Letter to the Presidents of South America

Dora Longo Bahia. Revolutions (calendar design), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces) 23 x 30.5 cm each


Manifesto signed by political leaders from the continent


Alberto Fernández, Luis Arce, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Guillermo Lasso, Gabriel Boric, Gustavo Petro, Irfaan Ali, Mario Abdo Benítez, Pedro Castillo, Luis Lacalle Pou, Chan Santokhi, Nicolás Maduro.

We are a group of former South American presidents, chancellors, ministers, parliamentarians and intellectuals who seek to contribute to the challenges of the present time. We are encouraged by the need to leave behind a story of broken dreams, broken promises and missed opportunities. A pandemic that has plagued the world for almost three years, Russia's war with Ukraine and the deepening dispute between China and the United States have created a new international scenario.

Globalization as it has been organized up to the present day is in doubt. So too are the old asymmetrical forms of integration between central and peripheral countries. The new emerging world carries threats, but also opportunities that cannot be wasted again. A climate crisis that does not stop getting worse and an anomaly regarding respect for international law generates a kind of global chaos in which even the risk of a tragedy caused by nuclear weapons grows. An urgent intervention is required from the multilateral organizations that today are unfortunately weakened and are often impotent.

North American hegemony is challenged by the emergence of China, a millennial nation governed in a centralized manner. For its part, the European Union seeks to defend its model of social cohesion and open up, without having succeeded for the time being, spaces that allow it to conquer its strategic autonomy. At the same time, the so-called Global South, with new emerging powers, seeks to open space and influence the design of a new form of governance for the planet.

An essential characteristic of the new scenario is the fragmentation of the world space, which tends to reorganize itself around large regional blocs, in which, as they close, they can become true fortresses. Geopolitics tends to shift the economic question from the center of gravity of decisions. In this new context, notions such as health, food and energy autonomy are gaining new relevance. In this world of regional blocs, our Latin America appears as a marginal and irrelevant region. It is by far the region hardest hit by the economic and social crisis that followed.

With only 8% of the world's population, Latin America registers more than a quarter of the victims of COVID-19, is experiencing a recession twice as deep as the world economy, and has seen an increase of around 50 million people living below the line of poverty. In the region, the fragility of productive structures, the accentuation of dependence on a small number of primary products, the weakening of democratic institutions and the political fragmentation that prevent raising a common voice in global affairs prevail. The recent 'Summit of the Americas' crudely showed the absence of a common position by our rulers, to the point that the center of the discussion was occupied by exclusions and absences.

Dear President,

We are convinced that this gloomy picture is not inevitable. Our region can do more. Little by little, the integration process is reviving. The initiative of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador allowed the reactivation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) created in 2010, which had been paralyzed since 2017. The Summit held in September 2021 made it possible to meet and adopt a important plan of action on self-sufficiency in health, aimed at strengthening the production and distribution of medicines, especially vaccines, with the aim of reducing our external dependence. Currently, the Pro Tempore Presidency assumed by the President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, seeks to continue this effort, deepening the “unity in diversity” as an ethical imperative to grow with more equality and justice.

Integration is now more necessary than ever. A significant effort in this direction would feed a virtuous circle that would strengthen multilateral organizations and contribute to a greater good that is currently in danger: peace. Unlike other regions, Latin America and the Caribbean eradicated wars between countries a long time ago and can present itself to the world as a Peace Zone. It can also be a region that contributes to peace, practicing a strict policy of autonomy in relation to the great powers. An integrated, non-aligned and peaceful Latin America will regain international prestige and be able to overcome the irrelevance in which we find ourselves. We will then be in a better position to tackle the four main threats facing the region: climate change, pandemics, social inequalities and authoritarian regression.

Recent electoral processes have allowed the triumph of governments and political coalitions favorable to the revival of regional integration. As of January 2023, all major countries, without exception, will have governments in favor of resuming and strengthening integration processes. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed. Together we can make our voice heard. Divided, we become invisible and are not heard. Integration efforts are old and their results so far modest. The differences with other schemes, such as the European Union (EU) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), among others, are abysmal. Thus, for example, while in the EU interregional trade represents more than 70% of the total, in Latin America, after successive declines, it currently does not reach more than 13%.

