Athens Democracy Forum: The Disunited States of South America

This article is from a special report on the Athens Democracy Forum, which gathered experts last week in the Greek capital to discuss global issues.

Moderator: Serge Schmemann, editorial board, The New York Times

Participants: Natalia Herbst, social impact consultant and Obama Foundation Scholar alumnus; Jorge Fernando Quiroga, former president, Bolivia; and Adriana Mejía Hernández, executive director, Fundación Innovación para el Desarrollo

Excerpts from the panel Disunited States of South America have been edited and condensed.

SERGE SCHMEMANN In my preparatory reading, I found a dual image of the continent. On the one hand we’re talking about one of the most promising regions in the world. There’s no wars. It’s the most democratic region in the developing world. And it’s set to become an economic powerhouse with the green minerals that will be necessary for a green world. At the same time, you read about democratic backsliding, politics that veer from far left to far right and a region plagued by inequality, crime, drug trafficking, social upheavals. And despite similarities of language and history, there has been no successful attempt to bring unity, a European Union type of cohesion to the continent. Having spouted a bunch of stereotypes, I would like to ask you, which stereotypes of your region irritate you the most?

JORGE FERNANDO QUIROGA We in Latin America, without having the frameworks that you have built in Brussels, and the Parliament, and the currency, we do have the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Human Rights System, the Election Observation Mission. And I can tell you from experience having gone to observe elections in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, other places, that is something to be treasured. Is it perfect? No. Do we have exceptions? Certainly. Glaring ones. We had three dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, but we do have a framework. And I know when you go to Asia and Africa they don’t have that.

So having those common values leads to the challenge of why do we not do more integration with Europe and South America. Because the trade arrangement discussions between Europe and South America have been going on forever, and ever and ever. It’s a never-ending date, and there’s no marriage. And if Europe is not open for business, and the U.S., by the way, is not open for business, then do not please come preach to us about “get China out of the way.” Because China is actually open for business.