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According to intergovernmentalism, the difference of power between states generates a hierarchy where

the dominant member tends to see himself as the guardian of the general interest, and to think of the lesser members as more parochial and selfish. The weaker partners tend in some important matters to take the senior partner’s advice as gospel, and his leadership for granted, for he has the better expertise and the broader horizon (Hoffmann, Stanley. «The european process at atlantic crosspurposes.» Journal of Common Market Studies 3, nº 2, 1964: 86).

In this sense, it is essential to know the structural position that each of the States occupies within the integration mechanism.

In the same way that the world is characterized by being one “in which there is a hierarchy of the strong and the weak; in which the mighty usually try to preserve their eminence, and the weak often want to rise”(Ibid., 86), in South America there is a hierarchy where countries with greater capacities can play a regional role; while the less favored states have limited possibilities of maneuver and are affected by the interests of the most powerful. In order to appreciate more clearly the hierarchy of power in the region, the following graph is presented with the World Power Index (WPI), from year 2000 to 2015, for the twelve States of UNASUR.

World Power Index for countries of South America, 2000-2015

wpi UNASUR, 1990-2015

Source: (Morales Ruvalcaba 2015a, Morales Ruvalcaba 2015b)

Following the guidelines outlined in the paper “Las promesas del ascenso estructural de los países de América Latina y el Caribe, 1975–2013: logros, desencantos y frustraciones” (Morales Ruvalcaba and Rocha Valencia 2015), it is possible to identify five groups of States in South America:

  • First group: Brazil and Argentina. Brazil is a consolidated regional power (Soares de Lima and Hirst 2006, Rocha Valencia and Morales Ruvalcaba 2010), while Argentina is in the process of re-emergence as a regional power (Morales Ruvalcaba 2010).
  • Second group: Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. In the South American context, these three countries occupy a high, but secondary, structural position: Chile can be characterized as a secondary semi-peripheral state (Morales Ruvalcaba 2015b, 172-185), that is, a state structurally placed in the lower part of the semi-periphery without capacities to compete with regional powers; while Colombia and Venezuela are two subregional powers (Morales Ruvalcaba, Rocha Valencia and Durán González 2016). The three countries are fundamental partners of Brazil and Argentina in the definition, construction and governance of South America.
  • Third group: Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay. Although this group has not achieved a structural position as outstanding as the two previous ones, the three countries that comprise it have been improving substantially their national capacities in the last decade, which makes them relevant actors in the South American context. It should be noted that when they have held the pro tempore presidency of UNASUR, Ecuador (from 10 August 2009 to 26 November 2010), Peru (from 29 June 2012 to 30 August 2013) and Uruguay (from December 2014 to April 17, 2016) have provided a valuable impetus to the integration process.
  • Fourth group: Bolivia and Paraguay. These two countries are distinguished, like Bostwana, by their lower economic-military power (material capabilities), but also by their low levels of well-being (semi-material capabilities) and their reduced communicative-cultural power (immaterial capacities). In general terms, Bolivia and Paraguay are countries whose governments face difficulties in attracting public resources and using them efficiently in the creation of infrastructure, not only for their inhabitants but also to receive tourists and international travelers. In the face of lack of development, many people in these countries migrate to the central and semi-peripheral areas in search of better opportunities. All this means that their contribution to the integration process is much smaller than the previous groups.
  • Fifth group: Suriname and Guyana. In the lower part of South America’s hierarchy of power, it is possible to find two countries with very small national capacities: Suriname and Guyana. Although both have held the pro tempore presidency (Guyana from 26 November 2010 to 29 October 2011 and Suriname from 30 August 2013 to 4 December 2014), their very low levels of national power clearly limit its leadership, possibilities of maneuver and contributions to UNASUR.

From this perspective, it is precisely Brazil and Argentina that are the cornerstones of South American integration, with a notable preponderance of the former (Schenoni and Actis 2014); but also Chile, Colombia and Venezuela are decisive actors that can either drive the process or, if not, derail it (as it happens at the moment with Caracas).