Following the death of former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, the Union of South American Nations, Unasur must find a new consensus leader and the outstanding figure and possible candidate is Brazilian president Lula da Silva recognized as a great promoter of regional integration.
Kirchner became Unasur secretary general after months of negotiations fro a consensus candidate among the twelve countries of the region which became possible last March when Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez left office.
Vazquez and Kirchner were involved in a frustrating conflict over the construction of pulp mills in shared watercourses that only ended with the election of a new government in Uruguay under President Jose Mujica who abstained in the decisive voting round for Unasur first secretary general.
Kirchner’s last outstanding action with Unasur was last October first when he summoned an “urgent summit” in Buenos Aires to express the group’s unanimous support for Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, threatened by a police mutiny.
It was evidence of Unasur at its best in the building of the regional integration process in spite of political differences or bilateral conflicts among some members.
In his recent visit to Buenos Aires Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos underlined the important role played by the former Argentine president in helping to re-establish diplomatic relations between Bogotá and Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela.
Argentine Foreign Affairs minister Hector Timerman admitted it was going “to be difficult” to replace Kirchner at Unasur because he was more than a secretary general, “he was a statesman”.
Even when other names are considered, such as former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and former Uruguayan leader Tabare Vazquez, Brazil’s Lula da Silva is by far the most attractive figure for Unasur secretary general.
“He’s a great candidate, not only because of his eight years of achievement in Brazil, en route to be one of the world’s leading powers, but also because of the international standing of Brazil. Maybe he’s too qualified for the Unasur job”, said Florencia Deich, regional integration expert from the Argentine Centre of International Studies.
Lula da Silva is stepping down next January first and has not given many clues about his future steps except for the fact he wants to work to help combat poverty in Africa and Latinamerica as well as rejecting international jobs.
On Thursday on paying tribute to his “colleague and friend” Kirchner, Lula da Silva said that the former Argentine president had led Latin America “along a victorious path”
“With him we built Unasur and we managed to wipe all existing pre-concepts between Argentina and Brazil”, said Lula da Silva who together with the deceased leader are seen at the two great promoters of regional integration.
Gabriel Salvia from the Centre for Latin American Development, said Unasur must find a consensus figure that is accepted both by the ALBA (Bolivarian alliance for the Peoples of America) countries that is led by Venezuela and another group which includes Chile, Peru and Colombia “clearly aligned with what was once the Washington consensus”.
“Lula da Silva is an interesting candidate. He’s a natural leader given the strength of Brazil. The candidate must have a good relation with Venezuela but from an economic point of view must align with the pro-market countries”, said Salvia.