Statement by Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador of Guyana, to the Ministerial Meeting of the Latin American Economic System, Caracas, Venezuela, 26 November 2003

Posted November 26th. 2003

Madam Chair,

Let me, first of all, congratulate Dr. Roberto Guarnieri of Venezuela on his unanimous election as Permanent Secretary of the Latin American Economic System (SELA). I want to assure the new Permanent Secretary that he can count on the support and cooperation of the delegation of Guyana as he takes on his challenging responsibilities over the next four years.

I take this opportunity to also praise the Government of Panama, and the Ambassador of Panama, for their display of statesmanship by withdrawing their candidacy for the election to the position of Permanent Secretary of SELA. This act has helped, and will help, to promote unity and strength of purpose within this organization.

My delegation wishes to pay tribute to the outgoing Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Otto Boye Soto, to thank him for his leadership of SELA, and to wish him well in his future endeavors.

Madam Chair, I have listened very attentively to the words of the newly elected Permanent Secretary. He has outlined some challenges to himself; certainly, we also have some challenges for him as well.

As we consider the program of SELA for the next year, we also have to ask the pertinent question: How can this organization become more proactive in the area of promoting economic development?

To ensure economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean, our countries - our Governments - have to tackle head-on the problem of poverty. Just last month we witnessed the holding of an OAS-sponsored High Level Meeting on Poverty, Equity and Social Inclusion right here in Venezuela. This meeting gave the indication that the countries of the Americas are developing the courage to put the issue of poverty at the top of their agenda. SELA must take on the task of formulating fresh ideas on how its member states can work individually and collectively to alleviate poverty.

Despite numerous multilateral programs formulated over the past fifteen years, poverty in the Americas has not decreased. Actually, the proportion of the poor has increased. Ironically, in general, while almost every country in the Americas has shown significant increases in their GDP and their per capita income, yet they as a collective are experiencing growing poverty. This clearly indicates that the wealth generated is not distributed equitably. All of our countries must work together to apply with great urgency the recommendations of the recently concluded meeting held in Venezuela. SELA must examine these recommendations and make proposals as to what role it can play in their application. By so doing, we will be showing to the growing army of the poor and desperate that we are interested in their welfare and are determined to fight the root causes of poverty.

I note that one of the viable proposals that came out of the meeting on poverty is that emphasized by the Venezuelan who urged the setting up of a humanitarian fund to assist the poor countries to combat poverty. This is a positive proposal which must be given serious and urgent consideration and support by our Governments.

The Venezuelan suggestion for a humanitarian fund complements the standing proposal by Guyana for the establishment of a New Global Human Order which stipulates the setting up of a global fund for human development.

Madam Chair. . . The alleviation of poverty is linked to the problem of the debt burden. As we know, the development of many of our member states is negatively affected by the onerous foreign debt. It is my view that SELA must continue to champion the issue of debt relief.

This organization can play a very practical role in making proposals on finding solutions to the debt problem. These suggestions will be very useful to the multilateral financial institutions which will have a direct role in working out debt forgiveness plans, and also to political bodies such as the OAS and the UN which will have to develop the political will to champion the cause of the heavily indebted poor countries.

Finally, Madam Chair, I want to touch briefly on the free trade process and how I see the involvement of SELA.

From the beginning of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) process in 1994, many of our countries realized even then that this process would hasten globalization in the Americas and that smaller economies would be at a disadvantage if economic assistance is not provided to them. We are hearing that the FTAA negotiations are on track for launching in 2005. But now we are not too sure that all the participating countries will be ready for that date.

As we are aware, the FTAA is part of the globalization process which is rolling across the globe. But if globalization under the guise of the FTAA is to succeed without causing grievous economic fall-out in our countries, it must pay special attention to the smaller economies or else it will face strong opposition from those nations that are trying to market their relatively small amounts of export commodities. And there must be no double standards where developed countries market their subsidized commodities in competition with those produced by developing countries that are forced to cut out subsidies as a condition for multilateral financial assistance. We need a "humane globalization" which allows for special and differential treatment for the smaller economies and which encourages not only free trade but fair trade as well.

Madam Chair, I venture to add that as new systems of economic and political organization develop in human society, the lives of people tend to be dominated by such systems. Such domination tends to stifle initiative for positive change. Thus, I feel that globalization must not be allowed to dominate us. We have to ensure that we control and direct the globalization process. This will enable us to obtain maximum benefits from the globalization process which is now affecting all countries and regions worldwide.

The CARICOM countries have consistently called for the establishment of a Regional Integration Fund to assist the smaller economies to enable them to establish a competitive base for participation in the FTAA. This is where I believe that SELA can play an instrumental role in championing the cause of the smaller economies within the forum of the multilateral financial institutions, in discussions with the developed countries, and in deliberations with other regional organizations involved in the FTAA negotiations.

These are some of the challenges I set for SELA and its new Permanent Secretary.

Thank you.

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