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  • Aymara women in La Paz, Bolivia dancing and playing bells at a fiesta.

    Aymara women in La Paz, Bolivia dancing and playing bells at a fiesta. | Photo: Reuters

Cultural identities should unite us and the strengthen the feeling of unity and peace, said UNASUR leader Ernesto Samper.

Latin America has long been known as a region of great cultural diversity, with unique festivals celebrated in almost every pueblo. Now the Union of South American Nations, known as UNASUR, has launched a special documentary series to showcase and celebrate this diversity, with organizers saying they hope it promotes regional integration and peace.

“Folklore, music, gastronomy, ancestral customs ... these are the most relevant aspects of the Latin American identity. And these identities should unite us, to strengthen the feeling of peace which is central for UNASUR,” said UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper at a special launch for the documentary series Friday.

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The documentary series, titled “Expreso Sur” (South Express), includes 42 episodes, each one featuring and exploring in-depth a different festival from around Latin America, particularly the 12 UNASUR nations: Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay.

The South American union was created in 2007 for the purpose of promoting regional integration and sovereignty – politically, economically, socially and culturally. The documentary series is one of the bloc's first major cultural integration initiatives, to increase social awareness and attain social inclusion. And it hopes to do more, said Samper.

The series will feature three festivals across Ecuador to show the diversity within the nation itself, which is home to many different indigenous communities. This will include the San Pedro and San Pablo festival in the coastal province of Manabi, the Punjili festival in the Andes and the Fiesta de los Chontas in the jungle region.

Filmmakers across the region were asked to participate in a competition, whereby the winner won US$25,000 to develop their documentary.

Samper emphasized the importance of cultural integration, pointing out the various conflicts around the world that have been sparked, or aggravated, by discrimination and intolerance of differences.

“You can see in the news today that people are killing each other over ethnic or religious reasons, for ideological conflicts. We have a much greater diversity than exists in other regions ... but we're not killing each other for them,” said Samper. “We want this diversity to change into a source of identity and that identity has a name and that name is Peace.”

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Samper launched the series at the UNASUR headquarters in Quito, Ecuador, along with the Ecuadorean Minister of Culture Guillaume Long, and Public Communications Minister Marcelo del Pozo.

The documentaries aim to encourage people in South America to enjoy both their local and regional cultures, in addition to, not at the expense of, western cultural products. In Ecuador, for example, some 100,000 to 200,000 people will go see Ecuadorean films in the cinema each year, but 8 to 9 million Ecuadoreans will go to see Hollywood movies, said Long.

Increased regional and cultural integration “is a process in defense of our identity and sovereignty,” Long told teleSUR at a press conference prior to Friday's event.

“There could not be Latin American integration without cultural integration,” he said.

The documentary series will first be aired on regional public television stations, with the potential for international distribution in the future.

Ecuadorean Minister of Culture Guillaume Long (L), UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper (M) and Public Communications Minister Marcelo del Pozo (R) present the new documentary series Expreso Sur. | Photo: teleSUR

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