In the past couple of years, once one of South America’s most promising regional alliances, it has been going through a structural crisis. In 2018-2019, the half of the countries participating in the integration association immediately announced their intention to leave the UNASUR. What has changed during this time? What prospects can the Union of South American Nations expect?
The UNASUR (Spanish – Unión de Naciones Suramericanas, UNASUR) entered the regional arena in December 2004. Formally, the Union of South American Nations was founded in 2008 as a large-scale economic structure in which the countries of South America took part. The goal of the organization was to form an analogue of the EU at the regional level with a common free trade area, a single currency, a supranational parliament and authorities. The difference between this integration project and the European Union was that from the moment of its creation, the ideological orientation was paramount. Initially, the association consisted of 12 states, and its ideological inspirers were the leaders of the “left movement” of Latin America – the presidents of Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina: Hugo Chavez (Spanish – Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Nestor Kirchner (Spanish – Néstor Carlos Kirchner Ostoić).
Then the ideas of the national Latin American hero of the times of the struggle for independence Simon Bolivar, who in the 19th century sought to achieve a real unification of the states of the region, were taken as a basis. At that time, it was planned to create a number of supranational bodies: the Council of Ministers, the South American Parliament, the Court. However, over time, the UNASUR has become a regional grouping with a pronounced socialist tinge, which has become a kind of forum for like-minded people and a tribune for the leaders of the countries of the “left” flank.
After in recent years, the “left” governments in Latin America have rapidly begun to replace one after another, and the rulers of power in a number of countries were “right-wing” politicians, the Union of South American Nations has cracked. Its traditional ideological inspirer Venezuela, immersed in its own internal political and economic crisis, was unable, as before, to support the UNASUR in the orbit of common regional interests.
Since April 2018, there have been reports of withdrawal from the association of the leading countries of the region – Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Chile and Paraguay. The governments that came to power in these states, sympathetic to the United States, simply could not allow participation in an organization that saw Venezuela as its main protector. Washington outlined its unequivocal position in relation to Caracas, and the legitimate President of the Bolivarian Republic, Nicolas Maduro (Spanish – Nicolás Maduro Moros), “overnight” became a controversial figure, which was perceived by the US partners in Latin America as a clear sign for action.
In March 2019, Ecuador also announced its withdrawal from the UNASUR. The president Lenin Moreno (Spanish – Lenin Boltaire Moreno Garcés) asked the organization to return the headquarters of the Union of South American Nations, based in Quito, and ordered the demolition of the statue of former Argentine leader Nestor Kirchner, the first General Secretary of the association, installed next to the building. More than a year ago, this decision of Ecuador marked the collapse of the 21st century interpretation of the ideas of the “Liberator of South America” Simon Bolivar. As a result, by the end of 2019, only four countries remained in the organization – Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname. Nevertheless, in early 2020, the Transitional Government of Jeanine Áñez (Spanish – Jeanine Áñez Chávez), which came to power in Bolivia in November 2019, announced the suspension of participation in the countries in the regional structure, justifying such a decision by the insolvency of the structure and lack of impartiality in decision-making within it.
Thus, the UNASUR has not functioned in its original format for more than two years. As part of the merger, the leaders of the participating countries were not even able to elect another General Secretary to replace the former president of Colombia, who completed his powers in 2017, Ernesto Samper Pizano. Then he was accused of bias and a desire to protect the interests of the Chavists, in particular Nicolas Maduro, although initially he advocated establishing a dialogue between the “official” Caracas and the opposition.
As a number of analysts noted in early 2020, despite the fact that the UNASUR did play an important role in the development and strengthening of regional integration, in the near future this structure may become history. However, the return of leftist leaders to the political arena heralded renewed hope for the revival of the once most representative block of South America.
Last Sunday, the former Bolivian President Evo Morales (Spanish – Juan Evo Morales Ayma) announced via his official Twitter account that a meeting will take place in April 2021 to lay the foundations for a new version of the UNASUR, a project of the Union of South American Nations of the Peoples (Runasur). Morales noted that “A commission of Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and Ecuador has been set up to organize a meeting from April 24 to 26, aimed at promoting the Union of South American Nations of the Peoples (Runasur)”. The former Bolivian leader added that the aforementioned regional structure “will bring together indigenous peoples, professional workers and representatives of the intellectual community” from 12 countries in the region.
Summing up, it is worth noting that the government of Alberto Fernández (Spanish – Alberto Ángel Fernández), which came to power in Argentina in 2019, announced its return to the UNASUR. The elected at the Bolivian General Election in October 2020, Luis Arce Catacora (Spanish – Luis Alberto Arce Catacora) of the “Movement to Socialism” (Spanish – Movimiento al Socialismo) party also announced the revitalization of this regional structure. In turn, the decision to withdraw from the unification of Ecuador could be canceled if in the electoral process, which will take place on February 7, a candidate from the Correists wins. Thus, the Union of South American Nations has chances for strengthening, however, the prospects for returning to the previous level of integration are very ambiguous, because the announced project “Runasur” is likely to become only a discussion platform designed to unite the forces of the “left” wing.