– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

5 April 2019

Ambassador Isabel Allende Karam, Rector of ISRI,

Ambassador María Augusta Calle, Ambassador of Ecuador for Cuba,

Dear students,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


What a privilege it is to be in this prestigious Institute, a model for the studies in international relations and international cooperation. For decades it has instructed excellent diplomats committed to their country, their region and the world.

I wish to particularly greet the young students that are here with us today, on account of the international youth day that was celebrated yesterday. You carry the legacy of a foreign service that is renowned by its professionalism and its significant contributions to multilateralism.

It is a true honor to be here with all of you.

I feel a deep admiration for the vigor with which young people defend the sovereign equality of the nations, the free self-determination of the peoples and a fairer, more equitable world order.

Cuba has been in the genesis of political agreement platforms of developing countries, like in the case of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77+China, or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Estates. It has been and continues to be a powerful voice against the abuses of the strongest, the exploitation of the peoples, wars and the injustice of the economic relationships that continue to condemn many peoples of the Global South.

Its resistance -for more than six decades- to the unfair economic, financial and commercial blockade that was imposed upon it, is a symbol of dignity. Since 1992, every year, the General Assembly has denounced, with an overwhelming support, this unilateral coercive measure contrary to international law and that disproportionately impacts the Cuban people.

Excellencies, friends:

I took over the Presidency of the Assembly in a time in which multilateralism is being severely questioned.

The United Nations are the very center of multilateralism and of a vision that responds to the hopes and aspirations of all peoples: a more prosperous and peaceful world that leaves no one behind.

That is why I chose: “Making the United Nations relevant to all people: global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies” as the central theme for the 73rd session of the General Assembly.

During these seventy years or more, the contributions of the United Nations to humanity have been immense and undeniable.

The General Assembly -which I call the Parliament of humanity-, gave birth to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all the conventions, compacts and statements that encompass all aspects of development, peace and human rights.

And you probably know that many of the texts of these instruments have a Cuban imprint, indeed because of the sagacity, professionalism and intelligence of your diplomacy in the negotiations.

Our Organization has contributed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, through mediation and preventive actions and maintaining and consolidating international peace and security in many regions and countries of the world.

The Organization has created an ambitious, universal and transformative plan: the 2030 Agenda, a global roadmap for the future we want and a true jewel of multilateralism.

And here, allow me to digress, Cuba has not only contributed to strengthen multilateralism, but also implements agreements and commitments. Cuba implements.

According to the Regional Human Development Report of the UNDP for Latin America and the Caribbean (2016), the social achievements of Cuba are higher than expected according to the level of its per capita income. The gross domestic product undervalues achievements in multiple dimensions of wellbeing, the eradication of extreme poverty, hunger, teaching, universal health and addressing its environmental challenges.

The Cuban Plan for Economic and Social Development until 2030 is aligned with the 2030 Agenda.

The universal and free healthcare system includes places that are the hardest to access. According to the data of UNESCO, Cuba ranks number 14 out of the 120 countries of the Education for All Development Index. In 2014, Cuba received an acknowledgement from FAO for eradicating hunger, as one of the eight countries of the region that have achieved to do so.

In my opening speech for the International Conference on South-South Cooperation, in Buenos Aires, I emphasized the example of the Cuban contribution to stop the epidemic of the Ebola virus in several African countries.

The environmental footprint of Cuba is small and matches the significant contribution of the Island to the fight against climate change. In this area of cooperation, Cuba contributes with a system composed of validated knowledge, methodological tools and experiences to integrate risk mitigation for disasters, adaptation to climate change and environmental sustainability in their development planning process.

Cuba was the first country to sign and the second country to ratify the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and also implemented the Action Platform of the IV UN Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995.

53.2% of the Cuban representatives are women, as are 3 out of 5 vice presidents of the State Council and 12 out of its 23 members, 1 out of 6 vice presidents of the Ministry Council and 7 out of its 26 members. Cuba has a remunerated maternity leave and the resulting benefits are exemplary practices that can serve as a beacon for many countries.

With its work on the ground, the UN improves the lives of people. The peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel risk their lives, every day, to protect and assist the victims of conflicts and disasters. They provide food and assistance to 80 million people and vaccines for 45% of the children of the world. They protect 65 million people who are fleeing from conflicts, hunger or persecution. They work to keep the peace in 14 countries.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

Dear friends,

The international agenda for gender equality and multilateralism have at least two things in common: they are both under pressure, and require the support of Cuba, which brings me back to the topic of our conversation.

The reality of the world is complex, we are becoming increasingly polarized and we face multiple crises.

Millions of people have been left out of technological benefits, the promise of Globalization and, therefore, they feel insecure, fearful about their present and their future.

There is a disconnection between the expectations of people and the responses of institutions and policies. This creates mistrust in national and international systems and institutions. This uncertainty, this fear of the future can be seen in the increasing voices that promote extreme nationalism and isolationism.

But multilateralism is not a threat for sovereignty. On the contrary, it strengthens it. No country -no matter how powerful- can face, by itself, global challenges like Climate Change, the global problem of drugs or transnational organized crime.

Climate change is an existential threat. We only have 11 years -from now to 2030- to limit global warming to 1.5°C and avoid catastrophic humanitarian, economic and environmental consequences.

The refugee crisis has reached levels that had not been seen since World War II. Migration has also intensified. These phenomena of mass displacements are being exploited by the most reactionary sectors to promote racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.

