July 2020
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O. Alvarez: Peace in the Americas

We are in times of crisis. Economic growth has been interrupted and there is a growing recession comparable to the 1929 crisis. It is a global economic crisis that was born in the US and transmitted to Europe, Japan, China, Mexico, Argentina, and Latin America in general. It demonstrates that we are interconnected and interdependent.

Did globalization fall? Of course not. The crisis confirms that we are in an age of globalization. Will capitalism fall as we saw the Soviet socialism fall? I do not think so, but a re-accommodation is certainly happening, along with new approaches to economic policies; there will be new losers and new winners as well.

We are gathered to discuss the subject of relations between North and South America. Of course, we can mention challenges or threats to dialogue and harmony between the North and the South of the American hemisphere.

We will surely have to go through rough times on the global and inter-American levels. Dialogue between North and South America will become more difficult. The global economic crisis and its repercussions in unemployment, poverty, insecurity, and migration threaten to create divisions among us.

There are obstacles both in the North and in the South. Much has been said about the issues that make harmony between North and South more difficult, including the so-called radical populism that has established its bases in some of the countries of the region. It seems that these tend to promote some form of discord and conflict between the North and South. Governments have used democracy to come into power, but once in power they do not seem to implement democracy within the parameters of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Some say that they use democracy to mine and concentrate power, and to remain in power. They establish alliances with adversaries of democracy in the Americas and create a difficult atmosphere for dialogue. In that context, some of us in the South still think that dialogue, communication, and cooperation between the various parts of the American hemisphere should be promoted.

But even under such adverse prospects, it is necessary to continue promoting dialogue, communication, and cooperation between North and South. Peace has to be promoted in the Americas.

So, we continue betting on peace, building peace, even building a culture of peace in the hemisphere. In our quest for peace, we have much in common:

•    A great continent territory with huge human and natural resources.
•    Values, principles and institutions based on freedom and democracy.
•    Christian values, even though with different nuances in the North and South.
•    An inter-American system of institutions  based on the values and principles of freedom, justice, democracy, peace, human rights, the rule of the law, and sustainable development.

For example, there is a Presidential Summit system, an Organization of American States (OEA), an Inter-American Development Bank, which was the main heritage left by president John Kennedy and his Alliance for Progress. We have also an Inter-American Court of Human Rights and an Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, with headquarters in Costa Rica, that promotes the the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights. In other words, we have a lot in common, but we are nevertheless not satisfied.

What can we do during this first crisis of the globalized economy? What can we do to strengthen peace and inter-American relations? Peaceful coexistence, dialogue, communication, cooperation at the government level, both bilateral and multilateral, have to be promoted.

It is important for the US government its bilateral bond with Brazil as an emerging power; with México as its big neighbor to the South, and with Colombia as a strategic associate in a complex area of conflict from a security point of view. Chile also receives some treat of preference due to its political and economic achievements. And there is the controversial topic of Cuba, with a government that clings to Marxist-Leninist dogmas, a one-party system, and a socialistic economy. It is excluded from the inter-American system. Could all of us who live in the Americas do something effective to make the winds of the "Third Wave" of democracy and reconciliation reach finally Cuba ?

In April there will be a Presidential Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. This will be President Obama´s Latin America and Caribbean debut. It will be a very important moment for the heads of state to meet and to get to know each other. The leaders from the South will have the opportunity to get to know personally to the new US president and measure the pulse of his foreign policy towards Latin America; his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will be there also. Up until now, the US diplomacy in the American continent is a mystery.

Concerning inter-American trade, an Americas Free Trade Area is gradually being consolidated through free trade agreements that are bilateral, such as between Chile and Peru, or multilateral such as as that between Central America and the Dominican Republic. The North American Free Trade Agreement includes Mexico. Agreements with Panama and Colombia are awaiting confirmation. It is not yet clear if the Obama administration will give priority to the negotiation of trade agreements signed during the George Bush's presidency.

Of course, there are those who continue to focus on just the economic dialogue and cooperation. In that sense, the Free Trade Area of the Americas has  not come to fruition. Nevertheless, it is taking shape through bilateral trade agreements.

We should not forget that free trade has been considered one of the best means to promote peace among nations, and in this case, as an instrument to increase communication, exchange, contacts, and trade between the North and South in the Americas.

But we have to go beyond trade in building peace in the American hemisphere. It is vital to promote relationships among NGOs on both sides of the Río Grande. Dialogue, communication, and cooperation among the civil organizations is essential for stable development, prosperity, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, ethics in public positions. and a democratic good governance. An independent sphere for the civil society has to be defended, in the promotion of the North and South bonds.

The Universal Peace Federation has played a shining role in this regard. The Universal Peace Federation has been making some of the greatest contributions to dialogue and cooperation between North and South America of any NGOs.

Likewise, it´s important to promote dialogue and cooperation among the different religions in the American continent. The word religion comes from the Latin word religare, or to bind back; thus, religion should be a channel to bind human beings, not only with God but with everybody living in the Americas. Nevertheless, religion has frequently been a means to divide us from one another through conflicts. Thus, promoting dialogue and unity among the different religions must be a part of peacebuilding in this hemisphere.

The very wise message of the Universal Peace Federation to build “one family under God” should be manifest in the American hemisphere, building that family under God here, regardless of whether some are Catholics, Protestants, or from other religious groups.

Instead of emphasizing the differences, confrontations, and sometimes even conflicts among religions, let us look for the points of agreements, dialogue, and cooperation, so that we can build a more democratic, more humane, more prosperous, and above all, more peaceful continent.

North-South relations among the Americas cannot be severed. The world's economic axis has swift from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Therefore, our dialogue between North-South cannot be isolated from this reality. We should re-connect among ourselves, but in light of a large dialogue among the nations of the Pacific Rim.

Some academics, heads of state, senators, and deputies have been working for months to shape a project to promote communication and exchange of ideas, thinking, and public policy. For some months we have been working with the idea of building an Internet-based Inter American think tank that will incubate ideas that can become public policies and civic initiatives. Especially from the civil society organizations, promoting cooperation throughout the Americas, but basing ourselves in the firm universal principles that come from the different religions. Our mission will be to generate innovative political ideas and civic solutions in areas such as peace-building, freedom, democracy, and human rights.

We will work also to strengthen the family, the core of society, which has been in crisis. We want to strengthen character education programs and promote a culture of service in the Americas in order to advance the UN Millennium Development Goals. To summarize, we want to strengthen our cooperation, dialogue, and communication in the hemisphere between the North and the South.

To fulfill that goal, we are taking into consideration some of the foundational documents that must not be forgotten. We are working on the base of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention of Human Rights (inspired by the former), and also on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states that democracy is a right, not a luxury.  It is a universal right of all the peoples of the world. We also work on the base of other foundational texts, such as Pericles' Funeral Oration, The Edicts of Ashoka, England´s Magna Carta, the US Declaration of Independence, and France's Declaration of the Rights of the Citizen. We are just staring with this project.

2008 was the moment of birth of the first ideas and initiatives. 2009 will be a year to start to execute this Inter-American think-tank project to promote peace, freedom, democracy and human rights in the Americas.

If you want peace, prepare for peace, reads a famous saying. Conflict should be prevented, and, in our case, conflict would be prevented in the Americas, we will construct peace in the American continent promoting the channels of dialogue, cooperation, harmony, understanding between North and South.

If our future Inter-American think-tank can contribute a grain of sand to this great cause for peace and understanding, we will be very satisfied! Conflict has to be avoided, and dialogue, cooperation, harmony, and peace have to be promoted in the Americas.