we did something wrong - speech by oscar arias - president of costa rica

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"WE DID SOMETHING WRONG"
President of the Republic of Costa Rica
Speech by President Óscar Arias at the Summit of the Americas
Trinidad and Tobago
18 April 2009

I’m under the impression that every time Caribbean and Latin American countries meet with the President of the United States of America it’s to ask for something or complain about things. Almost always it’s to blame the United States for our past, present and future problems. I don’t think that’s completely fair.

We mustn’t forget that Latin America had universities before the United States created Harvard or William & Mary, which were the first universities in that country. We can’t forget that on this continent, as well as the world over, at least until 1750 all Americans were more or less equal: all were poor.

When the Industrial Revolution began in England other countries jumped on the bandwagon: Germany, France, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. And the Industrial Revolution passed over Latin America like a comet and we didn’t even realize it. We certainly lost our opportunity.

There is a very great difference. If one reads the history of Latin America and compares it to the history of the United States, one understands that Latin America did not have a Spanish or Portuguese John Winthrop who, with Bible in hand, was willing to build “a city on a hill”, a city that would shine, as was the objective of the pilgrims who arrived in the United States.

50 years ago Mexico was richer than Portugal. In 1950 a country like Brazil had a higher income per capita than South Korea. 60 years ago Honduras had more wealth per capital than Singapore and today Singapore, over a period of about 35-40 years, has increased its annual income per capita to $40,000 per inhabitant. Well, Latin Americans did something wrong.

What did we do wrong? I can’t count the things we’ve done wrong. To begin with, we have an average of 7 years of education. That’s the average education level in Latin America and that is not the case with most Asian countries. Certainly that is not the case with the United States and Canada, which have the best education in the world, similar to that of Europeans. Of every 10 students who enter high school in Latin America, in some countries only 1 completes high school. There are countries that have an infant mortality rate of 50 per 1000, when the average in more advanced Asian countries is 8, 9, or 10.

In our countries taxes cover about 12% of the gross national product and it isn’t anyone’s responsibility other than ours that we don’t charge more to the wealthiest people in our countries. No one is at fault for that except us.

In 1950 every North American citizen was four times wealthier than a Latin American citizen. Today a North American citizen is 10, 15 or 20 times wealthier than a Latin American. That is not the United States’ fault. That is our fault.

During my speech this morning I mentioned something that I find grotesque and that only goes to show that the 20th Century value system, which seems to be the one we are putting into practice in the 21st Century too, is a mistaken value system. Because it can’t be possible that the wealthy countries of the world dedicate 100 billion dollars to fight poverty throughout 80% of the world’s population on a planet that has 2.5 billion human being who earn $2 a day, and they spend 13 times that (1 quadrillion, 300 million) on weapons and soldiers.

As I said this morning, it cannot be that Latin America spends 50 billion dollars on weapons and soldiers. I ask myself: who is our enemy? Our enemy, President Correa, is the inequality which you so correctly mention. It is lack of education. It is illiteracy. It is that we don’t spend on our population’s health. We don’t create the necessary infrastructure: roads, highways, ports and airports. It is that we are not dedicating the necessary resources to stop the environmental degradation. It is the inequality we have that is really shameful. It is a product, among other things of course, of the fact that we are not educating our sons and daughters.

One goes to a Latin American university and it seems we are still in the sixties, seventies or eighties. It seems we’ve forgotten that on 9 November 1989 something very important happened: the Berlin Wall fell and the world changed. We have to accept that this is a different world and as to that, frankly, I think academics and all people of reason, all economists, all historians, almost all will agree that the 21st century belongs to the Asians, not to Latin Americans. And I, unfortunately, agree with them.

Because while we continue arguing about ideologies, while we continue arguing about “isms” (which is better, capitalism, socialism, communism, liberalism, neoliberalism, sociochristianism…) the Asians found a very realistic “ism” for the 21st Century and the end of the 20th Century and it’s called pragmatism.