Geopolitical tensions and conflicts are not a thing of the past; they continue to affect Africa, the Middle East and other regions of the world. Polarization is increasing and it also affects our region.

Similarly, terrorism persists and knows nothing of borders or nationalities.

Millions of people continue to live in poverty and suffer hunger and malnutrition. Only 26 multimillionaires possess more money than the 3800 million poorest people on the planet.

In Latin America and the Caribbean the reality is no different. According to CEPAL, until 2017, more than 187 million people were living in conditions of poverty and another 62 million people live in extreme poverty.

Just a few months ago, FAO alerted us that the hunger level has reached up to 39,3 million persons undernourished.

Our region continues to be one of the most unequal regions of the world. The wealthiest 10% of Latin America and the Caribbean concentrates, in average, nearly 38% of incomes; while the poorest 10% only has 1,3%.

Allow me to add that half the world’s population, women, continue to be abused and discriminated simply because of their gender. There is chilling data on the violence against women.

In this situation, I believe that the only path, the best path is to have more multilateralism, more dialogue, and more collaboration. The historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, Commander-In-Chief Fidel Castro, said in 1960 to the General Assembly that “the problems of the world cannot be solved by the use of threats or by sowing fear”. That is a truth that continues to be as valid and relevant today as it was when it was first declared.

I strongly believe in the universal values and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. I am convinced that international cooperation and a rules-based system are ideal mechanisms to face global challenges and build a better future.

We must take up the multilateral agenda with a renewed commitment; re-launch the narrative of multilateralism and its irreplaceable role.

The work of the United Nations and its achievements throughout all these years are extraordinary. However, there are still skeptics, and there are those who wonder if the Organization is up to the global challenges. To them, we must answer with a resounding YES.

Our Organization, as an umbrella and as a reference for the multilateral system, has given and continues to give effective answers.

With its work on the ground, the UN improves the lives of people. The peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel risk their lives, every day, to protect and assist the victims of conflicts and disasters. They provide food and assistance to 80 million people and vaccines for 45% of the children of the world. They protect 65 million people who are fleeing from conflicts, hunger or persecution. They work to keep the peace in 14 countries.

The United Nations continues transforming the lives of millions of people by being the central platform for a wide variety of multilateral negotiations. For instance: in 2015, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development was adopted; in 2016, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed and the New Urban Agenda was adopted; in 2017, the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” was approved; and last December, the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” was adopted.

However, in order to have a strong and efficient Organization that is able to adapt to new realities and that, above all, is relevant for the people it serves, we must ensure that the United Nations are well equipped to respond to the challenges and to the purposes for which it was created.

I consider that there are three areas in which we must improve our performance:

First, we must renew our narrative. This is essential. We must know how to communicate our achievements. We must overcome the cryptic and bureaucratic language; we must replace acronyms with synonyms. We need to work in a pedagogical manner, so to speak, about what we do and who we do it for.

We must win the communication battle; it is a battle that must be fought both in mass media and social networks. This is a collective responsibility. All of us, who believe in the multilateral system, because we know its benefits, have that responsibility. World leaders have a greater responsibility. They must convincingly convey that multilateralism is not an option, it is a necessity.

Second, we need an Organization that responds to the most vulnerable.

Around the world, there are still more than 700 million persons who cannot meet their basic needs; and more than 262 million children still do not have access to education. The figures on refugees, people with hunger, victims of human trafficking and violence are heartbreaking.

In this context, the 2030 Agenda is a “survival kit”, a road map to eradicate poverty, create decent work and ensure a dignified life.

Since its approval we have made progress, but not at the required speed, especially in developing countries. Financing must be broadened; the institutional capacity must be enhanced and the policies needed to close gaps and transform our societies must be implemented. Political will is essential.

Third, we need an efficient, effective, action-oriented Organization that is based on results. We must acknowledge that our multilateral institutions could and should work better and that they must be re-invented so they can perform their duties. In fact, we are working on that.

The Secretary General has started an ambitious reform package in three key areas: peace and security; the development system; and management. These reforms will allow us to improve our implementation capacity; be less bureaucratic and more effective; be closer to people; have better accountability and be more transparent.

In the General Assembly we are driving a very dynamic revitalization process to improve work methods; optimize the agenda and emphasize the implementation of the resolutions to guarantee the quality and the impact of the regulatory work we carry out.

The Security Council reform is another vital and complex process, although I must admit that it is one of the slowest areas of our reinvention process. It has been discussed for 25 years. There is agreement in that the composition of the Council no longer reflects the geopolitical realities of the world and that its reform would reinforce multilateralism and would contribute to have a more democratic global governance system. However, not all Estates are prepared to move forward.

Dear friends,

Yesterday morning, I paid tribute to José Martí at the emblematic Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) and in the afternoon I visited the Office of the José Martí Program (Programa Martiano). It is with that inspiration that I quote him today: “Mankind is composed of two sorts of men: those who love and create and those who hate and destroy”. Those of us who defend multilateralism, we do so because the reality of the world, in these seven decades, shows us that we need more cooperation, not less. We are clearly those who love and create.

In these hard times we must resist the forces that seek to fragment us, who wish to undo the system that we have built with so many sacrifices, so decisively and with such will. We will endure, but we will also reestablish and build.

As President of the General Assembly and as a Latin American woman, I will continue to firmly stand for the validity of our Organization with great conviction, for the principles that uphold and that are logged in its Charter and for the work and multilateral action as an indispensable tool for development, peace and human rights for the whole world.

Thank you.