The 12-nation Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) of which Caribbean trade bloc nations Guyana and Suriname are members Monday swore in former Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia Velez as its new secretary general replacing former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner who died suddenly in office last year.
Current UNASUR chairman and president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, presided over the one-hour ceremony of Mejia that was attended by several dignitaries including Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin and Venezuelan colleague Nicolas Maduro among others.
Saying that the “wind is in our favor,” Mejia said that” South America is one of the continents in the world with the largest gap between the rich and poor. We must change this terrible image,” she said to applause from the packed gathering.
She listed the continuing fight against cocaine cartels, the need to improve the delivery of health and education in order to change the lives of the people of the continent. Only French Guiana, an overseas department of France is not a member of the fledgling continental grouping.
Mejia will serve the first of the two years that remained of Kirchner’s term and will on May 8th next year give way to Venezuelan Electricity Minister Ari Rodriguez who will complete the term. Member nations had unanimously agreed to split their terms in early March.
Jagdeo said that UNASUR has certainly helped to break tensions among leaders of member states as many only previously met each other briefly on the sidelines of international meetings and hardly had time to discuss the business of the continent in real terms.
Today, he said that most can” pick up the telephone and call each other,” saying the camaraderie that is growing within the grouping augers well for it as many on the continent had thought that Guyana and Suriname had belonged to a different continent.
“ I dare say it is important for us to forge a South American entity if we want South America to play a leading role in global affairs in the future,” he said as he swore in the grouping’s second chief executive.