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UNASUR and South American Integration

May 5, 2010

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) took another step forward

Latin America

in the process of integration that has been taking place in South America over the past decade or so.  On May 4th the governments which make up the bloc (consisting of all 12 states of South America) unanimously chose former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner as its first general secretary.

Kiraz Janicke reports:

The pro tempore president of UNASUR and of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, argued that the appointment of Kirchner would help to push forward the process of integration.  The summit also made a range of other accords including an agreement to develop an energy strategy for the continent through the formation of the South American Energy Council of UNASUR, to increase cooperation to combat drug trafficking, development of social programs as well as assistance and cooperation with Haiti and Chile in earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro said another item under ongoing discussion is, “an agenda that allows dialogue on equal terms, in respectful terms [with the U.S.], to achieve a future that overcomes, what in the last hundred years has been imposed on our continent by the imperial elites who have governed the United States and treated all of Latin America as their backyard. That time is over and it is felt very strongly at the meetings we have held in UNASUR.”

Maduro explained that the proposal for dialogue with the United States arises out of the decision last year by the Colombian government to allow the installation of seven U.S. military bases on its territory. Speaking on behalf of the regional bloc, Correa said the UNASUR countries are also opposed to the invitation to Honduras to participate in the upcoming Latin American- European Union Summit in Madrid over May 17-18, due to the military coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in June last year, and the U.S. backed fraudulent elections carried out by the coup regime in November.  

He was emphatic in stating that, “You can not legitimise elections under the aegis of a dictatorship and you can not set a precedent of this nature, that any group of adventurers can carry out a coup with bayonets, and in three or four months call for elections and absolutely nothing happens.”

Kiraz also reported on the agenda was the recent law enacted in the US state of Arizona. The new law was roundly condemned:

The South American presidents “reject the criminalisation of migrants” contained in the law adopted on 23 April, which allows for the “detention of persons on a discretionary basis by racial, ethnic, phenotype, language and immigration status considerations, through the questionable concept of reasonable doubt,” the statement adopted by the summit said.The statement determined that the law could lead to “the legitimisation of racist attitudes in the host society and the latent risk of regrettable incidents of violence due to racial hatred, of which many South American citizens have already been victims.”

The ISP reporter Marcela Valente also emphasized the ongoing importance of the recent coup in Honduras for the regional bloc:

Correa said the presidents were upset that Spain had invited the Honduran government to participate in the European Union-Latin America/Caribbean summit on May 18 in Madrid.  Most of the members of UNASUR — which is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela — have not recognised Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected in November in elections organised by the government that took power after the Jun. 28, 2009 coup that overthrew Manuel Zelaya.The Ecuadorean leader warned that anger over the issue would keep many countries from attending the summit in Spain.He pointed out that Honduras had been suspended by the Organisation of American States (OAS) after the coup, and said that formally recognising Lobo “would set a disastrous precedent” for the region.In UNASUR, only the governments of Colombia and Peru — who were represented at the summit in Campana by their foreign ministers — have recognised Lobo.”We all want to go (to the summit in Madrid), but we do not want to abandon our principles, and we don’t want the breakdown of the constitutional order (in Honduras) to be minimised,” Correa said. “We feel belittled; many are acting like nothing even happened here.”

All the talk of integration and regional cooperation aside, there is still many bumps in the road ahead for UNASUR.  Based roughly on the model of the EU, it is not clear at all that following the European project of integration is the best path to take considering the current crisis in Europe.  Certainly increased integration in Latin America will only serve to benefit the states that make up the region given their historical separation in the spheres of trade, energy, transportation, and cultural initiatives.  The question is if but how to proceed.  Those countries that have aligned themselves with the US, Colombia and Peru, are wary to continue down the path favored by the more independent and left-leaning states of South America.  Venezuela has notably made regional integration a top priority since Hugo Chavez came to power there 11 years ago.  Current relations between Colombia and the rest of the region are cool at best, reflecting the agreement they signed last year with the US to effectively make the country a giant US military base. See US expanding Military Presence in Latin America and The US expanding Military Presence in Latin America II: The US – Colombia Military Agreement for background.Already the current vice president of Colombia has cast doubts on whether the regional group can survive with such disparate interests among the countries.  As Cameron Sumpter reports:

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos casts doubt on the future of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), following the election of former Argentinian president Nestor Kirchner as secretary general, reports Radio Santa Fe.Speaking from the World Fair in Shanghai, China on Wednesday, Santos made his views known without directly referring to the new secretary general.”We’ll see if this new appointment strengthens UNASUR or leads to its death,” Santos said.

Will UNASUR disintegrate under the centrifugal forces of the different nation-states or will it eventually develop into a power bloc that, if not challenge the US, EU, or China, at least provide a counter-balance?  Only time will tell, but the historical forces in action behind integration tend to favor the latter scenario over the former.

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