UNASUR: the new-ided South America – divided already?

Posted on Updated on

A new era in South America has formally commenced in the form of the “Union of South American Nations” (UNASUR). Agreed April 17, 2007, at the First South American Energy Summit being held on the Island of Margarita, Eastern Venezuela, UNASUR is a manifestation of a renewed attempt at South American integration.

The South American presidents did agree to name their diplomatic mechanism Union of South American Nations (Unasur). The organization’s Executive Secretariat will be based in Quito, President Chávez said. He added that proposals would be disclosed later to designate the Permanent Secretary of Unasur -which is replacing the South American Community of Nations (CSN). This project is aimed at integrating the South American countries … This is what we decided by consensus today (Monday). We also addressed other issues such as the Bank of the South, and agreed to enter into a sort of energy accord guaranteeing energy supplies for 100 years. These meetings have been quite important,” the Venezuelan ruler added.”

But there are already some complex, political problems…..

“Brazilian sources reported that Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would not give up advocating biofuels, even though his stance prevents the summit from issuing a consensus final declaration … Before departing for Venezuela on Monday, Lula claimed it was perfectly feasible to produce food and biofuels simultaneously, thus dismissing Venezuelan and Cuban attacks against ethanol production.”

This however, does not mean that Lula and Brasil are hugging trees in the Amazon – they want to have their cake and eat it too. Brasil, who will get a lot of the Ecuadorian oil, also wants bio-fuel produced in their own territory. If Brasil starts to produce a lot of bio-fuel, which they probably easily can, just need to fell the forest, then, some say, the power balance in South America tips in their favour – and away from Venezuela, which relies in its influence as the sugar-daddies on their oil economy.

It has been noted that Bush’s visit to Latin America was instrumental in the design of Brasil’s bio-fuel project – that it is an attempt to undermine Chavez’ influence and power, spawning a strong reaction from Fidel Castro: More Than Three Billion People in the World Condemned to Premature Death from Hunger and Thirst.

With regards to bio-fuel, The Guardian ran an article recently titled “Palm oil: the biofuel of the future driving an ecological disaster now” outlining some sad numbers:

“Until now palm oil – of which 83% is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia – was produced for food. But the European Union’s aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, partly by demanding that 10% of vehicles be fuelled by biofuels, will see a fresh surge in palm oil demand that could doom the rainforests.

That is likely to kill off the “flagship species” of wildlife such as the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger and the orang-utan of Borneo which are already under enormous pressure from habitat loss. Plantation owners regard the orang-utan as pests because it eats the young palm oil plants and hunt them down ruthlessly.

“In reality it’s over for the tiger, the elephant and the orang-utan,” said Mr Smits, who founded the Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation. “Their entire lowland forest habitat is essentially gone already. We find orang-utan burned, or their heads cut off. Hunters are paid 150,000 rupiah [£8.30] for the right hand of an orang-utan to prove they’ve killed them.””

From the ashes in the fire?

Plague or cholera? Well, have your pick!


18 thoughts on “UNASUR: the new-ided South America – divided already?

    Tony Phillips said:
    Friday, April 27, 2007 at 20:04 (877)

    This whole idea of UNASUR is rather complex even for someone who is completing a Masters in South America. Good piece on this hardly covered topic!

    George Azariah-Moreno said:
    Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 06:42 (320)

    Whatever the national concerns and posturing, UNASUR will give a chance for new intra-regional configurations on the ground.
    For instance, by favouring the bridging of the ‘broken link’ between Northeastern Brazil, the Guyanas (particularly Suriname) and Venezuela -regardless of Chavez or Lula.
    This has the pontential to form new economic pathways for the region that should help reduce the pressure on the rainforest, as well as attracting a different kind of investment.
    The novelty: progressive integration from the ‘middle’, rather than from the top…

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 07:48 (367)

    This strikes as rather illusory or uninformed. There is mainstream academic research showing how the construction of the inter-oceanic corridors and the general development of infrastructure as one of the core aspects of the Latin American integration project already puts more pressure on the rain forest.

