UNASUR to Establish a “Democracy Clause”

In the aftermath of the action by a mutinous section of the Ecuadorian police to topple President Rafael Correa from power on September 30, South American leaders that same evening hurriedly called an emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Buenos Aires where they “strongly condemned the coup attempt”. They also proposed to establish a “democratic clause” that will specify measures to be taken against countries whose political processes are not respected.

By Odeen Ishmael - Embassy of Guyana in Venezuela
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In the aftermath of the action by a mutinous section of the Ecuadorian police to topple President Rafael Correa from power on September 30, South American leaders that same evening hurriedly called an emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Buenos Aires where they “strongly condemned the coup attempt”. They also proposed to establish a “democratic clause” through a special protocol in the organisation’s constituent treaty at their next summit in Guyana on November 26. The special protocol will specify measures to be taken against countries whose political processes are not respected.

For UNASUR members, this is not in any way a new idea. A “democratic clause” in the final declaration of the Summit of the Americas in 2000 led to the promulgation by the Organisation of American States (OAS) of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in September 2001. The coup in Honduras last year saw the Charter’s application, resulting in the suspension of that country from the hemispheric body. (All UNASUR members are also members of the OAS).

And as recently as July of this year, in a meeting with UNASUR’s secretary general, the late Nestor Kirchner, Chilean legislators called for the continental body to add a “democracy clause” in its founding treaty. No doubt, they felt this would demonstrate UNASUR’s determination to place its full weight in ostracising any South American regime if ever it seizes power by non-constitutional means.

By the time the emergency UNASUR summit was convened by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Correa had already been rescued from his enforced detention. Nevertheless, the leaders discussed what transpired in Quito, and in the early hours of the following morning issued a statement which, in addition to proposing the establishment of the “democratic clause”, “strongly condemned the attempted coup and subsequent kidnapping of President Rafael Correa” and “reaffirmed their strong commitment to the preservation of democratic institutions, rule of law, constitutional order, social peace and full respect for human rights – essential terms of the regional integration process.”

In addition, they reiterated their full support for the constitutional government in Ecuador and emphasised that they “will not tolerate, under any circumstances, any new challenge to institutional authority and attempt to overthrow the legitimately elected civilian authority, and they warn that if the constitutional order is broken, they will take concrete steps immediately, such as border closures, suspension of trade, air traffic and the provision of energy services and other supplies.”

Clearly, the “democracy clause” will be aimed at preventing the occurrence of coups in South America and, undoubtedly, it will specify these concrete actions against any offending regime as specified in the Buenos Aires declaration.

The September 30 events received a high degree of attention from many South American political analysts. The Argentine political scientist Atilio Boron wrote that it was clear that the rapid response by UNASUR was more emphatic and forceful than the hemisphere’s efforts regarding the coup in Honduras last year, and was decisive in preventing the conspiracy from escalating into a full-fledged coup, which was the ultimate objective of the police riot in Quito. UNASUR’s quick reflexes, along with the Ecuadorian people’s defence of democracy as they poured out onto the streets, “discouraged” the coup-mongers and upset their plans, he added.

He explained that “the tendency toward coups d’etat is latent in Latin America, and if it doesn’t manifest itself, that’s because there is no correlation of forces allowing it to come to the surface.”

Considering this tendency, the temptation for coups can grow, and unless regional and international bodies demonstrate their intolerance for such action, coup-mongers will feel that that they can overthrow a government by creating a crisis situation, and then expect that the international community’s policies against the coup to be ineffective since they will eventually accept the de facto regime. UNASUR’s proposed “democratic clause” and its related actions are definitely aimed at countering those anti-democratic forces that maintain this line of thought.

Meanwhile, Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, is preparing to take over the chairmanship of UNASUR at the end of November from President Correa. As part of this process, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino visited Georgetown to discuss the handing over of the rotating chairmanship and to coordinate the activities of UNASUR. On October 22, he met with Jagdeo who pointed out that “there are many other situations of conflicts across South America.” With this sense of awareness, Guyana, while pushing an aggressive social and developmental agenda, will be expected in the new leadership role to play a very active part in working with its UNASUR partners to ensure that there is no disruption to the constitutional order in the hemisphere.

Caracas, 29 October 2010

The writer is Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela, and the views expressed are solely his.