BLOG: ¡Viva las Americas!
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December 6, 2009
by Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean
We belong to the Americas. Living at its extreme north, we are not always able to fully measure our cultural, historical, geographic and economic membership to this continent or the contribution we make to its rich diversity. The Latin south is the extension of our northernness and we have a lot more in common than we might think. This is what we hope to discover and appreciate during our three State visits, to Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, from December 6 to 16, 2009, at the request of the Prime Minister of Canada.
Canada would like to be further involved and develop a hemispheric vision of strengthened co-operation, economic partnerships that are more daring, diversified and fair, and lead to sustainable development and greater social responsibility among businesses. A hemispheric vision that encourages cultural and institutional exchanges, links between peoples, greater circulation of knowledge and practices, and the sharing of experiences that encourage networking among civil society organizations. A hemispheric vision that takes into account the urgent need to establish joint strategies to meet the significant challenges seriously affecting our communities, especially the sophisticated, powerful organized crime networks that have spread across the entire continent with their illegal activities.
Canada’s last State visit to Mexico took place approximately 20 years ago. It was high time to go celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations with Mexico, one of our major partners in the North America Free Trade Agreement. President Felipe Calderon has invited me to speak to the Senate, which—as in the United States—is elected and plays a strong, decisive constitutional role in the implementation of all government policies.
Despite the irritation of the current issue of entry visas to Canada for Mexican citizens, the dialogue has not been interrupted and our relationship remains warm and substantial. There is still considerable potential to be developed, a number of areas of co-operation to be explored and partnership opportunities to seize. This will be the focus of our bilateral discussions, with the participation of the members of our delegation, who represent various areas of Canadian civil society, and will include the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), Peter Kent, in Mexico and Guatemala.
In the spirit of diplomacy on a human, cultural scale that we practice, we—my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, our delegate and I—will go meet with leaders, but also with non-governmental organizations, representatives from cultural communities, young people and citizen associations, in which women play a very active role in urban communities in Mexico City, and in rural and indigenous communities in Chiapas.
In Guatemala, under the auspices of a beautiful, mythical bird, the Quetzal, we will delve deeper into Mayan territory. This will be Canada’s first State visit to the country, which we have supported in solidarity and friendship in difficult and trying times, especially during 30 years of civil war that decimated the population and Guatemala’s institutions. Canada is proud to have contributed to the process, to the discussions that led to the signing of peace accords and to all the projects that are vital to Guatemalan communities, projects that we continue to support to this day. One such project, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), is crucial to reconciliation. Canada puts a lot of emphasis on access to justice, and greater recognition of women, indigenous communities and all those excluded by poverty. A lack of security remains a major challenge and translates into violence against a culture of dialogue.
From the capital to other communities we will visit in northern and southern Guatemala, we will hear Guatemalans explaining their realities and observe the impact of projects supported and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). We will also have the opportunity to meet with representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) when we go to visit the people living in the international adjacency zone between Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica.
The State visit to Costa Rica will also be a first. The first community I will visit there is Puerto Limón, which has a diverse population that includes Blacks, indigenous people and those of mixed race. The Costa Rican government has put forward measures to stop the marginalization of minorities.
Costa Rica is often considered a leader in the region for having abolished its army at a time when military regimes reigned everywhere else in Latin America. It is also well-known for its cutting-edge positions on environmental and biodiversity protection. Costa Rica has set a goal and wants to be the first country to be carbon-neutral by 2021.
At the invitation of President Oscar Arias Sánchez, I will solemnly address the parliamentarians of Costa Rica’s Congress.
Then, as in Mexico and Guatemala, we will leave the capital to go visit the regions to learn about community and development projects.
Bilateral discussions with rulers, Art Matters, forums with young people, meetings with NGOs, leaders of civil society organizations and business owners: these State visits will allow us to bring together a range of perspectives and points of view in each country. The delegates will play a crucial role in this program of diplomacy on a human, cultural scale, and will write daily reports of their observations and impressions on this site, where Canadians will be able to follow these visits, to inform and express themselves and to respond to what the delegates have to say.