UNASUR differs from existing sub-regional trade blocs in its goal to focus on key priority areas, as identified by its member institutions. The organization has also established seven committees: social development; security; education, science, culture, technology, and innovation; health; infrastructure and planning; narco-trafficking; and energy. In its first phase of development, UNASUR is operating within the institutions of existing trade blocs such as MercoSur and Comunidad Andina.

UNASUR has played important leadership roles in major events in the Latin American region, including assisting in the resolution of Colombia-Venezuela border issues. In July 2010, Venezuela had requested that UNASUR mediate the tensions escalating between Colombia and Venezuela over border issues. Colombia believed that Venezuela was harboring Colombian rebels. The first meeting involved ten foreign ministers and vice ministers in a five hour meeting in Quito, Ecuador which resulted in a “commitment to the construction of conditions for peace, harmony, and that cooperation in the region is maintained” according to Ricardo Patino, Foreign Minister of Ecuador. After Juan Manuel Santos was sworn into office as the newly elected president of Colombia in August 2010, Secretary General Nestor Kirchner mediated a second meeting between Colombia and Venezuela which resulted in restoration of diplomacy between the two countries through the establishment of five bilateral commissions, including commissions on debt, economic collaboration, plan of investment in the common border, infrastructural works, and security. Both countries also agreed to collaborate against drug trafficking, paramilitary and illegal armed activities.

UNASUR has also successfully mediated in other high tension conflicts in the region, as in the case of Bolivia in 2008. In response to the Pando massacre, civil unrest and protests within Bolivia, UNASUR showed unwavering support for Bolivian President Evo Morales which resulted in renewed peaceful negotiations between separatists groups and the Bolivian government.

More recently, in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, UNASUR has pledged US$100 million and a political and technical secretariat in Haiti to aid in reconstruction efforts. Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador and current rotating president of UNASUR has said the US$100 million will be given before the end of 2010, and a further US$200 million will be given in the form of a long-term, low interest loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.

UNASUR has been vocal and taken strong stances on a number of issues including the Arizona immigration law passed earlier in 2010 and the coup in Honduras in the summer of 2009. The Arizona Immigration Law SB1070 has been sharply criticized by UNASUR because the law criminalizes migrants. In a statement issued at a summit in May, 2010, the heads of state of UNASUR member nations stated boldly, they “reject the criminalization of migrants” through the “detention of persons on a discretionary basis by racial, ethnic, phenotype, language and immigration status considerations, through the questionable concept of reasonable doubt.”

Honduras, a country marked by extremes of wealth and poverty, served as the stage for political upheaval after the then-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was removed from the presidency and forcefully deported to Costa Rica. The head of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti, was named interim president until elections were held. Porfirio Lobo was then elected as the new president. UNASUR, in accordance with its vision to support democracy in the region, has refused to recognize the newly elected president. Correa stated, “The UNASUR decision has already been taken: we are not going to recognize elections held under the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti.”

Given that UNASUR has taken on a leadership role in the region and given that the region is increasingly regarding the UNASUR as a legitimate authority, it will be interesting to hear and discuss with UNASUR Secretary-General Nestor Kirchner UNASUR’s future in Latin American integration.