BY ROBERT C. BOOTH
The fact that the presidents of 12 countries in South America got together in Brazil on May 20 and approved the constitution of the first Union of South American called UNASUR is the best news I have heard in my life. I just hope and pray the governments will take advantage of this and make it work. Because I believe the 370 million people in the region deserve it.
For background I must admit that I have been a Simon Bolivar advocate most of my adult life, so I beg your forgiveness if I am emotional about this subject and hope you will understand my being somewhat long-winded.
I find it significant that this is happening 200 years after Venezuela declared its independence from Spain in 1808. But a few years later the Patriot Junta had to surrender and Bolivar had to flee the country. To cut a long story short, he returned in 1819 and led the country to independence again. He then proceeded to create the Angostura Congress which founded Gran Colombia, a federation of present day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador. In 1823 he commanded the invasion of Peru and with Antonio Jose de Sucre they jointly defeated the Spanish army in the battles of Junin and later Ayacucho, eliminating Spain’s presence in South America. In 1825 Sucre called the Congress of Upper Peru which created the Republic of Bolivia in honor of Bolivar who was known at the time as El Libertador.
In 1826 Bolivar called the Congress of Panama, the first hemisphere conference. Unfortunately for him and all of South America by 1827, due to personal conflicts among the generals of the revolution, civil wars destroyed the South American unity for which Bolivar had fought. One of his lines, which he wrote at this point, and which is one of my favorites, is that his effort to unify South America was “like plowing in the sea.” And on December 17, 1830 he died of tuberculosis in Santa Marta, Colombia.
SATO AND LATIN PASS
Following up on my own thoughts, in the early 1960’s, along with some outstanding airline and tourism leaders in the region we formed SATO, the South American Tourism Organization. For several years SATO was successful in bringing private and public sectors together to promote South America as a tourism destination in North America and Europe. Unfortunately, like so many other worthwhile projects that made sense but didn’t have the government support it needed, it died a natural death in the late 1960s.
The other Bolivarian (sort of) project we were involved in was the formation of Latin Pass, the frequent flyer program, with 16 Latin American airline-owners in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, for many valid reasons, LatinPass did not survive as such, but AvGroup (our family-owned corporation) acquired the company and re-branded it as GlobalPass which is in the process of capitalization as a different model.
And while on the subject, I wrote a novel to be called The Other USA in the late 1970s, but it never got published, because my publisher Ron Davies insisted that fact is better than fiction and convinced me to write my own story, Airline Pasionado – Before, Braniff and After. But enough said about my own background and passion.
INITIATIVES IN THE WORKS
President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who has been named to head the organization until the next meeting of UNASUR in Chile in 2009, has stated that the Union has to focus on social political goals to reduce poverty in the region. And Brazil’s President Lula has also come out within days of the constitution of the union (which he has been promoting since the early 2000s) that “We are going to start a South American bank so that we can have a joint central bank for the region and a common currency.”
He has also announced that Brazil – being the largest economy in the region – “has a particular interest in achieving the goal of investing in Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay. We have the responsibility of helping them because the stronger the South American countries, the more peace, democracy, trade, jobs, profits and development.” And while he also stated that much has yet to be formalized – “It’s a process, its not something to rush…but what has really happened is that South America’s geopolitics has changed” (For the better, obviously. And this is just the beginning).
I have already stressed the need for Open Skies in the region which will have a major impact on improving commercial aviation within South America, and increasing the already growing regional tourism and the economies. And by Open Skies I mean within South America, that is for South American airlines to have the freedom to serve the hundreds of city pairs which do not have good nonstop service and to eliminate the whole nationality-ownership issue.
I also believe the issue of poverty and education must be high on the agenda. And tourism, which is showing signs of growth in the region, needs top level - and the Union’s - attention. It is by far the best economic driver and can do much to create jobs and reduce poverty.
Finally, I sincerely believe UNASUR will work. Particularly because of the presidential leadership involved and the fact that South America is now becoming closer to being a “developed” group of countries with their economy doing extremely well across the board. The need now is to implement the initiatives mentioned above and many others which could include the involvement of the United States – a-la “Alliance for Progress” back in the John F. Kennedy years. Time to do it, guys! And good luck. Remember, “no amount of planning replaces dumb luck.”
Robert C Booth is Chairman of AvGroup and author of Airline Pasionado – Before, Braniff and After. This column is based on an excerpt of a commentary originally published in AvNews. Republished with permission.