The 47th General Assembly of the Organization of American States: “Strengthening dialogue and concertation for prosperity”, Cancun, Quintana Roo, 19-21 June, 2017
The 47th General Assembly of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) was held in the Mexican resort of Cancun from June 19 to June 21st amid strong security measures. More than 1,000 participants from 34 member countries attended the event, including permanent observers, special guests and civil society organizations such as Dianova International, represented by Alberto León – Read report below.
On behalf of Dianova International, we are satisfied with the somewhat greater role played by civil society at the General Assembly, but we also recognize that much remains to be done to truly make its voice heard. For this reason, we support the proposal to create a permanent commission between the OAS and Civil Society to follow up on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
In another area, we regret the failure by OAS Member States to issue a formal declaration condemning Venezuela’s government for its handling of the political and economic crisis that is currently affecting the country, and demanding a peaceful resolution of this crisis. We recall that at least 75 people have been killed in more than two months of protests.
Involvement of Civil Society at the Assembly, a Report by Alberto León
Alberto León Gómez is a clinical and organizational psychologist. His expertise covers the addiction field as well as behavioral psychology through an experience of over 15 years in personal development practices and individual and group therapy. Alberto has been working with Dianova for 14 years in various programmes and projects; he is currently a member of the organization’s Assembly council.
Day One – Dialogue with Civil Society and Other Stakeholders
A heavy Caribbean rain greeted the opening of the 47th meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). Anxious to stay dry, or excited to be attending the meeting, delegates, special guests, and civil society representatives planned to meet in a famous hotel in Cancún, Quintana Roo.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro opened the meeting by emphasizing the following points in his first engagement in dialogue civil society representatives:
- We are the region with the greatest inequality on the planet.
- Civil society is the key to dialogue, the search for solutions, and democracy.
- Our discussions will not always lead to agreement, and we will not always be on the same page, but engagement is the best way to find solutions.
- Our greatest challenges are human rights, development, and security.
- We cannot merely pay lip service to human rights when it is convenient.
- We must find shared solutions to our security problems.
- I expect from you (civil society) to offer concrete proposals.
- Complying with the Democratic Charter is our common duty.
After the opening, ambassadors from member states and the Secretary General listened to the perspectives and proposals offered by civil society representatives. That dynamic of presenting and listening provided diverse visions of the possibilities for the Americas to 30 committees. Each committee then presented a five-minute introduction of its members. It would be difficult to summarize these presentations, but we should highlight the common concerns that civil society representatives share:
Rights of Children and Adolescents
- This population is the most vulnerable, and we must intensify our efforts to provide them with positive living conditions.
- Children are not property; they are citizens with rights.
- Their first 1,000 days are critical for the healthy development of children.
- The OAS must listen to the voices of children across the hemisphere.
- Reducing the educational gap between the public and private schools.
- Access to technology: this generation will require knowledge.
- Modernizing and improving teaching in the 21st century.
- Considering internships and professional training as work experience.
- Stop the epidemic of violence (which kills 146,000 across the Americas each year).
- Forced migrants and abused populations: African Americans and indigenous people.
- The primary role of member states is to preserve life… and they are failing.
- All crimes against women must stop now (violence, forced prostitution, child rape, trafficking of girls, adolescents and women).
- Access to justice for vulnerable populations and better administrative systems.
Sexual and Reproductive Rights
- The right to information about contraceptive methods and to use them.
- The right to sexual identity and preference of all kinds, including LGBTTI (national laws must recognize their rights).
- Several groups proposed legalizing abortion in the nine American countries that still ban it, also urging countries that allow therapeutic abortion to improve health and health care.
- Other groups defended life from conception until death: “No more mothers of dead children.”
Security, Democracy, and Population
- The problem isn’t the population, it is inequality… If no more children are born, there will be no schools to build.
- Countries of origin should be strengthened to prevent migration.
- Indigenous peoples are fighting against and are vulnerable to: extractive industries, drug trafficking, destruction of natural resources and armed conflict.
- Member states must agree on the mandates of the OAS and ratify them. The OAS must not bend to the influence of the USA, and it must start to respect the Democratic Charter. The Secretary General and OAS member states have exceeded their authority.
After more than six hours of listening to the various committees and also to the rain (a coincidence?), the quorum was lifted. Participants agreed to draft the minutes and have the delegates respond several days later.
Dry and no longer in a hurry the civil society delegates emerged from the forum with a sense of solidarity. We also knew that we’d had an opportunity to express ourselves and be heard… beginning a dialogue.
