To Regional Leaders of Central America, Secretary-General Says – ‘I am Here to Deepen our Work Together; the Ties between Us Date Back to Our Founding’

17 March 2011

To Regional Leaders of Central America, Secretary-General Says – ‘I am Here to Deepen our Work Together; the Ties between Us Date Back to Our Founding’

17 March 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

To Regional Leaders of Central America, Secretary-General Says – ‘I am Here


to Deepen our Work Together; the Ties between Us Date Back to Our Founding’


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at a meeting with regional leaders of Central America, in Guatemala City, 16 March:

Doy las gracias al Presidente Colom por haber organizado esta importante reunión.  Les agradezco a todos ustedes que se hayan tomado tiempo, habida cuenta de su apretada agenda, para reunirse conmigo.  Es una prueba del valor que atribuyen a las Naciones Unidas.

I know that we are all following the news with grave concern.  It is a great honour for me to be with you.  Thank you very much for taking the time, despite your very busy agendas.

In recent days, we have seen violence escalating in Bahrain and Yemen.  In Libya at this moment, we are witnessing virtual civil war.  On Monday, I dispatched my Special Envoy to Libya to meet with the Foreign Minister and other senior officials of Libya.  Even yesterday here in Guatemala, I talked with the Foreign Minister of Libya, urging him to immediately violence and killing of civilians.  Meanwhile, we are exploring all possible ways to get urgent humanitarian assistance to the civilian population.  And I understand the Security Council is also very seriously considering the recommendation of the League of Arab States on this no-fly zone.

Throughout the upheaval in the broader Arab world, my message has been clear and consistent: leaders of the region must heed the genuine aspirations of their people more attentively, more seriously.  There is no place for violence.  Violence must stop.  And this use of excessive force against non-combatants, civilians, is a crime against humanity under international law.  Those responsible will be held accountable.

Perhaps as you may know, on Thursday I travel to Tunis and Cairo.  In each country, we have seen encouraging progress.  Tunisia’s new leaders have worked with their people in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation.  Together, they have agreed on a road map to a common democratic future.  Egypt, too, is moving forward in a similar spirit.  For each of these brave peoples, the road ahead will be hard.

During my trip, I will sit down with Government officials, activists, youth groups, women’s organizations and leaders of all segments of civil society.  I will listen to their views on the way ahead and offer the United Nations help, wherever and in any way possible.  The future of the Arab world is for Arabs to decide, of course.  But clearly, they will need the help and solidarity of the entire international community.

We are sitting together.  You are the leaders of this region.  You are the leaders of the world.  When we look back after 10 years at what we have done in addressing all these challenges in North Africa and the Middle East, we need to be able to be proud, proud that we were part of this very historic transformational process towards full and genuine participatory democracy.  We need to be committed to support those people.

Let me also say a word about Japan, what’s happening in Japan.  Our thoughts are with the thousands of people who have died and the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have so abruptly changed.  We are following developments very closely, especially as they relate to the state of emergency at Japan’s nuclear power plants.  I have spoken with the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mr. [Yukiya] Amano.

And here this morning in Guatemala, I have spoken with the Japanese Prime Minister.  We have discussed the safety and security of nuclear power reactors and I was assured by the Japanese Prime Minister that Japan will make all possible efforts to bring this situation under control.

It is difficult to predict what may yet emerge in this terrible national crisis, but it highlights what we, at the United Nations, what we as leaders, have been saying for many years now: the importance of natural disaster preparedness.  Few nations are as well prepared as Japan.  Japan is the third largest world economy.  Even with such economic might, the damage, the catastrophe has been huge, but it could have been even worse without the preparedness of the Japanese against this disaster.

I commend your practical cooperation through the Centre for the Coordination of Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America.  I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to the high-level opening of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be held in Geneva on 10 May.  I will open it myself, and it is a very important meeting.  It was planned and scheduled a long time ago.

But with all of these natural disasters, which we have seen, starting with Haiti and Chile and Pakistan, now in Japan, the leaders of the world should pay more attention and give priority in their policies in making disaster risk reduction preparations.  I know that you are very busy with State affairs.  But if you come to Geneva and raise awareness of the importance of disaster risk reduction, that would be a great contribution.

A little more than a year ago, this region experienced a major natural catastrophe in Haiti.  The earthquake in Haiti was on a lesser scale than that of Japan, at least as scientists measure it in terms of the Richter scale.  Yet the human cost was far, far greater.  Two-hundred and twenty-thousand people were killed and the Haitian people have not yet even been able to remove the rubble and debris.  To your immense and enduring credit, you responded immediately, with rescue teams, food and medicine, financial assistance.

