After years of squabbling, as well as struggling for dominance in South America, Argentina and Brazil are suddenly engaged in a love fest. "If I had not seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears," commented a prominent Argentine journalist, "I would not have believed it.
"And I am still inclined to doubt it. Yet there it is: a series of accords that suggest a new era is dawning."
The newsman was talking about the recent signing of agreements on political and economic cooperation by the military leaders of the two South American countries.
The agreements, according to a joint statement, provide the groundwork for the "integration of the two economies" and the development of a "truly effective Latin American common market."
Ever since 1962, efforts to form a common market for the Western Hemisphere frequently have met with resistance from Latin American countries, including Argentina and Brazil, although both were nominally committed to the concept. The new agreements between the two nations suggest that progress on the market now is possible.
As a first step, Argentina and Brazil signed a nuclear cooperation accord that calls for Brazilian construction of a metal core vessel for an atomic power plant to be built in Argentina by West Germany.
This agreement, say Argentine President Jorge Rafael Videla and Brazilian President Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, "refutes forever the legend that Argentina and Brazil are engaged in a nuclear arms race."
Commentators in both countries admit, however, that Argentina and Brazil have in recent years appeared to be in a nuclear race -- and that the two countries bitterly disagreed on a variety of economic and political issues. Moreover, both governments say it will take time to implement the obvious good will stemming from the agreements and the talks between Generals Videla and Figueiredo.
Argentina and Brazil have long been at odds; indeed, they have competed actively for influence and power in South America.
Early in this century, Argentina was the more dominant; its political hegemony was felt as far as Ecuador and Peru and gave Brazilians considerable concern. But there was little Brazil could do about it. A vast expanse of land , Brazil was almost a continent in and of itself, but a nation that had "not found itself," as a Brazilian president in the 1930s admitted.
But this all changed in the 1950s and 1960s as Brazil emerged as a power of significance. Flexing both its political and economic muscles during the 1960s and even more during the 1970s as Argentina struggled with political and economic chaos, Brazil more and more rivaled Argentina's influence and power in the region.
The result was a determined, often acrimonious struggle between the two countries that led to bitter disagreements, brutal competition, bad feelings, and even threats of warfare.
In the late 1970s, for example, the two countries began feuding over construction of two huge hydroelectric complexes on the mighty Parana River. The Brazilians were at work on the world's largest dam and hydroelectric facility at Itaipu, while the Argentines were getting construction of their own complex downriver at Corpus under way. When completed, each will add millions of kilowatts of energy to South America's hydroelectric network.
But the two dams were rivals for the same water -- and construction of either would cause problems for the other country.
Itaipu has already cut the flow of Parana waters reaching Argentina and thus has made construction of Corpus more difficult, while the work on the Argentine facility at Corpus will eventually lead to vast flooding in the Brazilian states of Parana and Santa Catarina, something Brazilians earlier said would lead to armed conflict.
Now, according to the agreements signed May 17, the two nations will cooperate in constructing the two complexes and in integrating their resultant energy networks.
Other agreements call for cooperation in science and technology, the end of double taxation on investments, construction of a bridge over the Iguazu River near the falls of the same name, joint construction of hydroelectric facilities and canals on the Uruguay River, and the expansion of trade between the two nations.