Six Latin American Countries Suspended Their Membership From The UNASUR

On the 19th of April, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), one of the largest Latin American institutions created to counter U.S. influence, temporarily lost six of its members. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru suspended their memberships last Thursday due to conflict about who is to hold the position of secretary general of the regional bloc. After several discussions on the matter, other problems about the future of the UNASUR were raised, as there is not only a lack of consensus amongst members regarding whom must lead the institution, but also various ideological and political differences that weaken it.

For many years, the UNASUR has represented regional unity and cooperation. However, this unexpected decision from half of its members reveals the democratic crisis the region is experiencing. Chilean Foreign Minister, Roberto Ampuero, during an interview with the Cooperativa radio station, mentioned that the UNASUR has been paralysed for more than a year and a half. He goes on to add that the institution is “incapable of solving issues… making it even outrageous for citizens.” This perceived ineptitude is what incited the six countries to leave the organisation. Moreover, there are also discrepancies on what appropriate actions should be taken according to the current regional context. In response to the membership suspension of the six countries, the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, stated that if any right-wing government aims to impede the UNASUR, Venezuela, as well as various revolutionaries and social movements, will move to defend it. Such a statement had likely been made with the intent to support Bolivian Foreign Minister, Fernando Huanacuni, who assumed the pro tempore presidency on behalf of the nation.

The unexpected suspension of  half of the UNASUR members demonstrates the decline of the regional institution. The indecision on the part of the states on whom should hold leadership reveals the many differences among its members, and alludes to the varying objectives that each country has. Just a year ago, most of the Latin American countries assumed leftist political ideologies. Nonetheless, during recent presidential elections, there has been a notable shift. Bolivia, which is now one of the only remaining leftist countries alongside Venezuela, has very different economic, social, and political intentions than the others. However, despite the controversial decision made by the six countries, there is hope for regional integration to be reformed. Overcoming the dispute over the secretary general seat within the UNASUR is not impossible, considering that this suspension of membership is temporary.

Modelled after the European Union and founded with twelve countries as its members, the UNASUR is a multilateral organisation created in 2008, with the aims of promoting regional integration in different issues, including democracy, education, environment, security, and the elimination of social inequality. Since January 2017, when the former Colombian secretary general, Ernesto Samper concluded his term, the lack of institutionalism within the UNASUR became evident. It was then that the six countries announced, through a joint statement to the Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni, the suspension of their membership until solutions to these various issues were found.

The creation of regional institutions is a relevant step for multilateralism. Through organisations such as the UNASUR, cooperation and integration is made possible. Despite the differences among its country members, it is necessary to find a balance point where the head of states may put their own political interests and ideology at the forefront, and also meet the needs of the people. If clear objectives, processes, and actions are not set up from the beginning, organisations like the UNASUR will not be able to maintain regional stability, consequently making it more difficult to sustain their existence in a changing world.

Ingrid Valladares Gonzalez
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