The noble idea of ​​integration has become an impossible task for many. Decades of frustration have eroded the prestige of the very idea of ​​integration and weakened the field of social and political forces called upon to sustain it. To advance, substance must trump rhetoric, and achievements must take precedence over speech.

The diversity of the Latin American and Caribbean region makes it necessary to understand integration as a process that necessarily adopts a variable geometry composed of several planes that expand at different speeds. Each of the sub-regions has particularities that, if not taken into account, end up slowing down the process as a whole. Mexico in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America have goals and requirements in common with the world, but at the same time they have their own specificities.

It is evident that a large nation like Mexico is a very different reality from South America, given that its trade is strongly oriented towards the North American market, concentrated in manufactured products and with much less influence from China. Mexico's exceptional nature doesn't have to turn into rivalry. If ever there was one, it's time to move beyond it. Deep historical, cultural and linguistic ties bind us to Mexico. In the new international scenario, organized around large blocks, a close relationship between Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America represents a great advantage for the group.

South America is an entity in its own right with 18 million square kilometers and 422 million inhabitants, representing two thirds of the total population of Latin America. With its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, it has enormous potential for physical integration and communication processes that must be implemented with strict respect for high environmental standards, the organization of production chains and the development of a common market. South America also has ample space for cooperation in the political, cultural, financial, military and scientific-technical fields.

In addition, very recent political changes, such as those that occurred in Chile, Colombia and Brazil, are generating a new transformative impulse in this sub-region. South America's potential can only be realized to the extent that the countries that make up the sub-region create a space in which they can meet, identify common projects and develop joint initiatives. This need was well visualized at the time and led to the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) through the Constitutive Treaty signed in Brasilia in 2008, which came into force in 2011.

During its seven years of operation, UNASUR has developed multiple initiatives of interest. Its efforts in the area of ​​managing political-institutional crises are particularly appreciated, and the functioning of the Defense Council, which has made notable progress in this delicate area, is highlighted.

Progress has also been made in the field of health and in the development of a broad portfolio of physical infrastructure projects. However, its weak implementation capacity, the absence of an economic, commercial and productive dimension and the abuse of the implicit veto in the rule of consensus in decision-making processes, including the appointment of the general secretary, facilitated the paralysis of UNASUR and the attempt to replace it. by the so-called Forum for the Progress of South America (PROSUR) in 2019.

However, in practice, PROSUR was nothing more than a makeshift and precarious undertaking, with zero operational capacity, as demonstrated by its total inoperability during the pandemic, a time when concerted action was especially needed. PROSUR is now an empty whole, a ghost institution.

The reconstruction of an effective space for South American coordination is therefore urgently needed. As documented in the detailed study by the Center for Economic and Political Research (CEPR), the 2008 UNASUR Constitutive Treaty remains in force for all countries that have not denounced it, and the organization continues to exist at the international level. At least five countries did not denounce the Treaty and among those that did, at least two, Argentina and Brazil, did so irregularly, which is why they could choose to annul their denouncements. Furthermore, as shown in the aforementioned study, none of the seven countries that withdrew complied with the provisions of the Constitutive Treaty regarding the pursuit of political dialogue (Article 14) for the resolution of disputes or the amendment procedure provided for in Article 25.

However, this is not a purely nostalgic reconstitution of a past that no longer exists. A new UNASUR must assume self-critical responsibility for the shortcomings of the previous process.

Specifically, it must:

(i) Ensure pluralism and its projection beyond the ideological and political affinities of the incumbent governments. In this sense, there is much to learn from schemes such as the EU or ASEAN, in which countries with governments and even regimes of very different political persuasions coexist.

(ii) Replace the consensus rule, which ends up having a paralyzing effect, with a decision-making system with different quorums, depending on the issues to be resolved. In particular, the election of the Secretary General cannot be subject to a country's right of veto.

(iii) Incorporate new actors to complement the efforts of governments and parliaments. Universities, technological institutes, cultural centers, union representatives, large, small and medium-sized companies must be incorporated into the process. In its absence, integration loses vitality and tends to become bureaucratic.

(iv) Prioritize the implementation of an agenda of priority issues. Institutions must be built based on the agenda, guaranteeing its viability and not the other way around, as has often been the case in the Latin American tradition.

