HIS EXCELENCE MR.ALPHONSO PORTILLO
PRESIDENT OF GUATEMALA
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
12 SEPTEMBER 2002, NEW YORK
Good afternoon to you.
It is difficult to come to New York at this time without recalling the dreadful events of exactly one year ago, which brought the whole of the international community together in support of this country, and with this city. We reiterate our solidarity on this occasion, as well as our conviction that the best way to cope with terrorism is within the multilateral framework, and above all here at the United Nations.
I also wish to avail myself of this opportunity to convey our appreciation to Doctor Han Seung-soo, from the Republic of Korea, for the excellent manner in which he conducted the prior session. At the same time I wish to most sincerely congratulate you, Mr. President, for having assumed the presidency of the General Assembly at the current session. I have no doubt that your proven capacity and recognized experience - as an academic, a statesman and an official, both in the Czech Republic and abroad - will enable you to conduct our debates successfully. W e also congratulate the Swiss Confederation and East Timor- the former one of the most ancient countries in the world, and the latter the youngest one - now that they begin to participate fully in this August Organization as members.
I would like to address two subjects. The first is the internal evolution in Guatemala, particularly as regards the fulfillment of the peace agreements, in the negotiation and subsequent implementation of which the United Nations have played such a significant part. The second topic with which I shall be dealing relates to our position with respect to the most salient aspects of the agenda of this session.
As for the first topic, the past year has been marked by intense activities in Guatemala. I can point to important advances, but I must also admit to some setbacks. The fact is that we confront an overall international situation that is unfavorable, one that has had negative effects on our economy. Conditions are rendered more complex by the severe drop in the price of our traditional export products; moreover, irregularities in rainfall have affected the production of grains in several regions.
I make these observations because it would certainly be easier to comply fully with the commitments contained in the Peace Agreements in a context of economic expansion, instead of having to do so in the face of serious fiscal restrictions and increasing demands upon the Government.
We have nevertheless made headway, even when it was necessary to take decisions that were politically unpopular but necessary in order to fulfill the goals of the Peace Agreements. This was the case with our promotion of a tax reform, which included an increase in the value added tax.
The reform is already in force, and with it my Government has fulfilled one of the specific commitments of the Peace Agreements. Moreover this measure brought about a financial base without which the fulfillment of other peace commitments and the maintenance of macroeconomic stability would have been unthinkable.
It has fallen to me to preside over the first government of Guatemala to rule in the new era of peace. The peace agreements constitute our second declaration of independence. They mark the road to the construction of a tolerant and non-exclusionary society, and a State that is democratic, participatory and where the rule of law prevails.
During my administration public expenditure has focused on education; but we also address, as matters of priority, access to land and the reduction of poverty.
Guatemala is a country of marked contrasts between wealth and poverty. We labor under secular conditions of injustice. We have come to the Government to promote the reforms required for the well-being of the people, particularly the indigenous people, children, women, peasants and the victims of the internal armed conflict. The reforms are indispensable in order to uphold democracy.
We must cope with powerful movements of resistance to change, which carry political and even personal costs. But our commitment to democracy, social justice and equity is unshakable.
There are just too many things to do in Guatemala. After governing for three years, our tendency to perceive what is lacking makes us feel dissatisfied. As regards gender equity, we have just barely managed to make some progress on the institutional plane and institute, in harmony with the women's movement, a public policy that tends to be in the nature of a policy of the State.
We promote an educational reform, literacy campaigns, extensive scholarships for girls in the rural areas and countrywide nutritional programs in schools. We have, in addition, set in motion several components of the strategy to reduce poverty.
These are long-range policies, whose fruits will be fully appreciated only by later generations. The recent enactment of three laws, namely a municipal code, a law on development councils and another providing for decentralization, represents the basis for the most important reform of the State that has taken place during the last century.
The peace agreements are comprehensive in their scope. We have promoted a substantive social agenda, but we have also adopted measures to liberate the markets. We have further carried out certain reforms in fundamental areas of security, even though much remains to be done. The military have, progressively, been focused on tasks pertaining to national defense. We have reduced their numbers and functions, and part of their resources will be used to advance public education and allocate more money to civilian security services. This is not to say that military reconversion is not costly. We shall have to make an extraordinary effort in order to have a smaller and better-equipped army. Civilians are preparing to take over more complex roles. And society is being called upon to participate in the definition of important public policies, such as integral security, public security and national defense.
We are promoting round tables for dialogue with society on fundamental matters, such as agriculture and rural development, transparency and the fight against corruption, the payment of compensation and reparations to the victims of the armed conflict. Our aspirations do not, of course, stop there: Guatemala has not yet achieved full reconciliation. We need to reconcile the bases of our society and provide opportunities for development without excluding anyone. Indispensable steps in order that we may achieve reconciliation among ourselves are the following: recognizing all those who participated in the conflict, repairing symbolically the damage inflicted, finding out and recognizing the truth of what has happened, allowing justice a free hand and promoting forgiveness. The nation has once again undertaken these tasks in a diligent manner, although some uncertainty subsists.
