The Union of South American Nations, Unasur, leaders agreed Tuesday to provide 300 million US dollars in aid to Haiti at a summit in Ecuador which left aside regional disputes that have undermined relations since 2008.
The 12 members of Unasur endorsed an accord calling for a 100 million US dollars fund as well as a 200 million “preferential” credit from the Inter-American Development Bank. The money would be channelled to programs benefiting Haiti’s reconstruction in areas such as agriculture, electricity infrastructure, health and education.
“Latin America has stood up” said Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa addressing the summit at the presidential palace in Quito. “The time has come to create a new kind of south-south aid.”
The meeting also marked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s first visit to Ecuador since his armed forces staged a cross-border raid on a guerrilla camp there almost two years ago. The attack killed rebel leader Raúl Reyes, prompted Correa to break off ties with his northern neighbour and led Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to order tanks to his country’s border with Colombia.
Although no formal meeting of Correa with Uribe was scheduled the two countries began taking steps late last year to restore full relations. Diplomatic envoys were named and military ties re-established military in November. Ecuador this month also eliminated the last of the tariffs it imposed on Colombian goods in 2009.
Leaders including Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said aid efforts should follow instructions from the government of Haitian President René Preval, who attended the meeting. Correa said member nations should scrap tariffs on Haitian imports and consider subsidizing natural gas exports to the Caribbean nation.
Carlos Melo, IDB representative in Ecuador, said he spoke to bank chief Luis Alberto Moreno, who supported a 15- to 20-year 200 million USD credit to be taken on by Unasur. Correa said member countries should consider contributing 25 cents per inhabitant to the 100 million USD fund.
Chavez cancelled his attendance because of an electricity crisis he’s facing at home, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters.
Unasur was formed two years ago in a bid to promote regional integration. In 2008, at a summit in Santiago, the group provided political backing to Bolivian President Evo Morales after clashes between his supporters and government opponents over a new constitution left 30 people dead.
However the leaders of South America’s two biggest economies skipped the talks. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has cancelled foreign travel amid a political dispute over control of the central bank’s reserves and the hospitalization of her husband former president Nestor Kirchner who underwent emergency surgery.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva sent his top foreign policy adviser Marco Aurelio García.
Unasur countries rushed doctors, food and emergency supplies to Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake which left an estimated 200,000 people dead and over a million homeless according to Haiti’s government.
Lula da Silva signed a decree Jan. 26 providing the equivalent of 200 million USD in aid to Haiti. Brazil, which leads a United Nations peacekeeping contingent in Haiti, had already pledged about 17 million USD to the country, the most among Latinamerican nations.
Venezuela forgave Haiti’s oil-related debt and donated 225,000 barrels of fuel, while Colombia sent more than 200 search-and-rescue personnel and committed hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies. Ecuador has sent rescue teams and donated several tons of food, UN data show. Peruvian President Alan Garcia, speaking at the summit today, said Peru was willing to contribute 10 million USD.