RIO DE JANEIRO – Last month, the leaders of all 12 countries of South America (except one) gathered in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, for the summit of the Union of South American Nations. UNASUR or UNASUL (depending on whether one speaks Spanish or Portuguese) was established by the twelve presidents in Brasília in May 2008 with the aim of furthering economic and political integration. Instead, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez hijacked the Quito meeting to propagate his Bolivarian Revolution and expound his own ideas for the continent’s future as independent of the United States.
Thanks to America’s recently announced military agreement with Colombia, Chávez’s ideas got more of a hearing than might have been expected. For, instead of infrastructure plans, commercial or environmental treaties, or even multilateral action against such common problems as violence and poverty, the issue that dominated both press accounts and the speeches at the gathering was the new US-Colombian military agreement, announced less than a month before the summit.
To no one’s surprise, Chávez dominated the criticism of the pact. He claimed that the “Winds of war are blowing,” and that the announcement of the military agreement “can transform itself into a tragedy.”
Unfortunately, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe was absent from the meeting. Colombia and Ecuador broke diplomatic relations in March 2008, after Colombia’s army pursued FARC guerillas, who have been fighting Colombia’s government for decades, into Ecuadorean territory. So Uribe could not defend the new military agreement.