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South American block born
Inter Press Service
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Twelve countries join together in the South American Community.

The South American Community (CSN), created in Cusco, Peru on Dec. 8, appeared as the most ambitious integration initiative in the region’s history and marked its debut with 32 physical infrastructure projects with a combined cost of more than US$4.2 billion to be executed over the next five years.

The new bloc will join the four Southern Common Market (Mercosur) countries — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — and the members of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) — Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela — along with Chile, Guyana and Suriname.

The South American Community will form an enormous market, encompassing 17 million square kilometers (6.6 million square miles) of territory and 350 million consumers, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.2 trillion and $190 billion in annual exports.

The CSN — which is a step forward in the CAN-MERCOSUR accord signed on Oct. 18 — was founded on the basis of three fundamental ideas: definition of common policies before multilateral organizations, the integration of physical infrastructure and convergence between the Andean countries and those of the Southern Cone.

"We had always foreseen that this South American community would be formed through the gradual convergence of the Andean group and Mercosur," CAN secretary-general Allan Wagner said.

"We are reviving the idea of an integrated Latin America after this goal became fragmented into various regional processes 30 years ago. Now we are going back to that original vision, through the convergence of sub-regional structures and within the context of globalization."

"Our ultimate goal, which can hopefully be reached in time is the United States of South America," said Wagner.

He recognized, however, that the merging of the sub-regional groups is still a distant objective and unlikely to be attained even in the medium term.

The region is home to enough oil, gas and mineral reserves to supply its industries for over a century, as well as 8 million square kilometers (3.1 million square miles) of forests and 27 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves.

Political importance

"Nevertheless, and despite the underlying economic interest, what has been most decisive in this regional process is political will, which is what must take precedence," said Roberto Guarnieri of Venezuela, permanent secretary of the Caracas-based Latin American Economic System (SELA), made up of 25 Latin American and Caribbean states.

Jorge Castro, director of the Institute of Strategic Planning of Argentina, said the creation of the CSN is "politically very important, as it signifies the creation of a single voice in international issues, and in today’s world only the large integrated regions have relevance in the international scene."

The most energetic promoters of the South American community have been Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela and less enthusiastic are Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, although the latter should become strongly inclined in favor or integration when the leftist Tabaré Vázquez assumes the presidency in replacement of Jorge Batlle.

"We would like nothing better than to move towards South American integration, but the worst thing we could do would be to ask a child who has just learned to walk to run a marathon," said Osvaldo Rosales, director of international economic relations at the Chilean Foreign Ministry.

The first product of the new South American block was the signing of an accord between Brazil and Peru for the construction of an inter-oceanic highway that will unite the Atlantic with the Pacific.

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