“The Storm Intensifies”
Intense discussions of the crisis in Venezuela lasted more than seven hours, as delegates examined harsh economic data. Delegates often clashed with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister about how to pull the country out of crisis, and the Venezuelan delegation ultimately decided to withdraw from the OAS.
Comprehensive Development and Prosperity in the Hemisphere: “More rights for more people”
This forum, unlike others, was led by experts from different fields, who systematically directed sessions on sustainable development and participation. Presentations highlighted the following points about circumstances across the hemisphere:
- We must recognize that Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the most ambitious objectives in history. The Americas must be ready to meet these challenges, and the OAS must therefore promote and ensure their implementation and monitoring progress.
- A key challenge in the region is social inequality, as 40% of the region’s population lives in poverty. The current budget of the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) is 10 billion, far below the more than 120 billion needed to address that poverty. Addressing inequality requires more resources.
- Countries across our hemisphere must cooperate, adopting good practices and exchanging clean technologies to avoid destroying the environment. This is possible, but requires good will and the mediation of the OAS between countries.
- Civil society stakeholders are key to addressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, so their participation in this international policymaking forum was crucial.
- It is not enough to merely increase the funding; those funds must be invested in education and human development.
- To achieve economic growth and sustainability, we must address four fundamental points: fighting poverty; inclusive employment; shared technological development; and working with clean, efficient, and economical sources of energy.
Once the dialogue between national delegates began, they identified the following key issues that OAS, as the executive authority, will have to address:
- Promoting and providing incentives for the economic development of very small, small and medium-sized businesses
- To advise poor countries about advanced technology (coordinate with the scientific and technological world in developed countries).
- Urge the USA to reconsider its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
- We are not the poorest region, but we are the region with the greatest inequality, (8 people in the world have the same amount of money as the poorest 50% of the population, OXFAM 2016).
- Study how our economies function (Observatory) and promote and support the private sector as the region’s economic engine.
- Review how longevity across regional populations affects social security; ensure that the private sector (pensions) is not overloaded, as it might collapse.
- The OAS can invite financial institutions to invest in renewable energy that protects the environment in each member country.
- Civil society representatives were allowed one opportunity to contribute, and recommended that: “The OAS and civil society should create a permanent joint commission to monitor the Agenda 2030”
Opportunities and Challenges for Women’s Leadership in the Americas
“We will only move forward if we have equality, nothing more, nothing less” (Mexican Women’s Institute)
This third forum was led by 5 women (vice-presidents, foreign ministers, and CEOs) and 4 men (Luis Almagro, Foreign Minister of Mexico, and 2 Foreign Ministers) satisfying the gender quota. Forum participants discussed experiences in countries where gender equity is advancing and the shortcomings in other countries. They highlighted the importance of women in different areas of society, and as the forum name indicates, the different opportunities and challenges related to equity, highlighting the following points:
- Women have demonstrated that we can take on public and private positions, both elected and decision-making positions.
- Gender equity is also good business, it has been shown that when women hold management positions, GDP rises and economies recover from crises faster.
- Chile, Uruguay and Canada are already including a chapter on gender in free trade agreements.
- We can see progress in the percentage of legislative seats held by women across the hemisphere (28%). This is second only to the Nordic countries (44%), and the constitutions of six countries call for equal representation in their legislatures.
- The inclusion of women is not only good for women, it is good for everyone, for nations, business owners, public policies, the economy… and the planet.
- Participants noted that this was is the first time that the topic of gender was discussed in the OAS, and the first time the OAS addressed the leadership of women.
- Now that women have more access to public office, they are more visible, and more exposed to political violence and harassment.
- Accelerating the creation of quotas in the various sectors of society is key to gender equality. If progress continues at the same pace it has to date, it will take 170 years to achieve equity.
- Aiming to balance the quotas in decision-making positions, currently it is 80-20.
- Aiming for equality in public life across the hemisphere, advantages with women (shown): a) nations are stronger and those with equality are the most stable, b) higher levels of legitimacy and participation, and c) building peaceful, free and sustainable democracies.
- We cannot speak of sustainable development if we continue hiding and denying opportunity to half of the world’s population: WOMEN.
- Work hard to reduce violence, femicide, and teen pregnancy. Legislation is not the only factor; ending sexist culture requires including gender equality in education and culture. If we don’t change sexist culture, it will continue to harm us.