Regional integration was the central issue of a debate held in Costa Rica last month between politicians and journalists from the Andean region and Central America.
The debate - part of a series organised by NIMD together with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio Netherlands Training Center, the Netherlands Embassy in San Jose and the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights - also focussed on the coverage by the media of important political processes and events in Latin America.
On the basis of two presentations, participants discussed the advantages and disadvantages of regional integration processes and the role the media play in informing citizens about the content of regional agreements and the consequences of these processes for the countries involved.
In his introduction, the Netherlands' ambassador to Costa Rica, Matthijs van Bonzel, emphasised the importance of the role of the media when it comes to explaining integration processes.
While arguing that the advantages of European integration seemed to be so clear, Van Bonzel also pointed out the failure of the referendum in the Netherlands on the Constitution for Europe, where a vast majority of the people voted against further strengthening of the European Union (EU).
"Integration processes are taking place and have an impact," he said, "and therefore it is important for the media to cover these developments and provide background information."
Roberto Camacho, a specialist on integration, outlined in his presentation the difficulties that currently exist within the Andean Region. The initial objective for the Andean region (Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) was to negotiate a bloc with the EU, just as the Central American countries have done.
But political differences stood in the way of this regional negotiation, and Peru and Colombia opted to continue the negotiation process with the EU by themselves. For Camacho, the biggest challenge in the integration process lies in bringing prosperity to all citizens in the four countries. At this moment big differences exists within the countries when it comes to economic development.
Therefore, Camacho proposed that the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) focuses, with the cooperation of the EU, on transnational regions where a great number of people are still living in poverty.
The Director of the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), Ricardo Uceda, played a video showing recent media coverage of Agreements on Integration and Free Trade Agreements. In his subsequent presentation, Uceda said that "the media are like amplifiers, focusing on the problems accompanying development, instead of facilitating or provoking debate."
After the presentations, a debate took place featuring journalists and politicians from Latin America. Former Chilean presidential candidate Enríquez-Ominami wondered which political system favours integration more: a Parliamentary or a Presidential system? He also stressed the need for a public debate on standardising digital media.
The Guatemalan journalist Gustavo Berganza emphasised the need to harmonise education to build a common identity and mentioned that when it comes to promoting a common identity not only the media should be involved but other actors as well.
Rafael Roncagliolo, the head of the Peruvian Idea International programme and a former journalist and politician, wondered if regional integration is necessary for economic development, pointing out that one of the most successful countries in the region - Chile - does not belong to any integrated system.
In their concluding remarks, Roberto Camacho and Ricardo Uceda stressed the need for media to facilitate the construction of a common identity. They also made reference to the fact that while up until now integration processes have emphasised economic cooperation and free trade, in the future other aspects of regional integration such as common policies on migration, education and health care and foreign relations will become much more important.