It was the glorious culmination of a history that started when Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic. The New World had come together, uniting all the peoples of the western hemisphere under a single, republican and democratic constitution. George Washington and the Founding Fathers were joined by Simón Bolívar and his Spanish-speaking liberators.
The United States of the Americas emerged from the turmoil that had erupted in Europe with the French Revolution. Soon Americans from all parts of the continent took control of their own destiny and finally removed European interference in their affairs. Could this counter-factual have become a reality? How close did the Americas come to uniting as the Spanish and Portuguese empires crumbled?
Stretching from the frozen wastes of Cape Columbia in the north to the wilderness islands lying off Cape Horn in the south, the United States of the Americas stretches unbroken for almost 9,000 miles. An entire hemisphere is encompassed in its landmass and territorial waters. Almost a billion people live in its 16.428 million square miles.
Superlatives abound – it is two and half times bigger than Russia, currently the world’s largest country. Although it has fewer people than China or India, its economy dwarfs its rivals with a GDP of $25 trillion to China’s £8 trillion and the EU’s $16.5 trillion.
Of course, there is no such thing as the United States of the Americas. The nearest thing to a geopolitical union in the western hemisphere is found in the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In 1826, a more visionary future was being put forward by Simón Bolívar. The Congress of Panama (also known as the North American Free Trade Agreement) saw the newly independent states of Latin America meet to decide on a unified policy to their once colonial master, Spain.
The Congress was held in June, in the stifling heat and humidity of Panama City’s rainy season. Bolívar proposed creating a league of American republics which would share a common military backed by a mutual defense pact and a supranational parliamentary assembly. Ultimately, its goal was loftier still: ‘the construction of a continental system for America’.
The high point in American unity was the agreement of this Treaty of Union, League, and Perpetual Confederation. Unfortunately for utopian dreamers, it was only signed by Gran Columbia. The prospect of union was rejected by United Provinces of Central America and Mexico. Even Gran Columbia, then consisting of modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia, would soon disintegrate as national identities and priorities displaced continental concerns.
Crucially, the proposal was not even considered by the USA, the Empire of Brazil, Chile, Paraguay or United Provinces of South America (Argentina). Only one US delegate made it to the Congress, and he arrived after the Congress had concluded its discussions. Great Britain did, however, attend albeit with observer status. Ultimately, the Congress was a failure and the issue was not seriously revisited again.
Over time, moves were made towards unions across Latin America – the Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur) and the Andean Community have developed into the Union of South American Nations. In 1976, the United Nations adopted a resolution commemorating the Congress of Panama, the text of which somewhat whimsically gives a sense of what could have been achieved.