Most excellent heads of state and government of Latin America and the Caribbean, friends: this is my last participation in an international summit. I don¶t pretend to take my leave of Latin America or the Caribbean. The dreams of this region are bound to the center of my life. But I must say goodbye to you, colleagues, brothers, and partners in my journey. I must say goodbye to this auditorium that sums up, in a group of voices, the hopes of 600 million people, almost a tenth of humanity. It is in the name of that Latin American heritage that I want to share with you a few reflections. It is in the name of that lineage that lies beyond these doors, and that demands from us the boldness to build a more dignified place under the sun.
Despite the speeches and applauses, the reality is that our región has advanced little in the last decades. In certain areas, it has marched resolutely backwards. Many wish to board a rusted wagon to the past, to the ideological trenches that divided the world during the cold war. Latin America runs the risk of adding to its astonishing collection of lost generations. It runs the risk of wasting, yet again, its opportunity upon the earth. It falls to us, and who come after, to avoid that this happens. It falls to us to honor the debt to democracy, to development and to the peace of our peoples, a debt that came due many centuries ago. Honoring the debt to democracy means much more than promulgating political constitutions, signing democratic charters or celebrating periodic elections. It means building trustworthy institutions, well beyond the anemic structures structures that today sustain our apparatus¶ of state. It means guaranteeing the supremacy of the rule of law, that some insist in poll vaulting.
This means strengthening our systems of checks and balance, which are profoundly threatened by the presence of tentacular governments that have erased the boundaries between governor, party and state. It means assuring the employ of a solid nucleus of fundamental rights and guarantees, which are chronically debilitated in a large part of the Latin American region. And it means, first of all, the use of political power to achieve a better level of human development, the improvement of the conditions of life of our inhabitants and the expansion of freedoms of our citizens.
We should not confuse the democratic origins of a regime with the democratic governance of a state. In our region there are governments that use electoral results to justify their desire to restrict individual liberties and to pursue their adversaries. They use democratic mechanisms to subvert the bases of their democracy. A true democrat with no opposition should set about the task of creating one. A true democrat demonstrates their energy combating poverty, ignorance and insecurity and not foreign empires and imaginary conspiracies. This region, tired of empty promises and hollow words, needs a legion of statesmen every day more tolerant, not a legion of governors every day more authoritarian. It is very easy to defend the rights of those who think the same as us. Defending the rights of those who think differently, that is the challenge of a true democrat. I hope that our countries have the wisdom to elect leaders who do not find the garments democracy ill-fitting.
And hopefully they know how to resist the temptation of those that promise them orchards springing from participative democracy, which can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of populism and demagoguery. The problems of Latin America will not be resolved substituting a dysfunctional representative democracy with a chaotic participatory democracy.
Paraphrasing Octavio Paz, I dare to say that in our región democracy does not need to grow wings, but roots. Before selling tickets to paradise, let us first worry about consolidating our enfeebled institutions, about guaranteeing our fundamental rights, assure the equality of opportunities for our citizens, to increasing the transparency of our governments, and, above all, increasing the effectiveness of our bureaucracies. My experience in government has proven to me that ours are sclerotic and hypertrophied states, incapable of satisfying the needs of our peoples and in providing the fruit that democracy is obligated to give.
This affords serious consequences in our ability to honor the second debt that I want to mention, or debt to development. A debt which, I repeat, we ourselves must honor. Neither Spanish colonialism, lack of natural resources, or the hegemony of the United States, or any other theory product of the eternal victimization of Latin America can explain the fact that we refuse to increase our expenditure on innovation, to charge taxes to our rich, to graduate professionals in engineering and hard sciences, and to promote competence, construct infrastructure or bring legal security to companies. The time has come that each mast holds the weight of its own progress.
With what right does Latin America complain about the inequalties that divide its peoples, when it receives almost half its income in indirect taxes, and the fiscal budgets of some countries in the region reaches only 10% of its GDP. With what right does Latin America complain about its underdevelopment, if she demonstrates a resistance to change each time somebody mentionss adapting to new circumstances. With what right does Latin America complain about the lack of quality jobs, if she permits that the average education is only 8 years? And what right does Latin America complain about her poverty when she spends, every year, almost $60 billion in arms and soldiers?
Our debt to peace is the most embarasing, because it demonstrates the amnesia of a región that feeds teh return to an arms race, directed in many cases to combat chosts and phantoms. It demonstrates, a total incapacity to establish priorities in Latin America, a practice that prevents the concretion of a true agenda for development. There are countries with internal conflicts that can justify an increase in their national defense expenditure. But in the majority of our countries, an increase in military expenditure is inexcusable before the needs of our people whose true enemies are hunger, sickness, illiteracy, inequality, criminality and environmental degredation. It is a shame that in this Summit of Unity Honduras is absent, whose people fell victim to militarization and who do not deserve punishment, but help.
If they would have asked me twenty years ago that in 2010 I would still be condemning the increase in military spending in Latin America, I would probably have been surprised. How, after seeing the destroyed bodies of young people and children injured in war, could this region yearn for a return to weapons? How can it permit the Dante-esque parade of rockets, missiles and rifles that march in front of destroyed desks, empty lunchboxes and clinics without medicine? Some would say that I err in trusting in a future of peace. I don¶t think so. Hope is never an error, no matter how many times it is cheated.
I still hope for a new day for Latin America and the Caribbean. I hope for a future of greatness for our peoples. The day will come when democracy, development and peace fill the pantries of the region. The day will come in which will cease the counting of lost generations. It could be tomorrow, if we dare to do it. It could be next year, or the next decade, or the next century. For my part, I will keep fighting. Without caring about the shadows, I will seek waiting the light at the end of the rainbow. I will keep fighting until that day comes.
Dear friends, sharing with you this forum, the same as so many others, has been my honoured and true priviledge. This is my last summit and in saying goodbye, I want you to know that in Oscar Arias you will always have a true friend.
Oscar Arias Sanchez
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