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Lula Announces Ambitious Plan for South American Integration

At the Dec. 7 heads of state summit in Rio de Janeiro of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), a group not without its internal frictions, Brazilian President Lula da Silva put forward an ambitious regional “integration routes” plan consisting of five key integration routes designed to connect some of the more remote areas of South America. Financing in the amount of $10 billion has already been confirmed, he said, to come from Brazil’s Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) for $3 billion; the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) for $3.4 billion; the Latin American and Caribbean Development Bank, $3 billion.; and $600 million from FONPLATA, a bank owned by the five Mercosur member nations—Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia. BNDES President Aloizio Mercadante described this as the “biggest financial fund in the history of South American integration and for Mercosur in Mercosur’s history,” Associated Press reported him saying.

At a time of regional frictions around the Venezuela-Guyana situation, and tensions within Mercosur itself, Lula reportedly did a masterful job of establishing a positive rapport with Uruguay’s often uncooperative President Luis Lacalle Pou and with Paraguay’s conservative 35-year-old President Santiago Peña. For the first time in several years, Lacalle Pou actually signed the group’s final declaration and said that perhaps Mercosur was a workable institution after all. The addition of Bolivia to Mercosur is also a plus, as President Luis Arce is proposing the bloc negotiate new agreements with the BRICS and with China, although Paraguay’s continuing diplomatic ties with Taiwan will be an obstacle to the latter.

The five routes Lula identified, which consist of 120 infrastructure projects in all, were announced after five months of consultations among all the nations involved, and according to Brazil’s Planning and Budget Ministry are intended to “significantly reduce the time of transporting merchandise between Brazil and Asia.”

On Dec. 10 Jamaica’s daily The Gleaner described the five routes, some of which are transcontinental in scope.

1. The Guyana Islands route will boost infrastructure in Brazil’s northern states of Amapa and Roraima to better connect them to Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname and Venezuela.

2. The Manta-Manaus route includes the Brazilian state of Amazonas and parts of the states of Roraima, Para and Amapa in a river link to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

3. The Rondon Quadrant route involves the Brazilian states of Acre, Rondonia and Mato Grosso to connect it with Bolivia and Peru.

4. The Capricorn route links the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Parana and Santa Catarina through multiple pathways to Paraguay, Argentina and Chile. The government of the United Arab Republics recently expressed interest in this project.

5. The Porto Alegre (Brazil) to Coquimbo (Chile) route will connect the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

Brazil’s Planning and Budget Minister Simone Tebet emphasized that the borders of the countries involved are characterized by forests, rivers, bridges or roads, but despite cultural and even language differences, “we are all one people, brotherly South American nations … regional integration should be part of the solution to meet our shared challenges and the building of a peaceful world.” Unlike previous efforts, she assured, this time these projects will be completed. “The regional integration project is finally mature enough to come true. That has happened after a lot of dialogue and many conversations among leaders.” She said that Lula’s initiative could also be used to promote financing of other integration projects in the social, environmental and institutional areas.