By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Half of the nations belonging to Unasur, a South American bloc set up a decade ago to counter U.S. sway in the region, have decided to suspend their membership, a Brazilian official told Reuters on Friday.
The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay believe that the bloc has been rudderless under the current rotating presidency of Bolivia, according to a statement sent to Brazilian ministers, seen by Reuters.
Officials in four of the other nations confirmed the decision to suspend the activities of organization that has been paralyzed by divisions for a year and a half.
Center-right governments have taken office in a number of the region's countries in recent years, usually leading to improved relations with Washington.
Unasur was created in 2008 when leftist populism advocated by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was at its strongest in the South America.
Chavez and other leaders at the time opposed the U.S.-backed proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas and instead set up Unasur to join South American nations in an economic and political union that ultimately struggled to gain momentum.
The initiative was also an attempt to bypass the Washington-based Organization of American States, which leftists considered a tool for promoting U.S. policy in Latin America.
The remaining Unasur members are Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Guyana and Suriname.
"Unasur works by consensus but the differences between its members' political and economic views are so great it can no longer operate," said a Peruvian diplomat who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Sandra Maler)