    The idea that economic development in the Amazon, which these days always seem to include roads and hidrovias should reduce pressure on the Amazon appears to me to be very far fetched and really would require some substantial argumentation underpinned by empirical evidence.

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 11:52 (536)

    There is some more info to be found here:

    George Azariah-Moreno said:
    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 10:30 (479)

    Well, we all have different angles of approaching this.
    But it is chiefly poverty and lack of quality investment and opportunities in the Nordeste of Brazil which has deal the biggest blow to the Rainforest.
    How do we change this?
    I’m not advocating roads, improved infrastructure or gasoducts necessarily.
    That’s the old Positivist approach to development (“Ordem e Progresso”). Disturbing indeed.
    And I can understand your abhorrence, as this is sadly the dominant thinking.
    But, on the other hand, ask yourself what would geniunely lead here to a similar environmental consideration as found in Norway or Canada.
    For this, we need innovative ways of thinking about the region’s development, such as New Regionalism offers.
    Strengthening the coastal ‘ring’, the continuum between Recife, Caracas, the Caribbean and West Africa, to offer alternative development pathways that are more rewarding than the exploitation of the Amazon would be a way forward (not in terms of physical infrastructure per se, but in building new configurations of social/human capital and trading relationships -to emulate those that Norway, for instance, enjoys with Europe, etc).
    There is a need here to think neither too local, nor too global. But ‘glocal’.

    George Azariah-Moreno said:
    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 07:50 (368)

    In other words, what can be imagined as viable transformational economic alternatives for the region, in order that the Amazon be mostly left alone?

    Admittedly, this is only part of the story.
    New instrumentalities of local governance need to be formulated, to ensure these ‘alternatives’ are themselves sustainable, of moderate ecological footprint, etc. Advanced economy, low carbon would be the ideal.
    The question is still open as to whether that is possible…

    In parallel, greater continental integration can help achieve cross-country concensus on protecting the Amazon, in terms of regulation and enforcement (as well as global accountability); in a way that currently seems beyond reach.

    Equally, efforts to empower and protect indigenous groups, so that they are able to themselves form effective, resilient and organized constraints to encroachment could be more fruitful under the UNASUR banner, than through any individual national remit (especially in the case of Brazil).
    It is simply no longer a matter of just leaving them alone to lead their ‘primordial’ lives, but equipping them to best defend their interests in a globalized world, and on their terms.
    What if an airport is part of that? Rather than roads built by the pioneers… or arduous, limiting river access.
    On the other hand, “e-citizenship”, and technologies that would allow these peoples to network and share information productively can also play an important role.
    But again, such programmes would be facilitated by cross-country concensus through greater continental integration.

    colono responded:
    Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:03 (544)

    Well, we are not necessarily that far from each other in opinions/approaches now that you have qualified your statements a little bit, but I don’t understand how you think that “New instrumentalities of local governance need to be formulated, to ensure these ‘alternatives’ are themselves sustainable, of moderate ecological footprint, etc.” are commensurable with UNASUR and the nation state rebuilding projects of for instance Correa…

    ..There are strong indications that certain aspects of power are centralised, and more power is invested in the army and the police in order to repress social movements struggling to save the forest or to even get a piece of the action. Correa calls environmentalists “romantic” and “infantile” – and after all, he is one of the visionaries of UNASUR.

    To me there is a huge discrepancy between what I understand to be your vision about glocalisation (was that Bauman? anyway..) and the institutions and practices that are shaped into UNASUR etc.

    With regard to indigenous peoples in the forest – the issue is for some to let them live like they have always done, and as they want to – some tribes do choose that – while of course for others this is far from possible even, should they want to, since the forest is gone, the animals are extinct and so on.

    We work on the ground with people and do have a fairly good idea of what people want and need, but you might be making the same mistake as those who say that “they” should be let to live primordially: you assume that you know what it is that they want/need/should have. Let the people decide, even if that is to live primordially.

