Muy buenos días:
Mayor General Eduardo Herrera Berbel, Rector de la Universidad Militar Nueva Granada
Distinguidos señoras y señores,
Alumnos y alumnas,
Muy buenos días señores y señoras: Quiero agradecerle al Mayor Herrera por esta invitación tan especial. Me siento muy complacido de estar en esta hermosa cuidad de Bogotá y en un país tan diverso y bello como Colombia.
Para mí, como Secretario General Adjunto de la Organización de los Estados Americanos es un honor estar presente hoy día, compartiendo con una audiencia tan distinguida y diversa como esta, mis perspectivas sobre las relaciones actuales en América Latina y el Caribe. Por razones lingüísticas, continuaré mi presentación en inglés para poder expresar con mayor claridad mis observaciones y conclusiones.
I am pleased and honoured to have been invited by the Universidad Militar Nueva Granada to deliver this presentation. I thank you all for being here this morning.
It is perhaps an understatement to say that we are at an interesting moment in regional, hemispheric and global affairs. The world is confronted with a historically unprecedented combination of political and governance challenges, global economic crisis, poverty, inequality, social exclusion, food insecurity, volatile oil prices, the potential of escalation of the tension and conflict in different parts of the world, including in this hemisphere, and the looming threat of climate change and its subsequent impact of life in general. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the reality in which we live, today.
In the Americas specifically, we are bearing witness to ideological differences and rising socio-political tensions in Latin America, especially in the Andean sub-region, and most recently in Central America, with the constitutional crisis in Honduras. There are also increasingly divergent views on what model of development is best for Latin America and the Caribbean, on the conduct of bilateral and multilateral relations and with regard to the integration dynamics of the sub-regions of the Hemisphere. In addition, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and the incredibly high expectations of President Barack Obama’s administration frame in great part the geopolitical reality of the Hemisphere.
When historians, in 30 or 40 years from now, look back at this period, I am sure that they will characterize this moment as the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. But it is up to us to determine now how our Hemisphere will proceed into the future.
All of the above factors and more will influence, in varying degrees, the tone of the ongoing political dialogue among our countries. But let us keep in mind that what ever we do, it is ultimately about the three critical “P’s”: people, peace and prosperity. It is therefore in this context of global challenges and evolving political and economic realties taking place in the hemisphere that I will speak about the current geopolitics of the Americas, and humbly suggest a few strategic directions for the future of multilateralism and inter-American relations.
The Global Context
Across politics, economics, culture and military strength, a new world order is emerging. We are witnessing rapid advances in technology, which make it difficult for some countries to catch up and be part of the global economy in a meaningful way. Bilateral and multilateral relations are constantly being modified and in the post-Cold War world of the early 21st century, new global actors are taking prominence on the international stage.
Russia is reasserting itself and countries like Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico, the more advanced developing nations, are becoming increasingly significant forces in this new world order.
In the economic arena, traditional trading relations are fading across the globe. The interest of China and India, for example, in Latin America and the Caribbean is having a positive impact on the growth of Latin American and Caribbean economies. It is interesting to note that China, for instance, has just joined the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), indications of China’s clear and focused attention on cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean. It is also noteworthy that China has published for the first time, in November 2008, following earlier briefs on Europe and Africa, its policy paper on Latin American and the Caribbean.
These new developments provide for mutually advantageous opportunities for political and economic cooperation and diversification for Latin America and the Caribbean. But they potentially also pose risks to stability in the Western Hemisphere if not handled with sensitivity and diplomatic dexterity.
To add complexity to the emerging picture, it is obvious that the global financial crisis is affecting all of the Western Hemisphere. In Latin America and the Caribbean, in particular, the fallout from the economic crisis is exacerbating existing structural weaknesses and we are faced with an economic downturn and, perhaps and potentially an unwelcome increase in poverty and political instability.
In a similar fashion, the effects of climate change, along with the already proven higher incidence and intensity of hurricanes and other natural disasters, could have catastrophic effects on all the countries of the region, with hurricanes being a particular threat to the islands of and the countries bordering the Caribbean Sea. But let us not forget the several earthquakes, floods, bushfires, draughts and other natural hazards in the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Therefore environmental hazards require the full attention of the whole Hemisphere.
