This chapter explains the historical foundations of the large regional organisations built in Latin America in the early twenty-first century, and the critical role played by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Without Chávez, the continent may not have seen ALBA (for Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), UNASUR (for Union of South American Nations), or CELAC (for Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). Yet all these groupings have important historical antecedents, living memories embedded in the postcolonial and neocolonial history of the region. This regional movement has been counter-hegemonic, historically contingent and often social democratic, paralleling Venezuela’s internal transformations. This is not simple populism, because participation and benefits run deep and wide. Cuban professionals formed the backbone of immense regional social programs, opening up human potential for millions in the region, but it has been Venezuela’s petrodollars and the tremendous political will of Chávez that has driven the broader union. While the region maintains a great diversity of political-economic systems, the U.S.-centric model has rapidly fallen in prestige. Chávez touched a nerve, and the southern continent responded. This chapter argues that identification with and participation in this new regionalism makes it more likely to endure and bear fruit, even beyond Chávez.
In Angosto-Ferrandez, L. F. (ed). Democracy, Revolution, and Geopolitics in Latin America: Venezuela and the International Politics of Discontent. New York: Routledge.