I want to use this occasion to most profoundly thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  And thank you, especially, for so generously helping the United Nations to do its job, in particular for your contributions to the Central Emergency Response Fund.

A year later, there is some good news to report.  The population of Haiti’s camps is half what it was immediately after the crisis.  People are being fed, more than a million people a day.  There are signs that the cholera epidemic is finally coming under control.  And slowly but surely, recovery and reconstruction efforts are gathering momentum.  The rubble is being reused, recycled or disposed of at an increasing rate.

Obviously, Haiti faces a difficult future.  We hope and expect the run-off elections which will be held this coming Sunday to proceed smoothly, in a credible and transparent manner.  This fragile nation needs a stable Government, a Government that can be an effective partner in reconstruction and sustainable development. Again, no one understands that better than you.  And again, on behalf of the United Nations, on behalf of the people of Haiti, we thank you very much.

We are partners in many other spheres.  I am here to deepen our work together on the challenges we face together.  The ties between us date back to our founding and the creation of the Central American Common Market.

The United Nations worked with you to help build peace in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua after the conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s.  These processes were driven by your Governments, your people and by a regional framework that you collectively agreed on.  But the United Nations is proud to have played a significant role.

Today we face other tests: justice and human rights, poverty, education, food and nutrition security, women’s and children’s health, economic shocks and natural disasters.  The United Nations will continue to work with you to “deliver as one” to tackle these challenges.

This morning, I would like to focus on three important and interlinked issues: democratic security, social and economic development and climate change.

First, democratic security.  Central America has come a long way in the past two decades.  Armed conflict has ceased.  Political violence is greatly reduced.  Democratic principles and processes are being consolidated.  But these gains are in peril in the face of criminality and impunity.  Organized crime groups and drug traffickers have made the region a major transit route and a battleground for power.  Justice systems are struggling to respond.  Longstanding institutional deficiencies and the legacy of impunity are significant obstacles.  These threats require innovative mechanisms.

Here in Guatemala, the United Nations responded to calls for a remedy by creating the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG.  The Commission is proving that no citizen, however powerful, is above the law.  Its success has led other countries to request United Nations assistance to establish similar mechanisms.

You need no reminder of how organized crime is a growing problem for the entire region.  It recognizes no borders, and therefore demands a regional response.  I commend your efforts to address the issue jointly.  The International Conference in Support of the Regional Security Strategy for Central America and Mexico, which will be held here in June, should advance this agenda.  I will encourage your regional neighbours and donor countries to attend and support it.

Let me turn now to my second point, social and economic development.  Crime often feeds on poverty.  The subregion has seen progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, but there are wide variations among and within countries.  Inequality and income disparity are major problems.  The global economic crisis has increased your burdens.  Rising food and fuel prices pose further challenges.  Initiatives elsewhere have proven effective.  For example, social assistance programmes and conditional cash transfers.  But I am here to listen, not to prescribe.

However, let me say that reducing inequality, improving social cohesion and providing much-needed public services, including security, will need considerable investment.  It is well known that some countries in the region have the lowest taxation in the Americas.  This needs to change.  States need to increase the resources available to them through fiscal reforms.  Taxes must be levied equitably and transparently.  And the revenues must be invested effectively and accountably.  With better education, health care, infrastructure and productive capacity, your economies can prosper.  This will, in turn, help to broaden the tax base.  It can also help to make your societies more resilient to economic shocks and natural disasters.

Let me talk about my third point, climate change.  Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense.  This region is among the world’s most vulnerable.  Each hurricane season brings renewed suffering.  I am pleased that most countries here have developed a climate change adaptation strategy.  The United Nations will continue to assist you in disaster preparedness and humanitarian response.  I also commend your vigorous engagement in climate change negotiations — including through your common regional agenda for adaptation and mitigation.

Last December in Cancún, Governments achieved good progress on these issues, and on finance and deforestation.  These outcomes give us important elements to build on in Durban.  In Cancún, I stressed that all countries must strengthen national mitigation and adaptation [efforts], and not wait for the outcome of negotiations.  The more each country can do individually, the easier it will be for negotiators to make progress.  This applies both to climate change and to sustainable development as a whole.

The challenges of climate change, water, energy and food security are connected.  They affect our ability to reduce poverty and improve people’s health and well-being.  My High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability is working to join the dots between these issues.  Its findings will complement and feed into the intergovernmental process leading up to next year’s Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio.  I count on your engagement for Rio 2012.

Thank you again for coming today.  We are good, close partners and I look forward to our discussion.  I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you can individually and collectively address the issues I have raised and how you feel the United Nations can help.

Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.