At the same time, Governments in the region will be challenged to maintain positive rates of economic growth and acceptable levels of stability and security. If allowed to worsen unabated, the effects of the economic crisis and global warming together could result in a long, downward economic spiral, with increased unemployment and poverty, rural degradation, loss of food production, increased migration, and higher rates of crime.
Latin America and the Caribbean
If our government are going to succeed in weathering the negative effects of these crises, it will be imperative that they, first of all, focus on safeguarding the political, social and economic achievements of the past 30 years. These achievements have brought about key developments in the socio-political context which I believe characterize and should direct the priorities for the coming decades. We cannot afford to loose the progress achieved so far in establishing and strengthening democracy, rule law, human rights, as they are indeed critical conditions to facilitate confidence, security and economic development.
Firstly, some 30 years ago in Latin America, there were still dictatorships. Since then Latin America has gone through a democratization process that has brought to the fore different ideological, political, economic and social interests within and among countries and sub-regions, and I believe we should welcome his diversity of opinions as an enrichment of our democracies. Democracy has also created political space for previously marginalized groups in society, such as women, youth and indigenous people.
Secondly, more recently, since 2006, we have witnessed a significant turnover, through democratic means, in the political leadership of the Hemisphere, with more than 20 countries undergoing general elections. During this period, roughly two-thirds of the peoples of the Americas have been involved in some sort of electoral process.
Thirdly, although some progress has been made, the Latin American and Caribbean region, despite reasonable economic growth, continues to have unacceptable high levels of poverty. As a result of this situation, poverty affects one out of every three Latin Americans despite improvements recorded in the last decade of the last century. Gains of democracy and economic development need to reach all in society. This, taking into account the high level of income inequality in our hemisphere, seems not to be the case. The resulting sense of hopelessness, marginalization and exclusion is one of the key factors contributing to insecurity in the region.
All of the above three factors indicate that democracy does not begin and end with elections alone, as recently also expressed by the Inter-American Juridical Committee. Elections need to be followed by democratic governance and the delivery of anticipated social and economic goods through sound public and economic policies. What is worrying is that the relative political and economic gains over the last two decades might now be in danger of being dramatically eroded by the global financial crisis and political differences, as well as by more specific challenges arising from threats to food and energy security, the environmental crisis, and the violence associated with organized crime, youth gangs, and the illegal trade in drugs and firearms. Thus, the region’s biggest challenge will be not to lose ground with respect to the gains made in the social area and not to go backwards by rejecting policies that have proven to be successful. The inspiration and strategic vision of Simon Bolivar of a united and peaceful Americas cannot be lost.
Ironically, while the international financial crisis is testing the resiliency of our countries, its governments and societies, it has made evident the level of our interdependency, and has obligated much of the world to seek each other in ways never seen before. It is in this context, that I stress that, today more than any other moment in history, we must embrace the value of multilateralism and the strengthening of regional and sub-regional organizations working in the areas of democratic governance, development, peace and security.
In this respect, I applaud President Obama’s embrace of ‘smart power’. His administration is, from all indications, already adopting a key recommendation of the Commission on Smart Power, that is, to “invest in a new multilateralism” by reinvigorating the alliances, partnerships and institutions that allow the United States to work side by side with its Latin American and Caribbean partners to address numerous challenges through consensus and cooperation. The OAS and the hemisphere as a whole can only benefit immeasurably from such an approach.
Strengthening our Commitment to Cooperation and Partnership
This may be an opportune moment to speak briefly about the OAS, its, structure, mandates and priorities. Many of you may not know, but the OAS is the oldest regional political organization in the world, based on the ideas of Simón Bolívar to create one, united hemisphere. The OAS in its modern form was established in 1948 right here in Santa Fe de Bogotá with 21 founding members.
Through its unique convening power, the OAS is able to provide leadership in the inter-American system by bringing together 34 Member States from this Hemisphere; 62 Permanent Observers from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa; as well as other specialized agencies, to give political momentum to the inter-American agenda.
The original purpose of the OAS was to collectively strengthen democracy and secure a prosperous community of nations in the Western Hemisphere. Today the basic mandates of the OAS are the promotion of democratic governance, respect for human rights, citizen security and socio-economic development.
