Leaders from Latin America, Caribbean region urge action to erase inequality, spur development

President Michelle Bachelet of Chile addresses the general debate of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly. UN Photo/Cia Pak

24 September 2014 – Inequality is one of the greatest threats to development and international security because it fosters poverty, exclusion and breeds social unrest, resentment and violence, said Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the first among several leaders from the Latin America and the Caribbean region to address the General Assembly today.

“I come from Latin America, a region of middle-income countries that have their own dreams, challenges and tasks,” said Ms. Bachelet. “For us, sustainable development, security, quality of governance and above all, inequality and social cohesion are the most pressing challenges.”

These challenges must occupy a central place among the post-2015 development goals, the Chilean President urged. While Chile has made great progress, public opinion and political evolution points out the need to take “meaningful” steps toward fairer development.

“Chile will not achieve development while dragging the burden of inequality,” said Ms. Bachelet, stressing the need for tax reforms that ensure fiscal sustainability, political reforms that guarantee “every vote will count” and a system that provides free quality education for all.

But global challenges are growing, she noted. Climate change continues to aggravate inequalities because it affects above all the most vulnerable. That is why world leaders have a “collective duty to act.” To show its unwavering solidarity, Chile, with its fraction of 0.25 per cent of carbon emissions, has pledged to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

The international community is faced with a growing number of humanitarian crises that erupted this year including in Syria, Gaza and Ukraine, said Ms. Bachelet, reiterating the need for all to respect the integrity of state borders and the rights of minorities.

Women must be front and centre of a new development and peace plan and empowered in all facets of society, said Ms. Bachelet, who was the founding Executive Director of UN Women.

On UN matters, she expressed support for reform of the Security Council to limit the right of veto in the case of crimes involving the responsibility to protect and the aspiration of Germany, Brazil, Japan, and India to become permanent members.

Echoing that sentiment, Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto today said the Council must evolve to represent today's world by creating long-term seats with the possibility of immediate re-election based on a more equitable geographic representation.

“To face the challenges of the 21st century, we need a new institutional design for the United nations, with a renewed commitment towards peace and security, and foremost with a Development Agenda that is comprehensive and inclusive,” said Mr. Nieto.

Mexico's hosting next year of the First Conference of State Parties of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is an opportunity to work together to avoid arms from hurting children and the vulnerable. Mr. Nieto called on the UN to recommit to the rights of girls, boys and teenagers by launching a “global action to address psychological and physical bullying while strengthening basic values.”

On a national level, the “Pact for Mexico”- an agreement between political parties- , has spurred action to renew political and electoral institutions, as well as judiciary and accountability systems.

“Building on this ground-breaking political agreement Mexicans dared to improve the quality of education, to make the job market more flexible, and to combat those who monopolize and engage in anti-competitive practices,” said Nieto.

The President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, said her country had experienced a massive economic and financial crisis when it was forced to default on its sovereign debt in 2001. Contributing to that collapse were the terms that had been forced upon Argentina by its creditors. But there was some good news to report, said the Argentine President.

Argentina now has the best growth in Latin America because $193 billion dollars in debt had been restructured, enabling the country to repay most of its creditors, including its full debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today, Argentina carried one of the lowest debt loads in the world. However, Ms. Fernández said there were still “vulture funds” destabilizing the region, amounting to economic terrorism by creating poverty and hunger through the sin of speculation.

Argentina had also experience political terrorism when the Israeli Embassy was attacked in Buenos Aires in 1992, said Ms. Fernández. Argentina had investigated and sought to bring the perpetrators to justice, including through a memorandum negotiated with Iran, enabling the accused Iranian citizens to make statements in Argentina's courts.

President Fernández said dialogue was essential. In that context, she recognized the need for a two-State solution in the Middle East and called on the Assembly to recognize Palestine as a State, a full Member of the Assembly, noting that Israel must also be secure within its borders.

