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Press Release


  March 12, 2007

The Organization of American States (OAS), today examined the correlation between the high levels of inequality, social exclusion and extreme poverty in the Americas and their impact on citizen security in the member countries, with a view to finding solutions and strengthening the region’s democracies.

Opening the seminar convened to address these issues, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said the persistence of inequality and poverty represents one of the main challenges “to development, democratic governance and security in the hemisphere.” As a result, he said, these threats should be confronted with a new multidimensional perspective that focuses on political, economic and social factors.

Despite positive economic growth in recent years, Insulza said, the governments of the Americas still face complex problems. He said that political stability and citizen security depend largely on the inclusion of marginalized sectors of society and on the eradication of poverty.

“The governments must promote greater participation and aim toward establishing more inclusive public policies, in order to promote greater social cohesion and stability of the political system. When high levels of inequality and exclusion converge, democratic governance faces certain risks,” he said. The OAS leader added that when states have to earmark scarce public resources to confront the problems caused by delinquency, drug trafficking and crime, necessary resources are diverted away from priority areas related to economic and social development.

He stressed that “it is truly imperative to break the vicious cycle of inequality, crime and discrimination,” adding that “a more balanced distribution of resources and prosperity is an essential requirement to raise the levels of security for all in the region.”

The seminar—convened by the Committee on Hemispheric Security and the Permanent Executive Committee of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CEPCIDI), both OAS entities—included two panels related to these issues: Combating hunger and poverty and strengthening security—An overview; and Combating poverty and strengthening security—International initiatives for the development of Haiti and MINUSTAH.

The Minister of Justice and Public Security of Haiti, Rene Magloire, who participated in the meeting, shared his country’s progress and challenges on security matters, underscoring the positive support provided by the international community and by the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH).

The Haitian Minister noted that domestic conflicts tend to aggravate the problems of poverty. He said that Haiti remains the most vulnerable country of the region as a result of the high levels of extreme poverty it suffers, which leads to the rise of criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

Although he recognized that, thanks to the international commitment, the country has seen “positive steps forward” in the area of security and the strengthening of institutions, Magloire said that “we need to regain our security and achieve good results, and to do so we need to establish peace among ourselves.”

The Haitian diplomat added that “we will continue to promote a climate of dialogue and inclusion; in this way we will be able to strengthen our institutions, such as the judicial police.” This will help “create an environment of trust, which is essential to achieve better long-term economic investments to overcome poverty in our country,” he said.

For his part, the Representative of Costa Rica to the OAS and Chair of the Committee on Hemispheric Security, Ambassador Javier Sancho Bonilla, reiterated the need to combat extreme poverty, inequality and social exclusion, “not only because these have become an ethical problem that we must urgently solve, but also because they constitute a potential threat to the stability of our countries.”

Ambassador Sancho Bonilla noted that the causes of these problems have to do with political, economic and social processes and also with environmental phenomena that transcend borders. He explained that his government has identified three responses to help overcome these problems: “free trade, investing in education and reducing military expenses.”

“Democracy is the unquestionable path to take in order to find solutions—through the only legitimate course of consensus, dialogue and participation—to all the imperatives and difficulties that day to day are imposed on our peoples,” said Sancho Bonilla.

The Chair of CEPCIDI, Ambassador Ellsworth John of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that “there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that the benefits of democracy do not filter down to the majority. This clearly presents a threat to political stability in our countries.” Ambassador John called on the OAS to continue leading efforts to alleviate poverty in the hemisphere, working together with other international entities such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Throughout the day, the delegates will hear presentations from representatives of the IDB, the World Bank, academic sectors and civil society, among other experts.

Reference: E-076/07