South American leaders meet in Brasília on Tuesday for what Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government is presenting as a "retreat" to revive integration in a region rife with ideological rifts and internal crises.
With the exception of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, all the region's key leaders – 10 in total – have confirmed their attendance for a high-level summit. They will begin arriving in the Brazilian capital on Monday for their first top-level regional meeting in almost a decade.
Even Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will travel to Brazil, a change after Brazil’s far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022) blocked him from visiting the country. The Brazilian government has not yet announced whether Lula will hold a bilateral meeting with Maduro, or with any of the other invited leaders.
The event will take place mainly at the Itamaraty Palace, an architectural jewel surrounded by water designed by Oscar Niemeyer and the seat of Brazil’s influential Foreign Ministry.
After being received one-by-one by Lula, the presidents will meet in two sessions – first delivering individual statements, and then for an informal debate - followed by a dinner at the Alvorada Palace, the Brazilian president's official residence.
All discussions will be behind closed doors and a final communiqué offering a common position is not guaranteed.
Without a pre-established agenda and with a reduced format – only the leaders, their foreign ministers and some advisors will attend summits – the idea of the "retreat" proposed by Lula is that the countries can discuss common problems frankly.
It will give the meeting an "informal" feel, "with as much conversation as possible," a Brazilian Foreign Ministry source told AFP.
According to Gisela Maria Figuereido, Brazil's secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, the meeting will have three objectives.
The first two are to "resume dialogue" to seek a "common vision" and to agree on a cooperation agenda on issues such as health, infrastructure, energy, the environment and the fight against organised crime.
For example, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira last week gave impetus to the so-called "bioceanic corridor" – an initiative to move cargo between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which has been discussed for years by Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
The third goal looks more complicated: finding a way forward for a new South American integration mechanism.
A meeting between South American leaders has not taken place since 2014 in Quito, during a key summit hosted by UNASUR, the body created six years earlier by Lula (2003-2010) and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez during the region’s first wave of leftist governments.
But after a conservative turn at the ballot box, and with Brazil gripped by political instability following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff on March 2, 2014, the country has been in a state of political instability.
Currently, only seven of UNASUR’s 12 members of Unasur remain in the organisation (Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela and Peru–- which never left – as well as Brazil and Argentina, which returned this year). The Brazilian government has not ruled out a new body being built from scratch.
"We hope to initiate a dialogue among all of us in order to once again have an inclusive, effective and permanent mechanism for consultation that can be above the guidelines of the governments in power," Vieira said this week.
For Jason Marczak of the Atlantic Council in Washington, the meeting "is potentially a first attempt by Lula to see what can be achieved" in terms of South American integration.
"Lula is looking at how to make" his third presidency serve to "further insert Brazil as a leader and advance a wide range of global issues," he told AFP.
But without prior technical discussions between the countries, the meeting will be "merely symbolic," argues Eduardo Mello, an internationalist at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.
"There are structural problems, the region has been going through political and economic crises for more than a decade, and the main South American economic development projects have failed," he told AFP. "These are structural factors that cannot be solved only with will, by talking.”
by Ramon Sahmkow, AFP