Media Center



September 5, 2012 - Washington, DC

Thank you very much and welcome again. I think that it is very clear that this Conference is growing every year. Traditionally, we have met in another place, in a venue we had been in for many years, and I should mention that we are very grateful to the Brookings Institution, but it was time for a larger place and I see that almost all the chairs are occupied.

This Conference truly marks the beginning of the academic year in which it brings together Latin American experts, analysts and senior policy makers from the Washington area. I should say that the balance of the past years and of the past conferences are a positive balance, at least from the political point of view. As Enrique García has pointed out, there are some concerns about the economy in the region and the concerns will continue until Europe and the United States achieve larger stability and growth.

After all, we talk a lot about the emerging markets, we are going to talk about them some more during the Conference, but the underlying fact is that the U.S. and Europe, continue to count for half of the world economy and if anything happens in those two regions, rest assured that, by all means, we are going to be affected by them. In general, Latin America can boast in saying that things were done appropriately, though the region is not growing as fast as it grew last year, but we still have to look at the whole picture of the global economy and find out what is going to happen in the world scene.

From the political point of view, I should point out that we have had a normal year. We have had some elections, some have been contested fairly, others not, but there have been clear results. We have observed those elections and now that the election in Mexico has officially concluded I can say that we had for the first time in our history an Observation Mission in Mexico. The Mission was deployed throughout the country and we think that the outcome of the election was a clear one. There is a discussion there, but from the point of view of the OAS, I can say that the election was a clear process as was the one in the Dominican Republic, - former President Fernandez is here-.

We are still faced with a couple of elections before the end of the year, one is going to be in Venezuela and some others will take place in the Caribbean, but in general, it has been a good year from the point of view of democratic rule. We had the problem of Paraguay and we hope to continue working in the direction of solving that issue, and then, we also had a Summit, I should have started by the Summit. I think it was a good Summit, frankly, if you read the documents of the Summit carefully it covers in great part the question that President Santos asked “what do we have to do to make this the decade of Latin America”. Of course, there were some political issues picked up in the press as being very important, but in general, we have some very clear mandates coming from the Summit.

Energy –which has been mentioned- was a big concern specially at the business meeting and I think that some important mandates were achieved there. The OAS was mandated to review the Drug policy -which has also been discussed-, so I think in general it was a good meeting, a good Summit, a good dialogue at the Summit of the Americas despite being held in an election year in the U.S. as the President of Uruguay rightly stated that “it will be very difficult to have answers in some of the issues that are being presented and we should never ask for that before an election.”

Now, in spite of this, it has been a peaceful year and the announcement of President Santos yesterday closes a very good year from the point of view of internal relations and problems among neighboring countries, but at the end, we are still faced with the same challenges that are inherent to the region. Inequality continues to be a big challenge in Latin America and with the economic growth and the rise of the middle classes the problem does not become less of a problem it becomes a bigger concern because there is an increasing demand from the new middle classes for better education, better services, better infrastructure and that is a challenge that Latin America will have to face eventually.

There is a big crime challenge which has been mentioned for quite some time. I think we have had some good advances in coordinating this issue in Central America and other regions but I think we still have a long way to go, and of course there are political challenges, some of which have been mentioned already. Institutions remain weak in many parts, an independent judiciary is still low in several countries, freedom of expression, which is a basic Human Right, continues to be challenged, but I would put the accent in one more general impression.

We are going to keep on having elections, we have had some elections recently, and one of the conclusions that I have come to draw is that we have carved a very deep and clear division in society. I spoke to a President –I will not mention him at this moment- a few days ago and he told me that he did not speak to anybody in the opposition and I think democracy has a lot to do with what you call “chains of trust” and we are increasingly lacking in this.

The lack of common ground among political forces in many countries in the region, not in all of them, there are some countries who have a substantial political dialogue but I think that we are faced with the situation in some countries that the “chains of trust” are broken. In elections, anyone who wins, feels that he has won it all and the loser thinks he is out of the system and I think that is dangerous for democracy. I think that the problem of “chains of trust” has become a fundamental issue in the Americas today and can become worse in the next years because the differences among governments and oppositions are getting all the time larger and not smaller.

I really do hope that some of these matters can be discussed today and I welcome you once again. I’m very pleased to see you participating at this event.

Thank you very much.