The Organization of American States (OAS), in a joint session of its Permanent Council and the Permanent Executive Committee of its Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CEPCIDI), today launched the Inter-American Year of Culture, the objective of which is to highlight the diversity of cultures in the Americas and promote the key role that culture plays in the economic, social and human development of countries in the hemisphere.
The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, asserted that the launch of the Inter-American Year of Culture “is evidence that the Member States recognize the profile of culture as an essential element in the economy, in diplomacy, in social inclusion and in the construction of peace.” Furthermore, he invited the Member States to “assume the political and financial commitment of betting on culture and investing in a diverse but integrated future, a culture connected to its roots but also innovative and, above all, paraphrasing Mario Benedetti, one that defends the joy of being who we are.”
He also recalled that culture “has been with the Organization since its origins,” beginning with the First Inter-American Conference of the Member States in 1889-1890, that established the Columbus Library, “the first office of what is today the inter-American system.” Throughout its history, added Secretary General Insulza, “the OAS has positioned itself on this subject as a political forum of the highest level, a privileged space for the exchange of experiences, debate and hemispheric cooperation on cultural issues.”
“Culture is art, language, traditions, values; it is fashion, cinema, music, design, gastronomy; it brings peoples closer together, facilitates understanding between them, and motivates them to agree on common objectives,” the Secretary General continued, mentioning also that the OAS will today recognize Peruvian gastronomy by bestowing it the first “Cultural Patrimony of the Americas” award.
During the joint session, co-chaired by the Permanent Representative of the United States to the OAS and Chair of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, and the Permanent Representative of Colombia to the OAS and Chair of CEPCIDI, Ambassador Luis Alfonso Hoyos Aristizabal, participants highlighted the role of culture in the economic, social and human development of the countries in the Americas, in social inclusion and the construction of more just societies, and in the dialogue between peoples and the improvement of relations between countries.
In her welcoming remarks, Ambassador Lomellin asserted that “stimulating creativity in our citizens is a strategy that not only fosters personal growth and social development but may also contribute to finding new and innovative approaches to situations in all areas of human endeavor.” For his part, Ambassador Hoyos underlined the “broad and integral” reach of culture as a vehicle for “constructing more just, equal, safe and prosperous societies where respect for diversity may rule,” an aspect to which he said the CEPCIDI is devoting its work.
The Vice Minister for Cultural Patrimony and Industries in Peru’s Ministry of Culture, Bernardo Roca-Rey, mentioned the multiple dimensions of the relationship between culture and development. “It can be asserted that human development is not possible without the cultural dimension, which encompasses precisely the attributes that make us most human—intelligence, values, beauty, creativity, and life in community,” he said during a presentation titled, “The Importance of Cultural Policies in the National Reality: The Ministry of Culture of Peru as a Vector of Development.”
As an example of it he offered his country’s gastronomy, “one of the richest culinary traditions in the world.” Between 2005 and 2009, he explained, the number of restaurants in Peru grew some 45 percent, “with the consequent creation of jobs and mobilization of goods and services.” The South American country’s productive gastronomical chain directly or indirectly involves some five million people, or 20 percent of its economically active population, “from the fisherman to the maker of napkins,” he added.
Vice Minister Roca-Rey further recalled that the creation in July 2010 of his country’s Minister of Culture “was a very important milestone reached thanks to the active participation of the OAS,” which through Secretary General Insulza established “a general framework of cooperation to support the ministry in its efforts at modernization and institutional strengthening.”
The session also featured the participation of the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Community Development and Culture of Barbados, Celia Toppin, who also serves as Vice Chair of the Inter-American Committee on Culture (CIC). This body within the OAS was established in 2003 to oversee the implementation of the Organization’s cultural programs, including the activities of the Inter-American Year of Culture.
Toppin asserted that the Inter-American Year of Culture also seeks to “promote the development and implementation of public policies in the Member States, and to ensure the sustainability of the outcomes of the 2011 Inter-American Year of Culture,” among other things.
“It is an unfortunate reality that developing countries have not paid due attention to the socioeconomic development potential of their culture sectors,” Toppin said. “In the context of the region from which I come, the countries of the Caribbean Community are comparatively small, and most of them have few natural resources other than our people. But it is this human capital which is a major resource needed for the development of their cultural industries.”
In this context, the Vice Chair of the CIC thanked Brazil and the United States for committing to assist the Committee with donations of more than $600,000 and $100,000, respectively, and called upon other OAS Member States to follow their example.
The founder and director of the Guatemalan film production company, “Studio C,” Carlos Argüello, made a presentation titled, “Culture and New Technologies as Means for Social Inclusion and Employment Generation,” in which he emphasized the importance of the new digital language for the culture of the Americas of the future, the need to involve youth in this type of project, and the important role of the creative industries in the promotion of development.
Argüello, who with his team worked with Michael Jackson, Oliver Stone and Disney, and was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” underlined the need to provide opportunities to the youth of the continent to take advantage of their potential influence in the development of culture in their countries. “We want to demonstrate first that there is talent in Latin America, that we have very able young people who need our support to boost the new technologies, and that we want to assist them in the preservation of our cultures,” he said.
The Director of the Office of Education and Culture in the OAS Department of Human Development, Lenore García, made a presentation on behalf of the Technical Secretariat of the CIC on the organization of the Inter-American Year of Culture and the coordination of activities to take place within its framework, including multilateral projects between the Organization’s Member States. García mentioned, among other activities, a music festival in The Bahamas, the poetry competition Gabriela Mistral in Chile, and a folk life festival organized by Colombia in Washington, DC. The General Secretariat of the OAS will in the near future launch the Web site for the Inter-American Year of Culture at www.oas.org/en/yearofculture, with information on the objectives of this initiative, its mission and the activities of the Member States.
During the joint session of the Permanent Council and CEPCIDI, the following Permanent Representations to the OAS also took the floor: Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, the United States, Uruguay, Canada, Brazil, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Chile, Bolivia, Suriname, Jamaica and Peru. In general terms, they agreed on highlighting the important role of culture in the development of the region, something with which their governments remain fully committed.
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.