Another step in the tortuous process of Latin American integration was marked May 3-4 when representatives of all 12 states belonging to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met near Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a special summit meeting. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and host President Cristina Kirchner co-chaired the meeting attended by eight heads of state.
Foreign ministers gathered May 3 for a preparatory meeting. Heads of state of four nations did not attend, including the presidents of Peru and Colombia, both allied to the United States.
UNASUR, formed in 2004, has taken steps toward a single market, coordinated military policies, shared infrastructure projects, promotion of economic development, and control of cross border migrations. The alliance is based in Quito, Ecuador. Plans are under way for a headquarters building there.
Deliberations began with the selection by consensus of former Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner to serve as UNASUR secretary general. "We'll see if this new appointment strengthens UNASUR or leads to its death," was Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos' comment, according to colombiareports.com. Many observers believe, however, that Kirchner's appointment will greatly enhance administrative capabilities of the organization that until now have lagged.
Deliberation on providing aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti and Chile was the occasion for soul-searching and new commitments. Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño reminded delegates that at a special meeting February 9 in Quito, UNASUR nations created a $100 million fund, promising then to contribute $81 million with 40 percent due in four months. Only $7.5 million has been delivered so far. The assembly approved Brazilian President Lula da Silva's recommendation that member states make good on commitments within 15 days. After hearing from Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, delegates indicated their governments would be deciding on assistance to Chile.
Summit action took on an anti-imperialist flavor. Delegates united in backing Argentina's struggle with Great Britain to regain sovereignty over the Malvinas islands, where significant oil reserves have been identified recently. UNASUR took the U.S. state of Arizona to task for legislation enacted April 27 that, sanctioning racial profiling, has the potential of subjecting all migrants to repression. Minister Patiño spoke of "obvious racist consequences signaling disrespect for human rights."
UNASUR once more condemned the military coup that last year removed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office. Colombia and Peru are the only UNSAUR states recognizing the present Honduran government headed by Porfirio Lobo. Delegates instructed the current UNASUR head, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, to inform Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero that most South American governments would not be attending the European Union-Latin American and Caribbean summit set for mid-May in Madrid, hosted by Zapatero. That was because Lobo would be there. "We believe it was tactless that the governments in the region were not consulted about the invitation to an unrecognized government, one outside the inter-American system," declared Correa.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva took pains to inform summit attendees of the content of his country's agreement with the United States on April 12 regarding military cooperation. The Brazilian president explained that the agreement involved neither U.S. bases in Brazil nor permission for U.S. troop transit within the country. UNASUR countries had received a communication along these lines prior to the meeting. Observers say Lula's effort at transparency was in reaction to the firestorm enveloping the region after disclosure last year of the U.S.-Colombia agreement on U.S. bases there.
Summit participants discussed mechanisms for achieving transparency on matters like member states' organization of defense departments and command structures, their military expenses and military activities.
UNASUR offered support for Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in "his struggle against criminal violence affecting five departments." The threat to Lugo comes from an opposition congress and vice president allied to holdovers from the right-wing Colorado Party ousted when he became president in 2008. In part to counter accusations of complicity with a small guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People's Army, operating in the northern departments, Lugo was forced to send in the military and suspend the constitution there for 30 days. The volatility of the situation is such that "the Honduras ghost is hovering like a sword of Damocles over Fernando Lugo," commented analyst Pablo Stefanoni.
Photo: South America's leaders pose for a photo at the end of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) summit in Los Cardales, Argentina, May 4. In the front row from left to right are Paraguay's President Fernando Lugo, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Argentina's former President Nestor Kirchner, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, Bolivia's President Evo Morales, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, Uruguay's President Jose Mujica and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. (AP/Natacha Pisarenko)