To give you an example, let’s recall when Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and South Korea. After realizing that his own neighbors were becoming wealthy rapidly, he returned to Peking and said to his old Maoist comrades that they had accompanied him along his long march “Well, truthfully dear comrades, I don’t really care if the cat is black or white. The only thing that interests me is that it hunts mice”. And if Mao had been alive he would have died again when Xiaoping said, “The truth is that getting rich is glorious”. And while the Chinese are doing this, and since 1979 they’ve grown by 11%, 12%, or 13% and have taken 300 million of their inhabitants out of poverty, we continue arguing about ideologies that we should have buried long ago.

The good news is that Deng Xiaoping achieved this when he as 74 years old. Looking around me, dear Presidents, I don’t see anyone who is anywhere near 74 years old. So all I ask you is that we don’t wait until we’re that age to make the changes we need to make.

Thank you.

Comments for we did something wrong - speech by oscar arias - president of costa rica

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Feb 13, 2015
reply
by: Nelsom

Thank you so much for sharing the speech by the president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias at the Summit of the Americas that was held in Trinidad. The content of the speech was much inspiring for me. Thank you.

Apr 11, 2011
Smart - But a bit too late
by: R.E.

"la falta de educación;es el analfabetismo" Updated budget on Education,nation wide; new standards and testing for teacher as of 3 years ago.
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"es que no gastamos en la salud de nuestro pueblo" Recently replaced many heads from the health department and implemented a state of emergency due to the deterioration and lack of spending in this area for the last 30years; (all it's previous governments)
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"que no creamos la infraestructura necesaria, los caminos, las carreteras, los puertos, los aeropuertos" In the last 4years. there has been a tremendous increase in the infrastructures throught Ecuador. Other countries in Latin America need to do the same. New roads,highways,airports,bridges and ports, hence an investment by the international community has increased to $7,500,000,000. Ecuador has been described by Moodies as a stable economy worth investing.

Also,

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-05/ecuador-credit-rating-raised-by-fitch-on-rising-oil-better-financing.html

?Ecuador?s creditworthiness balances moderate levels of public and external debt and the country?s relatively high income and human development levels....?


"que no estamos dedicando los recursos necesarios para detener la degradación del medio ambiente;"

Ecuador's proposed a constitution that includes an article that grants nature the right to "exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution" and will grant legal standing to any person to defend those rights in court. (This was already passed and Ecuador became the first Country in history to have a environmentally friendly constitution.)

http://sef.umd.edu/sef2007.html

(the most aggressive attempt by any nation to avoid having to use its natural resources essentially damaging earth environment)

Remember, it takes 2.I consider Aria to be a very smart individual. However some of his comments or most are a bit too late. Keep in mind, rape is not consensual and Latin America has been raped for decade. Not until recently are we standing on our own two feet and minimizing oustide dependencies. I agree, you have to allow the other to take advantage and many of our people allowed it, but now our governments are evolving, "EVOLVING".



Jan 28, 2010
Castro, Chavez, and Ortega: The Tin Man, The Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion!!!
by: PanIberoAmericano

Wow, I am sure enjoying the comments on this board! I really think that Oscar Arias has gotten to much of very own " pura vida " down there in Costa Rica. Maybe all the Communist Latin American countries should look at all the records of the " jefes " they all have in their respective countries. Marxists, murderers, scumbags, drunks, cowards, RAPISTS IN THE CASE OF DANNY BOY, WHO RAPED HIS VERY OWN STEPDAUGHTER ZOILAMERICA AND WE ALL GOT A TASTE OF THE COURT CASE A FEW YEARS AGO WHEN IT WELL-PUBLICIZED MOCK TRIAL OF REAGAN'S ETERNAL ENEMY. I am also from Nicaragua and I had many, many members of my social class and caste thrown in jail, murdered, beaten, exiled, all our property taken away, THAT SCUMBAG DANNY BOY SHOULD BE IN JAIL AND ALL HIS BUDDIES SHOULD GO BACK TO SELLING BANANAS AND THEIR AK'S ON THE STREETS OF MANAGUA TO FEED THE PEOPLE THEY'RE STEALING FROM. IF ANY ONE DOUBTS WHAT I AM SAYING READ THE GREAT ARGENTINIAN AUTHOR VARGAS LLOSA'S BOOK WHERE IT SAYS THAT DANIEL ORTEGA IS AN INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL WHO HAS A VERY BIG ACCUSATION LEVELED AGAINST HIM BECAUSE OF THIS RAPE OF HIS STEPDAUGHTER AT 12 YEARS OLD, AND IT'S TIME HE SHOULD PAY UP BECAUSE IN THE UNITED STATES HE WOULD BE PUT AWAY FOR LIFE WITH ALL THE OTHER SCUMBAGS WITHOUT POSSIBLITY OF PAROLE!!!

