The Union of South American Nations is celebrating its eighth anniversary. The regional integration bloc was created April 17, 2007.
“On April 17, 2007 on the (Venezuelan) Margarita Island, the heads of state of South American countries baptized the project which originated in Cuzco with the name of Union of South American Nations and they decided – accepting Ecuador's president proposal – the creation of a permanent secretariat that would operate at the Mitad del Mundo (Middel of the World) in Quito (Ecuador). A year later, UNASUR was formally created with signing of the Constitutive Treaty,” UNASUR said Thursday on their website.
The bloc is comprised of 12 South American nations, including Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay.
“The objective is to construct a space for cultural, economic, social and political integration, respecting the reality of each nation,” they added.
UNASUR explains that their main challenges is to eradicate social and economic inequality, attain social inclusion, increase citizen participation, and strengthen democracy.
On Friday, December 5, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) inaugurated its new headquarters in Quito, Ecuador. Leaders from across the continent attended the event, which is seen as a new step forward for the regional bloc and South American integration.
UNASUR was created in 2007, but it was officialy born in 2008 after the presidents of the region, meeting in Brazil, signed its Constitutive act.
The bloc is made up of 12 countries with a combined population of 400 million people and an economy of over US$4 trillion.
UNASUR is offering a new vision to help the region fulfill its potential by emphasizing political, social, and economic integration, and is made up of almost all the countries of South America.
“UNASUR must become the place, our privileged place, not only where conflicts that emerge here or there can be solved, but also where, as President Santos said, the great power, the great South American power can emerge,” said late President Chavez.
From the start, UNASUR has shown new ways of dealing with regional challenges. with solutions coming from the region's countries themselves – not imposed from outside.
Even before it signed its constitutive treaty, the Colombian military, under Alvaro Uribe, illegally entered Ecuadorean territory without authorization, in an operation directed against FARC guerrilla, in 2008. The illegal intrusion sparked anger from the Ecuadorean government, after then president Alvaro Uribe lied to the media, alleging President Rafael Correa knew and approved the incursion. Venezuela, another country which shares a border with Colombia and which had also experienced tensions with Uribe, also reacted and reinforced its military presence fearing similar action.
The conflict could have threatened the ongoing process of building the new regional body, which began in 2004 with a founding declaration. But President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who was the pro-tempore president of UNASUR, called on the three countries to avoid military confrontation and to engage in dialogue for solving the crisis.
UNASUR's first big challenge after its formal establishment came in 2008 when it helped to defend the democratic mandate of Bolivian President Evo Morales against attempts by violent secessionist forces to break up the country. Nine people were killed. Instead of condemning the violence, the OAS called on both sides to engage in dialogue. The United States actively promoted and financed the separatist groups and criticized President Morales. Meanwhile, UNASUR condemned the violence and attempt to break up the country, supporting respect for Bolivia's integrity and sovereignty.
At the time Morales stated, "For the first time in South America's history, the countries of our region are deciding how to resolve our problems, without the presence of the United States."
In 2009, most of the UNASUR member countries rejected the installment of seven new U.S. military bases in Colombia. The bloc raised its concern over the implications that this project could have against the regional sovereignty and stability, and also created the South American Defense Counsel. The body would be in charge of analyzing the potential threat of the military bases, and became the backbone of military coordination between South American countries. In this way, UNASUR transformed what was seen as a possible rupture, into a strengthening of the regional body.
During the coup against Honduran president Jose Manuel Zelaya in 2009, UNASUR played a mayor role by strongly opposing the military backed Roberto Micheletti and refusing to recognize elections under the de-facto government.
The regional organization was also emphatic in opposing the 2010 coup attempt in Ecuador. UNASUR said it “heavily condemned the attempted coup and kidnap of President Correa in Ecuador.” The foreign ministers traveled to Quito as a gesture of public support and solidarity with Correa and in a specially convened meeting hosted by President Cristina Fenández de Kirchner warned that the governments of the region “would not tolerate any further challenges to constitutional authority, or attempts to overthrow a legitimately-elected civil power” from the meeting . It also iterated the need for “those responsible for the coup to be judged and condemned”. In the aftermath of these events UNASUR passed a special democracy clause.
In 2012, another overthrow of a democratically elected government occurred, this time in Paraguay. President Fernando Lugo was ousted by the country's parliament. In the lead up, UNASUR sent a delegation to the country to investigate the circumstances and try to avoid the move leading to the ousting of President Lugo. The opposing parties refused to meet with the delegates.
After the vote, the UNASUR secretary-general at the time, Ali Rodriguez, condemned the events and categorically described them as a coup. Paraguay's membership in the regional bloc was suspended until August 2013, when it met the minimum required democratic conditions.
UNASUR Begins Eighth Anniversary Commemoration
Representatives from the Union of South American Nations will gather in Ecuador’s capital to celebrate the organization’s founding in 2007.
The first secretary-general of the regional body was former Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner, designated in 2010. Kirchner performed a key role in the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt and Clara Rojas in 2008, both held hostage by the FARC guerrilla for years. The process of liberating both women was product of negotiations between Venezuela and Colombia, with the help of the former Argentine president.
Due to the push that Kirchner gave to UNASUR as a secretary-general, his name was chosen for the new building which will host the General Secretariat of the regional body. A statue of Kirchner also stands outside the building.
After Kirchner, the Colombian journalist Maria Emma Mejia assumed the post. Mejia was a peace delegate during the Pastrana government peace talks in Colombia.
Ali Rodriguez Araque, the former Venezuelan Energy Minister, took office in 2012, succeeding Mejia, and was a decisive figure during the coup in Paraguay.
Today the organization is headed by Ernesto Samper, former president of Colombia. Samper has vowed to make South America a “peace zone” and announced he would focus on reducing inequality, increasing economic strength and deepening democracy across South America.
How UNASUR works
A Counsel of Heads of State is the main decision making body, and is made up of the presidents of all member countries. The counsel meets regularly.
After the heads of state, another counsel follows, made up of the foreign ministers of all member countries. They also meet periodically to monitor the progress of different projects agreed on by the heads of state and implement new agreements.
UNASUR as an institution is headed by a General Secretariat based in Quito and other bodies help it implement the agreements reached by the different member countries. These include nine different theme based counsels, which coordinate different issues such as election processes, health, energy, economy, infrastructure and a number of other areas of regional interest.
UNASUR also coordinates an infrastructure fund worth US$13 billion dollars, which aims at strengthening regional integration. The organization has 531 projects already agreed upon, and 30 of them have been prioritized and are underway. All of the projects go through a planning and evaluation process before being approved by their respective topic based counsels.
The regional body includes an electoral observation program which has already participated in most of the electoral processes throughout the region.
UNASUR is taking another major step forward in December 2014 with new headquarters opening in Quito, Ecuador.