Much of New York City grows eerily quiet in the late summer, but on Monday, August 6th one corner of Manhattan – 777 United Nations Plaza – was buzzing with activity. Argentinean president Christina Kirchner, accompanied by 12 Latin American foreign ministers and a number of other foreign dignitaries, had come to kick off her country’s one-month presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by personally chairing the month’s first open debate of the Council. It is rare for a head of state to preside over UNSC debates, but Kirchner has consistently sought to raise Argentina’s profile on the world stage and, as a key promoter of Latin American integration, is clearly determined to use the Council’s global bully pulpit to bolster the international clout of the region’s new multilateral organizations. Thus the August 6 open debate which Kirchner chaired was on “cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations in maintaining international peace and security.”
Along with representatives of the EU and the Arab League, the foreign ministers of Cuba, Peru and Venezuela were in attendance representing, respectively, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). It was the first time that representatives of both CELAC, launched in Caracas in 2012, and UNASUR, launched in Brasilia in 2008, spoke before the Council.
Kirchner used her midday speech at the UN to highlight the achievements of CELAC and UNASUR in helping resolve internal and bilateral political conflicts in the region. As an example she cited the role of the Rio Group – CELAC’s predecessor – in resolving the heated dispute between Ecuador and Colombia resulting from the latter’s decision to invade and bomb its neighbor’s territory in March of 2008. She also mentioned UNASUR’s successful efforts to put an end to the violent destabilization campaign against Bolivian president Evo Morales in September of 2008.
Perhaps due to time constraints, Kirchner didn’t mention the successful mediation carried out by her late husband and political predecessor Nestor Kirchner who, as Secretary General of UNASUR was instrumental in repairing relations between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela. Nor did she mention UNASUR’s strong opposition to the 2009 Honduran coup which played a role in greatly delaying international recognition of Honduras’ post-coup governments. Contrary to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), both bodies firmly opposed recognizing elections held in Honduras without the prior restoration of the country’s democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya.
More recently, both CELAC and UNASUR called on all sectors in Venezuela to recognize the results of the country’s April 2013 presidential elections and to avoid words and actions that could provoke violence. The strong statements by the two groups helped put an end to the rash of riots and attacks by opposition supporters in the days immediately following the elections. But opposition leaders continued to claim that the elections had been stolen despite numerous audits of an electoral process widely deemed to be free and fair. It is likely they were emboldened by the U.S. government’s unilateral decision not to recognize the electoral victory of left-wing president Nicolás Maduro.
In an interesting twist, Kirchner presented UNASUR and other regional bodies as models of how she believes the United Nations should function. “We resolved very grave moments for the South American region with a methodology in which no one got up until the question was resolved by consensus,” she said. Kirchner accused the Security Council – product of a “Cold War logic” – of often preventing the resolution of conflicts and contrasted the UN system with what she called a “South America doctrine” in which “resolutions are arrived at unanimously when there is conflict.”
As Kirchner reminded her audience, one of the General Assembly resolutions which was shot down by the Security Council was one, dating from 1965, that called on Argentina and the United Kingdom to begin bilateral negotiations regarding the Falkland Islands (referred to as the Malvinas in Argentina and other Latin American nations). “This is not a fanciful stance”, said Kirchner. “We simply want the United Nations resolution to be enforced and for our two countries to sit down and discuss this.” As we’ve discussed previously in our Americas Blog, Argentina’s claim of sovereignty over the Falklands/Malvinas has the unflagging support of every Latin American country in the region, and of CELAC as a bloc.
Finally, Kirchner evoked the recent NSA revelations, without naming Snowden or the NSA, and called for the “establishment of regulations of a global nature to ensure the sovereignty of states and the privacy of citizens in the world.” “Many things have happened since the fall of the Berlin Wall”, she went on to say, “and precisely one of the most distinct reasons for the fall of this wall was firstly that citizens from the other side wanted to live in freedom, they wanted to live without being watched…”
That same day, the foreign ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela – in representation of Mercosur – met with Ban Ki-moon to denounce the affront suffered by Bolivian president Evo Morales when his plane was denied access to the airspace of European countries based on the suspicion that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was aboard. This follows a July 13 Mercosur resolutioncondemning the Europeans’ decision to prevent Morales’s plane from flying on its pre-approved itinerary. During the Security Council debate, Elías Jaua, the Foreign Minister for Venezuela – which currently chairs Mercosur – joined Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño in repudiating the “unjustifiable” treatment of Morales and demanding an “exhaustive” UN investigation of the incident.
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