The Typical Case of a “Escape Forward”: Implications of the Pro-South Initiative for the Pacific Alliance

Last week the Colombian President, Ivan Duque, stated his interest in establishing a new regional institution (perhaps an organisation) which he suggested to name Pro-South. This regional initiative if successful, would aim at coordinating public policies among South American countries, defend democratic values, including the separation of public powers, promote free market economies and the social agenda. He even suggested that it would replace UNASUR, a regional organisation founded in 2008 under the leadership of Brazilian and Venezuelan left-wing governments. UNASUR entered a significant crisis last year after Colombia’s announcement to withdraw from it and the voluntary membership suspension of five of its twelve members.

The move aims to politically punish UNASUR for its inability to take action against the current undemocratic regime run by Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro.

Colombia’s president said to have discussed the initiative with the Chilean president, Sebastian Piñera and found a positive response. In this short note, we would like to examine the need for a new regional institution of this type and the implications that its establishment could have for the Pacific Alliance’s long-term consolidation.

The announcement of this new regional forum seems to be another perfect example of the “escape forward” rooted in Latin America’s regionalism. This term coins a practice of establishing new regional organisations or fora to pursue similar objectives to already existing ones when those established institutions face a crisis due to lack of political consensus or ideological differences within them. Rather than persevering at solving those political differences, states create new organisations to address similar topics while leaving the organisations that fail to deliver a particular result in a coma.

Building momentum for a new regional forum places Colombia’s president in the regional radar and reclaims the interest for a dialogue targeted at South America. It will be not only a test to its potential regional leadership but also a test to other regional institutions such as the Pacific Alliance, Mercosur and the Andean Community to stay relevant.

The objectives that this organisation are set to pursue are not different to the aims that the above institutions have been seeking for quite a while, questioning the real added value of Pro-South.  Even CELAC, with a more extensive membership and regional coverage over Latin American affairs, seems to follow similar goals. Is Pro-South just a new political statement of the geopolitical swings within South America that has unfolded over the past few years?.

A consensus-based fora such as this one will always face the risk of stagnation that comes with political disagreements of the government members. Moreover, intergovernmental institutions such as the future Pro-South will claim a refocus of priorities by the government officials managing it. It is more than likely that governments running on national budget deficits will not have dedicated human resources for this new instance. On the contrary, the reassessment of priorities and national agendas could contribute to slow down the pace of progress in the existing institutions.

Photocredits: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash
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