ECUADOR - Diplomacy
General Secretary, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)
María Emma Mejía Vélez is a Colombian diplomat and politician. She was elected General Secretary of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in March 2011. She has also served as Minister of Education and Foreign Affairs of Colombia and has run for Mayor of Bogotá on three occasions. In public service, she has presided over Colombian singer Shakira’s Barefoot Foundation and hosted a review program broadcasted by Caracol International TV.
We experienced several challenges while laying the foundations of UNASUR, including the drafting of a treaty to be approved by every country, structuring a budget, and building a network of officials. These were the first steps of a very ambitious political project shaped in the style of the EU—the concept of establishing UNASUR was based on the creation of a union that would include every South American country. It was very important for us to keep in mind this initial goal and the ideas that were developed by the leaders of the region almost eight years ago. In fact, I would like to mention that our previous General Secretary and former President of Argentina Néstor Kirchner contributed heavily to the organization. In general, 2012 will be a year in which we focus on establishing agendas, working committees, and economic and social priorities for the organization and region as a whole.
UNASUR was born at a different political conjuncture, and organizations such as the Common Southern Market (MERCOSUR) and the Andean Community primarily deal with the commercial and trading union of the states. In this regard, UNASUR aims to summarize the political and social union of the South American states, something that was already in the minds of our ancestors, such as General Simón Bolívar. I am confident that over the next few years the organization will take decisive steps toward handling issues of defense, economy and finance, infrastructure, energy, and health for the social union of South American states. I believe that this is what makes us unique and able to perfectly complement other organizations such as CELAC, which includes all Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Ecuador has positively contributed to the establishment of UNASUR, especially during its term as president from 2009 to 2010, when Ecuador importantly contributed to institutional strengthening and the promotion of a constituency treaty that was approved at a regional level. Ecuador set a very positive example in terms leadership at all levels of the organization, especially when the region was affected by problems in locations such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Haiti. Ecuador focused its efforts on making our dream possible, and I believe the organization took a vital turn after Ecuador’s presidency. To demonstrate the country’s leadership and key role in the development of the organization, UNASUR’s headquarters are currently located in Quito.
Due to the global recession, regional political leaders called for the unification of economic positions in order to preserve the interests of the continent, starting with foreign exchange reserve management, which has enabled the region to raise more than $750 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Regarding the Bank of the South, though it does not belong to the institutional body of the organization, it will be a key element to further promote the economic and financial union of South America, and we expect that it will begin operating in 2013.
Over the last year, we have established several committees regarding defense, drugs, health care, society, economy, infrastructure, energy, education, and technology. The institutionalization of the organization and its committees is one of the main achievements of UNASUR. These committees are formed by ministers from relevant portfolios, which facilitates the implementation of the measures agreed upon at the international level. Personally, I believe that the South American Council of Defense is UNASUR’s greatest achievement thus far; its establishment has contributed to the development of many common and joint strategies in a field where South America previously lacked unity. I think that it is important to mention the South American Council of Infrastructure Planning, an organization that has enabled the region to prioritize infrastructure projects that will boost development and integration. We also need to strengthen our work regarding the very important issue of poverty, because 30 million South American people still live in dire conditions. However, we have achieved a lot and the future is brighter for South America.
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