H.E. Mr. Alfonso Portillo Cabrera
New York, September 23, 2003

Your Excellency Mr. Julian R. Hunte, President of this Assembly,

Your Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Distinguished delegates.

Good afternoon.

I come before this parliament of humankind to present, for the last time, a report as a Head of State who believes in interdependence and for whom sovereignty is not a closed door separating nations, but, rather, an open window affording a glimpse into the identity of each one of them, furthering the', respectful interchange of experiences and the quest for comprehension and solidarity among peoples.

My attendance here reflects Guatemala's commitment to the United Nations, whose presence in Guatemala has been crucial to the implementation of the Peace Agreements concluded in 1996. It also allows -me to participate in the debate on the main items that make-up the international agenda and, incidentally, once again express our solidarity with this great city of New York in its mourning of the tragic events of two years ago.

I wish to reiterate most strongly our repudiation of the treacherous attack perpetrated on the United Nations office in Baghdad just a few weeks ago. We regret, in particular, the loss of valuable officials of the institution, including the lamented Sergio Vieira de Mello.

I wish to express our gratitude to Mr. Jan Kavan, of the Czech Republic, for his excellent leadership during the last session. I would also like to congratulate Mr. Julian Hunte for having taken over the presidency of this session. It is gratifying for us to see a distinguished representative of our own region occupying this important post and we have no doubt that his background and experience will enable him to conduct our work in a fully successful manner.

Mr. President:

As has been the case with other sister countries of Latin America, the closing period of the twentieth century has been a dramatic time for Guatemala, one marked by the need to deal with a complex agenda, involving various challenges, such as the country's insertion into the globalization process, the construction of peace with justice and the consolidation of a democracy that is compatible with good governance.

Within this context, we have, in the course of these last four years, sought to advance in the process of opening up Guatemala to the world and inserting her in the technological, financial and cultural currents of globalization. We have furthered the democratization of structures and institutions, practices and values that are capable of combining liberty and authority, effectiveness and equity. And we have promoted peace based on justice and respect for human rights.

Guatemala is a country characterized by the continued existence of historical tasks that are unfulfilled or permanently postponed. When, in January 2000,1 took over the presidency, I resolved to address some of these pending issues in -a thoroughgoing way. The State was hostage to powerful economic interests; we have carried forward a process of liberation. No longer are there tax exemptions favoring individuals. Trade policy is no longer manipulated in such a way as to harm the production of peasants. Economic policy has taken on meaning as an instrument of social development. Local monopolies now have to contend with competition, following a century when captive markets were the rule.

The Peace Accords provided Guatemala with a program for democratization. They constitute a proposal for a profound renewal of the modes of coexistence among Guatemalans, with an eye to the Twenty-First Century. But they have also confronted us with the need to fulfill, simultaneously, tasks that pertain to different historical processes and that other societies have carried out by stages.

I can affirm with satisfaction that we have made headway in various substantive areas; I admit, however, that in others our efforts have fallen short of our goals or were not tackled with the necessary resolve. Against the opposition of powerful interests we undertook a determined endeavor to raise the tax burden. We reached a historical level in the collection of taxes, but without attaining the goal that had been set. In order to modernize the banking sector we carried out the most significant financial reform undertaken since 1945. This effort also aimed at reducing speculative risks and recovering the function of intermediation that should be the hallmark of the system.

We modernized the labor code, which since 1944 had suffered a series of retrenchments. We consistently raised the minimum wage, at a pace that, in real terms, has no precedent. On the average, workers in the countryside now earn 50% more than they did four years ago.
Historically, our illiteracy rate has been shameful. We accordingly adopted plans that have enabled us to cut it down by almost half. Special attention has been devoted to young girls. Through scholarship programs and school meals, we have taken tens of thousands of children out of the labor force. In reforming the curricula we have incorporated into them the logic of the peace agreements. In shaping primary health care we have addressed structural vulnerabilities in critical areas such as maternal and child mortality as well as nutrition.

But much remains to be done. The economic environment is unfavorable to us. The factors that traditionally stimulate growth and employment have weakened. And the transformations required in the process of production, while progressing, are doing so at a slow pace. We have thus made all-out efforts to achieve economic stabilization and have undertaken emergency measures, such as the provision of productive inputs to peasants in order to maintain their capacity to produce.

The issue of transformations in the productive process is so sensitive that it contributed, in the century that just ended, to a civil war that raged on for almost 40 years. This is why, in recognition of the urgency of the situation, I promoted reconciliation mechanisms in which all sectors participate, for the purpose of defining the fundamental policies of the nation. They include those pertaining to economic and rural development.

The populace has, in that period, gained important means of participation. We have carried out an extremely significant reform of the State through decentralization, the strengthening of the local development councils and the granting of greater powers to local governments. The indigenous peoples are recognized as such and participate in the definition of a new institutional geography that has their cultures as its basis. Women have also gained public means of participation and are articulating novel forms of organization.

