Welcoming Ceremony - Guatemala

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Welcoming Ceremony

Guatemala, Thursday, December 10, 2009

I would like to start by telling you how delighted we are—my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, the delegation accompanying us and I—to be continuing, here in Guatemala, a journey from the north to the centre of the Americas, a journey that began in Mexico and that will end in Costa Rica.

Guatemala reminds us loud and clear that this continent’s history did not begin with the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

We are here in Mesoamerica, a region that is the cradle of an ancient civilization, that of the Mayans, who have managed to preserve their identity right up until the present day, despite invasions, conquests, pillaging, massacres, attempted assimilation, discrimination, exclusion and repression.

We are speaking of a civilization of unfathomable ingenuity, of builders, artists and scholars who have made a priceless cultural contribution. Proof of this lies in the imposing ruins of palaces and pyramid-shaped temples, including those in the majestic city of Tikal, which we will have the pleasure of visiting.

When Europeans arrived on this continent, they believed this to be a new world.

In one fell swoop, they erased a world dating back thousands of years.

However, thanks to efforts such as those that have been made in the El Mirador park in northern El Petén—restoration has begun of entire chapters in the first people’s history that had disappeared from memory, that had been rewritten or had their original meaning distorted, or that had been simply concealed, without any hesitation.

And what is more, it is not enough to acknowledge the value of this unique history: it is essential that we protect the well-being of those who have inherited it and who are fighting to preserve their heritage.

If not, the continent will still and always be divided into two worlds: one characterized by progress and possibilities; and the other, by injustice and inequality. Full development on one side and chronic under-development on the other.

At a time when globalization requires us to redefine our global ties, when leaders across the Americas are trying to create very vast markets and define joint positions on several important challenges facing their peoples, the time has come for all of us to work towards reconciliation and peace, solidarity and brotherhood, and towards new ethics of exchange.

Canada, whose history also includes sad chapters of mistreatment of its Aboriginal peoples, has already taken up this path with the recent creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is to travel across Canada over the next five years to seek out that truth and bring people together.

I have agreed to be a special witness to this journey Canadians decided to take with courage and responsibility.

We must never turn away from the opportunity to rebuild our history together, for we have a responsibility to acknowledge its every aspect.

Excellency, in your inauguration speech, you promised to make Guatemala “a social democracy with a Mayan face,” and you announced a brave and ambitious program to fight poverty, inequalities, violence, crime and impunity.

Canada applauds the hope represented by this willingness to change, which must inevitably be supported by the commitment of civil society, and we reaffirm our support of all the men, women and youth who are endeavouring to  preserve and consolidate the democratic institutions that are essential to peace, security and development in Guatemala and the implementation of a state of law for the well-being of all Guatemalans.

We know that endemic poverty and insecurity undermine the daily lives of the Guatemalan people.

We also know that the climate of impunity promotes violence, especially towards women.

Canada—which believes in the principle of equality between genders—hails the law against “femicide” passed by your country’s Congress, and its commitment to the United Nations’ leading conventions on violence towards women.

And because we believe in the fundamental principles of law and justice, we actively support the work of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which was created by the United Nations in 2007, and to whose efforts we should contribute by establishing a common front to combat the threat posed by the sophisticated crime networks that have spread across the entire continent with their illegal activities.

I am referring among other things to the trafficking of people, narcotics, weapons and influence, and to the corruption, money laundering and violence that are ravaging our communities.

Moreover, our countries recently signed a new agreement under which Canada agrees to support the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations, located in Cobán.

We should mention that Canada and Guatemala have, for a long time, had a special relationship in terms of development, notably through the Canadian International Development Agency’s assistance program.

This first State visit by Canada to Guatemala will allow us to evaluate the vitality of our exchanges and to explore new avenues for cooperation and partnership that will generate prosperity for our peoples.

We will also take advantage of this opportunity to absorb the remarkable work being done by various NGOs in places such as Petén and Sololá with Canada’s support.

Security, good governance, complete respect for the dignity of individuals and the eradication of poverty are issues of top priority for both the Guatemala of today and for future generations of Guatemalans.

We hope to be able to contribute to your efforts, today as in the past, with our support and friendship.

It is with this spirit of solidarity and brotherhood that we have undertaken this State visit to Guatemala, but also with the firm desire to remind our respective peoples that we are brothers and sisters in spirit and in heart, and with the hope of finding new opportunities for cooperation between us.