Dec 16, 2012 News
By Odeen Ishmael
The sixth summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), held in Peru’s capital Lima concluded on November 30 with a firm proposal to create a single South American citizenship.
In their final declaration, the South American leaders approved the beginning of the process to advance, “in a flexible and gradual manner towards the consolidation of the South American identity . . . with the aim of attaining a true South American citizenship as the backbone of an integrated South American space.”
The declaration expressed South America’s position on various pressing issues including regional integration, strengthening of democratic institutions, poverty reduction, disaster management and development projects.
In examining security issues, the member states urged greater unity to combat cross-border organised crime and terrorism. They also agreed to strengthen controls on illegal traffic of cultural goods and prepare joint action programmes in order to protect this heritage.
And following discussions on health policy, they called for “eradicating chronic infant malnutrition, promoting the social welfare system for the most vulnerable population, greater access to public services, and generating greater economic and productive opportunities for the poorest, especially in border regions.” To assist in these aspects, the bloc decided to adopt measures to make medicine more widely available to all corners of the continent.
To overcome the region’s geographical barriers and to develop a broad territorial connectivity and integration, the South American leaders set the objectives of promoting the intensive use of information and communication technologies and the prompt construction of the South American fibre-optic ring. To do so, they stressed their willingness to promote cost reduction and universal Internet, among other regional infrastructure works, to improve the quality of life and equal development of the continent.
After an examination of development projects, they agreed to prioritise 31 key infrastructure projects, valued at around US$17 billion, to boost interconnectivity between countries, especially in rural and border regions, and also to advance regional economies. According to the organisation’s Secretary General Ali Rodriguez, UNASUR over the past eight years has undertaken at least 531 infrastructure projects, with an estimated investment of about US$116 billion in the region.
Looking towards future development, the summit instructed the Secretary General to coordinate with the corresponding sectoral councils by the first quarter of 2013 a study, including mapping and inventory, of the continent’s natural resources, aimed at designing a strategy for their economic utilisation.
In opening the summit, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala stressed the urgency of tackling the problem of poverty and inequality on the continent, a problem raised at all the previous summits.
“It is not possible to build democracy amidst poverty and injustice,” he declared, adding that countries of the region should fight for social inclusion and equity, priorities included in the UNASUR action plan for 2012-2014. He posited that South American countries must work together to build more just societies based on economic development.
The summit’s declaration later reaffirmed the Union’s commitment towards advancing social and human development, eradicating poverty and overcoming inequalities in the region.
Speaking during the plenary session, Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar stressed the need for stronger leadership at the policy-making level to end inequality and cautioned that the integration process must be approached gradually.
“Unless we can reduce the inequality and give all of our peoples equal opportunities, then it will be extremely difficult to avoid conflict in our various countries,” he explained. “We have to work towards dealing with many of the social problems that we know have been afflicting our continent.”
He urged greater attention to environmental issues and pointed to the direct relationship between these and economic and social development.
This topic engendered some discussion and the final declaration emphasised that in the promotion of sustainable development – particularly in its economic, social and environmental dimensions – an emphasis on the elimination of poverty and concern for the adverse effects of climate change should be a permanent feature in the South American integration process.
Advancing democracy featured prominently in the discussions. In reaffirming democracy’s crucial role, the leaders emphasised that they would continue to collectively promote, strengthen and defend democracy in the region, and prevent situations affecting the rupture of the constitutional order. In so doing, they expressed their willingness to make the necessary efforts for the prompt enforcement of the Additional Protocol on Commitment to Democracy (generally referred to as the “democratic clause”) for the consolidation of the objectives contained in the Union’s Constitutive Treaty.
The summit also formally established the South American Electoral Council which will mount electoral observer missions in member states.
On examining the Union’s external relations, the leaders noted that the success of the third Summit of Heads of State and Government of South America and Arab Countries (ASPA), held in Lima on October 1-2, 2012, with respect to the cooperation agreements reached at that forum. They also decided to establish channels for political dialogue and cooperation with the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) on a more regular basis. At the same time, they would commence preparations to participate in the third Africa-South America Summit (ASA) in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea on February 20-24, 2013.
The summit was attended by the presidents of Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, and Uruguay; while the Foreign Ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela represented their respective heads of state. Notably absent was Paraguay, suspended as a member since June and, therefore, Paraguayan President Federico Franco was not invited to participate.
The leaders did examine the Paraguayan political situation and heard a report from former Peruvian Prime Minister Salomon Lerner, the head of UNASUR’s High Level Group. Just the week before he had visited Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital, where he held a series of meetings with different political and social groups as well as with the Electoral Tribunal of Justice. Due to the strained relations between the de facto Paraguayan regime and UNASUR, Lerner was not officially invited to meet with Paraguayan government officials, but he was not prevented from meeting with lawmakers from all political parties and the electoral body. He reported that he left Paraguay with a positive attitude and was convinced the electoral process was “on the right track.”
UNASUR held firm to its position that the suspension will continue until the country’s April 2013 election. However, Paraguay has continued to express rancour over its suspension from the continental bloc and has complained that the decision was “illegal, illegitimate and juridically baseless.”
Paraguay’s membership was suspended from both UNASUR and Mercosur (the Southern Common Market) following the controversial ousting last June of President Fernando Lugo after nearly four years in office. Although the impeachment of Lugo followed strictly the procedure established in the Paraguayan constitution, UNASUR and Mercosur separately considered that there was “a rupture of the democratic process” and enforced the suspension.
[Dr. Odeen Ishmael is Guyana’s ambassador to the State of Kuwait. He writes extensively on Latin American and Caribbean issues and is the author of several books including The Democracy Perspective in the Americas.]
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