A sharp contrast between CELAC's style and UNASUR's substance

As Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez struggles to make CELAC into an anti-US regional body, alternative group UNASUR is actually being productive, says blogger James Bosworth.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff talk during an agreement-signing ceremony at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday.

Blogging by Boz's general rule of international organizations: Any international organization that spends most of its time discussing who is or isn't a member is not being effective.

This is essentially the fight over the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) today in Caracas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez wants to focus discussion on the organization as an "anti-imperialist" unit, one without the US and Canada, and one that is an alternative to the OAS. As I wrote earlier this year, the fact the CELAC meeting was postponed due to Mr. Chávez's health crisis already shows a lack of seriousness in this debate. Another group of countries, led by Brazil, have a more substantive agenda for CELAC that includes responses to the global financial crisis and a democracy clause for the new organization. The winner of this style vs. substance debate will determine whether CELAC has a hope of becoming an effective organization in the future. I'm pessimistic.

What analysts should be watching is the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) meeting happening concurrently in Caracas. The media aren't focused because UNASUR isn't arguing over who is a member or how they're better than the OAS or US. Instead, UNASUR has an substantive agenda of its own and has been implementing it all year under the leadership of Maria Emma Mejia. Just in the past month, UNASUR has announced plans for a regional infrastructure development plan including new fiberoptic connections, a potential regional space agency, a new counter-drug agency and various other programs that are all happening under the radar. The meeting today will define their plan of action for 2012.

UNASUR has turned themselves into a viable alternative regional organization not by rhetorically bashing the perceived flaws of the OAS and US, but by putting their head down and providing budget and personnel to move forward with regional integration initiatives. UNASUR has turned into a "non-US" organization, as opposed to an "anti-US" organization which is what Chávez wants it and CELAC to be. It turns out that the best way to set up an organization outside of US influence is to simply do it, not talk about it.

The biggest challenge for UNASUR in the next year will be maintaining the substance over style as Ali Rodriguez of Venezuela takes over the leadership of the organization. However, with other South American countries now seeing some real results and potential out of UNASUR, it may be that they work hard to prevent the organization's non-US agenda from being hijacked by the rhetorical flourishes of anti-imperialism.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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