My administration's term will expire in a little over one year. It is expected that by then the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala will be withdrawing. This Mission has played a fundamental role as a critical conscience of the State and has actively supported the changes. We appreciate the work it has done and we plan to request this body to extend its mandate to the end of 2004, so that it may accompany us in the transition to the new administration. Our intention is that MINUGUA hand over its functions, in an orderly manner, to national bodies and, whenever possible, to permanent programs and agencies of the United Nations.
Turning now to our agenda for this session, I wish, first of all, to reiterate our full and unconditional support for the United Nations as the highest form of multilateralism. We are persuaded that the Organization will have to play a crucial role in the twenty-first century. We believe that the Millennium Declaration provides an adequate road map to guide our priorities and the steps to be taken to fulfill the goals that have been set. I also believe that its implementation will be given a powerful boost by the Monterrey consensus and the Plan of Action adopted in Johannesburg just a few days ago. We also fully back the stewardship of our Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.
We agree that the Organization must be adapted to the challenges of globalization. We are aware of the advances that have been made in this respect over the last few years, but much remains to be done. We accordingly look forward with great interest to the new reform proposals that the Secretary-General will be submitting to us towards the end of this month and we pledge to participate actively in their analysis.
Among the reforms that are pending there is little doubt that the most urgent relates to the Security Council. We must not delay the efforts that have to be made in order that this organ be more effective, more representative and more transparent. To achieve these aims, we advocate an expansion of the membership of the Council and an exercise of the veto power that conforms strictly to the United Nations Charter. We believe, moreover, that it is necessary to strengthen this Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, so that these three principal organs of the United Nations may provide mutual support to one another.
We further reiterate our total rejection of all forms of terrorism and support the collective action of the international community against this scourge; this action is to be carried forward by, among other means, the implementation of Security Council resolution 1373.
We are convinced of the need to strengthen our collective capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts, whether of a transboundary or a domestic nature. In the area of disarmament we favor the total elimination of nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons, the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons, the use of antipersonnel mines and other explosive devices. We support all actions undertaken by the United Nations to accomplish these goals, as well as those that look to the establishment of nuclear free zones in all the regions of the world.
We consider, in particular, that the United Nations must continue to address the imperative of development. Together with the multilateral financial institutions, our Organization must play a crucial role in the task of ensuring that the benefits of globalization are widely shared by all countries, which requires the conclusion of freely entered into associations in each country and within the international community. At the same time, and inasmuch as Guatemala is a party to the principal environmental treaties, we reiterate our commitment to the maintenance of the ecological equilibrium of the planet. We have recently made our own contribution in this respect by offering to host the headquarters of the Secretariat of the Convention for Cooperation in the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Northeast Pacific, in the elaboration of which we participated very actively.
My country is conscious of the divisions that continue to oppose sister nations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. We fervently hope that it will be possible to resolve those differences through peaceful means, through dialogue, in order that, without any kind of rejection or discrimination, all the peoples of the world may be represented here. I wish to make a special reference to the 23 million people of the Republic of China in Taiwan, whose aspirations to participate in the work of international organizations have not yet been fulfilled. The countries of Central America in general and Guatemala in particular view those aspirations as beneficial to world peace and democracy, and deserve all our support. It is likewise our earnest hope that a way out, based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1402, will be found for the difficult situation that prevails in the Middle East and has worsened in the course of the last year.
We reiterate, finally, our fervent vocation and support for Central American integration and our commitment to the other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Government of Guatemala has taken part in important initiatives in the sphere of regional and sub-regional integration.
In this context, I wish to point out that in the fulfillment of a constitutional mandate, Guatemala has used its best efforts to strengthen our bonds of friendship and good neighborliness with Belize, without prejudice to an active search for a peaceful, honorable, equitable and permanent resolution of our territorial dispute, which dates back over more than a century. Thus, on Monday the sixteenth of this month, the representatives of both countries will be handed, at the Headquarters of the Organization of American States, the conclusions and recommendations that are the result of a conciliation process that has been instituted under the auspices of that institution. In the case of Guatemala, any definitive settlement will have to be approved by referendum. In connection with this process we wish to commend the solidarity displayed by the Government of Honduras with a view to facilitating, in an amicable manner, the delimitation of the maritime areas in the Gulf of Honduras.
In conclusion, I wish to recall the words of a Guatemalan poet, Otto Rene Castillo, who fell victim to our internal armed conflict and who, half a century ago, prophesied: "Smiles will return to the face of humanity, because children born in the Twenty-First Century will be happy." Our mission must be to make this come true. Such is the aim of our unflagging struggle.