In recent times, the OAS has been cited in the media regarding its role in managing the political tensions which have arisen in the region. While I recognize there has been some constructive criticism of the Organization, I firmly believe that the OAS is a relevant and necessary institution, and needs to be strengthened financially and institutionally. Transnational problems require a multilateral approach and the OAS is the only political platform where 34 countries from the Hemisphere with shared interests and challenges can meet and act collectively.
It is not an easy task to bring together the different political and economic interests of countries and sub-regions under one institution. This diversity, although understandable given the different histories, political and legal systems, economic opportunities and performances, foreign policies, hemispheric relations, etc., makes consensus building difficult in many areas. It is clear to me that, for example, that the principle interests of countries and sub-regions may be quite different from one another.
Clearly we cannot allow existing social and political differences result in more extreme fractures within and between countries, as the implications for democracy, regional stability, economic prosperity and the hemispheric integration process could be detrimental.
In light of hemispheric and global developments and in the context of the overlapping membership of OAS member states in other regional and sub-regional such as the Rio Group, the Ibero-American Summit, the South American Union (UNASUR),and the Latin American and Caribbean Summit (CALC) on Integration and Development, we cannot discount the important role regional and multilateral organizations play in addressing the myriad of social, political and economic issues facing the Hemisphere.
In this regard, I believe it is of strategic importance to intensify cooperation and communication between all the sub-regions of the Hemisphere, the Andean Community, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Southern Cone and Central America.
There is no doubt, despite the tremendous obstacles the region has faced in the last 30 years that Latin America and the Caribbean have achieved progress on multiple fronts. Over the past five decades, as the regions population has increased from 218 million to 579 million, life expectancy has risen from 56 to almost 74 years of age.
In the political context, the consolidation of democracy within the Hemisphere, through transparent, inclusive and free elections, is yet another notable development.
At the same time, though Latin America and the Caribbean is a region in transition--a region that is becoming increasingly modernized but is still tied to the past--as it continues to have the world’s worst income distribution, making inequality a primary concern.
As the OAS and its member states continue to reflect on both the achievements of the past 30 years, and the challenges which lie ahead, one fundamental question we must ask ourselves is how can the OAS and the international community in general embrace these realties in a way that allows us to respond effectively and efficiently to the pressing social and economic demands, and expectations of member states and their societies.
In the past 15 years, the OAS has embarked on a path of revitalization and change. Through the establishment of successive mandates, Summit of the American Plans of Actions, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and institutional restructuring, the OAS has adapted its political and institutional initiatives to respond to numerous challenges. The creation of the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy in 1990 marked a turning point for the Organization in its commitment to the preservation and strengthening of democratic governance. Today, this Unit, established on the basis of the1990 resolution to broaden the OAS role in the promotion and strengthening of representative democracy, has evolved into a Secretariat for Political Affairs.
As we continue to strengthen the OAS, we must also revitalize the inter-American system and strengthen the collaboration between the principal institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture and the OAS. However, to do this, genuine cooperation must be form the basis of our hemispheric integration and development process.
Allow me outline a few key strategic areas which I believe are areas central to sustaining democratic governance and ensuring a better, peaceful and prosperous future the next generation of citizens.
Structural peace building: In light of the significant levels of tension which exist and currently threaten to erode the achievements of the past, there is a need to foster and adopt mechanisms to ensure friendlier relations between countries and sub-regions through out the Hemisphere. Our focus must centre on structural peace-building efforts and functional cooperation.
What do I mean by this structural peace-building? This means governments must incorporate across policies, the need to address the roots and sources of conflict and tension and to reinforce peaceful relations between competing sectors in a society and between countries within a sub-region.
Hemispheric security: The Western Hemisphere is confronting a range of traditional and non-traditional security threats, many of which are cross-border in nature and some of which threaten the ability of governments to govern. In this context, I believe governments must review how they can better create the conditions for stability and security through the design of a comprehensive security arrangement that also incorporates the social and economic development needs of societies.
Next-generation measures to strengthen and deepen democracy: Democracy has created valuable space for public-private dialogue and greater inclusion, particularly of traditionally marginalized groups. At the same time it has not fully delivered on the expectations of the people of the Hemisphere, particularly those living in young democracies.
