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The Union of South American Nations – UNASUR – was an ambitious project to integrate South America not just on economic terms, but also on political and social terms, but the rightward drift in Latin America is leading to its dissolution, with the unfortunate help of Ecuador’s government, where its headquarters are, says former foreign minister Guillaume Long

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.

The Union of South American Nations, also known as UNASUR, seems to be in the process of disintegrating. Last April, six of the regional groups’ twelve member countries announced the suspension of their membership because of a lack of consensus over the appointment of a new secretary general for the group. The six member countries suspending membership are all controlled by conservative governments: Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Paraguay. Then, last week, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, whose country hosts the organization’s headquarters in Quito, saw that UNASUR should turn over the building to Ecuador, since it was not being properly used anymore. He followed that announcement up by saying that the building will be given to the indigenous organization [inaudible], which would house its university in the building.

Joining me now to discuss the fate of UNASUR is Guillaume Long. Guillaume was foreign minister under Rafael Correa from 2016-2017, as well as Ecuador’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, but resigned last January because of political differences with the Moreno administration. Thanks for joining us again, Guillaume.


GREG WILPERT: So UNASUR was launched back in 2008, almost exactly 10 years ago, and in some ways people have this idea that it would be modeled a little bit after the European Union. And back then, most but not all governments in the region had progressive governments. And it had important ambitions, such as the creation of a regional currency, a regional bank of the South, and major infrastructure projects. But what’s the situation now? I mean, was the UNASUR project just a fairweather project that could only survive as long as there were progressive governments that were interested in regional integration? How do you make sense of its falling apart at this moment?

GUILLAUME LONG: There’s a few questions there. I think the falling apart of the UNASUR, which looks more and more increasingly likely, unfortunately, is highly symbolic of what’s going on in Latin America. There’s a real, not only a return of the right, but a real backlash against progressive forces pretty much everywhere in Latin America, with an emboldened sort of geopolitical return of the United States trying to get back in its backyard, which is another term that we Latin Americans particularly like. But I think we all understand what it means.

And yeah, and part of that agenda is getting rid of the UNASUR. Which is a real shame, because as you said, the UNASUR was a real integration project, and the boldest in the kind of most integral of senses. Yes, it did mirror, in many ways, the European Union. Because it wasn’t just, it wasn’t either just a commercial free trade zone, or a political agreement, or an area of governance. It was all of those things, and much more. It was the parliament which was going to be, just like the European Union has a parliament, which was going to be physically based in Bolivia. It had a secretary general with a strong executive there, which, as you said, was going to be in Ecuador. It was a really very important, and I would say the first real strong integration mechanism. MERCOSUR played a role, the [inaudible] community played a role, but there’s nothing with the same vision and the same kind of holistic vision that the UNASUR had for the South American continent.

And it wasn’t supposed to be partisan. The idea was that you could be of different, different political tendencies. In fact, we did have governments of different political tendencies, and kind of believe in integration as a very important way of asserting the South American continent in the world platform, in the world scene, to act much more united, to integrate our economies, to create all sorts of things that would make us stronger and more sovereign. Because primary economies were economies that are essentially based on raw materials, and compete against each other. This process of kind of competing against each other in a race to the bottom is bad. It’s bad economically, and it’s bad in terms of sovereignty, because we’re more vulnerable and it’s easier for great powers like the United States to divide and rule.

So the UNASUR was a great project. Unfortunately not everybody’s understood that, and I think the elites that are back in power in many countries are on a real mission of real revenge against these progressive governments that dared to change the status quo, redistribute a little bit of wealth, and kind of diversify relations and, you know, start kind of trading and talking to different partners, the BRICS, so on and so forth. And they’re on a, on a mission to destroy all this legacy. And one of the things that they’re destroying, unfortunately, is the UNASUR. You mentioned six countries. I think they’ve used the pretext of the absence of the secretary general to at least temporarily kind of withdraw from the UNASUR, and kind of say, well, we’ll go back to the UNASUR if you find a secretary general. I think they did it also right when Bolivia, which is one of the progressive governments left in South America, was assuming the position of world-. Was, was taking on the presidency, was receiving the presidency from the hands of Argentina. So I think the timing was also sort of sabotage of the Bolivian presidency of UNASUR.

But yeah, I mean, the urgency is to find a secretary general to take away that pretext. And here I think all parties should be flexible, including progressive parties, including Bolivia, Venezuela, who should understand that maybe they’re not a majority now, and we need a secretary general because clearly the lesser of evils is to have a secretary general rather than not have one and not have UNASUR. But I think there is a clear political agenda behind the weakening of the UNASUR.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s turn to the role also now of Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno in all of this. He came into office promising to deepen what his predecessor Correa called the Citizens Revolution. Is he abandoning this integration project now? And if so, why? I mean, what do you think is behind Moreno’s effort to take over the building? I mean, is this really a rejection of integration on the part of Moreno?