All these efforts aim to renew the social fabric that the war had torn asunder. Reconciliation is a task of basic importance. And if it is to be fulfilled, the government must promote a favorable climate. This is why I assumed international responsibilities to counter violations of human rights and we have undertaken the national program for reparations, which includes compensation for the families of over 200,000 victims, mostly indigenous. We also trust that the High Commissioner for Human Rights will establish an Office in Guatemala.

There is, however, a hard core of impunity that is difficult to vanquish. Judicial organs still reveal weaknesses. This is indeed what led me to seek the creation of an extraordinary and temporary instrument that couldreinforce the capacity of local institutions. I requested the United Nations to provide support for the establishment, without delay, of a commission for the investigation of illegal bodies and clandestine security apparatuses. The reason for this is that several repressive groups that are carryovers from the past, and are now in league with organized crime, threaten and intimidate humanitarian activists, judges and journalists.

To recover democracy in all its dimensions, civilian power must be strengthened. Our efforts to that end are clear: we have created the civil intelligence agency of the State,and the civil body responsible for the security of the President. We now have a defense policy, one that is in keeping with the principles (1 -democratic security, which is the product of open debate by the members of society. We have designed laws to guarantee free access to information, the declassification of secret State archives. and the establishment of civilian controls over security functions, such as the Advisory Council for Security. These are well-advanced processes that should be fully implemented during the next Administration.

Promoting a culture. of peace has not been easy. In our society traumas of war are still holding back the possibilities of trust and, by defending their privileges, powerful economic and military groups have led to political polarization. But harm to human life has lessened and the democratization process proceeds apace.

In the 114 days that remain of my administration, I will fulfill two other basic commitments. One of them is to ensure that Guatemalans will participate in a free and transparent electoral process, one that is closely observed by the international community and in which all political forces, without exception, participate.

Another undertaking I shall address is that of carrying out an orderly transition, one that safeguards the reforms initiated within the framework of the Peace Accords. For this purpose I have, with the assistance of my government team, generated a minimum transition agenda, which includes the continuity of programs and policies, as well as the strengthening of the institutions of the peace process.

Mr. President:

I would now like to comment, briefly, on some of the issues that will engage us during this session, and, in particular, that of responding to the challenge the Secretary-General has put before us this morning, namely how to rethink the United Nations in these times of fundamental changes.

- As I already said, we fully support the United Nations as the highest exponent of multilateralism. And we firmly back the stewardship of our Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan.

- We concur fully with him in that the need to adapt the Organization to the exigencies of globalization brooks no delay. We shall also support the efforts being made to improve the managerial capacities of the Secretariat and further the reform of intergovernmental fora.

- We must, accordingly, in no way delay our efforts to make the Security Council more representative and its procedures more transparent. We feel, furthermore, that it is necessary to strengthen the General Assembly itself, as well as the Economic and Social Council in order that these three principal organs of our Organization mutually support one another.

- We reiterate our opposition to all forms of terrorism and support the collective action of the international community in combating this scourge.

- We agree on the need to strengthen our collective capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts.

- We believe that the United Nations should continue to give priority to the imperative of development. The United Nations should, together with the multilateral financial organizations, address the task of ensuring that the benefits of globalization are widely distributed among the inhabitants of the planet. We stress the singular importance of the Monterrey Consensus and the Johannesburg Plan of Action.

- We express our disappointment for the lack of progress in the recent Cancun Meeting of Ministers of Trade. As part of the G-21, we commit ourselves to work in a constructive manner to bridge positions of all parties, in order to count with an international trade regime that is open, transparent and with greater opportunities for developing countries.

- We also wish to highlight the need to give greater importance in the international agenda to the situation of immigrants and the plight of undocumented migrants, which constitute a vulnerable group from the vantage point of their protection and human rights.

- I would also make a special reference to the topic of Children, and the obligation of States to guarantee their rights and their protection. We have a case in point which seeks, in the framework of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to re-establish the links between three Guatemalan children and their mother, Gabriela Arias.

- We support all efforts to put an end to the tragic spiral of violence afflicting the Middle East and to achieve a just and lasting peace in this long-suffering region.

- We associate ourselves with the endeavors seeking to recover peace and security in order to restore law and order in Iraq and reinstate the sovereignty of that State. We share the view that the United Nations should play a significant role in the fulfillment of those tasks.

- We back the heartfelt aspiration of the 23 million citizens of the Republic of China in Taiwan to be represented in international organizations, such as the United Nations.

- We are making every effort to strengthen the bonds of friendship and neighborliness between my country and Belize, without prejudice to the search for ways to resolve, in a peaceful, honorable, equitable and permanent manner, our territorial dispute. We fully intend to continue seeking a negotiated solution to that dispute within the framework of the Organization of American States.

- We reiterate our profound vocation and support for Central American integration, as well as our strong ties to all Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mr. President:

We live in exceptional times that affect each and every one of our countries, as well as the United Nations as a whole. Critical junctures open up opportunities for examination and change. May God grant us the wisdom to recognize those. opportunities, so that we may truly be able to overcome the obstacles that have prevented humankind from reaching the horizon of solidarity and shared well-being.

Thank you.