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February 16, 2015 - Mexico City

I am delighted to be sharing with you this great challenge of discussing hemispheric relations, the relations among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Just a few months ago, the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the end of the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall one era came to an end and another began that was no longer shaped by the East-West conflict, even though it remained fraught with deep-seated uncertainties.

Even though we could not know what the future would hold in store for us, predictions were optimistic. Many students of international affairs, who had placed the bipolar confrontation at the heart of their explanations, had begun, even before 1989, to discern the early signs of a confrontation between the major economies of the developed world. They began to predict that the future of the international system would be one of economic competition, in which armed clashes would be replaced by peaceful competition for greater opportunities for economic expansion. A competition in which the weapons deployed would be financial capacity and technological clout.

In reality, this is the notion of the end of history: history understood as a succession of wars and hegemonies like those that had characterized not just the previous three decades, but the five centuries that had elapsed since the great discoveries and the formation of the great empires. However, that remarkably optimistic prediction was very soon deflated. Barely two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War reminded us that the conventional conflicts of the previous era had not centered on the dividing line between east and west, where deterrence had functioned perfectly, but had rather played out in far more distant scenarios, between countries and with the participation of irregular forces. All of them triggered by national or regional grievances that remained intact after the supposed strategic change of era.

It is true that many of those low-intensity conflicts were stoked by the great powers, but the over-simplicity of the notion that they had been generated solely by ideological confrontation and would therefore disappear when it ended proved to be a serious mistake. On the contrary, once the areas of influence of those powers waned, it was easier than it had been for those conflicts to spin out of control.

Local wars increased and the ability of the great powers, even that of the only world power remaining, to effectively exercise hegemony, diminished, despite the initial successes of the first Gulf War and the Balkans War. Although, as our much-missed Carlos Rico would say, "the hegemonic temptation resurfaced" in the second Gulf War, the ability to exercise, and even to wish for, hegemonic powers are much less than they were during the Cold War.

But the Cold Ward did leave us a legacy that its somewhat slow-off-the-mark analysts underestimated: the international system, albeit dilapidated, persists. And, given the lack of clearly established hegemonies, it has kept and even reinforced one of its core features: its reliance on nation States with their own objectives, bent, above all, on defending their national interests. In an insecure world, all our interest should really be focused on preserving the global order. However, if that world is comprised of nation States what really holds sway, in fact as opposed to rhetoric, is the national interest. And the sum of the often conflicting interests of countries and regions by no means necessarily results in a global order.

In other words, the prediction of a world managed by huge multinational companies and the owners of capital, in which nation States would play an increasingly secondary role, has not been fulfilled by a long chalk. That is not to deny that the economic preponderance of those corporations plays a huge role in the countries they locate to, or that other actors, such as organized civil society - increasingly recognized in international circles - exert weight and influence. Nevertheless, the central role of the nation State still predominates, albeit mitigated by globalization and each country's relative strength, as does the predominance of the national interest over the ostensibly proclaimed interests or values of the system as a whole.

In reality, when we speak of "actors" we are referring to the large countries or economic and political blocs that currently dominate the world stage. All nation States have their own interests, even if many have not defined them clearly. However, not all are able to voice them, much less assert them, through their own means, on the world stage.

International politics are framed by those who possess the means to do so, thanks to new or long-standing regional or global powers, aimed at protecting their own interests over and above those of the system as a whole, and at finding partnerships that enable them to do so at the least possible cost. Countries at an intermediate stage of development, like most of the countries in this region, that need the international system for their survival and development but lack the power to influence it on their own, need to do so through partnerships or by tapping multilateral resources.

Faced with these realities, that many never even glimpsed 25 years ago, numerous authors have maintained -- as Foreign Minister Meade recalled this morning -- that contrary to the cheery predictions of the post-Cold War era -- geopolitics are back with a vengeance in the policies and calculations of nation States. The -- just recently unfolding -- European situation lends key support to these affirmations. NATO's advances in Europe, Russia's counter-move with the annexation of Crimea, and the subsequent conflict in Ukraine remind us precisely of the battle for the center of Europe that lies at the heart of geopolitical history and dates back to the origins of the First World War. Yet, there are indeed other core issues in global politics that also have a geopolitical core. In them, there are conflicting national interests, either those of the occupying countries or those of foreign powers that see opportunities to increase their resources.

Tensions are most focused in the Middle East, where there appears to be no end to the violence in Iraq and Syria, with the emergence of an even more violent actor. Meanwhile, conflicts continue in the Gaza strip, in Palestine, are getting worse in Yemen, and persist in Libya and the Horn of Africa. Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic epitomize conflicts that have lasted practically an entire decade. In almost all these countries, moreover, terrorism is practiced on a daily basis and phenomena such as ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Boko Haram in Nigeria mean that, territorially, it is unprecedented in its scope.

