Geo-Economic Competition in Latin America: Brazil, Venezuela, and Regional Integration in the 21st Century
The institutional framework of Latin American integration saw a period of intense transformation in the 2000s, with the death of the ambitious project of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), spearheaded by the United States, and the birth of two new institutions, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This article offers a historical reconstruction of regional integration structures in the 2000s, with emphasis on the fault lines between Brazil, Venezuela and the US, and how they have shaped the institutional order across the hemisphere. We argue that the shaping of UNASUR and CELAC, launched respectively in 2007 and 2010, is the outcome of three complex processes: (1) Brazil’s struggle to strengthen Mercosur by acting more decisively as a regional paymaster; (2) Washington’s selective engagement with some key regional players, notably Colombia, and (3) Venezuela’s construction of an alternative integration model through the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and oil diplomacy. If UNASUR corresponded to Brazil’s strategy to neutralize the growing role of Caracas in South America and to break apart the emerging alliance between Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia, CELAC was at the same time a means to keep the US away from regional decisions, and to weaken the Caracas-Havana axis that sustained ALBA.