Jagdeo takes over helm of UNASUR

–urges focus on democracy, political unity

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo has assumed the Chairmanship of the South America integration group UNASUR with a list of what he thinks should come next for the grouping with closer political integration a priority.

Jagdeo has succeeded Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa as Pro Tempore President of UNASUR. At the opening of its Fourth Regular Summit yesterday he told the assembled presidents, foreign ministers and their delegations that they needed to abandon the abstraction that the body currently is and he suggested four action areas to deliver on the vision for South America.

“Firstly, we should ask ourselves what must UNASUR do to create a South American democratic identity which helps democracy to become so entrenched in all our societies that nobody in any of our countries can even contemplate taking power in any other way.”

His remark was a clear reference to September’s incident in Ecuador where protesting police tear-gassed President  Correa and forced him to seek haven in a hospital until order was restored by the army. Correa, who Jagdeo succeeded as Pro Tempore, later said the incident was an attempted coup. The “democracy clause” is believed to have been born out of this attempted coup and seeks to protect the continuity of democratic order in member states.

Ironically, the remarks also flowed from a meeting attended by serving heads of state of two of Guyana’s neighbours: Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Desi Bouterse   of Suriname who led or attempted military coups prior to acceding democratically to office.

Jagdeo called for the leaders to commit to doing whatever needs to be done for the establishment of a UNASUR parliament or the coordination of legislative efforts whichever was more desirable. Further, he urged them to be uncompromising in the implementation of the democratic protocol agreed to yesterday.
“We must not change our positions based on the ideology of the countries that are subjected to disruption of the democratic constitutional order. I know some countries do that in this world; depending on the ideology of the country under threat their position on adhering to democratic norms change. We must ensure that this doesn’t happen in our region,” President Jagdeo stated.

Secondly, he said, UNASUR must explore what it needs to do to realise greater economic prosperity for all of the countries as they ensure social progress for the citizenry.

“Getting this balance right has occupied nations for centuries but when it comes to creating an economy that serves all our people we in South America know from experience that if we are to safeguard our peoples’ welfare we must build economic models that avoid destructive cycles where periods of prosperity are followed by significant loss of welfare,” he said.

According to Jagdeo, the period of accepting externally imposed doctrine is over for the simple reason that they did not work. He added that the region’s progress during the recent global crisis shows that economies do best when they are built on models that reflect “homegrown realities and knowledge.”

It is from this shared insight that a continental economic framework could be built that allows for different national approaches and integration to realise the continental destiny.

“If we build this framework we can position South America to lead the world in meeting the next wave of economic opportunity. Our immense natural resources and energy sources can fuel not just South Americans but global industrialisation and growth.”

He singled out the growing world population together with the resulting demand for food as an area of opportunity for the continent’s agricultural industries.

‘New humility’

President Jagdeo’s third suggestion was that UNASUR explore ways to use its influence to shape a better world. He called for democratisation of the UN and specifically its Security Council and the reformation of the World Trade Organisation to ensure developing countries are included in the world markets. He also reiterated a well-worn call for the reform of the international financial architecture.

“I hope the crisis of recent years will generate a new humility in the international financial institutions and that that they would recognise that while they were upturning the bureaucracies of the developing world in search of theoretical risks, they were not equipped or did not have the will to deal with the actual risks that emerged and brought the world to the brink of economic catastrophe,” the Russia-trained economist said.

According to Jagdeo, UNASUR has to develop workable home-grown solutions to solve other international problems such as the fight against narco-crimes, international terrorism and global financial corruption.  However, he stated that the nations need to be treated as genuine partners in the search for solutions.
“For example, if the countries that stimulate the demand for illegal narcotics simply lecture us without recognising that they too suffer from major limitations in their inability to stop these crimes or to limit demand for narcotics it is difficult to reach solutions.”

The final suggestion was for coordinated action to gain international support to avoid catastrophic climate change, an issue Jagdeo has been championing in recent years.

“Our continent already makes a greater contribution in the fight against climate change than any other on earth. Countries from South America are the most advanced in the world on production of new clean fuels to power transportation and will see new models of agriculture emerging from our nations that would help provide our peoples and people around the world with food security …”   He also noted the utility of the Amazon forests to the world and stated that the region could become the “world’s centre of excellence” in the fight against climate change.” But the president stated that there needs to be meaningful action and support from the developed world since they produce the bulk of the gases which have accumulated in the atmosphere.  He also called for them to be present at the upcoming climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

“We should speak with a powerful voice, … a South American voice, urging a legally binding climate change treaty urging that the developed world take responsibility for what they have done to our planet,” Jagdeo said to applause.

Meanwhile, the president urged that the grouping work to soon identify a Secretary-General to succeed Argentina’s late former president Nestor Kirchner.
Jagdeo later delivered a tribute to Kirchner whose wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is that country’s president and who was present at yesterday’s summit.

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