The campaign for full ratification of UNASUR’s constituent treaty
By Odeen Ishmael
Following his election as UNASUR’s secretary general on May 4, the former Argentine president, Nestor Kirchner, immediately commenced work on consolidating his role as executive head of the continental bloc. For a start, he has begun consulting with the leaders of the 12 member states on strategies to strengthen the administrative structure of the organisation.
One of the ways identified for doing this is to ensure that all the member states ratify UNASUR’s constituent treaty, approved in 2008, as early as possible. So far, only Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana and Peru have ratified the document. Four more ratifications are needed for it to come into full legal force.
As part of his consultations, Kirchner, in his first official meeting as secretary general, met in Asuncion with Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo on June 3. At the Paraguayan Congress, he also met with political leaders and the foreign affairs commissions from both houses of the legislative body and impressed on them the importance of the ratification of the UNASUR treaty.
“The political endeavour of UNASUR is the will of South American peoples, no exclusions, no partisanship,” said Kirchner after his meeting in the Paraguayan congress. “UNASUR will promote and advance integration while contemplating all the different positions in the region.”
The secretary general is scheduled to travel to Uruguay, Brazil and Suriname to press for ratification of the treaty. A travel time-table has not been publicised, but the visit to Suriname may be delayed since the new government has not yet been formed after the elections there one month ago.
Interestingly, some member countries, as a result of recent elections, now have new administrations, but all of them are committed to UNASUR and South American integration. While a few governments may ratify international treaties through their Cabinets, most of them do so through their respective Congresses.
And even though such ratifications are generally simple when the president’s party has a majority control in the Congress, this is not always the case, and the ruling party usually has to build coalitions and establish cooperation – and even indulge in political “horse-trading” – with opposition parties in order for legislations and other congressional actions to be approved.
This obviously slows down the process and is probably why most of the South American governments have not yet been able to finalise the ratification of the constituent treaty.
Kirchner followed up on his meeting in Paraguay with a visit to Ecuador where he held discussions in Guayaquil with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa – who currently holds the rotating presidency of UNASUR – and also with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño on issues described as priorities for the regional grouping, and to strategise on several activities aimed at strengthening his role as secretary general. The matters addressed included the institutional development of UNASUR and an update of Kirchner’s discussions in various countries on the issue of the treaty’s ratification.
In building UNASUR’s administrative structure, one significant measure under consideration is the employment of independent specialists to manage the activities of the secretariat and the different councils since, at present, such tasks are handled by the ministers of the country holding the chair of the continental group.
This definitely will be a positive measure since the ministers are already fully occupied in administering domestic policies of their government, and the employment of specialists will aid in building the institutional structure of the organisation.
During the discussions in Ecuador, Kirchner also expressed hopes that UNASUR would be able to “create profound policies in the region” without conflicting with the two large South American trade groupings, Mercosur and the Andean Community.
Actually, after UNASUR’s formal establishment in 2008, South American leaders were of the united view that the new continental organisation would eventually encompass and replace these two groupings.
With this stated objective in mind, it is doubtful that the leaders will implement polices to generate any such conflict, especially since the experience of both trade groups can input immensely in constructing UNASUR’s administrative and implementation infrastructure.
The Andean Community, founded in 1969 as a trade bloc, originally included Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, with Venezuela joining in 1973. However, Chile withdrew in 1976, while Venezuela pulled out in 2006.
Mercosur, also established as a trade bloc in 1991, includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as full members, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as associates, and Venezuela as a full member awaiting confirmation.
The non-associates in either group, Guyana and Suriname, while participating as guests at Mercosur conferences, are Caricom members having close trade links with Brazil. Guyana, in particular, is now seen as a gateway for Brazilian goods eventually having easier access to the Caribbean and Central America.
Meanwhile, Ecuador has been very active in promoting the political growth of UNASUR. Back in April, Foreign Minister Patiño visited Chile, Argentina and Uruguay and reported that he received very positive responses from those governments on Ecuador’s request to speed up ratification of the treaty. The Colombian government has also been reminded of this pressing matter.
Topics discussed during Patiño’s visits to the “Southern Cone” included the role of the secretary general, the creation of Banco del Sur, and the ongoing dialogue between the United States and UNASUR over the bloc’s commitments to Haiti.
As part of Ecuador’s commitments to UNASUR, the country will house the organisation’s headquarters, and the Foreign Minister has since revealed that the office complex will be constructed in the community of Mitad del Mundo, located near Quito.
As Ecuador’s one-year presidency of UNASUR enters its final quarter, there is expectation that even more strenuous efforts will be made by the Correa administration for more ratifications of the organisation’s treaty.
But this task is not Ecuador’s alone – or that of Guyana when it succeeds to the presidency at the end of August. It must be embraced by all the member governments as well.
The writer is Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela and is currently the Chairman of the Latin American Council of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA).