Media Center



October 23, 1997 - Washington, DC

It is indeed a privilege for me to address the prestigious forum of the Club of Rome on one of the most powerful issues in the development of our civilization which has placed us in the midst of a revolution that compares only with the upheaval triggered by the invention of the printing press, or the use of electricity or even the steam engine, all of which were essential to the industrial revolution.
We find ourselves once again at a moment in history when we are discovering the many possibilities that information technology offers. It is right therefore to reflect on how the changes that are taking place -- or better yet -- taking over, will benefit the citizens.
Globalization is a phenomenon without historical precedents. It has been driven and stimulated by the new information and communications technologies. In turn, these are transforming our societies and our lives and placing our economies in a global competitive environment. However, at the same time, globalization is the vital force of our local economies. It sets the timing. It defines the characteristics and direction of investments, of greater competition, and of the search for new markets.
Today governments, their institutions and the very concept of sovereignty must face new circumstances such as the reordering of the world into integration blocs, and the changes in the decision making process of the international system. They must cope with the simultaneous reemergence of decentralization, municipalities, local forces as well as with the distinctive cultural realities, within each country, that are seeking room and demanding greater popular participation in the management of public affairs at the local and regional levels.
As if that were not enough, our institutions must also deal with the fact that no technology has progressed as quickly as information. In fact, nothing has ever changed as dramatically as the behavior of societies that are now engaged in the information revolution that is standardizing, on a global level, the kind of information everyone is receiving. People from all walks of life, from any region, regardless of their level of education know this information revolution intimately: Internet, microchips, Microsoft, e-mail, CNN are just some of the symbols of this new phenomenon.
The impact of the information age, its transforming revolution and the accelerated development of the global information infrastructure are growing continuously. In fact, every political, social, economic, legal and financial concept must now be reinvented in order to keep up with the changes of this new planetary community, whose flows of information know no boundaries. For instance, consider for a moment the manner in which we now conduct business. The financial markets have globalized to the extent that one can now invest, in any denomination, from anywhere in the world, electronically transferring millions upon millions of dollars in an instant.
As a result, new forces and trends of great complexity have been created. These make it difficult to foresee the magnitude of the new changes that are and will continue to take place in our societies. Nevertheless, those of us in public life still have an obligation to anticipate and make sure that these developments lead to greater human well-being. We must take care that these do not threaten the rights and protections that were secured by the vast networks created by the post-industrial states.
Today, it is hard to deny that we are living in a time of profound changes that were not necessarily designed in the laboratories of the great powers and their big companies. Most often they are the result of the labors of young entrepreneurs and small businesses whose staggering growth does not depend on substantial capital investments. Instead, they stem from the creativity and inventiveness that characterize this technological revolution.
These developments have led to a systematic challenge of the concepts upon which the organization and the structure of the nation-state has relied. Now we are forced to rethink the theories as well as to reconsider notions of security and of sovereignty in order to develop new parameters for social organization. Ultimately, this must be done if we are to secure greater benefits for our citizens. The world community must, moreover, adapt its political, economic, social and cultural dimensions to this new reality.
To begin, we must respond to the intense debate that is taking place in both developed and developing countries about the extent to which globalization is either a source of growth and prosperity, as most economists and political leaders claim, or a threat to the social stability and natural environment as others would see it. Simultaneously, we must also deal with the growing concern about the adverse impact of globalization, as a result of the universalization of the values it promotes, on national cultures and identities. This is the real context in which we must measure both the progress of building the global information infrastructure and the extent to which it can help improve the well being of millions upon millions of people. Moreover, the decisions we take will be critical, especially as we enter this new era of great opportunities great risks. The unavoidable challenges that lie ahead are and will be difficult to manage.
All this leads us to a difficult problem, which is that globalization increases the demand for social security while limiting the abilities of governments to respond effectively to that demand. At the same time, international trade places great pressure on social institutions and laws whose costs can adversely affect the competitive advantage of those countries who try to maintain generous legislation on behalf of their workers.
If we do not want globalization to undermine the well being of many, this would suggest that the best way to confront it is by not imposing commercial barriers. Instead, we must improve the network of state protections for those who have difficulty adapting to the new rules that govern the productive system, as well as for those who have difficulty prospering, even temporarily, in a world market.
At this point I would like to talk about how we are going to ensure that our societies can adjust to globalization without undermining the basic values of individual cultures. Its development must depend on the capacity of the human being to adapt to change while preserving his identity and on the acknowledgment of the cultural diversity of the world.
The information society must blend the double role of global unification while appreciating the importance of cultural diversity in each society and the need to respect these local traits.
How can we achieve this objective without triggering sudden waves of nationalism that could force some societies to regress? Or, how can we advance along a path of tolerance and cultural diversity that can offer integration that increases our well being and security instead of the confrontation of cultures that would threaten our beliefs and our identities as Huntington predicts?
In particular, how can we collectively secure rules, through a multilateral system, which will allow us to manage the differences and conflicts so that globalization does not lead us to a society of greater conflicts without the legitimate means to arbitrate them?
A recent case in point is the problem of volatility caused by the transition to modernization and globalization of many emerging economies that lack the institutional infrastructure to make capitalism a stable system. We must take care that these great fluctuations in growth will favor an environment with fewer shocks and changes. There is no doubt that any form of volatile capitalism is harmful to globalization.
My dear friends of the Club of Rome:
Having examined some of the potential consequences of globalization, we must take a look at some of its other characteristics. It is important to stress that information technology is strengthening civil society. The public’s greater access to information and the strengthening of new non-governmental actors provide citizens a voice and a practical control over their governments. This also ensures greater room for democracy and its institutions for human rights and individual liberty, as well as for the fight against corruption, greater equity, access to health, education, and justice.
What seems clear today is that communication technology is involving citizens in areas that are deeply linked to democratic processes and participatory policies. The poor are delving into new and sophisticated local and international networks of civic organizations that generate new types of social movements transcending borders and traditional concepts of social classes.
Everything seems to indicate that the journey toward the information society will be increasingly intense and rapid. However, it is also equally clear that the quality of the process will depend on the quality of international collaboration. For this reason, any shared vision must take into account the principles enunciated by the OECD, following the G-7 Ministerial Meeting of Brussels, concerning the information society. Allow me to mention a few. Such a vision must include dynamic competence, stimulation of private investment, transparency, multilateral regulatory frameworks and open access to networks and services. It must promote equal opportunities for all countries and for all citizens as well as foster diversity of content, including ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity. Finally, any common plan for the future must recognize the need for close collaboration and international partnerships, with special emphasis on the least developed countries.
If the process progresses in this direction for the first part of the next century, all information will be available in cyberspace providing access to much of human knowledge. Cyberspace will provide the new basis for new means of communication, entertainment and education.
As this set of circumstances takes root, many longstanding institutions are beginning to show signs of exhaustion in the face of new demands for greater transparency and greater public access to information about their objectives, costs and sources of financing, among others. In time, many of them, public and private, will cease to exist as we know them today. Good examples include such venerable institutions as the postal service and other public services as well as the banks. The information society by definition will give more power to the citizens who will demand new political instruments that guarantee social stability. New laws will be required to regulate cyberspace and to define multilateral systems able to act transnationally to adapt the international system to the new era.
The global information infrastructure will be an interdependent network of a thousand sub-networks that will exist in factories, companies, homes, universities, governmental offices, financial centers, schools, hospitals and many other places we cannot imagine today. The change will effect the lives of people in every corner of the globe. It will erase geographic borders and allow an ever-increasing exchange of information, experiences, technology and ideas in real time. The merging of computers and communication technologies will facilitate the transmission of texts, images, and audio-visual materials to anyone at any time. For all this to take place, according to IBM experts, the global information society will have the awesome task of integrating a very wide variety of elements in order to create a new way to learn, work and interact in the society of the 21st century.
Distinguished friends:
At this point, I would like to draw your attention to what might, at first blush, seem promising. I am speaking of the challenges of an evolutionary process, which if badly focused, could introduce new dangers to society. Perhaps the greatest and most worrisome aspect is the potential exclusion of certain regions, countries or broad sections of the global population, thereby creating a world operating at two different and contradictory speeds.
In effect, we now live at a time when the political and economic vision of the West seems to dominate the planet, or in other words, is imposing itself on the rest of the globe. This kind of perception can introduce counter-productive tensions that undermine social equilibriums, introduce volatility into the capital markets, accentuate cultural dislocation, and eventually worsen social inequities. In turn, the reaction could range from gridlock and a certain amount of rejection to the changes that our economies and societies require, to a more worrisome reemergence of ideologies opposed to the "Western Culture."
As President Cardozo of Brazil stated rightly, Latin America -- which is not the poorest region but the most unjust-- has accepted the challenge of modernization. However, it needs to take a real qualitative leap into the modern world and enter into global competition in order to overcome its enormous social problems. That explains why some of the tasks we set for ourselves at the end of the Cold War, and especially at the Miami Summit, are to design a hemispheric architecture to confront the impediments, to strengthen our democracies, to fight environmental degradation, poverty, terrorism, drugs, corruption, to make education the vital force behind our development and to promote trade integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The OAS has applied the opportunities that information technology offers to improve the quality of its management, but even more importantly, to support the role of the Organization as a hemispheric forum both in the political as well as in the cooperation spheres.
The OAS home page receives a great number of visits, with an average of more than 6,500 daily hits, and this number is growing every day. Our system provides assistance and services, opens areas of dialogue, provides tools of collaboration and disseminates information about the activities of the Organization that would otherwise be impossible.
For instance, we are using the tools of the global village to provide a comprehensive information system about the process of the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and to make possible a virtual dialogue on trade. In the field of drug abuse control, the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) has a unique home page that includes information about hemispheric action programs, model regulations for drug control, and comprehensive information to support national drug control institutions. Finally, we are actively looking for ways to master this technology in order to promote access to information and collective action on such other critical issues as democracy, human rights, telecommunications and culture.
If we understand the phenomena of information and know how to use it correctly, this extraordinary revolution could become one of the principal elements of the solution to the social problems of our time. This is especially true as long as they are used as instruments to reach the specific objectives of progress and equality in human development. We must remember that the information society does not necessarily have built-in solutions to the complex problems of our century. However, if it is properly focused, it can contribute many solutions as long as it is viewed in the larger global context where other forces of change reside.
Even though information and communication technologies are already having a noticeable impact by enabling greater participation and strengthening democracy, it will ultimately depend not only on these very systems but also on the parallel evolution of other factors. These include the deepening of democratic culture and the emergence of leaders who know how to use these technologies to promote participation, greater international solidarity and the education of peoples who can access the means, opportunities and resources to participate more effectively in international society.
Dear friends:
All this change brought about by globalization carries with it risks and opportunities. And, in this case, both are only now beginning to be appreciated. That is why it is so important that your meeting today should have chosen this topic. Since its inception, the Club of Rome has been known for its forward thinking in the global discussion. You have a reputation for anticipating the trends that define the great transformations of contemporary society. Today, you have once again demonstrated this characteristic.
At home, we often say that in today’s busy life the urgent never leaves enough time for the important. That is why it is good to see that those of you who are here have succeeded in holding on to your ability to look beyond, to observe what is coming and to sense, as the sentinels of the past, the direction of events in the world in which the fate of each and every one of us is more and more entangled.