers believe that their problems are caused by workers in other areas of the world, but this is far from the truth. The ones to blame for this are those who govern our lives but have not been elected to do so – the economic powers which have no homeland but their own fortune. This situation can only be changed with greater unity and cooperation between the European people.

That is why we have a lot to learn from the Latin American integration processes which have played a fundamental role in creating the current scenario.. Latin American people have secured the capacity to organize in order to defend their rights. This is a process of empowerment which cannot be reversed, and after sieging Cuba for 53 years and after 19 years of a failed EU Common Position, the powerful have had to accept this reality and speak to the revolutionary governments of Latin America face to face, as we have recently seen in the Summit of the Americas for the first time. For the first time, the government of the United States is forced to speak to its neighbours of the South as equals.

Marina Albiol Guzmán MEP is Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, and Head of the Izquierda Plural delegation to the European Parliament. 


Marina Albiol Guzmán MEP, Vice-Chair of EuroLat argues that the EU must learn from Latin America’s strong popular movements and democratic regional integration