On 11th March 2022, a new generation of politicians of the 21st century took the helm of the Chilean government and with it the foreign policy which, according to the current constitution, is the responsibility of the President of the Republic. President Gabriel Boric receives a country with a good international image, despite the last four years of government and the mistakes of the outgoing administration of Sebastián Piñera and his rotating foreign ministers.
Since the new government intends to modify the neoliberal model that has governed the country for the last decades, the question arises whether it will also have to adapt its foreign policy in terms of its integration to the world based mainly on the network of trade agreements signed. This is not an easy question to answer because Chile's growth has been mainly based on the unilateral opening of the economy and the promotion of exports of primary products.
In terms of regional integration, the outlook is more than bleak due to the political weakness of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), the failure of PROSUR (Forum for the Progress and Development of South America), the paralysis or stagnation of MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) and the languishing of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). The most effective of the trade agreements has turned out to be the Pacific Alliance, which groups only four countries — Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The overall picture and the hard figures of intra-regional trade or exports in Latin America show that, at its best moments at the beginning of the last decade, it has been close to 20% and that it has plummeted in recent years reaching only 13% in 2020, according to ECLAC figures of July 2021. This means that less than one fifth of exports go to another country within the region, which implies, according to the organization, that we are facing a growing process of economic disintegration that adds to the absence of political dialogue.
An even more complex issue is to define once and for all whether a true integration of Latin America is possible at all. Everyone will say yes of course, that it is practically foolish to ask the question, but the more than 200 years of independent life of the republics prove the contrary. The case of MERCOSUR, for which there were so many hopes, is dramatic. The only organization that has endured is the OAS (Organization of American States), promoted by the United States to protect its interests at the beginning of the Cold War, in 1948, which has its headquarters in Washington and in which all the states of the American continent participated in its beginnings. In 1962 Cuba was expelled due to the socialist character of the revolution and in 2009, that is, 47 years later, it was invited to rejoin, which was in turn rejected by the Cuban government. Today, the Venezuelan government is in the process of withdrawing from the organization, and the Nicaraguan regime has announced the same.
The most influential countries in Latin America are Mexico and Brazil, both with regional leadership ambitions and tireless in their quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. They stand out within the subcontinent in terms of territory, population and natural resources, among other elements of the so-called national power. Argentina, a country that can add the wealth of its human capital to the above factors, has the structural problem of governance, as it has demonstrated since the second half of the twentieth century. The aspiration for a seat on the Security Council is not exclusive to Brazilians and Mexicans, but also to medium-sized powers such as Germany, Japan, India, South Africa and Italy.
The United Mexican States is located in North America with an area of 1,964,375 square kilometers and a population of about 130 million inhabitants who have an annual income of $18,793 thousand dollars per capita, according to World Bank figures for 2020. It is bordered to the north by the United States of America, where it shares a border of more than 3,000 kilometers, and to the south by Guatemala and Belize. It has access to the Pacific Ocean to the west and to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
In South America, the Federative Republic of Brazil covers an area of 8,515,770 square kilometers, with a population of 215 million inhabitants and a corrected annual per capita income of $14,829 dollars in 2020. Brazil is a world giant in terms of area and population. It is bordered in South America by nine of the 12 states that make up the subcontinent, with the exception of Ecuador and Chile. With more than seven thousand kilometers of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, it has no access to the Pacific.
Mexico has maintained a democratic regime, of its own sort, and has applied a foreign policy with considerable autonomy from its powerful northern neighbor. Brazil lived under developmentalist military dictatorships between 1964 and 1985. These were years of terror, disappearances, torture, death and exile in a country that aligned itself with the United States after the end of World War II, seeking to become a regional middle power.
Brazil and Mexico have disputed the leadership of the Latin American region, which became more evident in the first decade of this century. Brazil has expanded its presence abroad with 139 embassies and 12 missions to international organizations. Mexico has 80 resident embassies and 7 missions to multilateral organizations. Both countries have sought to lead integration processes, and Brazil took a clear advantage by promoting and formalizing the creation of UNASUR in 2008, which brought together all South American countries. On 6th January 2022, Mexico's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, traveled to Santiago for an encounter with President-elect Gabriel Boric, without meeting with any authority of the current government, which is unusual in diplomatic language. The visit is a clear sign towards strengthening the historical relations between both countries and also a message to the South American left that is preparing for an eventual ascending cycle of progressive governments. Along with conveying an invitation from the Aztec president, Manuel López Obrador, to visit his country, Ebrard (who is likely to contest the presidency of Mexico in 2024) pointed out: "the closer we are, the better off we will be."
The new Chilean government, which took office on 11th March 2022, will have to evaluate the regional and global situation very carefully in order to define its foreign policy priorities. It is clear that the existing dispute between the United States and China has spread to Latin America and will surely deepen in the future. Chile cannot ignore its diplomatic history and tradition in foreign policy, but it is time to move forward in a process of real integration, gathering what has already been achieved and giving priority to the South American geopolitical space. The upcoming elections in Brazil to be held on 2nd October 2022, which as of today grant a high probability that former President Lula will return to power, may give a new impetus to the integration process.
Although it can easily be said that Latin America's problems are the same for all countries, the truth is that there are substantial differences between the geopolitical realities faced by Mexico, with its powerful neighbor to the north, together with the Central American and Caribbean countries, and what is happening in South America. To first consolidate a space of South American political convergence with all its countries may be the best sign to advance in the integration process and give a new impulse to CELAC.
President-elect Gabriel Boric should serve as an inspiration to a whole new generation of young Latin American politicians who have their eyes and hearts set on the success of the reforms he has promised in search of a fairer and more inclusive country. The foreign policy of the new Chilean government should not be absent and should go beyond the signing of trade agreements and promote, from less to more, the consolidation of a stable South American space of realistic political, economic, commercial and cultural integration, which leaves behind the look of the twentieth century that has divided us and moves forward with the new challenges. This will be the best way to advance towards the unity of Latin America.