Peru has burst into the spotlight in recent days, with Mario Vargas Llosa winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. But the country has for some time been emerging as a leader in the region, with an economy that is booming thanks to a serious liberal agenda, and a diminishing proportion of its population living below the poverty line.
Now Alan Garcia is proposing that Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and his country join together in a new integration scheme to build closer links with countries on the other side of the Pacific and benefit from the Asian economic boom.
Of course, this scheme will rest in large part on the commodities trade, as Asia needs a lot of raw materials to keep its engine going. This focus on commodities means that Latin American exports have little added value, and poses a potential threat to the environment, but that topic deserves another article.
What’s new about this scheme is that it is outward-facing (that is, not focused on intra-regional trade), as Garcia seems to have concluded that other regional integration schemes, such as the Andean Community, have not been very effective. It’s not a bad idea. Integrating these countries with the new emerging economic powerhouses of the Far East has been suggested for many decades now, and perhaps this is the best way to actually make it happen.
But why is Peru behind this? Why wasn’t this proposed by Chile or Colombia, the Andean leaders? Why not Panama? It’s easy to guess the reason for Chile’s and Panama’s failure to come forward, as both countries tend to be lone riders in the world economy, what with Panama being a very liberal port and Chile signing FTA after FTA. But what has happened to Colombia, which should be a strong leader in the region?
Whatever leadership Colombia had in the second half of the 20th century (leading the Andean Community, the Contadora group, and the G-3, being a strong player in the Non-Aligned Movement and participating in U.N. peacemaking and peacekeeping operations with outstanding results) and partially recovered with the Uribe government as right-wing liberalism’s last bastion in South America, seems to be fleeting, or at least it has so far focused only on military and defense issues.
It is true that the Colombian state continues to be the authority on fighting irregular conflicts and drug trafficking, and indeed is giving technical assistance to Mexico, but in economic terms it seems to be falling behind. True, Colombia has been catalogued as a CIVET (the new BRICs) and this will possibly bring a lot of investment, but it’s just not enough: Peru is stealing the spotlight in terms of regional leadership.
The second decade of the 21th century has begun, and Colombia is still an introverted country, focused inward on its capital city. Our frontiers are not guarded nor developed enough and our Foreign Ministry is still a place to pay for political favors (fortunately, it seems that this will change with the new minister, Angela Maria Holguín, who is recognized for her high ethical standards). Colombia was late in applying for membership of APEC, unlike Peru, and has been too focused on its internal issues to do anything about the international arena, where it was once an active player with idealist tendencies (that is, to build and strengthen international society).
Asia has only just become a top priority, thanks to the Santos government, but it seems that Colombia’s southern neighbor has understood the importance of expanding international ties much more quickly. Perhaps there is hope yet, as many hold Minister Holguin in high esteem and have great expectations about what she will do with her weak ministry, reforming it so that it may actually be a useful tool to promote Colombia’s interests worldwide.
We will certainly see much of Peru in the following months, though there may be a sudden change in direction after the coming presidential elections. Fortunately, for now, Alan Garcia is loyal to Colombia and so is very interested in involving his ally in new projects (a payment for a political favor: Colombia granted him asylum when he stepped down from his first presidency). Hopefully, we will continue to strengthen our links with Peru so that they hold true no matter who is in the House of Pizarro.
Author Santiago Sosa studies International Business at Universidad EAFIT in Medellin