Latin American leaders agree to further regional integration
South America's heads of state signed an agreement committing their countries to further regional integration,
marking the end of a successful regional summit in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The "Guayaquil Consensus" focused in
particular on the significance of the ongoing negotiations between the Andean Community of Nations and the Southern
Common Market, or Mercosur. According to the terms of the accord, the participating nations will attempt to create a
region-wide free-trade zone by the end of this year.
The summit has focused on all the aspects of integration between the countries of South America, including the physical integration of transportation and power networks. The heads of state noted that the successful implementation of a policy of integration would be crucial if Latin America was to develop successfully and meet the challenges of globalisation.
The "Guayaquil Consensus" also included a commitment on the part of the South American nations to defend democratic
institutions and to establish a "mechanism of financial solidarity" in order to preserve governability in countries,
such as Argentina, which are facing severe economic crises.
Other policy areas mentioned in the consensus agreement were the need to eradicate corruption and the trade in illegal drugs. The South American presidents nonetheless made it clear the responsibility for cracking down on the drug trade rested to a large extent with major consumer countries such as the United States.
The 12 heads of state announced that South America would henceforth be designated a "peace zone" in which all
military action would be prohibited. This declaration is likely to pave the way to a future agreement limiting arms
purchases by individual nations, which was advocated last year by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.
In their final declaration, the heads of state made special mention of Argentina and Colombia, two of the region's most troubled nations. The summit participants expressed their backing of the efforts Argentina was making to overcome its economic crisis and called on the international community to increase its support for these efforts.
The heads of state also expressed their solidarity with Colombia and condemned the terrorist attacks carried out by
rebel groups, who they accused of violating agreements on international human rights. The most talked about
participant at the summit was, as so often before, Venezuela's flamboyant president, Hugo Chavez, who stole the show
with his proposal that the South American nations should consider creating a region-wide oil and gas giant.
"Venezuela has petroleum and gas; so do Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and so why shouldn't we form something like a PetroAmerica company?" Chavez asked. "It would be a multinational oil, gas and energy producer. This is a fascinating idea. There is strength in union and energy is one of the most important factors in the world's future development."
Chavez's proposal was not discussed in depth during the summit, but further enhances his reputation as a champion of
regional integration, inspired by the example of the group of liberators who liberated South America from Spanish
rule with the aim of creating a regional super state.
South America is still a long way from approaching Chavez's avowed dream of a strong and united continent, which would counterbalance the strength of the United States and European Unity. Nonetheless, all the participating heads of states agreed that the "Guayaquil Accord" represents a positive, if moderate, step along the path to regional integration in South America.