Lula calls for group to discuss cooperation model with South American presidents

During a summit in Brasilia with South American leaders, the Brazilian presidential candidate seeks to overcome resistance to UNASUR

May 30, 2023 by Julio Adamor
"We let ideologies divide us and interrupt the integration effort.” Lula said (Ricardo Stuckert/PR)

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reemphasized on Tuesday May 30 during the opening of the Summit of South American Presidents in Brasilia, the importance of revitalizing the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) as a way to strengthen regional integration. He added that the nation is open to suggestions about the institutional design that can work best to carry this process forward, regardless of ideological inclinations.

UNASUR, according to him, was an effective endeavor in the solution of disputes, in the reduction of deforestation, in the achievement of citizenship benefits, among other advantages. “We have not solved all our problems, but we have been willing to face them, instead of ignoring them,” said Lula. “Our South America has stopped being just a geographical reference and has become a political reality.”

However, the president knows that there is resistance to UNASUR among neighboring countries. According to a Folha de São Paulo report, representatives of leaders invited to this meeting expressed that they do not agree with an integration based only on the revitalization of UNASUR. They argued that this process should be centered on pragmatic cooperation and that it should survive the rotation of power.

Soon after he was elected, at the beginning of last year, Chilean President Gabriel Boric defended regional solutions to the migration crisis generated by the Venezuelan exodus, and also a Latin American economic and environmental agenda independent of the ideological affinities of the leaders of the time.

UNASUR, which was founded in 2008, was rendered not functional in 2019 when the region was presided over by right-wing leaders, including Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

“We let ideologies divide us and interrupt the effort of integration. We have abandoned channels of dialogue and mechanisms of cooperation, and with that, we have all lost,” argued the current Brazilian president, who also said, “We have no preconceived ideas about the future institutional design we could adopt. We want to dialogue and know everyone’s opinion.”

Of the 12 South American countries, five (Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador) are no longer part of UNASUR. Lula acknowledged that it is necessary to “critically evaluate what has not worked and take these lessons into account.”

Besides the critical review, the president put forward for debate some practical suggestions. One of them is to relativize the rule of consensus, which “could be restricted to substantive issues, preventing impasses in the administrative spheres from paralyzing our activities. Recently, at the G7 summit in Japan, Lula also criticized the need for consensus in UN Security Council decision-making.

Another suggestion presented by Lula is the creation of a “High Level Group,” to be integrated by personal representatives of each president, to continue the work of reflection. This group, according to the Brazilian president, should present a “road map” for South American integration within 120 days.

Climate and Trade

Other important topics in the president’s speech were climate and trade. About the first, he claimed that the “lack of collective action affects our ability to contain the increase in global temperature.” Regarding the latter, considered by the Brazilian government as an essential factor to sensitize countries about the advantages of integration, Lula suggested some initiatives for his colleagues’ consideration:

  • Putting regional savings at the service of economic and social development, mobilizing development banks such as CAF, Fonplata, Banco del Sur and BNDES;
  • Deepening our South American identity also in the monetary area, through more efficient clearing mechanisms and the creation of a common reference unit for trade, reducing dependence on extra-regional currencies;
  • Implementing regulatory convergence initiatives, facilitating and de-bureaucratization procedures for the export and import of goods;
  • Expanding state-of-the-art cooperation mechanisms, involving services, investment, e-commerce and competition policy.

This article was originally published in Portuguese at Brasil de Fato.