    About airports – who will be the passengers? Oil people, loggers and others who are part of a flowing cash economy, obviously, and not indigenous people who have no money. The airport that is projected to be built in the Ecuadorian Amazon is for Chinese companies to get access to wood and oil, not to mobilise the indigenous people in the region.

    About cyberspace and all that “e” stuff – well, that is increasingly antithetic to “the environment” – have a look here:

    and maybe here:

    and here:

    Nathan Gill said:
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 13:54 (621)

    For me, the most disturbing elements of the IIRSA physical integration plan of UNASUR are the development corridors and the inevitable colonization that will spring up around them. This is a potential subject that we are trying to explore at the moment and one that needs more attention from the press and more thought from policy makers.

    While the needs of the region to grow economically are great, the fact that their development plans signal out the Amazon as the target for much of this regional growth makes the issue very complex indeed.

    colono responded:
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 20:04 (878)

    Thanks for the comment, Nathan – I just had a look at your writings and thought I’d paste this one for the curious rader:

    Human and Environmental Costs of South American Integration
    By Nathan Gill

    Nathan Gill is the Editor of Southern Affairs, an online magazine offering news and analysis of political events in Latin America. He is also a Rotary …

    Scientists from around the world met to discuss the effects of the proposed Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA), the continent’s new vehicle for improving physical connections between the nations of South America.

    Tim Killeen, a senior scientist at Conservation International, presented a paper at the meeting entitled “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon Wilderness: Development and Conservation in the Context of IIRSA.” According to Killeen, “Failure to foresee the full impact of IIRSA investments, particularly in the context of climate change and global markets, could lead to a perfect storm of environmental destruction. At stake are the greatest tropical wilderness area on the planet and the multiple benefits it provides.”

    His concerns were highlighted this week when Presidents Uribe and Chavez, of Colombia and Venezuela respectively, invited Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to witness the opening of the new Ballenas-Maracaibo oil pipeline between their two countries. The invitation included the possibility of negotiating an extension of the pipeline south into Ecuador.

    While not inherently bad news, the proposed pipeline to Ecuador would require at least 12,00 km (800 miles) of pipeline to be constructed over mountains and sensitive rain forests in an area of high seismic activity creating an elevated risk of oil spills. On top of environmental issues, there is the added danger of Marxist insurrection targeting the pipeline as part of its guerrilla campaign.

    Other projects planned by the Union are the construction of an inter-oceanic highway that would connect Brazil and Peru and a trans-continental oil pipeline that would connect Venezuela with the nations of the southern cone.

    Both projects would necessarily cross the Amazon and open up new settlements in the interior causing increased deforestation and the loss of animal habitat in areas where this is already a problem. Deforestation is principally caused by the clearing of land for sugar cane, livestock, and soy production.

    Damage to human communities is another area of potential risk discussed at the conference. The Amazon is home to an unknown number of indigenous groups who have never had contact with the world outside the rainforest. Historically, contact with these groups causes death from new diseases and a degradation of their culture and land.

    Government ecologist in Peru reported the spotting of one of these groups during a fly-over of four natural forest reserves around Sepuhua on the Rio de las Piedras last month. According to The Economist, the area is being deforested by loggers seeking the rich mahogany trees found there for export abroad. Deadly conflicts have already erupted between the loggers and local tribes over the harvesting of mahogany trees.

    While most mahogany is protected, there is a small area that lies just outside of the four natural reserves that makes it possible for loggers to cut some trees legally. However, because there is little enforcement of the ban, the trees within the forest reserves are being cut as well. The issues raised by scientists at the conference and by the events of this week are not new to politicians; they reflect the ongoing national and regional debates. However, conferences like this help maintain the public’s awareness of relevant issues and keep politicians informed of potential costs and benefits of proposed projects.

