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Regionalism and Governance in the Americas: Continental Drift (review)

From: Latin American Politics & Society
Volume 49, Number 4, Winter 2007
pp. 183-186 | 10.1353/lap.2007.0041

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Sick and dying, Simón Bolívar proclaimed in 1830 that "those who have served the revolution have plowed the seas." The same might have been said about regional integration in the Americas, Bolívar's other central political cause. One of Bolívar's central frustrations and the key issue in the past, present, and probable future of regionalist projects and ideas in the Americas was and continues to be the role of the United States, either as an external actor in exclusively Latin American forms of regionalism or, more frequently, as the hegemonic player in hemispherewide regional projects. As Richard Feinberg notes in the preface to this book, "unequal national power sets the context for the Western Hemisphere dialog" (xviii).

While the Americas might seem a natural case for regional integration, the predominant U.S. role in many of the institutions of regional governance, from the OAS to the FTAA, and the U.S. resistance to deep forms of integration and supranational forms of governance underly much of the history of regionalism in the hemisphere.

This edited volume offers a multidisciplinary analysis of the contemporary state of regionalism in the Americas, with a particular focus on the forces that shape the design and functioning of institutions of regional governance. The editors use the metaphor of "continental drift" to highlight both the slow pace of movement toward greater regional integration and the structural economic and political forces that shape the process. The key argument of the volume, woven in different ways through all the chapters, is that the history of regionalism in the Americas and its governance have been shaped by the highly asymmetrical power relations between the United States and the other countries of the hemisphere. Four other central themes tie the volume together: the relationship between regionalism and globalization; the lessons to be learned from both NAFTA and the European Union for regional projects in the Americas; the role of civil society actors, such as labor and environmental organizations, in regional projects; and the implications of the post-9/11 context of heightened security concerns for regional governance in the hemisphere.

For the uninitiated, the chapter by Louise Fawcett provides an insightful analysis of the almost two-hundred-year history of regionalist ideas and institutions in the hemisphere. Fawcett's central assertion is that ideas about regionalism have a profound impact on the design of institutions of regional governance. Fawcett succinctly traces the evolution of the two major trends in regionalist thinking in the hemisphere: the idea of Latin American regionalism first promoted by Bolívar, San Martín, and Andrés Bello; and the idea of Pan-Americanism dominated by the United States. The latter trend was apparent from the independence era on, most notably in the "No Transfer" doctrine of 1811 and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

As British neo-imperial power in the Americas faded in the early twentieth century, Fawcett argues, the Pan-American idea became dominant, albeit with important ebbs and flows. In Latin America, many came to view the U.S. Pan-American institution-building agenda as little more than a new form of Yankee imperialism. During the 1950s and 1960s, alternative Latin American forms of regionalism gained ground, influenced by dependency theory and compatible with the strategy of import substitution industrialization then in vogue. But the disappointing results of the Central American Common Market, the Andean Pact, and other regional projects to protect local markets and promote local industrialization resulted in a relative decline in distinctively Latin American forms of regionalism. Nevertheless, Fawcett concludes, the tension between Pan-American and Latin American regionalist ideas persists and helps to explain the slow, uncertain, and shallow nature of the institutional forms that have emerged to govern regional and subregional cooperation.

While the asymmetrical power relations between the United States and the other states of the Americas have been the central shaping force in regional governance, it is also crucial to recognize that a similar asymmetry characterizes the relationships among civil society actors—an aspect of regionalism often studied in isolation from that of cooperation among states. Two chapters in this volume, one by Blanca Torres and the other by Roberto Korzeniewicz and...

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