Joint declaration from UNASUR meeting

Last Friday, the 12 heads of state of UNASUR member countries met in Bariloche, Argentina for a special meeting convened to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia military base agreement, among other topics. Many of the region’s leaders took their turn speaking out against the agreement and the potential for an increased U.S. military presence in South America. However, the final declaration that all members signed did not officially condemn the proposal. Instead, it focused on expressing the need to respect the sovereignty of each nation in the region and strengthen peace throughout the region through confidence, cooperation and transparency.

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A translation of the final declaration is below:

A joint declaration of the special meeting of the Council of Leaders of UNASUR

San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, August 28, 2009

The heads of state of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) together at an extra session on August 28, 2009 in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina; Reaffirming our commitment to the principles of International Law in reference to relations of friendship and cooperation between States, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations; Recognizinge, equally, that military cooperation agreements must be strictly guided by the principles and intentions of the Charter of the United Nations and the fundamental principles of the Constitutional Treaty of UNASUR; Emphasizing that the unconditional respect of sovereignty, integrity and territorial sanctity of the States, the non-intervention in internal affairs and the self-determination of the people are essential for the consolidation of regional integration; Reiterating our will to consolidate South America into a zone of peace, fundamental for the integral development of our people and the preservation of their natural resources, through the prevention of conflicts, the peaceful solution of controversies and the abstention from reverting to threats or the use of force; Underlying UNASUR’s vocation for the peaceful solution to controversies and the promotion of dialogue and consensus in topics of defense through the strengthening of cooperation, confidence and transparency;

DECIDE:

To strengthen South America as a zone of peace, committing ourselves to establishing mechanisms for mutual confidence in defense and security, sustaining our decision to abstain ourselves from reverting to threats or the use of force against the territorial integrity of another UNASUR state.

To reaffirm our commitment to strengthen the fight and cooperation against terrorism and transnational organized crime and its related crimes: narcotrafficking, small and light arms trafficking, in addition to the rejection of the presence or action of illegal armed groups.

To reaffirm that the presence of foreign military forces cannot, with its means and resources linked to its own goals, threaten the sovereignty and integrity of any South American nation and as a consequence, the peace and security of the region.

To instruct their Ministers of Foreign Relations and Defense to hold an additional meeting, during the first 15 days of next September, so that in the pursuit of improved transparency they design the means to strengthen confidence and security in a way that is complementary to the pre-existing instruments of the OAS, including concrete mechanisms of implementation and guarantees for all applicable countries of the existing agreements with countries within and outside of the region; such as illegal arms trafficking, narcotrafficking and terrorism in compliance with the law of each country. These mechanisms must take into account the unconditional respect for sovereignty, integrity and territorial sanctity and non-intervention in the internal affairs of the States;

To instruct the South American Defense Council to analyze the text of the “South American Strategy. White Paper, Air Mobility Command” and carry out a verification of the situation on the borders and submit the resulting study to the Council of Heads of State with the goal of considering courses of action to follow.

To instruct the South American Council on the Fight against Narcotrafficking to develop urgently a Statute and Plan of Action with the objective of defining a South American strategy in the fight against illicit drug trafficking and strengthening the cooperation between specialized organisms from our countries.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What could be discussed at the UNASUR meeting in Argentina

Presidents from 12 South American countries will gather tomorrow in Bariloche, Argentina for a meeting of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. The meeting was initially convened earlier this month in order to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia military base agreement that is worrying many of the continent’s leaders, and the topic is still going to be the main point of discussion and perhaps contention. However, the meeting will most likely touch on several other topics that have not received as much recent media attention.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has already announced that if he is to attend the meeting (which has been confirmed), he will bring up issues such as foreign support for the FARC, illicit arms trafficking in the region, and military cooperation agreements between Colombia’s neighbors and Russia.

Other issues that have received less media attention, especially in the United States, include the current rifts between Peru and Chile over providing Bolivia access to the Pacific Ocean and some leaders’ concerns about a potential arms race brewing on the continent.

