The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza, opened Universidad Viña del Mar's 2011 academic year with a compelling speech titled "Challenges of Democracy in the 21st Century." The event took place on UVM's Rodelillo Campus and was attended by government and military leaders, senior academics, including UVM's rector Julio Castro, the president of UVM's board, Manuel Krauskopf, UVM faculty, UVM students and representatives from eleven Laureate network institutions, who were on site for an international fair.
During his speech, the secretary general of the OAS said that Latin America is experiencing a positive moment, both economically and politically. Nevertheless, he said that the countries of the region must continue working to advance social equality, combating crime and creating governmental structures that respond to growing citizen needs. According to Secretary Insulza, "This is an extraordinary period of time for democracy, where almost all the current rulers have been elected democratically. While elections are never perfect, we, in general, have a good electoral system."
CYCLES AND CHALLENGES
José Miguel Insulza confirmed his confidence that Latin America's good times will extend into the foreseeable future, "but cycles end and when that happens, we have to ask what will we have done in terms of investing in education, innovation, science and technology to combat social inequality."
In this regard, he was clear in saying that there are three large and daunting threats to the stability of democracy throughout the region. According to Insulza, "The first challenge is from social inequality. Although there are fewer poor people in Latin America than a few years ago, about one third of the region's population is still poor, according to ECLAC. Income distribution is even worse, with wealth concentrated in the top eight percent of Latin Americans." Insulza also criticized the highly discriminatory edges of poverty: "poverty is concentrated in certain population groups, including African Americans and households headed by women."
The second major challenge for Latin American democracy is how to destroy organized crime, drug trafficking, organ trafficking and piracy. According to Insulza, "The global average murder rate is 12 per 100,000, which is one half the rate of our region (between 23 and 24 per 100,000). This is a serious risk. Large gangs today act like corporations that exert great influence, to the point where in some places they decide elections." The secretary general announced that the next UN General Assembly will address the central theme of organized crime.
The third great challenge is to ensure the region has governments of the highest quality that can more effectively meet the growing demands of its citizens. "The problem is that we still have rather weak structures and many of the proposals that the political groups promise during campaigns cannot be realistically achieved. This is further exacerbated by limited resources and capacity as well as professional staff in government service."
LATIN AMERICA IS DOING WELL, BUT CYCLES CONTINUE
José Miguel Insulza said that while many Latin American countries have done well in recent years, each country should continue to push forward. In the case of Chile, he highlighted the necessity of changing the two-party system and facilitating the participation of young people in politics. "You have to refresh the leading bodies and provide more access to the various political groups and leaders. Today, in most constituencies and districts, we know in advance who will be chosen. If we support the market economy, where competition is tough, then we must apply those same market rules and competition to government as well," explained the secretary general of the OAS.