The President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today opened the Civil Society Forum in the framework of the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taking place this week in the Central American country.
The event brings together more than 800 civil society organizations from 30 countries in the region, which will hold discussions from today until Friday with the objective of providing inputs to the 35 Heads of State and Government of the Hemisphere, invited to the Summit. The inaugural day of the event also included a speech by the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton.
President Varela highlighted the key and growing role played by civil society in the countries of the region as a motor for social, political and economic improvements, in particular in recent times in which social media have empowered its voice.
“The strengthening of the participatory mechanisms of civil society is therefore fundamental,” said the Panamanian leader to the audience gathered in the Panama Hotel in the country´s capital. “All of our democracies are in constant evolution in search of improvement, pushed forward by civil society,” he added.
In that context, he urged the leaders of the Hemisphere to grant the contributions of citizens the essential role they deserve, in particular those organized in civil society. “Governments should not fear the empowerment of civil society, as the watchdogs of public authorities,” he said, “because transparency is fundamental.” “To achieve balance, peace and development, citizen participation is crucial,” he added.
In what he defined as “the beginning of the ambitious agenda of parallel events to the Summit,” the Panamanian President expressed his satisfaction at the fact that this week “Panama will be the point of convergence of men and women of the Americas in search of solutions.”
“There is much to be done and to be corrected,” he said, because the objective should be “to provide our populations services such as potable water, quality education, transport and other needed infrastructures, but only if we work together as governments, civil society, and the private sector can we eradicate inequality and poverty.”
Secretary General Insulza, for his part, recalled how the inputs of civil society have grown in importance with each Summit of the Americas, to the point of “adding a fundamental value to what we want to do at this Summit.” “Today the Americas have a well informed and active civil society,” he said.
“Over time, dialogue has grown, it has broadened as our democracies have grown, as ever more men, women, young people, and people of all ages in our region decide to associate, seek dialogue, create a network to communicate to the rest of society a group of proposals and common ideas,” he said.
In recognizing the work done by civil society organizations, the Secretary General said, “this effort shows the moment the region is currently experiencing, an interesting and important moment. We have had a very good decade from the general economic point of view. We have made substantial progress in democracy with all the defects that can bring with it, but today, we have legitimately elected democracies and more stable democracies as well.”
However, warned Secretary General Insulza, many challenges remain, beginning with inequality. “But our Hemisphere not only has a problem of economic inequality, it also has a serious problem of inequality in public services, in health, in education, even in public security. It has serious inequality between men and women because gender issues are far from being overcome in the Americas, and there is also inequality in terms of poverty, which affects Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples to a far greater degree than the rest of society,” he added.
The OAS and the Summit of the Americas, he continued, give an opportunity to these groups to express themselves. “We bring everyone together, offer a space to everyone, to those who want to express their opinions on gender discrimination, racial discrimination, economic discrimination, the absence of services in their population or to simply present ideas or questions to us that they consider important,” he said.
The Civil Society and Social Actors Forum aims to promote consultation and coordination mechanisms, dialogue and exchange that include the participation of the civil society organizations and social actors of the hemisphere. The forum will offer its input and recommendations for the consideration of the participating States during the “Mandates of Action” negotiations of the Seventh Summit of the Americas.
Prior to the celebration of the regional forum, the National Dialogue for the Civil Society took place, which sought to encourage the different sectors of Panamanian society to partake in the development of agreements to be debated in the regional forum and thereafter between the regional Heads of State and Government.
The recommendations and ideas arising from this Forum will be presented to the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG).
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
The video news of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.