Whatever Happened to UNASUR?

The Venezuelan crisis has caused serious damage to UNASUR, putting its long-term viability as a regional organization at risk.

Photo: Telesur

The ongoing Venezuelan crisis keeps making headwaves in the international stage: as the Lima Group has taken the initiative and the OAS discusses our situation (again), other regional groups become irrelevant.


The Union of South American Nations has been in decline, thanks in part to the absence of a new Secretary-General since the former Colombian president, Ernesto Samper, left the post on January of 2017.

And, as this article from Ecuadorian magazine Vistazo presents, Venezuela has a big chunk of the blame. According to lawyer, international politics expert and Caracas Chronicles colaborator, Mariano de Alba:

The collapse of UNASUR has a lot to do with Venezuela. The crisis in Venezuela exacerbated the differences between its member countries, and in 2017 the majority of them had a very critical position to what was happening and the government’s behavior. At the same time the institution didn’t have great confidence, as (former Secretary-General) Ernesto Samper wasn’t perceived as an independent person that could mediate or collaborate between government and opposition in Venezuela, but mostly as a firm government ally.

Efforts to find a suitable replacement for Samper have been in vain: since they took over the pro-tempore presidency last April, Argentina proposed the name of José Octavio Bordón, long-career politician and former ambassador to the U.S. during Néstor Kirchner’s first term (2003-07). Bordón has been the Argentinean ambassador in Chile since late 2015.

Venezuela and its allies rejected Bordón’s nomination. After all, there’s plenty of bad blood between Nicolás Maduro and Mauricio Macri, specially since Venezuela was kicked out of Mercosur. A recent report said that Macri was considering dropping out of UNASUR, but nothing has happened yet; Argentina’s turn ends in April and la Casa Rosada seems now focused in a higher-profile gig: the G-20 presidency.

The UNASUR vacuum is seen in the dialogue between the government and the MUD. When it first started, in October 2016, UNASUR was one of the main brokers. Fast forward to January of 2018, with the latest (and probably last) round being mostly a Dominican affair with Rodríguez Zapatero at the side (or at the helm).

But every now and then, UNASUR can get you attention: After been uninvited from the upcoming Summit of the Americas, Nicolás Maduro demanded an extraordinary meeting to “defend Venezuela’s truth.” It ended just like last year’s attempt in the CELAC.

The Union of South American Nations has been in decline, thanks in part to the absence of a new Secretary-General.

The regional organization is still functioning, sending an electoral observer in the recent Ecuadorian Constitutional Referendum. But surprisingly, the CNE hasn’t invited them to our recently postponed presidential election. Instead, the government wants the United Nations and the Caribbean Community.

Going back to the excellent Vistazo article, it’s quite notable how the B.R. of V. has pushed UNASUR back to the past. Bolivia and Ecuador have paid for most expenses (65 and 60 million dollars respectively), including infrastructure costs.

UNASUR’s main building in Quito has been recognized for its avant-garde design, but structures made as symbols of regional integration don’t pay for themselves. In Bolivia, the brand new UNASUR Parliament is under construction in Cochabamba. It was supposed to be ready last year, but the inauguration is now set for April.

The fading of UNASUR, like CELAC, PetroCaribe or the ALBA (now a lame excuse to have get-togethers in Caracas), is proof that the the “multipolar world” that the late comandante eterno once proposed was only a mirage built on the back of high oil prices.