The priority agenda must include at least the following: A health self-sufficiency plan aimed especially at the joint production and purchase of vaccines and essential health supplies; agreements to facilitate orderly immigration; an integrated program to address climate change in line with the Paris Accords; priority road, rail and energy connectivity works; the recovery of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the region and the strengthening of the Latin American Development Bank (CAF); measures that favor cooperation between companies in the region, such as joint public procurement and regulatory harmonization; the construction of a common regional approach to the main global challenges to be presented to the G20 by the three Latin American countries participating in the G20: Argentina, Brazil and Mexico; creation of a working group to move towards a commercial financial system with a view to future monetary integration, when macroeconomic conditions permit; a common approach to external debt and international financing for the middle-income countries that make up the majority of countries in the region; mechanisms to facilitate collaboration on public safety and security matters; agreements to promote lifelong learning and training programs, especially so that the world of work can face the challenge of digitization; joint policies to regulate the action of the great technological monopolies.

The reconstitution of a South American regional space is not contradictory with the advance of Latin American integration in a broader sense. A New UNASUR can be perfectly functional for the projection of CELAC. Furthermore, one should not forget that the former UNASUR was decisive for the creation of CELAC. New UNASUR can therefore be a force that strengthens CELAC, as it has been reconstituted from 2021 onwards.

Based on the principle of variable geometry, it is possible to identify a division of roles by which CELAC is called upon to become the privileged space to define a common position for the region on issues on the multilateral agenda: climate change, energy transition, trade , investment, international finance, human rights, disarmament, peace and security, migration, drug trafficking and organized crime. For this, CELAC needs to be equipped with a minimum institutional structure and a technical secretariat with executive capacity.

Dear President,

It is in times of crisis and adversity that the experience and wisdom of those who govern are particularly needed. In the current scenario, the democratic gains so hard won in Latin America after the sequence of dictatorships that swept the region in the 1970s are at risk. We have high expectations of the leadership you are providing in your countries. We trust in your vision to make our South America a driving force for a new level of Latin American unity and integration, anchored in continental solidarity and the permanent values ​​of peace and democracy.


sign the letter

Past Presidents: Michelle Bachelet, Chile; Rafael Correa, Ecuador; Eduardo Duhalde, Argentina; Ricardo Lagos, Chile; Jose Mujica, Uruguay;

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil; Ernesto Samper, Colombia.

Former Chancellors: Celso Amorim, Brazil; Rafael Bielsa, Argentina; José Miguel Insulza, Chile; Jorge Lara, Paraguay; Guillaume Long, Ecuador; Heraldo Muñoz, Chile; Rodolfo Nin, Uruguay; Aloizio Nunez, Brazil; Felipe Solá, Argentina; Jorge Taiana, Argentina; Allan Wagner, Peru

Former Ministers: Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, Brazil; Manuel Canelas, Bolivia; Adriana Delpiano, Chile; José Dirceu, Brazil; Maria Do Rosário, Brazil; Daniel Filmus, Argentina; Tarso Genro, Brazil; Fernando Haddad, Brazil; Jorge Heine, Chile; Salomón Lerner, Peru; Luis Maira, Chile; Aloizio Mercadante, Brazil; Carlos Ominami, Chile; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Brazil; Mariana Prado, Bolivia.

Parliamentarians (former and current): José Octavio Bordón, Argentina; Iván Cepeda, Senator, Colombia; Flavio Dino, Senator-elect Brazil; Guilherme Boulos, Deputy elected, Brazil; Marco Enríquez-Ominami, former deputy, Chile; Gloria Florez Schneider, Senator, Colombia; Jaime Gazmuri, former Senator, Chile; Vilma Ibarra, former senator, Argentina; Esperanza Martínez, Senator, Paraguay; Veronika Mendoza, former deputy, Peru; Constanza Moreira, former senator, Uruguay; María José Pizarro, Senator, Colombia; David Racero, President Cámara, Colombia; Mónica Xavier, former senator, Uruguay.

Teachers: Humberto Campodónico, Peru; Evandro Menezes, Brazil; Javier Miranda, Uruguay; Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, Argentina; Vicente Trevas, Brazil.

Directors of international organizations: Paulo Abrão, Brazil, former Executive Secretary of the IACHR; Carlos Fortín, Chile, former UNCTAD Under Secretary General; Enrique García Rodríguez, former CAF President; Enrique Iglesias, former IDB President, former ECLAC and SEGIB Executive Secretary; Marta Mauras, Chile, former UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean; Juan Somavía, Chile, former Director General of the ILO.


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