In a letter sent to President Nicolás Maduro and other South American presidents, several former leaders of the region proposed reactivating the UNASUR organization. Michelle Bachelet heads the list of signatories.
In addition to noting its geopolitical importance, the signatories explained that, legally, UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) has never ceased existing, and it will be not be difficult to reactivate it.
In the letter, they highlighted the need to integrate the region, mentioning its potential “with its 18 million square kilometers and its 422 million inhabitants that represent two-thirds of the total population of Latin America.”
Among the signatories of the communication were the former presidents Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Dilma Rousseff from Brazil, Eduardo Duhalde from Argentina, Ricardo Lagos from Chile, José Mujica from Uruguay, and Ernesto Samper from Colombia. The letter also adds the signatures of former foreign ministers, former ministers, former parliamentarians, and South American intellectuals.
UNASUR was founded in 2008, and by 2010 included 10 South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela, and Uruguay. However, the organization fell into disagreements after right-wing governments came into power in the region and, following the directives of US regime-change efforts, began refusing to recognize Venezuela’s role in UNASUR.
“We trust in your vision to make our South America a driving force for a new level of Latin American unity and integration, anchored in continental solidarity and in the permanent values of peace and democracy,” the letter concluded.
What follows is the full text of the communication sent to the leaders of the region:
Dear Mr. President,
We are a group of former South American presidents, foreign ministers, ministers, parliamentarians and intellectuals who seek to contribute to the challenges of the present time. We are encouraged by the need to leave behind a history of broken dreams, broken promises and lost opportunities. A pandemic that has plagued the world for almost three years, Russia’s war with Ukraine and the sharpening of the dispute between China and the United States have created a new international scenario. Globalization as it has been organized until today is in question. So are the old forms of asymmetric integration between central and peripheral countries. The new world that is emerging brings threats, but also opportunities that cannot be wasted again. A climate crisis that continues to worsen and a lack of respect for international law generates a kind of global chaos in which even the risk of a tragedy caused by nuclear weapons appears. An urgent intervention is required from the multilateral organizations which today are unfortunately weakened and often powerless.
North American hegemony is challenged by the emergence of China, an ancient nation governed in a centralized manner. For its part, the European Union seeks to defend its model of social cohesion and open spaces that will allow it to achieve its strategic autonomy, without so far succeeding. At the same time, the so-called Global South with new emerging powers seeks to break through and influence the design of a new governance of the planet.
An essential characteristic of the new scenario is the fragmentation of the world space that tends to reorganize itself around large regional blocs that, as they close, can become true fortresses. Geopolitics tends to displace economic reason from the center of gravity of decisions. In this framework, notions such as health, food or energy sovereignty take on a new relevance. The countries of the European Union, beginning with Germany, the most powerful economically, are experiencing in a dramatic way the rigors of their energy dependence on a power with which they have entered into conflict. In this world of regional blocs, our Latin America appears as a marginal and irrelevant region. It is by far the hardest hit by the pandemic and the economic and social crisis that followed.
With only 8% of the world’s population, Latin America registers more than a quarter of all deaths from COVID, experienced a recession twice as deep as that of the world economy and saw the number of people living in conditions of poverty increase by 50 million. The fragility of productive structures prevails in the region, the accentuation of dependence on a reduced number of primary products, the weakening of democratic institutions and the political fragmentation that prevents raising a common voice in the face of global affairs. The recent “Summit of the Americas” crudely showed the absence of a common position of our governments to the point that the center of the discussion was occupied by exclusions and absences.
Dear Mr. President,
We are assisted by the conviction that this bleak picture is not inexorable. Our region can do more. Little by little, the integration process is reviving. The initiative of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador allowed the reactivation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) created in 2010, which had been paralyzed since 2017. The Summit held in September 2021 made possible the reunion and the adoption of an important action plan on self-sufficiency intended to strengthen the production and distribution of medicines, especially vaccines, with a view to reducing our external dependency. Currently, the Pro Tempore Presidency assumed by the President of Argentina Alberto Fernández seeks to give continuity to this effort by deepening “unity in diversity” as an ethical imperative to grow with more equality and justice.
Integration is more necessary today than ever. A significant effort in this direction would feed a virtuous circle that would strengthen multilateral bodies and contribute to a greater good that is currently in danger: peace. Unlike other regions, Latin America and the Caribbean long ago eradicated wars between countries and can present itself to the world as a Zone of Peace. It can also be a region that contributes to peace by practicing a rigorous policy of autonomy with respect to the great powers. An integrated, non-aligned and peaceful Latin America will regain international prestige and will be able to overcome the irrelevance in which we find ourselves. Thus, we will be in better conditions to face the four greatest threats that lie in wait for the region: climate change, pandemics, social inequalities and authoritarian regression.
