UNASUR Moves to a New Stage of Transformation

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In a recent op-ed piece, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela called for the additional strengthening of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the early implementation of its decisions....

In a recent op-ed piece, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela called for the additional strengthening of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the early implementation of its decisions. And reflecting on the decisions of the continental bloc, he noted that the agreement to provide financial reconstruction aid to Haiti was yet to materialise.

President Chavez’s observations, in a sense, pointed to the difficulties UNASUR has experienced in consolidating its decisions. Indeed, the new Chilean president, Sebastian Piñera, emphasised this view at the special summit on May 4 in Argentina when he insisted that UNASUR’s targets should be “demanding and specific.“

But UNASUR certainly has strengthened its organisational structure over the past two years with the setting up of a number of Councils responsible for various areas of management. More significantly, at the special summit, it elected the former Argentine president, Nestor Kirchner, to serve for the next two years as its secretary general. This election of the top administrative post has certainly opened a new stage of transformation of the continental body.

Speculation about Uruguayan President José Mujica’s vote, as a result of the pulp-mill dispute between his country and Argentina, continued until the last minute. But even though his vote was finally positive, his speech expressed some uncertainty when he stated: “With very strong contradictions in our country, to take this step is very politically difficult to this president. But governments do not do what they want, they just do what they can.“

The Argentina summit also further strengthened the bloc’s superstructure by adopting the statute of the South American Council of Education, Culture, Science, Technology and Innovation. It also approved the guidelines for the South American energy strategy, the plan of action for regional energy integration and the draft text of the proposed South American energy treaty.

And in a further strengthening of its organisational capabilities, a meeting of the organisation’s defence ministers, shortly after, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, created a centre for strategic studies under the aegis of the South American Defence Council.

The ministers also ratified the principles of unrestricted respect for sovereignty, integrity and territorial inviolability of member states and non-interference in internal affairs.

One of the measures adopted at that meeting was an agreement to develop greater transparency whereby each country will present their defence capacities, budgets, and infrastructure costs, as well as details of military agreements with countries outside the region.

In addition to organisational matters, the Argentina summit examined two special extra-continental issues related to Honduras and Haiti.

With respect to Honduras, UNASUR leaders expressed strong objections over Spain’s invitation to the Honduran president to attend the mid-May European Union-Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) summit in Madrid, and some of them adamantly declared that they would not attend unless that invitation was withdrawn. Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, in particular, firmly averred that the EU did not consult UNASUR’s leaders about this invitation to the Honduran president, even though the organisation’s overall position on the non-recognition of the regime in Tegucigalpa was well known, and especially since the Honduran coup leaders breached all the regional and international agreements for the restoration of the democratically elected president before the November election.

Acknowledging the recognition by Peru and Colombia of the Honduran government, President Lula said that while the election might have been free and fair, it emerged out of a flawed process and set a bad precedent for the region where a democratically elected president could be overthrown and a process immediately organised by the coup leaders to have an election to choose a successor.

President Lula’s position won unanimous approval, and subsequently, the Spanish government withdrew the summit invitation to the Honduran president.

Regarding the financial aid to Haiti – a vital concern mentioned by President Chavez in his subsequent op-ed – the meeting learned that of the 0 million committed by the member states, only .6 million representing the first 40 percent of three countries (Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) was made. The meeting also agreed that Chile, which had suffered from its recent earthquake, should not be asked to pay the million to which it was committed.

Disappointingly, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, the Pro-tempore Chair, reported that UNASUR’s finance ministers could not find a way to obtain the 0 million loan from the IDB. But, offering a piece of good news, President Chavez reported that in addition to the contribution to UNASUR’s Haiti fund and other assistance provided, Venezuela had also obtained a loan of 0 million from the Andean Development Bank to assist the earthquake-shattered Caribbean country.

On other matters, the leaders expressed solidarity with Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who decided to decree “a state of exception“ in the north of Paraguay to combat against a guerrilla force trying to undermine his government. They also reaffirmed their strong support to the legitimate rights of Argentina in the dispute with the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands.

It is obvious by its actions, UNASUR is positioning itself as a very effective forum for dialogue, as it did in 2008 in response to the Bolivian political crisis. It is also reinforcing its responsibilities as a serious regional body pushing towards political, social and economic integration of the South American countries.

As the integration process moves forward, the Guyana government has begun preparations to take over the presidency of UNASUR when the South American presidents meet in Guyana later this year for their annual summit.

It is anticipated that Guyana’s leadership will bring significant benefits to the country and the rest of the Caribbean, especially as it will be given the opportunity to lead some of the largest economies on the American continent while projecting its own ideas and strategies towards continental integration.

(The writer is Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela and the views expressed are solely his.)

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