The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is a regional organism formed by the twelve countries of South America, which aims to build, in a participatory and consensual basis, a space of articulation in cultural, social, economic and political spheres. The Constitutive Treaty of the bloc was signed in Brasilia, on 23 May 2008, during the Extraordinary Meeting of the Council of Heads of State and Government. The treaty came into effect on 11 March 2011. In October of the same year, the bloc was granted with observer status at the United Nations General Assembly.

Among UNASUR priorities are the political dialogue, social policies, education, energy, infrastructure, financing and environment, on account of the development of peace and security, the promotion of social inclusion and citizen participation, as well as the strengthening of democracy and the reduction of asymmetries, taking into consideration the States’ sovereignty and independence.

The bloc is formed by the Council of Heads of State and Government, the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Council of Delegates, the General Secretariat and by the Pro Tempore Presidency, which is held by one of the member states, and rotates in alphabetical order on a yearly basis. Considering the diversity of the member countries, the organism has four official languages: Spanish, Dutch, English and Portuguese


Council of Heads of State and Government

This is the bloc’s chief organ, which reinforces its intergovernmental characteristic. The Council’s main duties are the determination of the political action guidelines and action plans, and decision-making about other Council’s proposals. The Council must carry out at least one annual ordinary meeting, but there is the possibility of extraordinary meetings with a request from a Member State to the Pro Tempore Presidency, and with the other States’ consent.

Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

This body is responsible for the adoption of resolutions for the implementation of the decisions of the Council of Heads of State, for the development and promotion of dialogue and agreement in regional and international matters, for the approval of the annual budget for the bloc’s functioning, and for the creation of Work Groups in the framework of the priorities established by the Council of Heads of State. It carries out semi-annual meetings, but the Pro Tempore Presidency may summon extraordinary meetings with the petition of half of the Member-States.

Council of Delegates

Formed by one representative of each country, this Council’s function is to conduct previous negotiations, elaborate projects of Decisions, Resolutions and Regulations to be deliberated by the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and to coordinate the Work Groups, among others. Its meetings are preferably bimestrial and, in general, they take place at the country in charge of the Pro Tempore Presidency.

General Secretariat

This body executes the mandates conferred to it by the organs 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, among others. The General Secretary is appointed by the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and approved by the Council of Heads of State and Government (or Council of Presidents). The position is held for a two-year mandate that can be renewed once and cannot be succeeded by a representative of the same nationality.

Pro Tempore Presidency

It is held by one of the Member States each year, following the alphabetical order of the countries’ names. Its responsibilities are to preside over meetings, to present the annual program of UNASUR activities to the Councils of Chancellors and Delegates, to represent the bloc in international events and to sign declarations and agreements with third parties.

Sectorial Councils

UNASUR also comprises its sectorial councils, which are political instances of consultation and consensus, composed, in general, by the Ministers of the Member States of the respective areas of integration on their respective sectors. Their Bylaws define the principles and the objectives, based on the values agreed on the Constitutive Treaty.

South American Health Council

South American Council on Social Development

South American Council for Infrastructure and Planning

South American Council of Education

South American Council of Culture

South American Council of Science, Technology and Innovation

South American Council on Citizen Security, Justice and Coordination of Actions against Transnational Organized Crime

Council for the Global Drug Problem

South American Council for Defense

South American Council on Finance and Economy

South American Energetic Council

Electoral Council

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 countries, the Andean or Amazonian countries, or it would sometimes surpass Latin American, also 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 impetus 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. Thusly, the 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.

UNASUR has unveiled itself as an instrument for the pacific solution of regional controversies and for the strengthening of the protection of democracy in South America. Shortly after its creation, the organization played an important role on the mediation of the separatist crisis of Pando, in Bolivia, 2008.

In 2009, in the so-called Bariloche Decision, the leaders of the continent committed to “establish a mutual trust mechanism in matters of defense and security”, to renounce the use of force and to elaborate a South American strategy on the fight against illegal drugs traffic, among others. There has been much progress in this area, such as the recent implementation of a South American Registry of Defense Expenditure and the inauguration of the Center for Strategic Defense Studies (CEED) in Buenos Aires.

In 2010, an institutional crisis in Ecuador and a coup d’état in Honduras generated a reflexion on the continuity of the democratic normality. UNASUR’s response was quick: in the same year, the bloc’s Heads of State decided to incorporate the Additional Protocol to the Constitutive Treaty on the Commitment to Democracy, which established concrete measures to be adopted by the Member States of UNASUR in situations of rupture of the constitutional order. The Protocol was adopted at the Georgetown Summit in Guyana, in November 2010.

Other priorities of the group, such as cooperation and continental solidarity, were materialized mostly after the earthquake that devastated Haiti in February 2010, and was considered one of the biggest catastrophes of the Americas. By August of the same year, the South American leaders created the Technical Secretariat of UNASUR-Haiti. Altogether, the State members have created a 100 million dollars fund for the implementation of 144 projects, established in accordance with the priorities of the Haitian government. Other77 projects are under implementation.

In 2014, in a moment of political instability in Venezuela, UNASUR sent a mission of chancellors to the country in order to support the promotion of a pacific environment, favourable to encourage dialogue between the government and other political, economic and social actors.

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