There’s a new regional bloc in town: the Forum for the Progress of South America, also known as Prosur. The group might not exist, however, were it not for the disintegration of another body, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). And though Prosur’s stated goal is for economic and social cooperation and not political, one issue more than all others has prompted its creation.
“It is very important that [UNASUR], which has been a supporter of the dictatorship of Venezuela, be shut down,” Colombian President Iván Duque said in January. Two months later, Prosur was born.
Though much is yet to be defined about the new bloc, its creation is emblematic of how South America has changed politically over the last decade. With important changes afoot, AS/COA Online looks at Prosur and what it means for cooperation and development in the region.
What is Prosur?
On March 22, 2019, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, and Peru signed the Santiago Declaration to become the original members of Prosur. Their purpose? Fostering regional cooperation and development in South America.
Duque and Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera led negotiations and came up with the proposal, inviting every country in South America except Venezuela to join the group. While the first item in the declaration says the group will be a space “without exclusions,” the fifth item lists the “full exercise of democracy” as a requisite, as well as respect for constitutional order and for the separation of branches of power. A month before the signing, Piñera confirmed that Venezuela would not be invited to join for not meeting those requirements.
According to the Santiago Declaration, Prosur is a “space of coordination, cooperation, and regional integration.” With similar language to the original UNASUR treaty, Prosur prioritizes integration in the areas of infrastructure, energy, health, defense, security, and the fight against crime. One new area for regional cooperation will be that of prevention and management of natural disasters, in contrast to UNASUR’s focus on environmental conservation. It’s unclear at this stage if Prosur intends to one day become the intergovernmental body modeled after the EU that UNASUR set out to be, though the Santiago Declaration does say that Prosur is to be implemented gradually, with a “flexible structure.”
Chile will hold the first pro tempore presidency of the group for the next 12 months, which will fall to Paraguay next. Heads of state intend to meet annually and ministers in the interim, but dates for the group’s next meetings are still to come. The members have yet to define a charter and formal structure of the organization.
Prosur leaders Duque and Piñera see the forum as a way to replace UNASUR.
UNASUR was created by the late presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Néstor Kirchner of Argentina during Latin America’s “Pink Tide” era of leftist leaders. But as the crisis in Venezuela escalated, the bloc was unable to implement concrete actions to address the situation, most notably heading up failed negotiations between the government and opposition leaders in the spring of 2014 after deadly protests led to the detention of opposition leader Leopoldo López.
The last UNASUR meetings with heads of state were a few months later in July. From 2015 through 2018, several countries elected right-leaning leaders who are open in their condemnations of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro. In April 2018, seven of UNASUR’s 12 members—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru—suspended their memberships for a year. Colombia and Ecuador both announced their intentions to withdraw as well. Guyana is the only country to join Prosur and not suspend its membership in UNASUR, although the group’s website still lists all 12 countries as members.
All of this has raised questions about whether Prosur has a right-leaning ideology, and is it driving the group's posture regarding Venezuela. During a press conference on March 14, Uruguay’s President Tabaré Vázquez said the new group was making the same mistake as UNASUR did: that of having a political ideology. Vázquez also criticized the inefficiency of integration bodies in the region. “We superimpose one process to another and another, until when?” he asked.
On March 23, Bolivian President Evo Morales reaffirmed the importance of UNASUR, writing on Twitter that its founding was “not improvised.” As of March 2019, Bolivia continues to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president. Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary said his country is open to join organizations with “common purposes…but not those that exclude countries,” as Prosur has done to Venezuela.
Prosur members have been critical of Maduro and recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Guaidó praised Prosur on Twitter, saying it will allow nations to “participate as equals in an economic agenda without political overtones.”
Complementing the Lima Group
The foundation of Prosur comes a year and a half after the August 2017 formation of the Lima Group, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Saint Lucia. The Lima Group’s purpose is to address the crisis in Venezuela through regional cooperation and work to see democracy restored in the country. The group asserts that Maduro’s second term, which began in January 2019, is illegitimate due to the fraudulent nature of the May 2018 election. Most of its members instead recognize the opposition-controlled National Assembly as a legitimately elected government, and Guaidó, who was the speaker of the assembly prior to his swearing in, as the country’s interim president until new free and fair elections can be held.