    By Nathan Gill
    Editor, Southern Affairs

    Nathan Gill is the Editor of Southern Affairs, offerring news and analysis of South American politics and international relations. Mr. Gill is also a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Valparaiso, Chile researching the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) for his master’s thesis.

    colono responded:
    Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 18:29 (812)
    colono responded:
    Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 18:33 (814)

    See also Nathan’s newwest piece from:

    May 24, 2008
    South American Regional Integration Institutions: Unasur, ALADI, CAN and Mercosur

    There are four regional integration institutions in South America; CAN, MERCOSUR, ALADI, and UNASUR. The first two are subregional blocks representing nine of the 12 South American member countries of Unasur; neither is fully functional.[1]

    All the nations of South America, except for Guyana and Surinam, are members of ALADI. Its goals are similar to the Unasur. The only two non-South American members are Mexico and Cuba.[2] Since its inception in 1981, ALADI has achieved very few of its goals and has been eclipsed most recently by the formation of Unasur. This final institution is a specifically South American initiative designed to unite these various processes into one single institution.

    Unasur Institutional Structure

    Previously known as the Comunidad Sudamericana de Naciones (CSN), it was founded in 2004 by the Declaración del Cusco. It is a 12 nation cooperation treaty designed to propel regional integration efforts forward into the twenty-first century by coordinating dispersed efforts under one central integration authority with its headquarters in Quito, Ecuador.

    UNASUR is composed of the nations of MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), Chile, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela. The union has a combined population of approximately 377 million, an internal market (PIB) of US$1.5 trillion, and a total area of 17 million sq/km, including 27 percent of the Earth’s fresh water, 70 percent of its known copper reserves, enough oil and natural gas to last the continent a century, the Amazon rain forest, the fertile pampas, the Andes mountains, and maritime access to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.[3]

    For a region like South America, plagued with internal conflict, weak national political institutions, and the world’s worst income disparity, these goals seemed ambitious.

    The institutional structure was agreed upon during the 2005 Summit of Brasilia where the Presidents of South America decided that the meeting of heads of state would be the highest level of political contact within UNASUR. These are supposed to occur annually and the location rotates around the region.[4] This structure was formally ratified in the 2008 Summit of Brasilia.

    Meetings of heads of state are the highest level of political contact. The president of country hosting the annual summit is the acting president of the union for one year and the presidents of the previous and following years advise the current president to permit better transitions.

    Foreign Ministers make the executive decisions; they are scheduled to meet twice a year to discuss issues of mutual interest and are in charge of preparing the regional agenda for the annual meeting of heads of States. Vicecancillers are in charge of coordinating the respective positions of member countries before the meetings of foreign ministers. Below this level are ad hoc ministerial meetings of specific social sectors such as salud, educación, cultura, ciencia y tecnología, seguridad ciudadana, infraestructura de energia, transportes, comunicaciones, y desarrollo sostenible.[5]

    UNASUR was first created without a formal institutional bureaucracy in order to avoid adding additional layers of administration on top of those already existing in CAN, Mercosur, and ALADI. However, it became apparent by 2007 that an organization dispersed over a continent without any sort of central administration was not practical. To correct this, an office of Executive Secretary was created with headquarters in Quito, Ecuador and a regional parliament will be located in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

    The position of Secretaria General was offered to Rodrigo Borja, a former president of Ecuador, in 2007. Borja accepted and began drafting a constitutive charter for the union that would have combined the subregional blocks of CAN and Mercosur into Unasur.

    His proposal also called for a strong executive branch which would be in charge of setting the regional agenda and ensuring compliance. In Feb 2008, Borja made clear in a private interview with the author that he would not be part of just another layer of ineffective state bureaucracy. Although his draft was submitted to the presidents of each country in 2007 he had not received a response at the time we spoke with him.[6]

    One day before the May 2008 Summit of Brasilia, he publically rejected the offer to serve as Executive Secretary because the presidents rejected his proposal to create an agile institution capable of achieving the ambitious goals of integration. Instead, it was decided to create a forum of 12 representatives from each member nation as well as the Executive Secretary while reserving maximum authority for the presidents of each country.[7]

