As the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) engages in peace talks with the Colombian gove...
QUITO, Ecuador – Presidents of four of the 12 countries that make up the new Unión de Naciones Suramericanas, UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), along with Haitian President René Préval, met to coordinate relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe, Peru’s Alan García, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa – the president pro-tempore of UNASUR – and delegations from eight other countries were expected to sign the Acta de Quito (Quito Memorandum of Action) on Feb. 9.
The document will contain, according to Ricardo Patiño, the recently appointed Ecuadoran minister of foreign affairs, the course of action to rebuild Haiti. The earthquake on Jan. 12 reportedly killed more than 200,000, left a million homeless and left the impoverished nation’s infrastructure in ruins.
Technical commissions from the 12 countries have been working since last week to formulate a plan based on servicing Haiti’s most pressing needs that were explained by Préval to Correa during a meeting on Jan. 29 in Haiti.
Préval requested help in restoring government institutions since the seat of government – the senate building – and other state offices were destroyed by the natural disaster, which left dozens of workers trapped beneath the rubble.
He also requested collaboration in the construction of buildings and roads, which will alleviate the strain of the severe housing problem in Port-au-Prince. Préval also said his nation needs help in restoring food production and reforestation, as well as for other governments from across the region to allow displaced Haitians to immigrate to their countries.
Ecuador already has welcomed about 450 Haitians.
The possibility of opening a UNASUR office in Port-au-Prince is being considered.
“[We] have to come up with new types of cooperation,” Correa said during his “citizens outreach” program he hosted on Feb. 6. “That is what the [UNASUR] meeting is for, to see how we can be with Haiti, not just for emergencies, but for the medium and long term. We want to help it along the road of development.”
But in the midst of solidarity with Haiti, underlying tensions between Ecuador and Colombia are strained, according to a high-ranking Ecuadoran official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Diplomatic relations between Ecuador and Colombia are tenuous. Uribe is making his first trip to Ecuador since the Correa administration broke diplomatic ties in response to Colombian Air Force bombing of an illegal FARC camp operating in Ecuador in 2008.
UNASUR, however, could emerge from the meeting in Ecuador much stronger if the leaders put their countries’ differences aside and prove they can work together to help Haiti, according to Adrián Bonilla, director of FLACSO, (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Latin American Social Sciences Institute).
“That would show that the presidents acknowledge that there are differences and conflicts,” he said. “But they also can show they are able to work efficiently to seek a consensus [to help Haiti].”