The recent electoral processes have allowed the triumph of governments and political coalitions favorable to the re-impulsion of regional integration. As of January 2023, we will have in all the largest countries, without exception, governments in favor of resuming and strengthening the integration processes. It is an opportunity that cannot be missed. Together we can make our voices heard. Divided, we make ourselves invisible and are not heard. Integration efforts are old and their results so far have been modest. The differences with other schemes such as the European Union (EU) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), among others, are abysmal. Thus, for example, while in the EU interregional trade represents more than 70% of the total, in Latin America, after successive falls, it currently does not reach more than 13%.
The noble idea of integration has become for many an impossible task. Decades of frustrations have undermined the prestige of the very idea of integration and weakened the field of social and political forces called upon to sustain it. To move forward, substance must trump rhetoric, accomplishments must trump speech.
The diversity of the Latin American and Caribbean region forces us to understand integration as a process that necessarily adopts a variable geometry that is made up of several planes that expand at different speeds. Each of the subregions has particularities that, if not taken into account, end up slowing down the whole process. Mexico in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America have common goals and claims with respect to the world, but at the same time present their own particularities. It is evident that a great nation like Mexico constitutes a particular reality very different from that of South America given its trade strongly oriented to the North American market, concentrated in manufactured goods and with much less influence from China. The Mexican exception does not have to become a rivalry. If at any time there was, the time has come to overcome it. Deep historical, cultural and linguistic ties unite us with Mexico. In the new international scenario, organized around large blocs, a close relationship between Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America represents a great advantage for the whole.
South America constitutes an entity in itself with its 18 million square kilometers and its 422 million inhabitants that represent two thirds of the total population of Latin America. With coasts on the Atlantic and the Pacific, it has enormous potential for physical and communications integration processes that must be put into practice with strict respect for demanding environmental standards, the organization of production chains and the development of a common market. South America also has wide spaces for cooperation in the political, cultural, financial, military and scientific-technical fields.
On the other hand, very recent political changes such as those that have taken place in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil, are generating a new transformative impulse in this subregion. The potential of South America can only be realized to the extent that the countries that comprise it create a space that allows them to come to an agreement, identify common projects and deploy joint initiatives. This need was well seen at the time and led to the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) through the Constitutive Treaty signed in Brasilia in 2008, which came into force in 2011.
During its seven years of operation, UNASUR developed multiple initiatives of interest. Its efforts in the management of political-institutional crises are especially valued, and he highlights the functioning of the Defense Council, which made notable advances in this delicate field. Progress was also made in the field of health and the preparation of a broad portfolio of physical infrastructure projects. However, its weak execution capacity, the absence of an economic, commercial and productive dimension and the abuse of the implicit veto in the consensus rule in the decision-making processes, even for the appointment of the Secretary General, facilitated the paralysis of UNASUR and the attempt to replace it with the so-called Forum for the Progress of South America (PROSUR) in 2019. However, in fact, PROSUR did not go beyond being an improvised and precarious undertaking, with no operational capabilities, as demonstrated by its total ineffectiveness during the pandemic, at which time concerted action was especially necessary. PROSUR is currently an empty group, a ghost institution.
Consequently, the reconstruction of an effective space for South American agreement is urgently needed. As has been documented in the detailed study of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the Constitutive Treaty of UNASUR of 2008 remains in force for all the countries that have not denounced it and the organization continues to exist at the international level. At least five countries did not denounce the Treaty and among those that did, there are at least two, Argentina and Brazil, which did so irregularly, which is why they could choose to annul their denunciations. Moreover, as was shown in the aforementioned study, none of the seven countries that withdrew complied with the provisions of the Constitutive Treaty regarding the provisions for the search for political dialogue (article 14) for the settlement of disputes or for the procedure of amendments provided for in article 25. In short, UNASUR still exists and is the best platform to reconstitute an integration space in South America.
It is not, however, a purely nostalgic reconstruction of a past that no longer exists. A New UNASUR must self-critically take charge of the deficiencies of the previous process.
Specifically, you must:
i) Guarantee pluralism and its projection beyond the ideological and political affinities of the governments in office. In this sense, there is much to learn from schemes such as the EU or ASEAN, within which countries with governments and even regimes of very different persuasion coexist.
ii) Substitute the rule of consensus, which ends up generating a paralyzing effect, with a decision-making system with different quorums depending on the matters to be resolved. In particular, the election of the Secretary General cannot be subject to a country’s right to veto.
iii) Incorporate new actors that complement the efforts of governments and parliaments. Universities, technological institutes, cultural centers, trade union representations, large, small and medium-sized companies must be incorporated into the process. In its absence, integration loses vitality and tends to bureaucratization.
iv) Prioritize the implementation of an agenda of priority issues. The institutionality must be built from the agenda, ensuring its feasibility and not the other way around, as has often been the Latin American tradition.