It is time to begin talking about moving towards a new model of democratic governance to ensure more efficient delivery of social and economic goods and services. In this regard, it will be important to focus on the modernization of politics and political parties, with the aim of achieving more efficient and effective democratic institutions; improving transparency; enhancing the ability of parliaments to provide for the voice of the people to be heard more clearly, and to exercise the necessary checks and balances in open, democratic systems.
The use of new technologies to promote greater citizen participation is an important element of new generation measures. The deepening and strengthening of our democracies is essential if we are to maintain and build on the gains achieved, particularly in the last few decades.
Building and strengthening partnerships for shared responsibility: Modern governance, with increased political attention being paid to transparency and accountability, requires executive and legislative authorities to become more receptive to inputs from civil society.
Structured and meaningful mechanisms for dialogue on issues of public policy, with the participation of civil society, the private sector and trade unions can contribute to informed, effective policy making by governments. In the same vein, I believe that the business community also has a responsibility to be accountable and transparent corporate social responsibility should be the rule not the exception.
Real integral development: A new approach to development, particularly in our Hemisphere, that is characterized by asymmetries is fundamental for the peace and prosperity in our 35-nation grouping.
We need a new approach that is truly multilateral and transformative in nature, and which is not only focused on trade and related arrangements, but also takes into account the vulnerabilities of countries; special and differential elements intrinsic to some countries or sub-regions; optimizes human potential; and harnesses the benefits of science and technology to penetrate a larger portion of our countries, especially rural and marginalized communities.
We need to do more, a lot more, to combat extreme poverty, to fight against discrimination and social exclusion, and to fulfil the promise of providing more opportunities for all.
Education for peace and development: I have already spoken about the unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in our hemisphere. If not addressed adequately, these will remain an important source of instability and insecurity. Studies have shown that there is a correlation that links crime and violence to poverty and the lack of economic and educational opportunities.
Therefore, it is of critical importance that governments not only address the symptoms of poverty, violence and crime, but seek to analyze and address the underlying, structural causes of these problems and move to deliver on social policy objectives, especially in education.
Youth: In many of our countries, youth represent the majority of the population. They are today’s work force and tomorrow’s leaders. Yet, there is a disturbing trend emerging of disaffected youth who operate outside the mainstream of the development paradigm and, sometimes, outside the law.
Young people often feel frustrated, excluded and marginalized, because, in many cases, even with an education, they cannot find employment or opportunities for entrepreneurship are stymied. If this situation continues, the inter-generational transmission of poverty will remain a dismal reality for many young people and challenges for peace and stability will grow.
In this regard, I believe strongly that governments and business should pay special attention to the situation of youth in their countries, providing more cultural exchanges across the Americas, strengthening programs for language instruction, providing job training, educating youth to enter the marketplace, and providing mentoring and internship programs, among other initiatives.
As I have stated the region has experienced fundamental developments and transformations: an enhancement of democracy in Latin America; the election of new political leaders with independent ideas and initiatives on democracy, development and security; the election of a new political leader in the USA with the promise of momentous change; and the impact of a severe financial crisis, on top of other developmental challenges, all of which underlines the fragility of the hemispheric scenario.
All these realities demand a new vision for the Americas, one that will provide hope and avenues for meaningful change and commitment to the causes of the peoples of this hemisphere. Leaders have to commit through concrete initiatives to a hemispheric partnership for a comprehensive, holistic development, focusing on the human potential, advocating education for development which will improve the economic and security environment, creating stability and prosperity in societies.
In conclusion, the task before us is not an impossible one, in fact over the past fifty years an amazing foundation and framework have been laid out. The real challenge from a multilateral perspective is linked to the international community’s ability, in our case, the OAS and other regional organizations, to recognize the constantly shifting political, social and economic tendencies, and to have the foresight and flexibility to respond adequately to these changes in a timely manner.
We must continue to work towards greater collaboration on democracy and sustainable socio-economic development; and the kind of engagement that fosters peaceful resolution of disputes, consensus-building and cooperation across sectors in the design of participatory public policymaking and responsive and responsible buy-in from the governments and civil society of the Americas.
I certainly look forward to a more equitable, stable and prosperous and safe Western Hemisphere, for which we all individually and collectively bear the responsibility.
I thank you for your kind attention.