SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Since taking office a year ago, President Daniel Ortega has arguably become the region’s top promoter of Central American and Latin American unity and integration – at least in rhetorical terms.
On several occasions Ortega has called for the unification of the isthmus he calls the “Great Motherland of Central America” and for erasing the borders between countries.
He has invoked the images of 19th century Honduran Gen. Francisco Morazán, head of the short-lived Central American Federation, and – of course – South American liberator and unifier Simón Bolívar, whose name has been borrowed by Hugo Chávez’s socialist revolution in Venezuela.
While Ortega has mentioned integration in practical terms, such as the Central American Customs Union and the negotiation with the European Union, more often than not, his discourse has been lofty, talking about a united Central America in idealistic and historical terms. During a meeting last December with Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Ortega invoked the image of past Maya and Nahuatl indigenous civilizations, saying that he and Zelaya and Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom were descendents of these indigenous warriors who had returned to “retake the old path” of unity.
Ortega also talked about the importance of Chávez’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a leftist cooperation agreement aimed at offsetting U.S. influence in the Americas.
Integration experts, however, are leery of the promises of ALBA, although some admit there are some interesting elements to it.
“ALBA is a very interesting cooperation agreement, but it is not integration and it is not an economic agreement,” said Héctor Casanueva, executive director of the Latin American Center for Relations with Europe (CELARE).
Casanueva is also skeptical of the motives of ALBA, which identifies itself in terms of anti-U.S. initiatives, or a club based on confrontation, which seems to violate a basic premise of integration.
“You can’t claim to be working toward a common good when you are talking about confrontation,” he said.
Oscar Alfredo Santamaría, former secretary general of the Central American Integration System (SICA), urges leaders like Chávez and Ortega to be more responsible when talking about integration, and said integration initiatives shouldn’t be mutually exclusive of one another, or viewed as competition (see seperate story, Page 4).
Santamaría said he thinks Ortega needs to be more “serious and responsible” when talking about Central American unification, because in the end integration requires hard work, not a magic wand. And promoting ALBA at the exclusion of other integration initiatives could put in doubt Nicaragua’s obligations to a series of other treaties and protocols that the country has signed, he said.
“I think that it is risky to say stuff like that,” Santamaría said of Ortega’s Central American integration discourse. “And I don’t think it’s serious or responsible.”