At the last meeting of the World Economic Forum, the symbol par excellence of economic globalization, geopolitical issues were at the forefront, despite still relevant concern about the recovery of the global economy.

Nevertheless, worries about the present should not distract us from the core fact that, for several decades now, we have been living in a world quite different from the one that saw the Berlin Wall fall, 25 years ago. This new world is characterized, above all, by the impressive advance of technology that has transformed the productive work and daily lives of millions of human beings, turning globalization into an irreversible process that encompasses us all.

We spoke, at the start of this lecture, about the Berlin Wall. The first interconnection network that we now call the Internet was born in November 1989, one month after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The new world it opened up is much more global in every way, albeit more challenging, because hand in hand with globalization of the economy and of communications came a set of threats and problems we had no inkling of. We are experiencing the globalization predicted 25 years ago, but in many parts of the world its effects are not felt or regarded as negative.

Communication, the splurge in new communication, enables human beings to be more aware of their problems and limitations. It is true that poverty has declined, but today much more of it is seen on television and in the media than was seen just two decades ago. That is the context in which international politics play out today. That is the framework that will shape the challenges of our Hemisphere and, in particular, those of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean in the coming years. I make that distinction because, although numerous key issues are common to the Hemisphere as a whole, strategically different plans are in place. While the United States has played a predominant part in most of the global conflict areas we have mentioned, and Canada, as a NATO member, has also played a part in several of them, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean countries have not been involved and, fortunately, those conflicts have not crossed their borders. That gives our region a special advantage that we are all keen to preserve.

Even though we look at it differently from a northern and a southern perspective, we have a common interest in preventing the Western Hemisphere from being caught up in wars and conflicts in other parts of the world.

In fact, the part of the world that has been least affected by today's major international conflicts is Latin America and the Caribbean. There are various reasons for this. The most obvious, and so obvious that it is barely worth mentioning, is the enormous distance between us and the areas in crisis. A few years ago, I wrote that, fortunately for Latin America, the closest of the hot spots regarded by Washington as political priorities was located more than 10,000 kilometers away from us. There are many other reasons, but I wish to add just two. First, for many years there have been no major conflicts between Latin American states. Our borders are still roughly the same as they were a century ago. Leaving aside minor problems, we have kept the peace among ourselves and when an issue does arise it is taken to the International Court of Justice, rather than resulting in armed conflict. We are, by far, the region that has had the fewest armed conflicts and, also by far, the region that has resorted most to the International Court of Justice. The Malvinas War was the only exception to this in recent years, but its protagonist was a European power, acting against one of our countries in a dispute that smacked of a bygone colonial era.

A second reason is that, despite the criticisms that many think they deserve because of their weaknesses, the nation States of Latin America were already in place more than a century ago and have undergone no major changes since them.

It may be paradoxical for me to mention that when so may talk of the weakness of our States. However, the truth of the matter is that, however many problems they may face, legally and politically all of them represent nations that already existed at the end of the First World War and they have escaped the lacunae and confusion accompanying the emergence of new nations in the Twentieth Century.

The United Nations was founded by 57 states, 19 of which (exactly one third) were Latin American and Caribbean countries. Today there are 192 states in the world, which means that about 150 were created after the founding of the United Nations. So Latin America, with the recent addition of the English-speaking nations of the Caribbean, played a major part in the development of multilateralism.

Latin America and the Caribbean also have major strengths that justify their aspiration to play a more important role on the world stage, even though they also have shortcomings, as we will note later on. Our natural resources are one of those strengths. Our region has a food and energy surplus and the largest drinking water assets in the world. Over the past decade, we have become more politically stable and, generally speaking, have achieved greater economic growth.

Only a very few of the countries in our region now qualify as "poor," although the distribution of income is such that there are still many poor people in these countries now classified as middle-income.

Nevertheless, in this era of globalization, we need to open ourselves more to the world. We are still insufficiently integrated into world markets, which means, if you take into account the shortcomings of our own integration among ourselves, that we are becoming less competitive. To be sure, the greater insertion into global markets that we need brings with it risks that we have so far avoided. The challenge is for us as a region to achieve a far greater presence and take on many more responsibilities in the international arena, while avoiding being drawn into conflicts similar to those raging in other parts of the world. This means we must clearly define our interests and, hence, our national foreign policy priorities: What are the foreign policy challenges we face? And within what institutional framework shall we pursue each of those priorities? These are questions yet to be answered.