On Security Council reform, she said that as long as the votes of the five Permanent Members counted more than those of other countries, nothing will be resolved. The General Assembly, where each Member had one vote, should be the sovereign body of the Organization. As a non-permanent Member of the Council, President Fernández, said she had questions to ask: Who was arming the “bad guys?” and where did ISIS come from?

Also speaking today, Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, said economic growth does not in and of itself lead to social well-being. A global development agenda must be holistic and people-centric. This includes recovering control of natural resources in order to garner greater benefits for all people.

By 2050, four billion people will suffer from water scarcity, said Mr. Morales, reiterating the need to strike a balance between development and people. For its part, Bolivia through a national program called “My Water”, reached the Millennium Development Goal for water. In order to resolve major social inequalities, basic services such as water, electricity, telecommunications, sanitation and basic health must declared human rights.

The Bolivian President said that eradicating poverty and hunger required the international community to fight the inhumane forces of the market and change exclusionary structures of international financial institutions. The world financial architecture needs to be reformed, to eradicate financial colonialism.

Humanity can overcome many of its problems, such as Ebola and HIV, if funds are diverted away from war, Mr. Morales urged. He called Israel's actions against Palestine unaccepted and reiterated the need to recognize Palestine as a full member of the United Nations.

Syrians, Mr. Morales said, are the only ones that can determine their destiny. On Iraq, he said the United States invasion of 2003 is responsible for triggering the current conflict and destabilizing the entire region. President Morales also called for the end to the blockade against Cuba and for international law to resolve Bolivia's sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.

Addressing the Assembly this afternoon, President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sánchez, said his country is striving to make education a top priority with programmes put in place to ensure that all girls and boys can go to school. The Dominican Republic expected to be free of illiteracy in the near future.

Moreover, Mr. Medina Sánchez outlined how his country was making improvements in health and in supporting small agricultural producers who experienced a “countryside renaissance”. Overall poverty had been reduced by 6 per cent and in rural areas by 9 per cent.

Turning to peace and security, President Medina Sánchez said that many of the world's conflicts are the result of people holding on to past grievances. In fact, a historic agreement had been made between his country and its neighbour, Haiti. While the two nations had a history of disagreement, they were now working together to find ways to improve the lives of their people.

He urged the global community to support this new era between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, by helping people receive proper documentation to establish their country of origin, which was fundamental to providing them with social services.

“Please help Haiti document its people both in its own territory and in the Dominican Republic,” said President Medina Sánchez. “Let us not allow a few technical deficiencies to be an obstacle.”

Costa Rica's President, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, said the world was witness to an upsurge in the “whirlwinds of oppression and violence” from Gaza to Iraq, from Ukraine to the Central African Republic.

“The cries can also be heard in Central America where thousands of children and young people cross borders alone heading toward the United States, from violence and lack of opportunities in search of dreams that can turn into nightmares,” said President Solís Rivera.

Maintaining international peace and security begins with a culture of peace, he noted. As an unarmed democracy, his country knows that prevention begins at the State level, with the strengthening of institutions. “Peace cannot take root where there is impunity,” he said, highlighting the role of the International Criminal Court to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.

“The Security Council must progress from a mentality of reaction to one of action and reaffirm its moral, humanitarian and political commitment to all of humanity,” said President Rivera. The veto cannot be used to obstruct measures that seek to avoid and resolve conflicts.

President Solís Rivera also condemned the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and also Israel's use of disproportionate force in Gaza. Emphasizing the need to uphold the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), he deplored the transfer of weapons into existing conflict zones. Costa Rica also condemned the use of cluster munitions in Syria, South Sudan and Ukraine and reiterated its rejection of nuclear weapons.

There could be no peace without sustainable development therefore the new Sustainable Development Agenda must be focused on action, with precise objects and clear targets and indicators to monitor its success. President Rivera also underscored the role of the Community of Latin-American and Caribbean States (CELAC) for its commitment to preventive diplomacy.

Some 196 speakers are expected at this year's annual debate. Meeting on the theme of “Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda,” the speakers include representatives from the 193 UN Member States, as well as the Observer State of the Holy See, the Observer State of Palestine and the delegation of the European Union.


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