Media Center

Press Release


  December 8, 2006

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, said today that Latin Americans continue to believe that democracy is the best political system, but have doubts about its effectiveness in delivering the economic benefits they desire. Insulza spoke at the opening session of the XXIII Meeting of the Latin American Parliament, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Citing recently released findings by the polling firm Latinobarómetro, Insulza noted that although democracy is going through a clear process of consolidation in the hemisphere, it faces serious challenges in gaining citizens’ complete trust. Economic growth, poverty, environmental issues, integration, security and governance are among the principal areas he said must be tackled in order for democracy to deliver the benefits that the people expect from it.

Insulza said that according to the poll, 74 percent of Latin Americans consider democracy the best political system, adding that this opinion is reflected in the countries that have held elections. But he warned about the need to “ensure that economic growth translates into benefits for the people, because the popular perception is that growth does not translate into a better quality of life for the average citizen.”

The Secretary General noted that “it is difficult to reduce the effects of poverty without economic growth, and the only country in the region that has improved its revenue distribution is Brazil; the rest of the countries have not been able to do that. That is why economic growth plays such an important role.” Comparing the estimates of per capita income in the developed and underdeveloped worlds, he said that in the last 30 years, this figure has grown by 60 percent in the United States, 50 percent in Europe, and only 11 percent in Latin America.

“It is difficult to propose ways to improve living conditions for the poorest when there is such little growth, and so we must ask, during a period in which growth is solid, how we can maintain it and better distribute its benefits,” he said.

Insulza argued that this can be done, “but we have certain institutional weaknesses that impede our states from doing everything they have to in the area of growth. Our first challenge, then, has to do with growth. The second is poverty: we have a third of the population in conditions of extreme poverty, living on two dollars per day. This is not how it should be given the size and nature of a continent that is not the poorest but the most unjust, as a former Latin American president has said.”

Insulza identified the environment and integration as the next challenges to face. On environmental concerns, he quoted one of the conclusions of the hemisphere’s ministers of sustainable development, who at their recent meeting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, identified poverty as one of the major causes of erosion and environmental deterioration. The conditions of misery under which millions of people live, Insulza said, create enormous damage to the general quality of life. “Our challenge, therefore, is to improve the human environment in which people live.”

The issue of integration, Insulza said, reflects a political will that doesn’t provide the instruments to carry it out. “We create institutions and don’t provide them with the powers necessary to apply the adopted agreements.” Nobody is willing to assume the costs of integration; this process is expensive and nobody in our hemisphere wants to pay for it,” he said.

Insulza also referred to security as another key challenge, and noted that this region has the world’s highest crime statistics. “Crime is growing and that discourages investment,” he warned.

Finally he referred to governance, which he said “is related to everything else I’ve mentioned. Citizens believe in democracy as the best form of government, but the governments are not adequately solving problems. And that needs to be fixed. To maintain its levels of employment, Latin America needs to create 5 million jobs per year, and we are far from reaching these numbers. People associate the issue of employment with crime, and in many cases our states do not have the capacity to solve this problem.”

It is not simply a matter of more government, Insulza cautioned, but rather of better government – one that is focused on combating corruption, inefficiency, bureaucracy, but that at the same time recognizes that “without an effort from the public sector, progress will be difficult.”

Reference: E-273/06