The formal political institutions that link the entire region are the United Nations and the Organization of American States. If Guyana and Surinam are removed the list increases to include the Organization of Ibero-American States, ALADI, the Rio Group, and the World Trade Organization.
The level of diplomatic interaction is varied between nations and ministries but there at least two high level presidential meetings between South American presidents each year. The number of international reunions increases at the ministerial level, and if the subregional institutions of MERCOSUR and CAN are included, the degree of formal interconnectivity between the states increases even more.
The nations of the region are also interconnected through a series of nonpolitical links including sporting and cultural events, intraregional immigration, cross-border investment, and educational exchanges. The level of interaction between individual countries changes throughout the region but is generally greatest between neighboring countries.
For example, according to the 2002 Chilean Census, there were 149,162 immigrants from the Western Hemisphere living in Chile. Of this group 71 percent come from other Latin American countries, with 95 percent originating from the neighboring countries of Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia.
In Argentina the 2001 census estimated that 60 percent of immigration comes from neighboring countries, with Paraguay leading (325,046), followed by Bolivia (233,464), Chile (212,429), Uruguay (117,564), and Brasil (34,712).
The relations these communities create between their host country and home country are perhaps the most visible face of regional integration and form the basis for many of the subsequent efforts of regional governments to address the interests of these populations (commerce, education, immigration, narcotics, etc).
Finally, the Caribbean states of Guyana, and Surinam and to some level Colombia and Venezuela, have had stronger ties with the rest of the Caribbean basin than with their southern neighbors. Historic relations with the US and Europe, and the south’s relative independence from these global influences on top of the vast geographic distances has made the interaction of the Carribbean north and the southern cone more difficult. By understanding these areas of interconnection and divergence we should be better able to understand the challenges facing regional integration.
By Nathan Gill – Southern Affairs