The Union of South American Nations, known by its acronym UNASUR, is an intergovernmental organization formed by the twelve countries of South America. The Constitutive Treaty of the bloc was signed on 23 May 2008, in Brasilia, Brazil.
Its main goal is to build, in a participatory and consensual basis, a space of articulation in the cultural, social, economic and political spheres in order to develop projects and initiatives in a range of areas, such as health, education, infrastructure and the environment.
To achieve the specific goals, however, the countries have committed themselves to the broader mission of reducing socioeconomic inequalities, promoting citizen participation, strengthening democracy and reducing asymmetries between and within countries, within a framework of sovereignty and independence.
The organization has four official languages: Spanish, Dutch, English and Portuguese, the first two are the working languages of the bloc.
UNASUR set up a dynamic structure that involves various levels of national governments. It also counts with its own institutions to maintain the sustainability of its initiatives over time.
Council of Heads of State and Government
The maximum instance of the bloc meets ordinarily once a year and has the function of determining its political guidelines, approving action plans and deciding on the proposals of the Sectoral Councils (see below). Their decisions are guided by consensus, that is, they are only taken with the approval of all countries.
Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs
The body composed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the countries implements the decisions taken within the framework of the Council of Heads of State and Government. For such purpose, it establishes Working Groups and approves the bloc’s general budget.
Council of Delegates
Composed by one representative of each country, the delegates conduct previous negotiations about what will be deliberated by the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. It also coordinates the Working Groups.
This body executes the mandates conferred to it by the organisms of the bloc and performs its representation by their express delegation. Besides, it works on the preparation of meetings and the filing of the documents of the Bloc. The General Secretary is appointed by the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and approved by the Council of Heads of State and Government for a two-year mandate that can be renewed once.
Pro Tempore Presidency
The Presidency of the bloc is held by one of the Member States each year, following the alphabetical order of the countries’ names. Its responsibilities are to convene and to preside over meetings, to present the annual program of UNASUR activities to the Councils of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and others.
The Permanent Instances
UNASUR has two permanent bodies: one dedicated to the study of health-related issues, the ISAGS, based in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and another dedicated to the study of issues related to defense, the CEED, with its headquarter in Buenos Aires (Argentina).
The political instances of consultation, composed, in general, by the Ministers of the Member States of the respective areas of integration on their respective sectors. The Health Council of South America, for example, is composed by the Ministers of Health of the countries of the bloc:
The Council’s objective is to consolidate South America as a space of integration in health that contributes for the development of the region and encompasses sub-regional efforts and achievements of Mercosur, ORAS-CONHU and ACTO.
The specific aims of the Council are to promote common policies, identify critical social determinants of health, strengthen the Ministries and health institutions of the Member States and to promote information systems, among others. Its actions are oriented by the Five-Year Strategic Plan 2010-2015.
In 2011, the South American Institute of Government in Health was created, with the objectives of leadership formation, knowledge management and technical support to health systems.
Also known as UNASUR-Social, it aims to contribute for the establishment of conditions for the development of fairer, more participative, solidary and democratic societies, as well as to promote mechanisms of solidarity cooperation in social policies for the reduction of the asymmetries and the deepening of the integration process.
Therefore, the Council pursues the development of policies that allow the confrontation of the impacts of the global crisis and the stimulation of the exchange of good practices for the fight against inequality.
The Observatory for Human Social Development and Inclusion was instituted on the Biennial Plan 2009-2011 and started to operate in 2010.
The COSIPLAN is a strategic instance that intends to develop infrastructure for regional integration, with the recognition and continuation of the achievements and advances of the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA). It also aims to make the Member States’ normative frameworks compatible regarding development and operation, as well as to identify and boost the execution of priority projects on integration and to evaluate alternatives for their financing.
Some of its specific objectives are the construction of infrastructure networks for physical integration, in attention to social and economic sustainable development principles, and the fostering of the intensive use of information and communication technology in order to overcome geographical and operational barriers on the region.
It is the organ responsible for the development of programs regarding education in South America. It used to be part of the South American Council of Education, Culture, Science, Technology and Innovation (COSECCTI), which was dismembered in November 2012 with the objective of better accomplishing their mandates in the framework of UNASUR’s Constitutive Treaty.
This Council is responsible for the development of programs concerning culture in South America. As well as the Council of Education, it used to be part of South American Council of Education, Culture, Science, Technology and Innovation (COSECCTI), which was dismembered in November 2012.
