UNASUR to Elect Secretary General at Argentina Summit

Leaders of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will meet at a special summit in Buenos Aries, Argentina, on May 3-4 to finally elect the organization’s Secretary General. There is widespread expectation that former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, the only declared candidate, will be elected to the post. An earlier election more than a year ago was aborted after then Uruguayan president Tabare Vasquez  refused to join the consensus to elect Kirchner unanimously, as a result of the running opposition by Argentina over the construction of two pulp mills on the Uruguay River shared by both countries.

Since the adoption of UNASUR’s constituent treaty two years ago, the group has been planning the organization of its administrative structure with its official headquarters to be permanently based in Ecuador. However, with no administrative head in the form of a Secretary General, its team of international civil servants has not yet been put in place to conduct the day-to-day functions of the continental body. However, it is expected that the election of the Secretary General will hasten this process.

The general feeling is that Kirchner will not encounter opposition since the new Uruguayan president José Mujica has been working to improve relations with Argentina and has since met on several occasions with the Kirchners.

In addition, Argentina and Uruguay both expressed enhanced neighbourly friendliness after the International Court of Justice on April 20 delivered a long-awaited ruling denying Argentina’s claim that the Uruguayan pulp mills pollute their shared river. Both countries said the decision gave them grounds to resolve their differences, with Argentina obtaining some form of satisfaction that the ruling declared that its neighbour did not properly inform it about the project.

Following the Court’s ruling, both countries have now agreed to work through a binational commission to protect the Uruguay River. But a key hurdle remains in the form of Argentine activists who are still blocking the main bridge across the river and are refusing to give up their demand for the halt to the Uruguayan pulp project.

Despite this, political and diplomatic sources anticipate Uruguay will not object to Nelson Kirchner’s candidacy. Nevertheless, agreeing on the choice of the Secretary General will be the main issue at the summit, because although Uruguay openly vetoed Kirchner before, there were still some other members that were not too supportive of his nomination. However, through various interventions by Argentina with other member states, the difficulties apparently have now been ironed out and no further problems on this matter are foreseen.

While the spotlight will be focused on the election of the Secretary General, the agenda of the summit will also put emphasis on other crucial issues affecting the member states as well as extra-regional entities, including the programme for regional cooperation for Haiti, a task undertaken last February at another special summit in Ecuador. The UNASUR leaders will also work out a strategy to render post-earthquake support and cooperation to Chile.

Consideration will be given to the political, social and economic situation of UNASUR members, and it is expected that both Brazil and Guyana will report on the recent meeting in Brasilia between Caricom leaders and President Lula da Silva on April 26.

It is obvious that the results of this summit will further generate the momentum of UNASUR as it moves forward in its role to cement South American integration. With unanimous support behind an administrative Secretary General, the process can certainly move on a smoother road.

(The writer is Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela, and the views expressed are solely his.)