South American leaders launch new bloc to replace Unasur

PATRICIA LUNA
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Guyana Ambassador George Talbot, from left, Bolivia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maria del Carmen Almendras, Paraguay President's Mario Abdo Benítez, Colombia's President Ivan Duque, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno, Peru's President Martin Vizcarra, Uruguay’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ariel Bergamino and Surinam Ambassador Marciano Edgard Armaketo, wave as they use for an official group photo backdropped by La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Friday, March 22, 2019. South American heads of state are meeting in Santiago to discuss the development of a new regional political bloc called Prosur, the idea being to replace the Unasur, the current body that many describe as defunct. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A group of South American presidents on Friday launched a new regional bloc to replace the Union of South American Nations that was promoted by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to counter U.S. influence in the region.

The previous group, called Unasur, was started in 2008 when many of the founding nations were led by leftist governments. But enthusiasm for the bloc waned under more moderate or conservative successor governments. Eventually, the 12 nations suspended their memberships over leadership differences and partly for Unasur's failure to take action in crisis-torn Venezuela.

Leaders of the Prosur bloc launched Friday in the Chilean capital of Santiago said the new group will focus on defending democracy and freedom. In their joint declaration, they committed to "renew and strengthen" regional integration under a more flexible and effective framework.

The founding presidents of Prosur are from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.

"Today has been a good day for collaboration, dialogue, understanding and the integration of South America," said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who had attributed Unasur's failure to "an excess of ideology and bureaucracy."

Chavez's successor, President Nicolas Maduro, was not invited to the Prosur meeting.

Ecuador was the last country to suspend its membership from Unasur. President Lenin Moreno also asked the bloc to give up its central office near Ecuador's capital and ordered the removal of a bronze statue at the entrance showing a striding Nestor Kirchner, the late Argentine president and first secretary-general of Unasur. Kirchner's legacy has been marred by allegations of corruption.