The organ is responsible for the development of programs regarding Science, Technology and Innovation in South America. It also used to be part of South American Council of Education, Culture, Science, Technology and Innovation (COSECCTI), which was dismembered in November 2012.
This is an instance of consultation, coordination and cooperation between the Member Countries in relation to security, justice and actions against transnational crime. The countries emphasize that the word “citizen” on the Council’s name refers to the role it will play on the fostering of social inclusion, participation and gender equality.
The Council was created to act in coordination with the Council for the Global Drug Problem.
This Council aims to construct a South American identity to face the problem of drugs and to strengthen friendship and confidence relations between countries, as well as to promote the articulation of consensual positions on the issue in multilateral fora.
Among its specific objectives are the identification of the possibilities of harmonization of criminal, civil, administrative and public policies regulations. In order to strengthen the institutional capacities of the national organisms acting on this matter, the Council is carrying out the implementation of the Mechanism of Regular Consultations of Judicial, Police, Finance, Customs authorities and Bodies against Drugs in South American Countries, in order to promote the exchange of good practices and stimulate judicial, police and intelligence cooperation.
Also known as SCD, it aims at the development of a doctrine of regional defense and at the consolidation of the subcontinent as a peace zone, and a base for democratic stability and integral development of the people.
Among its specific objectives are the promotion of the exchange of information and experiences related to the formation and modernization of the armed forces, the articulation of common positions in multilateral fora and the support on humanitarian actions. The Register of Defense Expenditures, in implementation phase, is an important confidence building measure between States.
The Center for Strategic Defense Studies (CEED) is an important instance of the Council, as it studies and promotes measures destined to improve reciprocal confidence and cooperation in defense and security issues, such as expenditure homologation and transparency.
Besides the Ministers of Economy or their equivalents on the member countries, the Council also counts with the participation of the respective Central Banks presidents. It has the objective of promoting human and social development with equality and inclusion, economic development and growth that will overcome the asymmetries between States, financial integration through the adoption of mechanisms compatible with the economic policies and commercial and economic cooperation.
Among other specific goals, there is also the fostering of the use of local currencies, the production of periodical evaluations of the multilateral payments and crediting systems, the creation of a regional guarantee mechanism that facilitates the access to different forms of financing, the strengthening of the financial integration of UNASUR and the study of regulation mechanisms, among others.
Created in May 2007 during the First South American Energy Summit, this Council’s goals are to promote articulation on national energy policies and construct regional gas networks, systems of electrical interconnection, biofuel production programs, as well as related industrial activities on the field of exploration platforms and fuel transportation systems.
The text of the South American Energy Treaty is currently under negotiation, as a legal framework of reference for the action of the member countries in the field of energy.
It is a functional and technical body for the exchange of experiences, observation and following-up of electoral matters, and the promotion of citizenship and democracy. It is formed by electoral institutions and organisms. In June 2012, through the Bogota Declaration, the Council became part of the institutional structure of UNASUR.
In 2012, Peru demonstrated its wish to host the Center for the Study and Promotion of Democracy and Electoral Transparency.
UNASUR’s history and background
Throughout history, when the issue of regional integration was raised, the reference would sometimes be restricted to a small group, such as the Southern Cone, the Andean or Amazonian countries, or it would sometimes surpass to all Latin America, including the region of the Caribbean.
Since the 1960s many initiatives have pursued different regional integration models, for instance, the Latin American Free Trade Association (ALALC), the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), the Common South Market (Mercosur), the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA) and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN).
South America started to take shape as a political region in 2000 at the First South American Presidential Meeting, which took place in Brasilia. According to the communiqué presented by the Heads of State and Government, “its fulfilment is the result of the conviction that geographic contiguity and community of values lead to the need of a common agenda of specific opportunities and challenges, complementary to its treatment in other regional and international forums.”
The process gained momentum in 2004 at the Third Meeting that took place in Cuzco, Peru, in which the twelve Presidents decided to form a Community of South American Nations (CASA), later transformed into UNASUR at the Extraordinary Meeting of Heads of State in 2008, in Brasilia. Its Constitutive Treaty affirmed the “determination to build an identity and a South American citizenship and to develop a regional integrated zone (…) to contribute for the strengthening of the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean”.
It is important to remark that the subcontinental initiative does not disregard Latin American integration or the existing integration efforts in South America, such as Mercosur and CAN. The commitments of these institutions are different in both content and density, but it does not impede that future commitments of UNASUR are denser and therefore converged with those of CAN and Mercosur.