Twenty years after a landmark peace process helped end decades of conflict across Central America, the region has posted impressive gains but still faces daunting challenges that include deep income inequality and persistent crime, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.
Speaking to a conference at UN Headquarters in New York on the way forward for Central America, Mr. Ban also called for more concerted efforts to help the region meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a set of anti-poverty aims – by the target date of 2015.
“The perception that democracy has still not responded to the aspirations of the region’s poor brings home to us the need to make the fight against poverty and extreme social inequality a regional priority,” he said.
The drug trade and the relatively easy access to large amounts of illicit small arms were serving to fuel crime rates, slowing economic development, he added.
“Crime scares away investors. It encourages ‘brain drain.’ And it erodes support for democracy,” he said.
Pledging the UN’s commitment to helping Central American governments overcome these problems, Mr. Ban stressed that regional cooperation is also vital to reducing crime and social inequality.
Today’s conference marks the anniversary of the 1987 adoption of the Esquipulas II Accord, which Mr. Ban noted had “triggered a series of initiatives that enabled the region to turn the page on a long era of bitter armed conflict,” including deals ending civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador.
In his speech, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias – one of the signatories to the Esquipulas II Accord – urged the governments of Central America to back what is known as the Costa Rica Consensus, where countries that spend less on their militaries and more on health care, the environment and education are rewarded with more development aid and debt relief.
The conference, A Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America: The Pending Agenda 20 Years Later, was organized by the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University and the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, and included the participation of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Conference panels focused on security and violence, democratic governance, economic development and social development.