The unexpected death of Nestor Kirchner, UNASUR’s first secretary general, has resulted in the nomination of some of the region’s diplomats for the job. Colombia and Venezuela have presented their candidates in what will be the first rivalry between them since Santos came to power.
But how important is it really for Colombia to have its candidate as the new secretary general of UNASUR? Realists and right-wing politicians say that UNASUR lacks any importance whatsoever because political regional integration is naive and even useless (just as they say that the OAS and the U.N. are). Some may say that UNASUR is just an instrument for populist-leftist governments to put pressure on liberal or center-right governments, going as far as saying that UNASUR is a puppet used by Chavez to further his agenda.
One fact that seems to undermine UNASUR’s relevance is that Brazil’s ex-President Lula has no interest in succeeding Kirchner, saying that he just wants to be an average citizen and take a rest from political life. This contradicts Lula’s former actions, which were aimed at making Brazil a relevant political force not only in the region but worldwide. Some even said that this was part of Lula’s plans of landing a high position in an international body (perhaps even as secretary general at the U.N.). According to this theory, UNASUR would be too low for his expectations. Or perhaps it’s because he thinks that it’s not worth the effort?
Despite all of the above, if Colombia’s candidate Maria Emma Mejia were to be appointed as the new secretary general, then Colombia could see significant benefits: Its international image would continue to improve, its relations with Latin American states would be healthier, and it could potentially use this discussion forum to further its international agenda in order to fight drugs and the illegal groups operating within the country. In other words, it could give Colombia the prestige and attention it needs to improve of its internal situation.
Although Mejia may not be the best candidate (Julio Londoño Paredes is by far much more qualified for the job), she is a better option than the Venezuelan nominee, Ali Rodriguez Araque. He is an ex-guerrilla member who supported Chavez’s 1992 failed coup d’etat and then his presidential campaign in 1999. He has had experience as foreign minister (like Mejia) and, what’s more impressive, as head of an international body: He was OPEC secretary general from 2001 to 2002, promoting the decrease in production to increase oil prices.
Even though Rodriguez has more experience (and would seem to be more qualified) than Mejia, and is not as radical as Maduro or Chavez (fortunately), his appointment may produce a stalemate inside the organization, as it would represent the extreme in the political spectrum that is Venezuela, which doesn’t appeal to all South Americans. Moreover, since the decisions in UNASUR must be taken by consensus, the choosing of the new secretary general may prove to be quite problematic, even more so because it could represent a rivalry between Colombia and Venezuela: should any one of their nominees be elected, the other (or its citizens) may react with distrust and paranoia.
In the long run, it would be far better for a third candidate to be elected for the job, as it is too soon to risk testing the new Colombo-Venezuelan relation. It would be far more convenient to have someone from a country which is more to the center of the political spectrum, such as Chile or Peru.