Jan 25, 2010
No Solo Morales, Si No Tambien Daniel Ortega!!!
by: NicaaguenseLibre

In Nicargua before the arrival of the pseudo-Marxist-Castroists-Leninists-Stalinists we had the distinction of being known as not only the breadbasket of Central America but the prime exporter of beef in the region as well. Now we have the dubious distiniction of being the MOST MALNOURISHED COUNTRY NOT ONLY IN LATIN AMERICA, BUT IN ALL OF CONTINENTAL AMERICA AS WELL. Now because of the tragic earthquake in Haiti I do believe the people of Haiti are eating even better than in Nicaragua and are eating food with a higher caloric nutrional value because of the massive relief effort by the United States in that country. Such " comrades " as Castro, Ortega, Chavez, Morales, and others of Latin America blame the backwards development of Latin America on the United States to keep themselves firmly in power and enrich themselves and their cronies in their respective countries. As the old Nicaraguan saying goes, " La culpa no es del Indio, sino el que lo hace compadre ". I understand that the " Little Dictator ", Daniel Ortega ( as christened by Ronald Reagan ) is re-electing himself and I do believe a psychological profile of the Nicaraguan people is warranted because as players of " follow the leader " nobody can beat us!!! I applaud Mr. Arias for his honesty and accuracy. Mr. Arias is not only intelligent but a massive braniac as well!

Dec 07, 2009
Yes, Latin America Presidents and all the potiticians did wrong
by: Celita

We vote but we can't recall. The politicians and all the scandals with money, corruptions are far beyond we can bear. We are tired of them but they pursuit the power so they pursuit the country. They do what they want. They care about the people when they give help in order to get their votes years after years. The bet in their ignorance and lack of knowledge and the parasites, I mean, the politicians keep buying the poor and winning elections as we don't exist. We pay taxes, and we don't receive any benefit just obligations. The politicians are ambitious and money is their god.
Blessed be the nation which God is the Lord!

May 30, 2009
Profoundly simple & true
by: Leon Galindo

Excellent, simply profound and profoundly simple... essential truths. Someday a critical mass of Bolivians and Latin Americans will figure it out and things will change... Until than, we have to keep pushing in that direction. Thanks for sharing and promoting this beautiful article.

May 27, 2009
Excellent Speech
by: Anonymous

Thank you for sharing. It is an excellent speech!!! I wish every one of us get a piece of it, thus it makes us more sincere and responsible for the failure of our countries. We are the only one to blame and we should start doing something positive for our future generations. We need to stop seeing ourselves as victims.

May 17, 2009
Did Pres. Arias address Pres. Correa or Pres, Morales
by: Anonymous

I'm not sure if he was addressing President Correa or President Morales. This speech has been circling the internet for about a month now and this is the version I received. Wish I had heard the speech live. It would be interesting to hear what others have heard about this. So let's ask: did he address Morales or Correa? Anyone?

May 17, 2009
freudian slip?
by: T'anta Wawa

Thank you for the English translation. It's a very interesting speech and I am relieved not to have to translate it into English myself. I can't help noticing, though, that the version on MABBlog cites President Correa when talking about inequality, not President Morales. I look forward to exploring the rest of your site.

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