Here is a quick summary of each issue that could be brought up tomorrow in Argentina:

U.S.-Colombia base agreement

On July 15, Colombia’s defense, interior and foreign relations ministers held a press conference to confirm reports that Colombia and the United States were negotiating an agreement that would give the United States authority to use seven military facilities in Colombia. The announcement was immediately followed by protests from many of Colombia’s neighbors. Despite attempts by both the U.S. and Colombian governments to reassure the leaders of the region that this agreement will not result in activities outside of Colombia and will not lead to a “significant permanent increase in the U.S. military presence in Colombia,” according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, these concerns have not subsided.

Last week, Brazilian President Lula da Silva invited President Obama to attend the meeting in Argentina in order to clear up any concerns or misunderstandings about the U.S.-Colombia deal, but Obama declined the invitation.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has also called for a continent-wide referendum on the proposed agreement, and announced that he will take his proposal to the UNASUR meeting.

Because the meeting in Argentina was convened as a result of this pending agreement, it will definitely hold center stage.

Venezuelan weapons found in the hands of the FARC

In July, Colombia announced that Swedish-made antitank rockets and launchers sold to the Venezuelan armed forces had been recovered from a FARC camp.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez immediately denied the allegations that his country was providing weapons to the guerrilla group, recalled his Ambassador from Colombia and froze diplomatic relations. Chávez later claimed that the weapons were reported missing from Venezuela’s arsenal in 1995, nearly four years before his first presidential term began.

The information on the discovered weapons was released soon after Venezuela and other neighboring countries started to voice opposition to the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement, and President Chávez protested that the Colombian government was “trying to blackmail [Venezuela]” and use the information to justify intervention in his country.

Peru, Chile and Bolivia’s access to the ocean

The Peruvian government hopes to bring up its concerns about what it calls an “agreement under the table” between Chile and Bolivia regarding Bolivia’s desire for maritime access – a demand to which the Chilean government has responded that it does not need a third country intervening in bilateral relations between the two countries, let alone all of the members of UNASUR.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia argues that this is not just a bilateral issue, as the maritime access that could be granted to Bolivia was once Peruvian territory. According to Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonia García Belaúnde, “any sovereign solution over (the Chilean border town) Arica, must be made by both Peru and Chile, and Peru has not been consulted about this subject.”

Potential arms race in South America

Both Paraguay and Colombia have expressed a desire to discuss a whether or not an arms race is brewing in South America. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo cites concerns regarding Bolivia’s recent agreement with Russia to purchase $100 million worth of weapons and military equipment. And Colombian President Uribe – who himself has greatly increased Colombia’s arms purchases – has expressed concerns over “Venezuela’s Russian purchases and Brazil’s plans to launch a nuclear submarine with France’s help and to buy 36 modern fighter jets.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Increased U.S. military presence in Colombia discussed at UNASUR meeting

Today, South American leaders who are members of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, met in Quito, Ecuador, where the discussion centered on the proposed agreement between the United States and Colombia to increase the presence of the U.S. military at seven Colombian bases.

However, because President Uribe was not present (he decided not to attend due to the increased tensions between Colombia and its neighboring countries resulting from the agreement with the United States), the leaders in attendance decided not to condemn the military agreement between Colombia and the United States in its final document.

This decision, however, does not mean that the South American leaders are happy with it. Instead, they decided that it would be better to resolve the new tension in the region through dialogue and debate – one in which Colombia and the United States would participate. Brazilian President Lula da Silva suggested that UNASUR ask for the U.S. government to clarify the proposal to allow the United States military to use Colombian bases. Lula noted that “people will have to hear things they don’t like” during the discussion.

It is unclear when or if this proposed meeting will take place. Regardless, the discussion surrounding the increased presence of the U.S. military in the region will continue on August 24, when Defense Ministers from the UNASUR member countries will meet. As of now, Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva is planning on attending the upcoming meeting.

Despite the decision to not condemn the Colombia-U.S. military agreement today, many of the region’s presidents took the opportunity to speak out against it.

Here are some of the statements made during the meeting:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “This is worrisome. Venezuela is preparing itself, because they have their sights on us.”

and “The wind of war is starting to blow (in South America).”

Argentine President Cristina Fernández: The U.S. proposal is “a belligerent, unprecedented and unacceptable situation.”

and “It is essential that we invite President Álvaro Uribe to a place where he does not feel that there is hostility, what needs to be removed are the excuses.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “We have to avoid Colombia turning into an Israel.”