South American leaders urged to strengthen ties

BERT WILKINSON - Associated Press
A woman walks past the St. George Cathedral in Georgetown, Guyana, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010. Guyana will host the fourth regular summit of the UNASUR, Union of South American Nations, on Nov. 26 (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
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A woman walks past the St. George Cathedral in Georgetown, Guyana, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010. Guyana will host the fourth regular summit of the UNASUR, Union of South American Nations, on Nov. 26

Members of a fledgling South American defense union should stop seeking solutions from the United States and instead turn to their own leaders for answers, Ecuador's leader said Friday.

President Rafael Correa spoke at the opening of a one-day summit of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, which drew presidents including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Argentina's Cristina Fernandez and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Correa said the region for decades has turned to Washington for help.

"We need to rescue our own thoughts at this time," he said. "We have to think for ourselves."

Silva called UNASUR a global player whose members have cooperated with each other and survived an economic crisis that is still affecting some Western nations.

He said that Brazil, which is soon expected to be the world's fifth-largest economy, no longer has to listen to "some third-rate" official telling the country what to do.

"We have more sovereignty and determination than we had 10 years ago," he said.

UNASUR has strengthened its involvement in defense and health issues, but it needs to create an arbitration council to resolve differences between countries, Correa said.

"There's still a lot that needs to be done," he said.

Correa also asked that UNASUR create a commission to probe the events that led to a Sept. 30 revolt in Ecuador in which about a dozen people died and 270 were wounded. The uprising was led by police upset over a new law that would deny them promotion bonuses.

During Friday's summit, leaders also were expected to approve a democratic charter that would serve as a guide for their 12-nation bloc if any of them face an attempted coup.

The charter would have been an effective tool during Ecuador's revolt, Correa said.

"If they had succeeded, they would have been ostracized immediately," he said.

On Thursday, 12 foreign ministers approved the charter, which calls for economic sanctions and expulsion from UNASUR if violated, said Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's foreign minister.

Before Correa's opening speech, UNASUR officials honored Fernandez's late husband, former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who died last month. He was UNASUR's first leader. A replacement has not been named, but nominations will be considered during the summit.

Fernandez praised Kirchner's role as secretary-general and said he created a system that helped South America weather the global economic crisis.

"This would not have happened had Latin America not taken the position that it could achieve its own degree of autonomy," she said.

During her speech, Fernandez also thanked Chavez for "helping Argentina when no one else did."

UNASUR was created in May 2008 to serve as a continental parliament that Chavez has described as a counterweight to the United States. Some members of the Organization of American States see UNASUR as a complement to the Washington-based organization, while others view it as a potential replacement.

The OAS passed a similar democratic charter in 2001.