In a tireless round of regional diplomatic summits last week, Venezuela led a surge of political momentum in favor of the integration of Latin America into a “zone of peace” that solves its problems without foreign or domestic military action, as part of the construction of a multi-polar world that is independent of major superpowers.
“We’ve been presented with the opportunity of forming this united bloc of nations that will allow us to consolidate South America as a zone of peace, a democratic zone”, declared Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, referring to the summit of heads of state of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), which took place last weekend in Asunción, Paraguay.
“We are convinced that we are in a new era, re-measuring dimensions, solidifying a new project”, said Chavez.
During the summit, Unasur General Secretary Maria Emma Mejia highlighted the effectiveness of the nearly three year-old bloc in peacefully resolving regional conflicts such as the struggle with secessionists in Bolivia in 2008, the attempted coup in Ecuador in 2009, and the recurring rupture of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Colombia.
As a precautionary measure and at Ecuador’s request, the organization launched an official truth commission to investigate the events surrounding the attempted coup that took place in September 2009, in which five people were killed and 250 were injured. Mejia described Unasur’s conflict prevention strategy as “capable of maintaining peace without even a single bullet in order to resolve the differences that have confronted us, in contrast to the process adopted by NATO”, alluding to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s violent military intervention in Libya.
The peaceful diffusion of conflicts has partially been the work of the South American Defense Council, an institution of UNASUR that is constructing “a new doctrine of defense”, according to Venezuelan Electricity Minister Ali Rodríguez, who will take office as the temporary president of UNASUR next year.
“What’s most important is that this is now a territory of peace, where there is development from the economic as well as the political point of view of the entire region”, said Rodriguez in an interview with Telesur.
“We are one grand nation, a nation that has every possibility to progress and, most importantly, to bring sustenance and better conditions of existence”.
“All the heads of state [in South America] understand that defense is necessary, given that the region is more than 18 million square kilometers, rich in petroleum, gas, raw materials, and an abundance of water that allows for the production of electricity, and potential for solar and wind energy”, the minister added.
The 12 Unasur member nations also discussed a ten-year regional infrastructure plan and the founding of a new South American Electoral Council to accompany and observe democratic processes in the region, as an alternative to the Organization of American States, which is dominated by the United States.
Other items on the agenda were the regional commitment to democracy, which is an addendum to the Constitutive Treaty of the Unasur, and a proposal to create a South American university to provide access to higher education for youth across the region. Mimicking other regional blocs such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Unasur nations arrived at a consensus on a united set of proposals to be presented by Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico at this week’s G-20 summit in France.
The Unasur summit came just days after the bloc’s ascension to observer status in the United Nations. Meanwhile, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo became the third head of state to occupy UNASUR’s rotating presidency, following Chile, Ecuador, and Guyana.
VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA BILATERAL RELATIONS
In conjunction with the UNASUR summit, Venezuela and Colombia held two bilateral meetings to further consolidate their diplomatic relationship, which was weakened by a severing of relations in 2010 but has steadily improved since Juan Manuel Santos assumed the Colombian presidency on August 7, 2010.
Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro and Venezuelan Internal Affairs and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami met in Bogota last Tuesday with Colombian Chancellor Maria Angela Holguín and President Santos. The Venezuelan state oil company, Pdvsa, signed an accord with Colombia’s Ecopetrol to supply two million liters of gasoline to poor regions of Colombia.
The two countries also moved forward on plans to build an oil pipeline stretching from Venezuela to Tumaco, a port on Colombia’s pacific coastline. Minister Maduro called the oil pipeline “a project of great magnitude for the South American energy equation”. The two countries also discussed previously existing accords regarding customs and duties on each other’s imports.
In the days between the Bogota summit and the Unasur summit, Maria Emma Mejia traveled to Caracas for a one-on- one visit with President Hugo Chavez to discuss the broad and ongoing project of South American integration.
Echoing President Chavez, Mejia declared: “In an era as difficult as the current one, we are going to be an example of integration for the world, of the solid management of our economies and of a true zone of peace”.
IBERO-AMERICAN SUMMIT: SOUTHAMERICA’S INDEPENDENT VOICE
In conjunction with the UNASUR and Colombia-Venezuela summits last week, Paraguay also hosted the XXI Ibero-American Summit, which was titled, “The Transformation of the State toward Development”.
Highlights of the summit included a resolution to recognize the coca leaf – which can be processed into cocaine – as an official part of Bolivian heritage, for its cultural significance as a medicinal leaf used for teas and indigenous medical treatment.
Also during the summit, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa walked out of a speech by a representative of the World Bank, and later declared: “They should ask Latin America for forgiveness for all the harm they did and continue to do, as one of the principal proponents of neoliberalism”.
“What, do we have to receive a lecture on political economy, on morality, or on international bureaucracy? How long will this go on? Let’s start changing things, freeing ourselves from neo-colonialism”, Correa said, emphasizing that the foreign models imposed on the region facilitate capital flight and create unemployment.
Such fervid interventions by Latin American leaders during the summit highlighted the growing independent voice of the region’s leaders and governments, who have weathered then international financial crisis more successfully than Spain, Portugal, and other European governments. Spain’s apparent waning influence in the region provoked the ire of Spanish journalists, including one from the national daily El País, who offered the following explanation for the changes:
“The summit has become a redundancy for the Latin American powers, who now have their own voice in other global forums”. Minister Maduro said the current process of “re-founding the state” is based on the principle of national sovereignty.
“It is impossible to think of the possibility of economic and social development without the center of decision-making being in our countries”, Maduro proclaimed.
President Lugo hailed the current era as one of regional integration. “Today, we find ourselves in a process of regional integration, with new paradigms and societal models, after feeling for years that we had lost the relief of social action by the state”, he said in his opening speech at the summit.
“It is necessary to revive the vision and role of the state as a proactive agent, legitimate for the promotion of social development and the economic transformation”, Lugo continued.
“Our peoples have learned this historical lesson and we have democratically decided on the necessity of reconstructing the state according to the new challenge of regional integration”.