FOCAL Comments to the Special Committee on
Inter-American Summits Management of the Organization for American
November 7, 2000
(Social Priority Basket)
Poverty and income distribution, education, and
the health-environment link (namely, wider access to clean air and
water) are the immediate social priorities of the hemisphere. With
these priorities in mind, FOCAL suggests that Action Items in the
Quebec City Summit Agenda should strengthen the ability of the
governments of the region to deliver basic social services and
improve their social contracts with the citizens of the
- From our understanding of the many social challenges in the
hemisphere, poverty and income distribution top the list.
FOCAL’s overriding concern is that the language and
commitments in the documents of the Summits of the Americas
are still not relaying the urgency of poverty and income
- The previous two Summits did not place a clear focus on
these problems, nor did they present a concrete social agenda
overall. The key issue at the Santiago Summit was education,
yet the failure of governments and International Financial
Institutions to mobilize the resources and political will
necessary to deliver on education commitments has led to
deep-rooted scepticism in the region about the Summit’s
capability of addressing fundamental social challenges.
- Strengthening democracies in the hemisphere has been a hotly
debated topic amongst the region’s leaders in recent months.
Yet strengthening democracies has not included discussion
about strengthening the role of the state to deliver basic
social services or building back the capacity and legitimacy
of the state to generate sufficient revenue for social
spending. Indeed, debates in both the upcoming U.S. and
Canadian elections are revolving around the extent to which
governments can play the role of social service deliverers. We
believe Canada has historic traditions of social policy models
that can be used throughout the hemisphere to mitigate the
harshest effects of economic globalization and the transition
to market economies.
- FOCAL maintains strong relationships with NGOs, policy
centres, research centres, and think tanks that have vast
experience analyzing the social priorities in the hemisphere.
In this presentation we endorse the positions of many of these
- It is very difficult for FOCAL to make comments on a Summit
basket that we have not seen. We are commenting on a
discussion paper on Summit Themes that was written almost six
months ago and are dismayed that a more detailed document on
the social priorities of the Quebec City Summit has not been
put forth for civil society consultation in the hemisphere.
For us to give constructive contributions to help build
general interest and support for the Summit, we need access to
timely, relevant information.
- FOCAL believes that placing Summit priorities such as gender
issues, and the environment into "baskets" causes
arbitrary divisions of responsibilities that will impede an
integrated focus on these items.
- Even though we are unable to attend this important OAS
Special Committee for Inter-American Summits Management, we
would ask participants at this meeting to pick up copies of
the latest edition of our joint Summit Newsletter, which we
produce with Florida International University.
Immediate Social Priorities in the Hemisphere:
- Social Sector Reform-- We believe that as Summit host
Canada should raise issues of social sector reform in the
hemisphere: modernizing the region’s tax systems (federal,
provincial, municipal); pension reform; modernizing labour
standards; developing specific measures to deal with the growing
informal sectors of the region (i.e. informal workers escape
paying taxes and do not receive social services).
We believe that the environment should not
be in the Creating Prosperity basket alone. In this hemisphere,
the environment is a social priority with social impacts.
- Education—At the Quebec City Summit action items on
education must go beyond what was committed to in Santiago. A
renewed emphasis is needed on the key priorities of access to
primary and secondary education with the addition of
quantifiable targets. If the Quebec City Summit does nothing
more than establish a monitoring group on hemispheric education,
then that in itself will be a big step forward.
FOCAL believes in the power of new
technology to help countries progress into the 21st
Century. However, the distribution of computers does not
constitute an immediate priority. The growth of information
technology in the region is happening in any case, often without
government intervention. Governmental resources therefore need
not be diverted to this initiative. FOCAL is unclear as to
whether the connectivity action item will call for the creation
of a funding base for information technology. If this is the
case, it will divert government attention and financial
resources away from ongoing first tier social priorities. If
however, the Quebec City Summit is aiming for a declaration on
the general usefulness of information technology, then we
support the initiative.
- The Health-Environment Link-- Though touched on at the
Bolivia Sustainable Development Summit, further concrete action
items on the link between health and the environment are needed,
namely: wide access to clean water, and the reduction of
respiratory diseases in children, which is tied to the lack of
clean air in urban areas. Focusing on these two issues alone
would accomplish a tremendous amount. We believe that the Pan
American Health Organization (PAHO) is doing a very good job
implementing past Summit priorities on health in the hemisphere.
The health-environment link is a new priority that should be
given serious consideration.
- Cultural Diversity—Again, FOCAL supports a declaration
by Heads of State supporting cultural diversity in the
hemisphere. The theme did not exist in past Summits, and new
language in the Quebec City Summit is welcome. However, the
hemisphere does not need to be reminded of the richness and
diversity of its many cultures. It would be unfortunate if this
theme attracts attention and resources from other more immediate
- Governments of the hemisphere agreed to a focused,
results-oriented, relevant Agenda and Plan of Action for the
Quebec City Summit. In this respect we remain unclear as to
what would be a focused, results-oriented, and relevant action
item relating to connectivity or cultural diversity. More
importantly, civil society groups and the populations of the
hemisphere are not making demands for connectivity or cultural
diversity before they are seeking access to quality education,
adequate healthcare, personal security and environmental