Media Center



  June 3, 2007

PANAMA CITY, Panama –At the inaugural session of the 37th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said he was pleased about progress in the region—reflected in the development and consolidation of democracy, hemispheric security, economic growth and the struggle against poverty—and highlighted the challenge of achieving greater equality and equity for the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“In delivering my annual report, it is with great satisfaction that I can affirm that today the Americas are experiencing growth with democracy,” the Secretary General said Sunday evening, as he opened the annual meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the 34 OAS member countries. The President of Panama, Martín Torrijos, and United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke at the inaugural session.

After thanking the government of President Torrijos for his hospitality, Secretary General Insulza noted that in 2006 the region’s Gross Domestic Product grew some 5.3 percent, showing an increase for the fourth consecutive year. Citing statistics from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Insulza said this positive performance “is beginning to have an impact on an area of major concern for our Organization: poverty.” He added that from 2002 to 2006, the number of poor people diminished by 16 million and those living in extreme poverty by 18 million, adding that “from that we can conclude that the past four years were also a period of strong social performance in the region.”

He noted that in spite of this progress, the fight against poverty continues to be a priority in the development agenda of inter-American institutions, because some 40 percent of the population of Latin America is still poor and a large number of people still live in extreme poverty. “This state of affairs is becoming increasingly intolerable if one considers the inequalities, because, while our region is not the poorest part of the world, it is the most unequal,” said the Secretary General, noting that poverty disproportionately affects indigenous people, people of African descent and women heads of households.

In his remarks to the Heads of Delegations, Insulza underscored the consolidation of democracy in the region, recalling that from November 2005 and December 2006, 36 elections or run-offs were held in 21 OAS member states, “all of them conducted peacefully, with massive participation and results accepted by all.”

The public continues to believe that “democracy may have its shortcomings, but it is the best form of government,” which shows that the region has shed the image of political instability and economic weakness that haunted it for decades, Insulza said.

The OAS has not only helped promote democratic stability, but has also fostered economic development in the region, he said. Insulza reaffirmed his commitment to support countries that are seeking to complete Free Trade Agreements with the United States as well as the renewal of the Andean Trade Partnership and Drug Eradication Agreement.

The OAS continues to be concerned about Haiti, said Insulza, who noted that the Organization maintains a Working Group charged with supporting and following up on institutional rebuilding in that country and as part of that effort, has reconstituted the Group of Friends of Haiti in Washington.

The unprecedented growth in criminal activity, evidenced in drug trafficking, human trafficking, gangs, urban crime, money laundering and other problems, is a challenge the region must address through international cooperation, because it about “a social scourge that not only degrades and does physical and moral harm to people; it is also extremely costly in economic and political terms,” Insulza said.

Good governance is another challenge that Insulza said the countries of the hemisphere must face. He stressed the need to be aware that “deepening democracy and its institutions are the primary obligations of a democratic government and that, conversely, exclusion, silencing or repression of opponents are certain to undermine democracy.”

“Full democracy presupposes the establishment of a fully tolerant environment, in each country and at the hemispheric level,” he said.

Governance also has to do with efficiency, the Secretary General said, indicating that politics and government must increasingly be supported by knowledge and technology needed for effective public administration and that these should be taught and acquired by those who are called on to govern.

Referring to the main theme of the General Assembly, “Energy for Sustainable Development,” Insulza brought up three topics for consideration on the region’s energy agenda: the promotion of rational and efficient use of conventional energy sources, especially hydrocarbons; better use of emissions trading mechanisms, such as those envisioned in the Kyoto protocol, to attract investment and technology needed for “clean” industrial production; and incentives for alternative and renewable energy sources.

In his presentation, the UN Secretary-General said the OAS is a vital partner of the United Nations. “Since the beginning of our partnership six decades ago, we have come to appreciate the need to collaborate in a structured and efficient manner,” he said. He noted that both organizations are opening channels to share information and resources more efficiently, including with the “vibrant partnership” of the OAS and the Economic Commission of the United Nations for Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Ban Ki-moon added that this alliance must take on one of today’s greatest global threats, climate change. He noted that this threat will come to affect everyone on the plant and that it already poses an imminent danger for many, from those who live on small islands, who are threatened by the growing intensity of tropical storms, to those who live in mountainous areas that depend on glacier melt for water resources.

President Torrijos welcomed the foreign ministers gathered for the regional meeting and thanked the OAS for its ongoing support of Panama at different points in its history, most recently for its observation of the October 2006 referendum that approved the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Torrijos referred to the energy issue, which was proposed by his government for debate in the General Assembly, and called on the delegation to find areas of agreement and joint projects that can benefit the countries of the region, especially the poorest. He said his government had suggested focusing on the energy issue because “it is in that area in which we can complement the region’s resources and undertake projects that generate jobs and develop our enormous potential.”

Reference: GA-17-07