Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

“Suraméxit” and Latin American Disintegration

Juan C. Herrera, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg

What’s going on in Latin America? The socio-political demands throughout the year and especially of recent weeks provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on what could become a South American Spring. Are governments or institutions failing? The general discontent of citizens transcends borders, offering a great opportunity to make common demands and problems visible.

How to solve the main challenges of the region? The environmental crisis in the Amazon? Inequality? Economic growth? Violence? Or the abuse from the left-right political spectrum? Regional integration is not the answer to all these questions, but it does provide a mechanism that could bring about comprehensive answers to the problems in the medium and long-term. Unfortunately, today’s national governments have systematically misled the vast majority of Latin Americans, who yearn for more political, economic and social integration.

In Latin America, language, religion, legal and political systems share many broad commonalities; despite their diversity, these systems serve to unite the region rather than divide it. This raises the question of why is Latin American integration still an unfulfilled reality?

The aspiration for this regional union dates back to the time of independence with the Latin American integration clause being contemplated in the constitutions currently in force in 18 countries: Uruguay (1967), Costa Rica (1968), Honduras (1982), El Salvador (1983), Guatemala (1985), Nicaragua (1986), Haiti (1987), Brazil (1988), Colombia (1991), Paraguay (1992), Peru (1993), Argentina (1994), Panama (1994), Venezuela (1999), Ecuador (2008), Bolivia (2009), Dominican Republic (2010) and Cuba (2019). However, among the most influential countries in the region, the constitutions of Mexico and Chile do not contain constitutional norms related to regional integration.

Graph 1. States with Latin American integration clauses in current constitutions (1967-2019).

Source: author’s elaboration

The “integration clause” is also included in the treaties and declarations that have created international organizations throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. These include OAS (1948), LAFTA (1960-1980), SICA (1962), Latin American Parliament (1964), CAN (1969), Caricom (1973), SELA (1975), ALADI (1980), Mercosur (1991), Mesoamerica PPP (2001), ALBA-TCP (2004), Unasur (2008), Celac (2010), Pacific Alliance (2012) and Prosur (2019).

Latin American integration, especially South American integration, has been in the news beginning with the so-called Suraméxit crisis in South America, which has caused the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to collapse like a house of cards. Keeping the proportions of each case in mind, while Europe is witnessing the Brexit crisis, in South America, we are facing Suraméxit.

Triggered by Venezuela’s and Bolivia’s disapproval, this impasse blocked the appointment of the majority candidate to run the Secretary General’s Office of the only organization that united all twelve South American countries.

To resolve this conflict, several countries suspended their participation and in exchange created the South American Forum for Progress (Prosur), an organization which brings together only eight of the twelve South American states.

The ability of this new platform to achieve its proposed ambitious integration objectives are remote and actually translates into a new mechanism to not integrate Latin America.

Particularly in the case of Prosur, the improvisation is striking and it serves to explain why Latin American disintegration is a matter of method. To date, there is no solid evidence to support the need to create this new organization and, in fact, there is a growing trend among experts to point out that Prosur is a mistake.

According to the Santiago Declaration and the explanations of its leaders, the principal argument behind Prosur’s creation is to create a structure “without bureaucracy” and one that is “not expensive”. These arguments are easily refutable; what they actually reveal are the preconceptions held by some current leaders in the region who actually seek the opposite of regional integration.

“Without bureaucracy” and “not expensive”: Excuses for regional non-integration

The budget of a consolidated organization such as the European Union (EU) represents scarcely 1% of the wealth produced each year by its economies. The total GDP of South America in recent years has been around 4 trillion dollars and the GDP of Latin America as a whole amounts to roughly 5.7 trillion. The annual budget of the main and most relevant organizations operating in South America (OAS, ALADI, CAN, Mercosur and Unasur) has been in recent years around 105 million dollars.

Table 1. An Annual Budget of the Main Supranational Organizations Operating in South America

Organism Year Annual budget USD Staff
OAS 2019 82,700,000 3017
Unasur 2018 9,786,876 54
CAN 2016 5,659,200 71
Aladi 2017 4,617,510 64
Mercosur 2012 2,461,888 44
Total   105,225,474 3250

Source: data from the organizations available online [See hyperlinks.]

Graph 2. Budget Distribution of the Main Organizations Operating in South America

Source: author’s elaboration. Data from the hyperlinks in table 1.

This means that nearly 0.003% of the wealth produced by South American economies is invested annually in regional integration. It is ludicrous to claim that Latin American regional organizations are expensive.

Regarding bureaucracy, in the five organizations described above, around 3000 people work to serve a region with more than 650 million inhabitants (see table 1). In the EU, around 55,000 staff are employed in a region of just over 500 million people. As a point of reference, the Brazilian bank Itaú has 93,000 employees. For all these reasons, there is no such thing as “bureaucratic” organizations. On the contrary, still more economic and human resources are needed for institution-building. The OAS and its Inter-American human rights system provide examples that it is possible to work in supranational terms.

Prosur is the most recent version of an old vice in the region that relies on the replication of institutions with similar goals and functions. This vicious circle of creating regional organizations according to the movement of the ideological pendulum generates overlapping objectives and functions so that instead of complementing each other, the integration platforms end up competing or contradicting each other. In addition, the proliferation of free trade agreements ends up hindering the process, creating a jungle of rules that obstruct the movement of people and goods.

Latin American integration increasingly appears like two donkeys pulling a rope in opposite directions. Forums are like neighborhood gatherings where residents meet to discuss neighborhood problems. In that sense, South America is like a neighborhood in which there are more organizations than houses. Therefore, a “forum” like Prosur will most likely end up creating a new  website and holding some meetings as happened with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac). Nothing else.

To reverse this situation, existing organizations need to converge and re-structure to determine a long, medium and short-term blueprint. This requires time, but it can be done. What kind of Latin America do we want by 2030? 2050? At the end of this century? In Asia and Africa, vision plans and blueprints have been created which could be adapted to the Latin American context, and of course, improved. 

Why is Latin American integration relevant?

For economic, political and social reasons.

In economic matters, the fourth industrial revolution is taking giant leaps toward us but South America continues to survive on nature and its resources: agricultural products, fuel, and mining represent around 72% of the region’s exports. On the other hand, 72% of imports come from manufacturing. Diversification and adaptation of production to the 4.0 revolution is essential.

In the political arena, the stability of democracy is essential; this needed stability requires conservative, liberal and progressive forces to acquire the capacity to live together or at least to tolerate each other. The necessary convergence of organizations and the aforementioned blueprints need to be combined with all these forms of political thinking. The germ of self-destruction lies in leaving any of them out.

On the social front, the cohesion of the regional block is essential to be able to respond to the common challenges and violations of rights, especially those linked to inequality and poverty.

The Latin American nation fragmented into many states, has been playing a losing battle with disintegration for more than two hundred years. Sometimes because of external interests and at times because of internal competition or at other times because of the stupidity of their governments and private corporations. Every decade that passes without acting as a block is wasted time.

Suggested citation: Juan C. Herrera, “Suraméxit” and Latin American Disintegration, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Nov. 6, 2019, at:


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