Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some thoughts on UNASUR and Bolivia

UNASUR had its emergency session in Chile, and voiced very strong support for Evo Morales' government, releasing the "Declaration of La Moneda."

Given how quickly events move, we won't know for some time whether this helps shores up Bolivian democracy. That said, it is worth pondering its relevance. The first thing that comes to mind is liberal institutional theory. I use it in my textbook, along with realism and dependency theory, to help students understand U.S.-Latin American relations. The basic idea is that international institutions can constrain behavior. Normally, this refers to state behavior, but I think it can be usefully applied to both sides--though particularly the opposition--in Bolivia. UNASUR has no enforcement mechanism, no troops, no economic leverage. So why pay any attention to its declaration?

The answer, if liberal institutionalism works, is that institutions become important in and of themselves, sometimes simply with moral authority (work on liberal institutionalism in Latin America has generally focused on human rights) and therefore can facilitate cooperation. In the current case, the hope is that UNASUR, by showing a united front, raises the perceived costs for anyone to subvert democracy. They know ahead of time that there will be a clear regional opposition to their actions, which have been defined as undemocratic, and therefore make choices accordingly.

So will this hastily assembled session and hastily drafted document matter? We'll see. At the very least, however, we've just seen a commitment in South America to reacting quickly to a political crisis. This is especially notable given the ideological variety in evidence--Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe, for example, are not exactly bosom buddies.


Miguel Centellas 9:57 AM  

You may remember that the OAS made similar pronouncements about Goni back in September-October 2003. Let's hope UNASUR has more influence.

Anonymous,  10:34 AM  

On the subject of your textbook, your press sent me a free copy without my asking for it. I'd requested an exam copy of Oatley's textbook and they threw that in, presumably based on the course I'm going to teach being Latin American politics.

I really appreciate being able to keep somewhat on top of Bolivia via your posts.

Greg Weeks 10:48 AM  

Miguel, liberal institutional theory obviously has empirical holes, though in the Bolivian case these contexts are different.

Russ, I am glad Longman is doing some good marketing. As for Bolivia, make sure you also read Miguel's blog.

Miguel Centellas 8:42 AM  

So far it's looking like UNASUR may overshadow the OAS ... what are your thoughts?

Greg Weeks 10:37 AM  

Interesting point, maybe worth a post in the future. I think the current overshadowing is directly related to the fact that the U.S. is not involved. This was an auspicious start for UNASUR, so for the time being it is going nowhere but up.

Miguel Centellas 8:11 AM  

I increasingly think the biggest winner in this whole thing was Brazil (at the expense of the US, but also Venezuela).

Greg Weeks 11:46 AM  

That could well be. Chavez's comments contrasted sharply with everyone else's, and were welcomed by no one.

Anonymous,  11:55 AM  

Brazil traditionally has had the best diplomats in the region, bar none.

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