The governments of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) confirmed their refusal to recognise the government of Honduras and named former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) as the regional bloc’s first secretary general Tuesday. Leaders of the 12 members of the two-year-old UNASUR appointed Kirchner, the husband of Argentine President Cristina Fernández, during the summit in Campana, 60 km north of Buenos Aires.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said he was confident that Kirchner and his team would achieve concrete results for regional integration.
The presidents and other high-ranking officials also discussed the question of financial aid for the reconstruction of Haiti, devastated by a Jan. 12 earthquake. Correa pointed out that while UNASUR countries had pledged 300 million dollars in January, only 7.5 million dollars had actually been disbursed — an “extremely poor” result, in the president’s words.
Fernández told the press that the governments had promised Tuesday to send a total of 100 million dollars in the next two weeks.
Correa said the presidents were upset that Spain had invited the Honduran government to participate in the European Union-Latin America/Caribbean summit on May 18 in Madrid.
Most of the members of UNASUR — which is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela — have not recognised Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected in November in elections organised by the government that took power after the Jun. 28, 2009 coup that overthrew Manuel Zelaya.
The Ecuadorean leader warned that anger over the issue would keep many countries from attending the summit in Spain.
He pointed out that Honduras had been suspended by the Organisation of American States (OAS) after the coup, and said that formally recognising Lobo “would set a disastrous precedent” for the region.
In UNASUR, only the governments of Colombia and Peru — who were represented at the summit in Campana by their foreign ministers — have recognised Lobo.
“We all want to go (to the summit in Madrid), but we do not want to abandon our principles, and we don’t want the breakdown of the constitutional order (in Honduras) to be minimised,” Correa said. “We feel belittled; many are acting like nothing even happened here.”
Referring to Kirchner’s appointment, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said “This is the consolidation of a stage of transformation” for the bloc.
The former Argentine president “has experience, and knows the continent and our differences,” he added.
Kirchner had been proposed by Correa. “A high-level figure…with great stature and leadership ability is needed,” he said, before swearing in the new secretary general, who took part in the deliberations but made no speech.
Correa also underlined the need for “full-time” dedication to the task, in order to get the agreed-on initiatives moving.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales also applauded Kirchner’s designation. Chávez recalled the former Argentine president’s leadership at the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and Morales mentioned the support his country received during the Kirchner administration.
The appointment did not have the full support of Uruguay, which is involved in a long-running dispute with Argentina over a pulp mill built on the Uruguayan side of a border river.
The Kirchner administration took the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which ruled Apr. 20 that Uruguay did breach the river treaty by failing to consult Argentina when it installed the pulp mill, but found that the plant did not pollute, as claimed by Buenos Aires.
The ruling, considered solomonic, and the meetings between Fernández and Uruguayan President José Mujica eased the bilateral tension and paved the way for Montevideo to lift its veto of Kirchner.
“We have decided to put a priority on South America, so it will have representation,” Mujica said. “Without setting conditions and without anyone having set any for us, we are joining the presidents’ consensus so this step can be taken,” he said, without specifically mentioning Kirchner.
Chile’s Sebastián Piñera, who became president in March, said Kirchner’s appointment was “a good opportunity” for the bloc to set “ambitious goals” in order to “legitimise democracies, defeat underdevelopment, overcome poverty and reduce excessive inequalities.”
“The difference between a dream and a project is that the latter has targets and timeframes,” he remarked, urging his fellow leaders to set “demanding goals and well-defined timeframes” to achieve them.
Álvaro Ramis, president of the Chilean Association of NGOs (ACCION), said “the good spirit” shown by the presidents was “positive,” as was the naming of a secretary general, above and beyond the figure who was chosen.
“The summit highlighted the urgency of strengthening public policies for growth with equity, simultaneously rather than sequentially. This goal is only possible if the challenge of integration is urgently tackled, and one of the most important structures in that process is UNASUR,” he told IPS.
The “consolidation of the bloc is a contribution to democracy and to the strengthening of citizenship,” he said. He lamented, however, that in the process, the importance of civil society and citizen participation had not been acknowledged.
He said that failure ran counter to the bloc’s founding treaty, which states that “innovative mechanisms and spaces must be generated to foment debate on the different issues, guaranteeing that the proposals that have been presented by the citizens receive adequate consideration and response.”
Ramis urged that a public meeting between high-level officials and citizen groups be scheduled for the next UNASUR summit.
On the initiative of social movements from Ecuador, the presidents spoke out against the U.S. state of Arizona’s new immigration law (Senate Bill 1070), which makes it a crime to be in the state illegally and allows state police to question and arrest people without a warrant if there is “reasonable suspicion” about their immigration status.
This article was published by Inter Press Service.
Any opinions or viewpoints that are published herein are directly from the contributing author and does not necessarily represent the philosophy or viewpoints of Latin America Bureau