South America’s presidents gather for first regional summit in nine years
South America’s leaders will gather in Brazil’s capital tomorrow as part of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s attempt to reinvigorate regional integration efforts that have previously floundered amid the continent’s political swings and polarisation.
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 US 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 promotor was late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who saw it as means to counteract US 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 Nicolás 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 Getúlio Vargas Foundation, a university and think tank in Sao Paulo. “It is easy to talk about its comeback now, but they need to think of ways to make this second attempt last.”
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 wish to impose Unasur’s revival.
Lula on Monday underlined that this week’s meeting was just about getting together to build cohesion and discuss ideas. “Tomorrow’s meeting doesn’t decide anything,” he said.
He said that he has a “dream” to have a regional currency “so that we can do business without depending on the dollar, because the dollar belongs to the United States and it can do whatever it wants with it.”
The challenge, analysts say, will be having a bloc that can survive the region’s political shifts and instability.