As regards the priorities, let be group them thematically.
First, our regional policy needs to consolidate the region as:

a) A region of peace. That means, first of all, ending any conflicts that are still ongoing. I am referring, first, to the internal war in Colombia. The whole of America is hopeful that further progress can be achieved in that peace process. Furthermore, the recent announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States paves the way for a gradual normalization of relations that all of us countries in the region have been pleading for for decades. It would also rid us, if it is successful, of an unnecessary source of tension left over from the Cold War. As you well know, in the Organization of American States all sanctions against Cuba were lifted already some six years ago.

b) To strengthen and put fully into effect the instruments we already have, especially the treaty of Tlatelolco and the agreements on arms limitation, and to fulfill the commitment of the CELAC in 2014 to convert Latin America and the Caribbean into a peace zone.

c) To act in unison in multilateral scenarios in order to promote and promote the peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations and our organizations. That means boosting our participation in peacekeeping missions, as well.

d) Naturally, that also presupposes that together we take on the biggest challenge we face to our internal peace, which is to substantially reduce the violence within our countries which, while they may not have armed conflicts, top the list of countries with the highest numbers of violent deaths. We will not be credible as a region of peace if in one country in Central America more human beings die per day from violent causes than in Iraq or Syria.

Second objective and our second priority:

Our regional policy must aim to strengthen integration processes and to tighten the ties that unite us. From this point of view our part of the world is a set of regions, not a unified whole. It is home to a series of different integration schemes, which, however motley, deserve to be strengthened and coordinated with one another. CARICOM, SICA, MERCOSUR, the Andean Community, the Pacific Alliance, Mesoamerica, and UNASUR are sometimes overlapping projects with distinct purposes, but we should never treat them as contradictory so long as they foster better understanding among our nations and serve to increase trade between them.

If we understand that our national and regional interests play out in different scenarios, we should accept that reality and make sure that it does not trigger competition or conflict.

Third priority:

Our region must continue opening itself up to the world, while fully preserving its hemispheric identity. Integration among ourselves must never be a pretext for rejecting or neglecting opportunities to strengthen our ties with other players, old and new, in the global economy. Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and North America together account for 85% of world trade. The policy pursued by many countries of seeking to reach trade and investment agreements with them is not just appropriate, it is essential if they are to grow in a global trade environment, with a free flow of investment and the establishment of value chains that enhance our competitiveness. Our reaching out to other regions, to Asia-Pacific, to Europem so often mentioned in recent months, is the latest novelty; yet it should not deceive us, for ideological reasons, into thinking that the hemispheric relationship between Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada is less important.

The population of this Hemisphere is nearing the 1 billion mark, with a third located in North America. Three-quarters of the gross geographic product of the Americas is generated in North America. We are united among ourselves by much more balanced trade relations than we have with other parts of the world; with immense sources of energy and natural resources, with growing human and cultural ties as a result of the quicker pace of migration, above all from South to North. It would be absurd to opt for greater global insertion and not continue to develop a mature relationship with the leading power in our Hemisphere, which accounts for well over 20% of the world economy. On the contrary, rather than encourage the ingenuous dream of replacing the hemispheric relationship, we should reinforce it through trade, investment, migration, and security; based on the values of democracy, liberty, and the defense of human rights that we share; and based on the institutions we have forged for ourselves for decades in the form of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Summits of the Americas, and the other institutions making up the inter-American system.

Fourth priority:

Our region needs to protect its natural resources and share them rationally for the benefit of all our peoples. We are not the environmentally most damaged part of the world, but we are the region with the now fastest pace of deterioration due to the well-known harm wrought by climate change, deforestation, and the deterioration of infrastructure in our cities, and so on.

At the same time, the enormous wealth and diversity of our natural resources and the rational exploitation they require pose huge challenges. The policies, objectives, targets and limits established in the major fields encompassed by sustainable development constitute our foreign policy priorities.

Fifth and final priority:

An area that, strictly speaking, is not part of foreign policy but is nevertheless essential for it, involves strengthening our national States as a prerequisite for our development and to ensure greater international protection. Our States are still small compared to most countries in the world. Their participation in our countries' gross geographic product does not allow them to meet the many demands placed on them by their inhabitants.

We share, today at least, three large problem areas, which I will touch on as I conclude these remarks. First, the area already mentioned of violence, delinquency and crime.

Second, inequality. As President Fernando Henrique Cardoso once said: "We are not, by any stretch, the poorest region in the world, but we are the most unfair." Solving that problem will strengthen us as nations: our nationality. In today's world, our citizens are not ready to assert a "nationality" that does not include the satisfaction of their basic needs. Third, we suffer badly from internal divisiveness, internal polarization: a national project, a national plan, national goals require a minimum of consensus within societies seeking to reach out and extend their influence in the world. Reaching out when we are divided and split, as is the case in many of the countries of America, is not the best way to have a genuine impact on international affairs. Which is what we want and which we need to achieve.

I sincerely hope that this Conference goes way beyond the few topics I have been able to touch on today and that it encourages our countries to steer their international policy in keeping with the demands of our time.

Thank you very much.