The Presidents of the South American Community of Nations (SACN) will meet in Brasilia on September 29-30, 2005 for their first summit following the establishment of the regional grouping in Cuzco, Peru, last December. The Foreign Ministers of the Community have already met at the beginning of August in Guyaquil, Ecuador, to put the final touches on the summit agenda which will map out a strategic direction the grouping intends to follow in the coming years.
The Brasilia meeting is viewed as a prelude to the bigger hemispheric Summit of the Americas (SOA) coming up in Argentina in early November. It is expected that the SACN leaders will make some important inputs into the draft of the final SOA declaration, especially regarding the main theme of fighting poverty.
But there are significant issues of concern for the South American leaders regarding relations between some member states, and undoubtedly these will be aired with the aim of reaching mutual solutions.
Salvos of words have been fired between Ecuador and Colombia over the US-supported Plan-Colombia with the former complaining that anti-coca spraying of Colombian border forest areas are having a detrimental effect on Ecuadors environment and its own commercial crops and livestock. Also Ecuadors announcement that it does not regard the guerrilla groups in Colombia as terrorist organizations has certainly caused some upset in relationship between the neighbors.
Venezuela itself has stated its objections to Plan-Colombia claiming that it has resulted in Colombia guerrillas from time to time crossing into Venezuelan territory where more financial and military resources have to be deployed.
Then there is the issue of corruption at state level which is currently engaging the attention of the Brazilian people in particular. President Lula Da Silva is under heavy pressure even within his own party, and there is a general feeling that this crucial issue and its effects on democracy should regain the attention of heads of state not only in South America but also throughout the hemisphere. In this respect, all the hemispheric nations, as members of the OAS, are party to the Inter-American convention against corruption agreed upon about five years ago, but there are now questions whether that convention has any sanctioning effect on any member state.
Additionally, the leaders will have to examine the Communitys political relations with the United States. These have not been at their best in recent years; and Venezuelas active role in promoting energy integration, its purchase of some countries debts and, particularly, its closeness to Cuba have raised Americas hackles. The terse exchange of accusations and counter-accusations between the US and Venezuela have not been too helpful in mending the fences between the two countries, and this is causing some uneasiness in other countries on the continent. No doubt, there is a need for improved relations and closer cooperation and this has to be done through mutual respect and understanding.
One of the significant decisions expected from the Brasilia meeting is an agreement for a South American free trade zone to be set up by 2010. Anticipating this, the two main components of the Community Mercosur and the Andean Community have begun some consultations on this issue. In the meantime, Chile has begun working in cooperation with both groups, and this leaves only the two non-Latin members, Guyana and Suriname, to decide how they will fit into this free trade arrangement. There is some optimism that these two countries will receive some positive suggestions at the summit discussions.
Despite its recent establishment, the SACN has made important headway into continental integration. While political unity may still be a dream, efforts at bridging the economies and infrastructure are already on the drawing board. And in this respect, the leaders have agreed to include special and differential treatment for their poorer partners such as Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname.
At the same time, they have seen the practicability of attracting trade and investment from outside, and earlier this year discussions with the Arab League commenced. Continuing dialogue with the European Community is also on the cards, and no doubt, such inter-regional relations will result in economic advantages for a few leading South American countries in the first instance, and for all of them in the long run.
Looking to the future, the summit will agree on a system of organization of the Community. According to the plan, an annual summit will be held and the host country will be determined by alphabetical order, even though any country can request to be skipped. A troika of states will be established to manage meetings and to prepare statements for the Community.
As the South American leaders convene in a few days time, their citizens will no doubt wonder whether they will have another talk shop or if they will produce tangible results. Throughout the continent, the lives of a vast array of people are plagued with crime, violence, disease and poverty. Numerous summits everywhere have resulted in volumes of proposals but very little action to alleviate these problems. Surely, these people hope that the talks will produce a plan of action with specific programs to improve their standard of living. This will demonstrate that in their lifetime there is indeed hope for their social and economic improvement.
(Caracas, 23 September 2005)
Dr. Odeen Ishmael is Guyanas Ambassador to Venezuela