The priority agenda should include at least:
• A health self-sufficiency plan oriented especially to the production and joint purchase of vaccines and essential health supplies.
• Agreements to facilitate orderly migration.
• An integrated program to attack climate change in compliance with the Paris Agreements.
• Priority road, rail and energy connectivity works.
• The recovery for the region of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the empowerment of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF).
• Measures that favor cooperation between companies in the region, such as joint public purchases and regulatory harmonization.
• The construction of a common approach in the region regarding the main global challenges to be presented to the G20 by the three Latin American countries that participate in that instance: Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.
• The establishment of a working group to advance towards a financing system for commercial exchanges with a view to future monetary integration when macroeconomic conditions so permit it.
• A common approach to foreign debt and international financing for middle-income countries, which make up the majority of the countries in the region.
• Mechanisms that facilitate collaboration in matters of citizen public security.
• Agreements to promote permanent education and training programs, especially in the world of work to face the challenge of digitization.
• Joint policies to regulate the action of the large technology monopolies.
The reconstitution of a South American regional space is not contradictory with the advance of Latin American integration in a broader sense. A New UNASUR can be perfectly functional for the projection of CELAC. Furthermore, it cannot be forgotten that the former UNASUR was decisive in the creation of CELAC. The New UNASUR can therefore be a force that strengthens CELAC as it is, it has been reconstituted as of 2021.
Based on the principle of variable geometry, it is possible to identify a division of roles by virtue of which CELAC is called upon to become the privileged space to define a common position for the region on the issues of the multilateral agenda: climate change , energy transition, trade, investment, international financing, human rights, disarmament, peace and security, migration, drug trafficking and organized crime. For this, CELAC needs to equip itself with a minimum institutional framework and a technical secretariat with executive capacity.
Dear Mr. President,
It is in moments of crisis and adversity that the experience and wisdom of leaders is especially necessary. In the current scenario, the democratic achievements which were so difficult to obtain in Latin America are at risk, after the sequence of dictatorships that hit the region in the 1970s. We have great expectations in the leadership that you exercise in front of your countries. We trust in your vision to make our South America a driving force for a new level of Latin American unity and integration, anchored in continental solidarity and in the permanent values of peace and democracy.
Michelle Bachelet, Chile
Rafael Correa, Ecuador
Eduardo Duhalde, Argentina
Ricardo Lagos, Chile
Jose Mujica, Uruguay
Dilma Rousseff, Brazil
Ernesto Samper, Colombia
Former Foreign Ministers
Celso Amorin, Brazil
Rafael Bielsa, Argentina
Belela Herrera, Uruguay
Jose Miguel Insulza, Chile
Jorge Lara, Paraguay,
William Long, Ecuador
Heraldo Munoz, Chile
Rodolfo Nín, Uruguay
Aloizio Nunez, Brazil
Felipe Solá, Argentina
Jorge Taiana, Argentina
Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, Brazil
Manuel Canelas, Bolivia
Adriana Delpiano, Chile
Jose Dirceu, Brazil
Maria Do Rosario, Brazil,
Daniel Filmus, Argentina
Tarsus Genro, Brazil
Fernando Haddad, Brazil
Jorge Heine, Chile
Solomon Lerner, Peru
Luis Maira, Chile
Aloizio Mercadantes, Brazil
Carlos Ominami, Chile
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Brazil
Mariana Prado, Bolivia
Parliamentarians (former and current)
Jose Octavio Bordon, Argentina
Guillerme Boulos, Deputy, Brazil
Ivan Cepeda, Senator, Colombia
Flavio Dino, former Deputy Brazil
Marco Enríquez-Ominami, former Deputy, Chile
Gloria Florez Schneider, Senator, Colombia
Jaime Gazmuri, former Senator, Chile
Carmen Hertz, Deputy, Chile
Vilma Ibarra, former Deputy and former Senator, Argentina
Clara López, Senator, Colombia
Esperanza Martínez, Senator, Paraguay
Veronika Mendoza, former Deputy, Peru
Constanza Moreira, former Senator, Uruguay
María José Pizarro, Senator, Colombia
David Racero, President Chamber, Colombia
Monica Xavier, former Senator, Uruguay
Evandro Menezes, Brazil
Javier Miranda, Uruguay
Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, Argentina
Vicente Trevas, Brazil
Boris Yopo, Chile
Directors of international organizations and former ambassadors
Paulo Abrao, former executive secretary of the IACHR, Brazil
Rolando Drago, former Ambassador, Chile
Carlos Fortín, former Under Secretary General UNCTAD, Chile
Marta Mauras, former UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile
Carlos Eduardo Mena, former Ambassador, Chile
Osvaldo Rosales, former Director of International Relations, Chile
Juan Somavía, former Director General of the ILO, Chile
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