Argentina and five other nations have suspended their membership of the UNASUR regional bloc, as a result of differences over the group's direction and leadership.
In a note to the Bolivian government, pertaining its role as the pro tempore leader of the Union of South American Nations, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay said they were suspending their membership effective immediately.
Bolivian Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni said the governments had decided to temporarily leave the bloc given differences over choosing the secretary general of the group, but reports also said political differences and the current leadership
"The note arrived on Wednesday, at night, to the Embassy of Bolivia [in Quito]," the minister confirmed to the EFE news agency in a telephone conversation.
"We have received a note from the six countries saying they will not participate in UNASUR meetings for a period of one year" until the leadership issue is resolved, Huanacuni said later by telephone from Ecuador to state television Boliviatv.
Paraguay's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the impossibility of electing a general secretary for UNASUR affects the bloc and that the six countries that will remain outside it until they see "concrete results that guarantee its operation."
The remaining active UNASUR members are Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Guyana and Suriname. Huanacuni announced a meeting in May to discuss the matter.
There have been several attempts to revive the UNASUR bloc, which was set up a decade ago as a way to counter US influence in the region and was championed by late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and the Kirchnerite governments (former president Néstor Kirchner was appointed the organisation's first secretary-general). But the loss of half of its membership overnight will serve as a damaging blow to its dimplomatic prestige, as well as its funding levels.
In recent years, the bloc has been politically split and rife with division, with the left-leaning governments who initially championed the group no longer in power and conservative and centre-right leaders coming to power in their place. The new leaders have sought to alter the direction of blocs like UNASUR and MERCOSUR, seeking other priorities.
“UNASUR works by consensus but the differences between its members’ political and economic views are so great it can no longer operate,” an unnamed Peruvian diplomat told the Reuters news agency.