Venezuela is already the only Latin American member of OPEC, with by far the largest proven oil reserves outside the Middle East. Chávez envisions Petroamerica, an integrated energy system of the kind that China is trying to initiate in Asia.
The new Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, proposed a land-and-river trade link from the Brazilian Amazon rain forest to Ecuador's Pacific Coast ? a South American equivalent of the Panama Canal.
Other promising developments include Telesur, a new pan-Latin American TV channel based in Venezuela and an effort to break the Western media monopoly.
The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, called on fellow leaders to overcome historical differences and unite the continent, however difficult the task.
Integration is a prerequisite for genuine independence. The colonial history ? Spain, Britain, other European powers, the United States ? not only divided countries from one another but also left a sharp internal division within the countries, between a wealthy small elite and a mass of impoverished people.
The main economic controls in recent years have come from the International Monetary Fund, which is virtually a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department. But Argentina, Brazil and now Bolivia have moved to free themselves of IMF strictures.
Because of the new developments in South America, the United States has been forced to adjust policy. The governments that now have U.S. support ? like Brazil under Lula ? might well have been overthrown in the past, as was President João Goulart of Brazil in a U.S.-backed coup in 1964.
To maintain Washington's party line, though, it's necessary to finesse some of the facts. For example, when Lula was re- elected in October, one of his first acts was to fly to Caracas to support Chávez's electoral campaign. Also, Lula dedicated a Brazilian project in Venezuela, a bridge over the Orinoco River, and discussed other joint ventures.
The tempo is picking up. Also last month, Mercosur, the South American trading bloc, continued the dialogue on South American unity at its semiannual meeting in Brazil, where Lula inaugurated the Mercosur Parliament ? another promising sign of deliverance from the demons of the past.
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