Press Release Latin America and the Caribbean Organization of American States World

New Report Proposes Relaunching UNASUR as Lula Appears Poised to Return to Brazil’s Presidency

October 18, 2022

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460Mail_Outline

Washington, DC — A new report proposes that South American governments relaunch the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), now that administrations committed to the cause of Latin American integration have taken office across South America. The report, by CEPR Senior Policy Analyst Guillaume Long, formerly foreign minister for Ecuador, and legal and regional integration expert Natasha Suñé, argues that the relaunching of UNASUR would be an effective means of advancing regional economic and political integration, as well as “updated nonalignment.” The idea may find favor in Brazil if left-leaning candidate Lula da Silva wins the upcoming elections; Lula has recently spoken in favor of revitalizing UNASUR and South American regionalism has been a long-standing Brazilian project, from which the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro radically departed. Lula’s foreign policy advisor (and former foreign minister) Celso Amorim has recently confirmed that a Lula administration would intend to rejoin UNASUR.

“Some of the region’s greatest achievements in the first decade and a half of the twentieth century came about through regional integration and the power of unity,” Long said. “The birth of UNASUR, for example, meant South America had its own body to deal with conflicts in and between its member states, without the need for Washington to be the ultimate arbiter of the region’s relations and crises.”

“Faced with an international system again marked by great power rivalries, especially between the United States and China, and in light of the great challenges of the twenty-first century, the Global South’s response should be the articulation of regional blocs that seek greater strategic autonomy and a renewed and updated nonalignment,” Long and Suñé write. A revitalized UNASUR could also spur greater economic diversification, a process of productive transformation away from South America’s excessive dependence on raw materials, and therefore greater regional independence. 

The report (available in full in Spanish, with an executive summary in English, Spanish, and Portuguese) examines the legality of UNASUR withdrawal announcements by nine governments in recent years and finds that in various cases, these governments have not taken the legal steps necessary to complete their departure from the regional body or have denounced the UNASUR treaty through irregular means. Moreover, Long and Suñé note that as long as at least two countries remain in the organization, UNASUR legally continues to exist. With so many countries’ failures to legally and officially leave UNASUR, it should be possible for several countries to rejoin.

UNASUR is a uniquely important regional body, Long and Suñé note. Whereas the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was formed as an alternative to the US-dominated Organization of American States, UNASUR “can move rapidly toward regional governance. Its smaller number of states and their greater levels of relative autonomy within the international system enables the organization to move faster toward both physical and normative integration.” Further, they suggest, “UNASUR and CELAC are . . . symbiotic, not mutually exclusive.”

Long and Suñé also urge governments to learn from the past and make reforms to ensure UNASUR’s sustainability: “A new UNASUR will undoubtedly require important institutional and normative changes. These should be designed to ensure that UNASUR is a more sustainable, effective, and resilient organization, capable of withstanding the political and ideological shifts that characterize the region and of guaranteeing the continuity of integration in the long term.” Long and Suñé put forward suggested normative changes to address regular decision-making, loss of institutional memory, and other vulnerabilities that resulted from UNASUR’s previous governance.

While Long and Suñé recognize the reemergence of left governments throughout South America as presenting an opportunity for UNASUR’s relaunch, they argue that its regional integration goals should transcend left/right politics: “This yearning for a more cohesive South America, which predates the wave of progressive governments of the 2000s . . . can and should become a national interest that transcends political swings from left to right in the various states of the region.”

Left-wing or left-of-center governments currently hold office in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. If Lula is elected in Brazil, South America’s biggest economies, as well as the vast majority of its territory and population, will be under left-of-center governments.

The South American Community of Nations was created in 2004, and was renamed UNASUR in 2007. In May 2008, the presidents of South America gathered at a summit in Brasilia and signed the Constitutive Treaty of UNASUR. Between 2009 and 2011, the legislative branches of each of the 12 South American countries ratified the UNASUR treaty.

Ahead of the release of his report, Long has written op-eds that have been published by Folha de São Paulo in Brazil (the largest circulation newspaper in Latin America), InfoBae in Argentina, Revista RAYA in Colombia, and other publications calling for UNASUR’s renewal.


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