The following forms part of a three-part series from an exclusive interview with the Caribbean candidate for secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Maria Fernanda Espinosa, during her visit to Saint Lucia, January 24.
‘Building unity in diversity’
Janeka Simon: One of the criticisms of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is that powerful and large countries often dominate the agenda of what is expected to be a multilateral organization in the practice of equal where each member country, ‘supposedly’ has equal say in what’s going on. Given your experience as president of the UNGA, how are you going to make the OAS a more equitable organization, where powerful states are not dominating discussions and debates?
Maria Espinosa: That is the beauty of multilateralism. These are not only words but when you speak about sovereignty and equality of States, at the OAS there is no veto power. Every country seat in the same seat. They all have the same microphone to speak, the same vote and the same right to vote. So there is true sovereignty and equality of Member States, and I think it is the ability and the leadership of the secretary-general to make every single Member State feel that they are part of a community. And in building this community, you build an agenda that would reflect the common interest of the majority.
There are so many issues that unite us; our colonial past, our history, our dreams, and challenges. Which human being doesn’t want, to know of a safe future for themselves and for their children to have a good job, a good salary to live, a life of peace and dignity? These issues are not from Mars or Jupiter. These are human needs and issues that unite us.
There is a possibility of building unity in diversity. My slogan for the campaign is ‘building unity in diversity’. Unity doesn’t mean unanimity, but it means the common denominator.
For example, on the issue of migration. There is no single country in the hemisphere that is not a country of origin or transit or destination or the three at the same time. Therefore, we need a conversation on migration, on what are the structural causes of migration, how to prevent migration, investment in development, combat poverty and inequality.
It’s not that people leave their home countries (via migration) because they want adventure. No. It is because they are under pressure, whether because they don’t have a job, they don’t see a future for their family or because they feel unsafe. If we tackle the migration conversation, I am sure it is going to change the conversation about tourism, about a hemispheric initiative to combat one of the worst crimes, which is human trafficking, which, by the way, affects women and girls.
Seventy-percent of women and girls are victims of human trafficking:
- Why don’t we work together on a huge initiative to fight human trafficking?
- Why don’t we work on a hemispheric initiative to look at the impacts of new technologies and the fourth industrial revolution in the future of work?
- Why don’t we work on capacity-building scholarships for the countries that need them the most, which is the majority of the countries of the hemisphere?
- Why don’t we launch an initiative of building this hemispheric community?
- Why don’t we have a sense of belonging, a program of bilingualism, at least Spanish and English (French)? That is something that can unite us as a community. It is such an advantage to have every single citizen of the hemisphere speak at least two languages, hopefully, three together with French. This is something that has economic benefits.
- Why don’t we work on a blue economy initiative north and south, east and west over the hemisphere?
On issues of investment and smart handling of debt. Most of our countries have the same problem. It’s a structural problem of middle-income countries in general. Why don’t we create a platform to have a dialogue with extra-regional partners, OAS, European Union, with the BRICS. [BRICS is an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.]
The potential and the possibilities are huge … and that’s also the beauty of the multilateral system to be able to process dissent in a respectful manner and without allowing the community to be polarized, divided and just not speak to each other.
We have a communication deficit within the OAS. We have a trust deficit within the OAS. And I think that sometimes. A woman can make a difference, and it is about time. After 71 years of history of the OAS to have a secretary-general, a female secretary-general.
Regional support and commitment
Janeka Simon: Have you received any commitments from other territories that you visited; and Saint Lucia, specifically, following your discussion with the prime minister?
Maria Espinosa: The purpose of my visits to Caribbean countries is to present my vision first-hand to the prime ministers and foreign ministers of my commitments and what I am planning to do. I am well-known as a person that delivers.
When I was elected president of the general-assembly, I said after more than 100 meetings, and having done the maths, here are seven priorities that came from the Member States. These seven issues/priorities I am going to deliver, besides hundreds of mandates, of the general assembly. But I said seven issues: migration, climate change, youth peace and security, women’s rights and empowerment, rights of persons with disabilities and revitalization of the UN, the reform process, which is very complex.
I presented a program of work on each one of those and I was able to deliver on everything I promised. That is my hope for the OAS, which means that I have presented my vision. But more importantly, I heard a lot and learned a lot from Caribbean leaders. It is hard for me to say these are the countries that are supporting me that are going to vote for me. But what I felt there is great sympathy in a great coincidence on priorities and on vision.
The people of the Caribbean, the leaders of the Caribbean, they know me. They have seen me in-action. I would not disappoint them.