President Oscar Arias touched on his pet themes of free trade and disarmament this week and last during a visit to South America, where he attended the Latin American-Iberian Summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, and met with Chilean legislators and President Michele Bachelet in Chile.
At the summit, the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize-winner gained further support for his Costa Rica Consensus, designed to reduce developing countries’ military spending; highlighted the importance of addressing the poverty that causes immigration, rather than just treating the symptom; and, like his fellow leaders, criticized the U.S. government’s plans to spend billions of dollars to build a wall along that country’s border with Mexico.
“Immigration isn’t just an economic issue, it’s a human issue,” he said during his speech before the assembled representatives from 22 nations. “Good economic arguments may exist to support the raising of fences or walls that prevent people from leaving or entering a country, or justify the deportations or massive arrests or refusal to give medical treatment and education to the children of immigrants. But no humanitarian argument will ever support these attitudes.”
The summit as a whole issued a special statement against the wall.
“We make a firm call to the U.S. government to reconsider the construction of a divisive wall in America,” the statement read.
“Building walls doesn’t detain undocumented immigration… it incites discrimination and xenophobia, and favors the creation of groups of traffickers that put people in greater danger.”
What’s the solution, then, to illegal immigration? Both Latin American and developed nations must invest in education and embrace free trade, according to Arias. The President cited a 2005 survey in Costa Rica that showed that 60% of the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan immigrants here are willing to take any job, anywhere in the world, as an example of the need for new sources of employment to reduce immigration.
“I marvel sometimes at the tenacity with which some people insist that globalization is a perverse force that is increasing poverty in the world,” added Arias, who faces stiff opposition from social groups at home who oppose the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA). He added that World Bank statistics show the number of poor people worldwide has decreased by 200 million in the past two decades, largely because China and India have embraced globalization.
Arias and the other heads of state signed the Montevideo Declaration Sunday at the end of the three-day summit. The agreement includes an expression of support for the Costa Rica Consensus and orders the summit’s General Secretariat to begin studying the initiative.
Arias lobbied in support of both the Consensus, through which developed nations would consider developing countries’military spending habits when calculating aid, and an arms trade treaty – which took a step ahead last week when the U.N. General Assembly voted to begin studying the proposal (TT,Nov. 3) – during a trip to Europe in June and to the United Nations in September.
The declaration also includes a pledge that participating leaders will work to reduce inequality, and demands that countries in the region protect immigrant rights through measures such as ensuring that consular processes for granting visas take “days and not months or years,” according to the summit’s Web page, www.cumbresiberoamericanas.com. However, at least one leader in attendance, Bolivian President Evo Morales, said the problem of immigration “requires firmer steps that the ones we’ve made at this summit.”
The Uruguay meeting was the leastattended Latin American-Iberian Summit in history, with the presidents of Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela bowing out for various reasons. The heads of state of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Portugal, Uruguay and Spain participated in the summit.
On Monday, Arias headed to Chile, a country he’s praised as an example for Costa Rica because of its wide variety of free-trade agreements. His meeting Tuesday with Bachelet in Santiago yielded cooperation agreements on topics including tourism, fishing and aquaculture, higher education, and small and medium businesses. They also made plans to prepare an agreement related to social security for Chileans living in Costa Rica.
“We’re indebted to your country, Mr. President,” Bachelet told Arias, referring to the estimated 3,000 Chilean immigrants who live in Costa Rica after fleeing Chile for economic or political reasons, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.
Arias, who also met with judicial and municipal authorities in Santiago, and legislators in Valparaiso during his visit, told Bachelet Costa Rica is “beginning to follow (Chile’s) footsteps” in terms of international trade and globalization.
The day before, Arias made a presentation at the Latin American Economic Commission (CEPAL). There, he reiterated the importance of globalization as a means to reduce poverty. As he has in the past, he warned that if developing countries “aren’t exporting more and more goods and services, they’ll end up exporting more people.”
That evening, Arias attended a reception for delegates to a conference of The Socialist International, a worldwide organization of social-democratic, socialist and labor parties from all continents, hosted by Bachelet.
He returned to Costa Rica Wednesday.