GUILLAUME LONG: Yeah. I mean, as you said, he came on a platform that was a progressive platform. And actually, in his electoral program, in the documents that he was circulating in order to be elected, which is important Ecuadorian law. If you’re in breach of the things that you offer, the promises that you make, there can be all sorts of process. I mean, it could go all the way to an impeachment. And I don’t think these things happen lightly. But certainly it has a certain legal value and a legal weight, the kind of things that you’re elected on. They’re serious. And one of the things that he promised was to continue to fight for UNASUR. And now we’re seeing him really weakening the UNASUR. He’s basically said terrible things about the UNASUR, denigrating it, weakening it over the last few days.

And now he’s offering to hand the very emblematic, symbolic building of the secretary general of UNASUR, which is just outside Quito. First there were talks that he was going to recuperate it as a public building. Now he’s talking of doing a university for the indigenous movement, which is, which is handy, because he needed the indigenous movement on board just a few days after the indigenous movement was showing signs of being critical of the latest neoliberal bill that Moreno has passed in parliament. So having this kind of, yeah, I mean, a clienteleistic relationship, whereby the government offers this tremendous building to the indigenous movement in exchange for their silence speaks very badly of the government. It also speaks quite badly of indigenous movement, who’s kind of playing that game and endangering endangering the UNASUR.

So yes, I mean, Ecuador is now one of the countries that is going against UNASUR, endangering UNASUR. Maybe it’s not a consequence, a coincidence that this happened just a few days after Vice President Pence’s visit to Quito. There’s clearly a whole agenda of moving away from a progressive foreign policy to a much more kind of, you know, sort of traditional inter-American bond with the United States. Top-down sort of traditional Latin American relationship with the United States and right-wing prerogatives in terms of foreign policy. So I think it’s very sad, and I think it’s very important that the people of UNASUR fight for that legacy, the huge strategic importance of UNASUR, to overcome the, you know, normal changes and shifts that happen in countries’ politics.

You know, the opposition comes, and then another, the right wing comes, the left wing comes, and this is kind of part of the democratic game. But to endanger the integration of South America, which is so important for South America, I think is one of the strategic things that South America needs in order to achieve development and sovereignty, is, I think, irresponsible. And what a shame that Ecuador is now part of that.

GREG WILPERT: To conclude I just want to turn briefly on the issue that you mentioned about CONAIE, because it’s something that a lot of people are, I would say, perhaps a little bit unclear about what their role in Ecuadorean politics has been. I mean, originally I believe they supported Correa’s election when he first ran, then turned against him, and then even supported the conservative or the right-wing candidate Guillermo Lasso against Moreno at one point. So in the election last year, a year and a half ago.

So tell us a little bit about CONAIE, and the role it plays right now in Ecuadorean politics and in the Moreno government.

GUILLAUME LONG: Wll, the CONAIE, it’s very sad, because the CONAIE is the biggest Indigenous movement in Ecuador and they were the beacon of, I would say one of the beacons of, anti-neoliberal grassroots politics in Latin America. In the 1990s they were really an inspiration for all of the strongest indigenous movements in Latin America, by far. And it was, you know, they did they had a very sophisticated outlook, and very critical of neoliberalism, and very critical of U.S. imperialism, and all sorts of, they were a guiding force for the left. Unfortunately there has been, what’s been going on for a while now, since their alliance with the former president of Ecuador who did very badly and betrayed them in the early 2000s, the CONAIE has been going downhill. They were never really fully on board with Correa, even in his first election. They refused, Correa asked them to have a vice presidential candidate. It wasn’t going to be Lenin Moreno. It was going to be an indigenous leader from the CONAIE. They refused. They didn’t really back him. It was only in the second round, in the runoff, that they went for what they probably, I think what even they call the lesser evil of Correa. So it was never really a strong-. There were some then alliances during the constituent process, but it’s never been an easy relationship.

And unfortunately we’ve seen the CONAIE, the good elements of the CONAIE, which may be a strategic mistake, leaving the CONAIE, even joining the government, the more sophisticated elements of the CONAIE, the more enlightened elements of the CONAIE, joining the government. And then some really very sort of what we call ethnicists, almost xenophobic sectors staying in the CONAIE, then being seriously permeated by foreign interests, I would say, to put it mildly. And maybe it’s a euphemism. And then eventually to back the hard right neoliberal candidate in the last presidential elections. The CONAIE supported him. It’s, you know, it’s very, very sad, because they were really a beacon of the left, and they’re clearly not anymore. So once again they’re being manipulated, and this time it’s very, very serious. Because they’re a tool of the end, or what we hope isn’t the end, but a serious threat against one of the most hopeful processes of the last ten years, which this, creation of this South American integration mechanism, the UNASUR. And I think they’re co-responsible for its demise.

GREG WILPERT: OK. We’re going to leave it there. I’m speaking to Guillaume Long, former foreign minister under Rafael Correa, and former ambassador to the UN and Geneva under President Moreno. Thanks for having joined us today.

GUILLAUME LONG: Thank you very much.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. Also, as usual I want to remind you that we’re in the midst of our summer fundraiser and need your help to reach our goal of raising $200000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. Unlike practically all other news outlets, we do not accept support from governments or corporations. Please do what you can today.

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Guillaume Long was Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent and Minister of Culture under President of Ecuador Rafael Correa. Long was recently Ecuador’s ambassador permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, but resigned last January because of political differences with the Moreno administration.