Press Releases

    9 September 2004

    Secretary-General in Mexico City Address Praises Latin America’s Democratic, Development Gains, Says Future Challenges Demand ‘More Democracy, Not Less’

    NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the opening ceremony of the International Seminar on Democracy, Politics and the State in Mexico City, 8 September:

    It is a pleasure to be in Mexico City, and it is an honour to join you, President Fox, and so many other distinguished Latin Americans, including former presidents, as you discuss the future of democracy in this region.

    This is a region whose diversity is matched only by its creativity. It is also a region whose people have long supported the United Nations. Indeed, some of the UN’s most articulate supporters, and constructive critics, are Latin American thinkers -- and some of its finest servants have been Latin American diplomats and humanitarians.

    Today, Latin Americans are steadily building their democracies. Most are securely grounded in long-standing democratic traditions. Others are younger and still struggling to put down firm roots. Latin American societies are choosing their governments through the ballot box. The results are sometimes precarious, and have been challenged in the street. But from Venezuela to Bolivia, potentially explosive social confrontations have been managed within a constitutional framework.

    In the last two decades, Latin America has also fought runaway inflation, enhanced exports, attracted foreign investment, and boosted spending on health, education and other social services.

    The results are plain for all to see. Many have been lifted out of poverty. Others have started to enjoy a middle-class life. In most urban areas, people today can get access to clean water. The rate of infant mortality is nearly half what it was 25 years ago. Primary education is almost universal and secondary education is now approaching 60 per cent. And great strides have been made in ensuring that girls achieve the same levels of higher education as boys -- and sometimes even better.

    Not surprisingly, all of these achievements have come at a time when democracy has been advancing and the rule of law has been steadily strengthened.

    Yet why, then, the mood of self-doubt? Why the frustrations expressed in the research and discussion around the report on democracy that has been sponsored by the United Nations Develop­ment Programme? Its authors have advanced a damning paradox: Latin America has built a fine democratic tradition, but democracy has still not effectively responded to the aspirations of the region’s poor. The vote has not produced a steady job, a full table, property rights -- or, for many indigenous people, even a sense of real participation in the political life of their country. Democracy has not yet broken down the barriers of exclusion. Today, in some quarters, it is even challenged for being part of the problem, not part of the solution. And hence the temptation to adopt non-democratic means.

    But the challenges facing Latin America cannot be met by reverting to the failed approaches of the past. They can only be met by building on the achievements that have been made, with broad-based reforms that make the promise of democracy real for all citizens. Latin America needs more democracy, not less.

    The aim must be for every Latin American country to become not just an electoral democracy, but a citizen’s democracy. Citizens must see that their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are being protected, and that their most fundamental needs are the highest priorities of those who govern. They must have reason to be confident that their vote will translate into improvements in their daily lives, and enable their societies to build consensus on the reforms that are needed for further democratic progress.

    First, and foremost, that takes political leadership. I salute the efforts that many leaders in Latin America are making to focus on fighting poverty and hunger -- an issue that Presidents Lula, Lagos and Chirac, and Prime Minister Zapatero, will highlight in New York later this month.

    But leadership is also the responsibility of political parties and political party systems, which must be reformed if they are to play the role that they must. And the participation of citizens in decision-making needs to be broadened, through genuine partnerships between governments and civil society.

    Public institutions must also be strong enough to resist corruption, transparent enough to be subject to scrutiny, and supported with the resources that guarantee access to health, education and other key social services. Nowhere is this more important than in the field of education, on which the long-term strength of your democracies will rest.

    In facing these challenges, a great asset that this region has is its tradition of multilateralism -- a tradition reflected today in the support that Latin American democracies are giving to each other. The adoption of the Democratic Charter in 2001 by the Organization of American States recognizes that the regions' democracies sometimes need extra and emergency mechanisms of support -- support best given multilaterally, when the family of nations in the Americas speaks with one voice.

    Your efforts in this region cannot be divorced from global developments. I know it is hard to build a fairer society at home if the rules of fair play are not observed internationally. I share the belief that is widespread in this region that we need a fairer and more effective international order -- indeed, a more democratic multilateral system.

    World leaders committed themselves to such a vision when they adopted the Millennium Declaration in the year 2000. Next year will be five years since the adoption of that Declaration. I will be calling on the Member States of the United Nations to use that opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. That requires developing countries to continue making bold reforms -- but it also requires the developed world to keep their promises, including on financing for development and on free and fair trade.

    Next year will also be the time for action by Member States to strengthen our system of collective security to meet the threats of the twenty-first century. The High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which I appointed last year, is in the process of developing concrete ideas on how this might be done. These will only be as useful as the determination of Member States to put them to good use. I appreciate the support that the panel is receiving here in Latin America, particularly from our hosts, the Government of Mexico -- and I hope that support will continue.

    We pose false choices if we pretend that we have to choose between democracy and development, or between development and security. The great challenges of building democracy, advancing development and promoting security are closely related -- and all nations have an interest in working together to meet them.

    I am confident that your efforts here in Latin America to make your societies more democratic will also help you make them more developed and more stable. The United Nations is proud to support you in those efforts, and we are cheering you on. After all, your success is not only vital for your citizens. It will be a source of inspiration and hope for developing countries everywhere.

    Muchas gracias amigos.

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