Foreign Policy Blogs

UNASUR: A Union Lacking Unity?

On Monday most presidents of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met at a summit in Quito to discuss issues of regional interest. Notably, President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia was not in attendance due to his country’s strained relations with Ecuador.

One topic not on the official agenda but raised during discussions was the recent agreement by Colombia to allow US access to seven of its military bases, for use in anti-drug operations. This would replace the base currently at Manta, Ecuador after the agreement for access there will expire, without renewal, on November 12, 2009.

Beyond a planned gathering of Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers on August 24 to further discuss the military bases, President Luiz Ignacio Lula de Silva of Brazil called for an emergency meeting with representatives of the United States.

In somewhat typical form, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez took a more bellicose stance. Using dramatic language he stated that the “winds of war blow through the region”, and declared that Venezuela would respond to any aggression with significant military force.

On Sunday, during his radio program “Alo Presidente”, Chávez accused Colombian troops of foraying into Venezuelan territory. In addition, he asserted that US commanders were leading these troops, and that the United States desired conflict between Colombia and Venezuela. (As a side note, a contact in Caracas who has interacted with the Venezuelan military confirmed that some of his colleagues truly believe that the United States may some day invade. They continue to plan and conduct training exercises in preparation.)

What is most disconcerting is that beyond these accusations and rhetoric the Venezuelan president has taken steps in recent months to fortify his country’s military capabilities. This includes the forthcoming purchase of more than 30 Russian tanks, which will be added to the 24 fighter planes, 50 helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikovs acquired in previous years.

Should the Venezuelan president truly desire armed conflict, the stage appears set.

Then again, the tough talk by Chávez may – hopefully, for the sake of regional peace – be grandstanding, more than an indication of future military action. In late July he decided to “freeze” trade along the border with Colombia in response to accusations that Venezuelan weapons ended up in the hands of FARC rebels. Despite this strain in relations, however, Chávez restored his country’s ambassador to Bogotá over the weekend.

 

Author

David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.