The Union of South American Nations (“UNASUR”) is all but defunct after most of the members left. The exodus began just three days after former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, acceded to the rotating role of president pro tempore in April 2018.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay and Peru subsequently joined the Forum for the Progress and Development of South America (“PROSUR”) created by Sebastián Piñera and Iván Duque.
After destroying UNASUR, Morales couldn’t possibly join an organisation of “right-wing governments”, so instead, on 17 April 2021 he announced the creation of RUNASUR, a regional bloc to coordinate social movements throughout Latin America.
Morales provided scant detail on the project, its goals or structure but instead, he focused on the inclusion of indigenous communities in Ecuador and Peru and combating what he vaguely described as “a capitalist and imperialist” project for the region.
A former Bolivian diplomat who has worked for various international organisations tried to explain the organisations raison d’être, “Unlike what happens with integration at the inter-state level, this announced mechanism would be based on a supposed complementary and joint vision between the people and it would not be affected by the constant ideological turns of governments.” We found this amusing after a senior figure involved in establishing RUNASUR described it as, “a people’s regional integration mechanism with an anti-imperialist ideology.”
The announcement was made in Chapare, one of Bolivia’s epicentres of coca leaf production, where Morales enjoys the strongest support. According to an Aymaran political scientist, “Morales has been greatly diminished after a heavy defeat in the sub-national elections and there are more and more voices within his political party, MAS, calling for him to step aside.”
“Morales has been greatly diminished after a heavy defeat in the sub-national elections.”
Aymaran political scientist, Bolivia
An official in Bolivia’s foreign ministry explains the reality of the situation, “It is an interesting movement as a union of indigenous people but in reality it is a desperate attempt to make Morales relevant on the regional stage and cement his position in Chapare. Venezuela was quick to add their support with their Foreign Minister travelling to Bolivia for the announcement in Chapare without visiting the President of Bolivia or the Foreign Minister. This is clear meddling in internal affairs, but both President Arce and Vice-president Choquehuanca are silent because they are intimidated by Morales.”
The Aymaran political scientist believes the organisation is a good idea but with entirely the wrong leadership, “Morales is the main anti-indigenous force in Bolivia, he has always maintained a union agenda for coca producers. He has done a lot of damage to other indigenous communities with his pro-extractivism policies. He allowed exploration in protected areas with no prior consultation and orchestrated direct attacks on the indigenous movement – he has divided social organisations.”
In Bolivia, the main threat from this initiative seems to be Morales attempting to represent all indigenous people, as the Bolivian official commented, “This is one more attempt by Morales to nullify any emerging Bolivian indigenous leadership. Morales wants to silence Vice-president Choquehuanca, but also newly elected leaders such Eva Copa or Damián Condori.”
“This is one more attempt by Morales to nullify any emerging Bolivian indigenous leadership.”
Official, Bolivian Foreign Ministry
It is also worth noting the attendees at the organisation’s launch, as a source at the launch reported, “In addition to Morales, there were Ecuadorian indigenous people linked to Rafael Correa, Argentine trade unionists linked to Cristina Kirchner and Venezuelan indigenous people linked to Hugo Chavez … a ‘Who’s Who’ of the Latin American left.”
Morales has no access to public funds and Venezuela is financially weak, so who is funding this latest campaign? No prizes for guessing …