Ernesto Samper, the former secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), has expressed his deep “anguish” over recent threats to the continuation of the group and has decried the current United States administration's growing influence within the region and the belligerence it has shown.
During an interview with teleSUR's Enclave Politica (or political enclave) Tuesday evening the former Colombian president said he is worried for what's been happening with Unasur and highlighted the organization “emerged as a response to three demands. First to preserve the peaceful condition of the South American region, second to preserve democratic continuity in Latin America, let’s not forget that 40 or 50 years ago these governments were ruled by ruthless dictatorships, and third to guarantee human rights.”
On the question of whether ideological concerns motivated six of Unasur's 12 member states to "temporarily” withdraw from the organization Samper explained that Unasur functions as a laboratory for public policies and that achivements such as the travel and work policies that allow migrants from Unasur countries to work in other Unasur countries "with no more that an ID that shows the person is a South American citizen" is not ideological.
"We can't allow day-to-day political differences to prevent us from seeing the big picture of South American integration," Samper stressed.
During a previous interview with Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 Samper warned Unasur’s fate depends on whether the position taken by the six countries is ideological or strategic, to force the organization to name a new secretary general.
Since Samper ended his term in January 2017, members states have been unable to elect a new secretary-general.
However, during the teleSUR interview he recognized there are "voices of disintegration that would prefer for all of us to meet in Washington."
Samper also explained that although some would prefer to have a sole integration mechanism like the Organization of American States (OAS), that didn't work for South America.
"Unasur created the South American Defense Council. What did we do in the InterAmerican Defense Council? Our high-ranking military officers went to meetings where they were sold the hypothesis of intraregional conflict between neighbors... Today the council meets and works under the hypothesis of mutual trust to identify great challenges like drug trafficking, terrorism, human trafficking, environmental issues..."
As a first step to solve the crisis Samper proposed member states can agree to choose the next secretary general through a majority, rather than the consensus mechanism, which has become its "greatest problem."
In an interview with Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 Samper also lamented the region's state of disintegration, which according to him was evident in during the VIII Summit of the Americas.
“We didn’t discuss the situation of Latino migrants in the United States, the construction of the wall with Mexico, the reversal of the policy of opening up to Cuba... Never had the United States agenda in Latin America been so aggressive. And never have we been so silent and so obsequious with the United States.”
Samper said these issues and not the political debate centered on banning Venezuela from participating in the summit at the behest of the so-called Lima Group should have been the focus of the meeting.