The focus of the next General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will be “Development with Social Inclusion,” as announced today by the Foreign Minister of Paraguay, Ambassador Eladio Loizaga, to the Permanent Council of the hemispheric institution during a special meeting held at the entity’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Forty-Fourth Regular Session of the General Assembly will take place in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, from June 3 to 5, 2014. The central theme of the meeting that brings together the region’s foreign ministers was selected by the Government of Paraguay in its capacity as host country of the conference.
In his address to the Council, Minister Loizaga said that his government chose “Development with Social Inclusion” as the theme of the General Assembly after taking into consideration the fact “that it is a cross-cutting topic for all of Latin America and the Caribbean,” an area that has a population of around 600 million people. The head of the Paraguayan diplomacy indicated that, despite the economic growth experienced by most countries of the region during recent years, in Latin America and the Caribbean there are still 164 million people living below the poverty line and 68 million people living in extreme poverty or indigence.
“We need to revitalize our efforts in order to obtain concrete and effective results within the shortest delay and, to do so, we want to focus on areas such as the eradication of poverty; inequality reduction and social exclusion; access to education and ensuring overall health,” he asserted while adding that the region must dare to dream about eradicating poverty by the year 2020.
Moreover, Foreign Minister Loizaga explained that “we propose to address the negative impacts that these factors have on democracy and citizen security.” He also said, “we would like to reflect on the effective role that the OAS must play to implement these priorities and the cooperation that the private sector can provide, according to the social responsibility it has.”
In this regard, Ambassador Loizaga said that it is important for the countries of the region to promote policies that combat all forms of intolerance and discrimination, especially against minorities, such as indigenous peoples, people of African descent, women, the elderly, children and adolescents. “To actively promote the social inclusion of vulnerable groups is urgent, and so is to ensure their fair, equitable and non-discriminatory access to the benefits of development,” he added.
In reference to indigenous people, he recalled that “they constitute a significant segment of the population of the Americas and their situation has been discussed in various general assemblies, special meetings, resolutions and recommendations of the inter-American system, in particular with regard to the eradication of extreme poverty that affects them.” “My country calls upon the member states to continue their work towards finalizing the text of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to promote as well mechanisms to guarantee their just demands, survival, human dignity, development and well-being,” added Ambassador Loizaga.
Regarding the status of women, the Paraguayan diplomat acknowledged the work of the OAS member states to encourage equal opportunities. However, he warned that “these efforts are not sufficient to achieve an egalitarian society in women’s rights throughout the Hemisphere and to end discrimination. Women, in specific social or ethnic groups, are still victims of exclusion. This is why our Organization and its specialized agencies must continue the work of identifying and addressing the causes of this exclusion, which prevents them from fully enjoying their human rights, while seeking especially to eradicate violence.”
In addition, the Paraguayan Foreign Minister said that education should be one of the key objectives for the development of the region, and he proposed “to establish efficient mechanisms to incorporate in our educational systems vocational and technical training plans that increase the investment in knowledge, skills, competencies and abilities, to facilitate access to employment and reintegration, to support personal and professional development and maximize economic productivity.” In this regard, he noted that the OAS has an important role to play in the development of the “technical and vocational education” of the youth in the Hemisphere.
During his speech, Foreign Minister Loizaga urged member states to take advantage of the framework provided by the Forty-Fourth General Assembly to adopt the American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons, which, he asserted, is “an inter-American instrument that will mark a legal milestone in international law, placing our America at the forefront in this field.”
Ambassador Loizaga also highlighted the role of the OAS in strengthening democracy in his country. “When Paraguay began its process of democratic transition in 1989, it was this Organization that accompanied us when the General Assembly met in Paraguay in 1990, at which occasion we commemorated the Centenary of the inter-American system. Recently, the OAS closely honored the decision to support Paraguay when we took a difficult political decision, but in full exercise of our sovereignty and under the protection of our constitutional rules that the supreme law sets forth,” added the head of the Paraguayan diplomacy.
Poverty and Discrimination
The OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, commended Paraguay for having elected “Development and Social Inclusion” as the focus of the next General Assembly, and he noted that while the region has considerable natural resources, with most countries governed by democratic systems and with an important professional training process, “it is limited by poverty and inequality.”
Quoting data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) of the United Nations, the head of the OAS indicated that while poverty has declined in recent years, nearly 30 percent of citizens live below the poverty line. “It is important to tackle this issue from the standpoint of inclusion, because inequality and poverty are not only monetary, but also concern public services to which our citizens have access; or the quality of education, so different for some and for others within the same society; or the quality of health systems; or the environment, because we know that in the poorest areas of our cities environmental degradation is very serious,” he stated.
The Secretary General agreed to link poverty to discrimination. “In our region, poverty has gender and it also has race and color. The poverty level of households headed by indigenous peoples, people of African descent and women exceeds that of the other segments of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean,” he noted.
The Secretary General also suggested that during the General Assembly in Asunción, progress be made in the adoption of the Plan of Action of the Social Charter of the Americas, that was approved during the Forty-Second OAS General Assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2012. “It is a good time to advance the implementation policies of our Social Charter, which is a pending issue we have,” said Secretary General Insulza.
The OAS Secretary General also suggested that international organizations, such as ECLAC, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), collaborate to ensure that the Forty-Fourth OAS General Assembly “constitutes a step forward in meeting the integral development goals that we have set.”
For his part, the President of the Council and Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic, Pedro Vergés, noted that the General Assembly in Asunción will adopt “new mandates that will continue to mark the course of this Organization, but we will also proceed to an assessment upon one year of full efforts aimed at making progress in the compliance with the mandates from the General Assembly in the past.”
Ambassador Vergés was asked to welcome Foreign Minister Loizaga to the Council and in his address, he asserted that “the OAS is dressed today in red, blue and white to receive you in this House of the Americas.” “With Paraguayan solidarity, the spirit of the Guarani people, the melancholic sound of the harps and guitars of the Paraguayan folk music, and the flavor of “tereré” infusion, the OAS is all dressed up.”
During the special meeting of the Council, the representatives of Mexico, the United States, Colombia, Barbados, Peru, Canada, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago (in representation of the CARICOM group), Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Ecuador, Guatemala (in representation of SICA’s group), the Dominican Republic, and Argentina also took the floor.