    Also involved in the direction of Unasur are the Presidente del Comité de Representantes Permanentes del MERCOSUR, the Director de la Secretaría del MERCOSUR, del Secretario General de la Comunidad Andina, the Secretario General of de la ALADI, and the Secretaría Permanente de la Organización del Tratado de Cooperación Amazónica to provide the necessary staff to carry out the mandates approved by presidents and foreign ministers.[8]

    By Nathan Gill – Southern Affairs

    John Stands said:
    Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 23:08 (006)

    Well, I think UNASUR is going to be the best union in the world, Most of the people here are just jealous of the Unasur being better than the US.
    Let other people make their own destiny and stop thinking of Native Americans as stupid people.
    There in Ecuador, Native Americans have rights better than here in the US. People in south america have free healthcare and free University, live longer and better lives than most of you.
    There are millions of tons of toxics wastes, 8 out of ten drug dependant, mass killing, racism and poverty in the only country in the world that likes to atack and kill inocent people, yea, guess who… glad bush is getting out.

    colono responded:
    Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 13:22 (599)

    This last comment is an expression of a very problematic romantic view.

    While it is true that the USA has one of the poorest and most oppressed populations in the world, it does not that mean that things are honky dory in the socalled poor parts of the world.

    Arguments cannot just be reversed like that: social misery is very real in the Amazon and elsewhere, as it is in the USA.

    Robert Cubillos said:
    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 16:47 (741)

    UNASUR tiene los dias contados por la politica conflictiva de Chavez y su continua agresion hacia Colombia con el silencio de todos los miembros de UNASUR. Todo esto es inexplicable e incomprensible actitud demostrada por los demas paises que al parecer estan temerosos de Chavez. Que valentia!

    Robert Cubillos said:
    Friday, November 20, 2009 at 19:20 (847)

    La falta de honestidad por parte de Chavez hace del UNASUR un proyecto sin vidad y lleno de desconfianza.
    Chavez a espalda del pueblo de Colombia ya ayudaba a los narcotraficantes de las FASRC que estan asesinando campesinos colombianos y desde hace mucho tiempo tenia el plan de apoderarce de Colombia a la fuerza como cumplimiento de su plan diabolico de socializar a America Latina. Este es un plan macabro e inaudito que los colombianos no toledarian un segundo.
    El estilo dictatorial de Chavez y sus aspiraciones de convertise en un Bolivar napoleonico, desconociendo democracias, acabando con los derechos humanos y los minimos conceptos de libertad, acabando con la propiedad privada, y refiriendose en malos terminos al presidente de Colombia que representa a todos los colombianos impugnando terminos belicos lo incapacitan para este proyecto de UNASUR. Si Chavez no es retirado y expulsado de este organismo de comercio, Colombia deberia retirarse asi como cualquier otro honesto delegado.

    colono responded:
    Friday, November 20, 2009 at 20:10 (882)

    So we have Robert Cubillos weighing in with opinions that sound like they are derived from School of the Americas press releases. Colonos is not a big fan of Chavez and his engagement with global capital, in particular oil. Neither of his treatment of anarchists and indigenous people. However, Colombia is merely a puppet of the US and their colonial efforts and “war on drugs” in South America. If there is a choice between Colombia and Venezuela in UNASUR, then get rid of the Colombians until they get rid of their colonial, northern Washington Masters.

    Robert Cubillos said:
    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 22:49 (992)

    I was going to have a new comment but I changed my mind… I just saw on TV the venezuelan minister Maduro in a Unasur meeting saying “Venezuela is the large democracy in America”… Does Chavez believe it? This is a dangerous statement from a high venezuelan goberment representative…
    Now I am thinking…
    what I am? Bolivar or miss America?
    There was silence in the room…
    Have a long life.. Globovision

    hosting en venezuela said:
    Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 12:02 (543)

    I like it when folks come together and share thoughts.
    Great website, continue the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s