UNASUR’s Treaty Becomes Legally Binding

By Odeen Ishmael

Guyana Journal, January 2011
Guyana’s successful hosting of the fourth regular summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), without doubt, has boosted the country’s international image and has placed it in a position where it can play a leading role in guiding the continental integration process. The nation’s ascension to the chairmanship of the body certainly indicates that it can impart some influence in promoting improved cooperation and understanding within South America and the contiguous region, and also with other regional blocs with which the continent is advancing political and economic relationships.     

Within a week after the conclusion of the summit, Guyana participated in the December 7 OAS Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Washington that examined the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border dispute which escalated recently. The country was represented at this forum by Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and, though the issues were not resolved, there was a call for efforts to reduce tensions in Central America as the parties await the decision of the International Court of Justice. Soon after, a high-level Nicaraguan delegation met in Georgetown with President Jagdeo, as UNASUR chairman, to seek his and the organisation’s assistance in resolving the issue.

In acceding to the chairmanship of the continental body, Guyana unquestionably expects to face a set of political challenges as a result of the fluid state of politics in the region. These include the organisation’s proposed investigation into the events leading to the detention of President Rafael Correa of Ecuador three months ago – now necessitated by its recently promulgated democratic charter – and its involvement in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

One immediate undertaking Guyana faced was to ensure that at least a ninth member state would ratify the organisation’s constituent treaty to make it legally binding. But this problem was overcome within a week of the Georgetown summit when President José Mujica of Uruguay signed the ratification instruments in Montevideo. Just the day before, the Uruguayan Senate, with the votes from the ruling coalition and part of the opposition, gave approval for this to be done.

Uruguay’s ratification, adding the ninth vote in twelve, now gives the constituent treaty full legal status. The other eight are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Suriname and Guyana. The three still to ratify are Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay.

With the treaty now ratified by nine member-states, UNASUR’s charter and constitution will become legally effective thirty days after December 1, 2010. This means that on January 1, 2011, the group ceases to have a nominal existence and will become firmly established as a legally constituted international entity.

Immediately after Uruguay’s ratification, Argentina's Foreign Ministry in a special statement expressed “satisfaction” over the news, calling it a “transcendental moment” for UNASUR.

And Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Luis Almagro declared that the organisation has proven to be a fundamental factor of stability, democracy and peace for the region.

“UNASUR has helped solve the Bolivian crisis, the border conflict between Ecuador and Colombia, the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela, the recent institutional crisis in Ecuador; all are elements that consolidate the democratic and peace process in South America,” declared Almagro during a brief meeting with the media on November 30 soon after the Uruguayan Senate voted in support of ratification. “I think Uruguay made a very important step on being the ninth country of the ratification process,” he added. “This will make the treaty and the charter effective and will help solve many administrative and logistic issues we have in UNASUR.”

But not everyone was as euphoric. Former Ecuadorian president Rodrigo Borja and UNASUR’s first secretary general (for one month) complained that the organisation remains with the same original structure and that meetings have more speeches than actions. He suggested that the organisation should aim at quickly uniting the Andean Community and Mercosur “so as to jump from a sub-regional to a regional integration dimension saving on outlays and bureaucracy.”

Another immediate objective of the South American presidents is to choose a new secretary general. This task commenced on December 10, on the sidelines of the Ibero-American summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where UNASUR’s Foreign Ministers met with the aim of reaching consensus on the selection of a candidate to succeed the late Nestor Kirchner. At this meeting, the chairmanship was represented by Guyana’s Prime Minister Samuel Hinds.

In the discussions, the view that only former presidents could hold the office was watered down, especially since Colombia and Venezuela proposed the names of distinguished personalities from their respective countries for the position. Colombia nominated Maria Emma Mejia, a former Education and Foreign Minister, who currently manages a non-governmental foundation; while Venezuela proposed Ali Rodriguez Araque, the country’s Energy Minister, who also previously served as Foreign Minister and Finance Minister.

No consensus on a choice was reached, and much speculation arose that the South American presidents would have managed to do so at the Mercosur summit held on December 16-18 in Foz de Iguazú, Brazil. But this did not happen and President Jagdeo will certainly be very active in consulting with his presidential colleagues in order that a consensual choice is made as early as possible.
Caracas, 31 December 2010

The writer is Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela, and currently Vice-Chairman of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA). The views expressed are solely his.
Amb. Odeen Ishmael
Guyana Embassy, Quinta Roraima, Avenida El Paseo, Prados del Este, Caracas, Venezuela
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