With all its challenges, dangers and promise Latin America is a microcosm of the world in which all that the United Nations stands for is put to the test, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told leaders attending the Ibero-American Summit today in Spain, where he made a fervent appeal for true democracy.
"In the modern era, we have seen tremendous progress in science and technology. We have seen democracy spread to people it has never previously touched. And we have seen people on many continents move from a past of extreme poverty to a future of hope," he told the heads of State of Latin America, Spain and Portugal gathered in the city of Salamanca.
"But terrible inequalities continue to scar our world. Too many people continue to suffer and die from poverty, conflict, and disaster, despite all the means at our disposal to create and share wealth, protect people from the violence of man or nature, and deepen respect for the dignity of every human being," he added.
"When I think of this delicate balance of tremendous promise and urgent perils in the world today, I think particularly of the nations of Latin America. Because yours is a region that truly hangs in that delicate balance."
There has been an astonishing spread of democratic government in the region with increased social spending, improved human development, infant mortality halved by 50 per cent, primary education offered to nearly every child, and millions lifted out of poverty, Mr. Annan declared.
"But we also see the stubborn persistence of inequality and exclusion, along economic, social and ethnic lines," he said noting that while people believe in democracy, some have begun to doubt whether their governments can respond effectively to the needs of the poor.
"I do not, for a moment, pretend that there are easy answers to the challenges you face," he added. "But I do believe that the answers will be found in more democracy, not less. Your democracies must become true citizens' democracies, governed by a rule of law that applies to everyone, and willing and able to respond to the needs of all your peoples, including your indigenous citizens."
The Secretary-General also urged those present to build on the momentum of September's UN Summit meeting in New York.
"With your engagement, we can equip the United Nations with a truly accountable, efficient and effective Secretariat; we can get the new Peacebuilding Commission and the new Human Rights Council up and running; we can forge a united and effective response to threats as diverse as genocide, terrorism, and natural disasters; and, above all, we can press ahead with a global partnership for development in which everyone lives up to their commitments in a spirit of mutual responsibility and accountability," he said.
"If we do that, the decisions made last month will make a real difference in the lives of your peoples," he added.
He also praised Latin American leaders for working together to promote stability in Haiti and for contributing uniformed personnel to the UN mission there (MINUSTAH). Ten Latin American countries collectively contribute over 3,500 troops of the 7,640, serving that operation.
Mr. Annan stressed that the Caribbean country will need further international aid to break the cycle of violence. “I appeal to donor countries for timely and sustained financial support for Haiti's recovery and reconstruction,” he said.
In a separate speech to a joint session of the first Ibero-American Business and Civic Meetings, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of cooperation between the government and private sectors.
"Ibero-American countries have made great strides in recognizing the complementarity of the market and the State," he said. "Business leaders and civil society are understood to be key partners in a social contract.
"European and especially Iberian efforts to build social cohesion offer lessons for Latin American and Caribbean countries seeking the same objective. Experience shows that it is not enough to focus on macroeconomic policy. There must also be adequate funding for social policies, and adequate incentives for productive development," he added.
"Ibero-American cooperation, with the participation of business and civil society, is essential if we are to tackle global problems and create global public goods such as security, financial stability, environmental stewardship and a truly fair international trading system."