May 24, 2008
Twelve South American nations agreed to create Unasur, similar to the European Union. But the countries did not agree on its purpose.
BRASILIA -- A new South American union was created Friday as leaders of the region's 12 nations set out to create a continental parliament.
Some see the new Union of South American Nations, known as Unasur, as a regional version of the European Union. Summit host Brazil wants it to help coordinate defense affairs across South America and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez calls it a counterweight to the United States.
''The No. 1 enemy of the union of the south is the empire of the United States,'' Chávez said, claiming that the U.S. government is ''trying to generate wars in South America'' to ``divide and conquer.''
But some South American leaders still found their own reasons for division.
Unasur's first secretary-general, Rodrigo Borja, resigned Thursday before the organization formally met. He complained that some leaders had balked at his vision of putting other regional trade blocs, including Mercosur and the Andean Community, under Unasur.
Leaders were also split over plans for a South American Defense Council that would resolve conflicts, promote military cooperation and possibly coordinate joint weapons production.
Colombia is the only nation that opposes joining such a council, saying ''the terrorist threat'' it faces at home, amid 40 years of civil conflict, precludes military cooperation. Even so, a government statement added, ``Colombia does not oppose the creation of a working group to study the theme.''
Brazilian President Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva used his speech at the summit Friday to urge wealthier nations to cut farm subsidies and import tariffs, and he defended biofuels, including ethanol, which critics blame for rising food prices.
''We should not be fooled one bit by the arguments of those, who for protectionist or geopolitical motives, feel uncomfortable with our industry, our agriculture and with the realization of our energy potential,'' Silva told the leaders.
Unasur could ease future political tensions, promoting development on a continent where intra-regional trade topped $72 billion in 2006, experts say.
South America's economy is expected grow by 4.7 percent this year, according to the U.N.'s Economic Commission on Latin America. It expanded 5.7 percent in 2007, when foreign direct investment reached a record $106 billion as global demand for the region's natural resources soared.