By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:Advisory Board
Peace, Progress, and Justice
"Democracy is in danger across Latin America. The essence of democracy is change between one group and another. Now there is no true separation of power in our government systems. Anyone who speaks against government is repressed."
It is said that leaders rise out of chaos, and in the case of Gustavo Noboa this saying is literally true. In 2000, during extreme political unrest and the ousting of President Mahuad in the capital city of Quito, Ecuador, Noboa, then vice president, took the reins of his country and began to lead. It was chaotic; the country was in the midst of a major recession, and maintained significant foreign debt. The government was debating privatization of the utilities, and had proposed the transition of the nation’s currency to the U.S. dollar. The citizens, especially farmers, were in an uproar. Driven by the desire to guide Ecuador with market-oriented policies, Noboa often met with political fragmentation, which further caused slow-downs in reform efforts and debt refinancing efforts. Noboa was in office until 2003.
Today, Noboa participates as an advisor and firm advocator for the Social Agenda for Democracy in Latin America, a policy recommendation to current Latin heads of state, which outlines the 16 most pressing issues of the region and identifies approximately 60 specific public and private recommendations to conquer these issues, while requiring accountability economically, socially, and politically.
In Denver for the Biennial, President Noboa shared his expertise, both personal and political, with attendees at the Healthcare and Heads of State Roundtables, which opened with President Clinton, via video, discussing the importance of equality in the hemisphere in terms of incomes, healthcare, and education. Clinton said, “140 million people in Latin America do not have access to clean drinking water. We have a chance to learn... Our common humanity matters.” And with that, the roundtable began with President Noboa saying, “Health is a day-to-day issue and prevention is crucial. In Ecuador, we must be in the position to handle all possible threats. Education is another issue. We must educate in the area of prevention.” Many NGOs would agree. Although the country has basically eliminated yellow fever, and is seeing significant declines in malaria and tuberculosis, malnutrition is widespread and infant mortality rates are relatively high, at 23 per 1000. There is still need for other preventative health measures including clean water and sanitation options.
In his opening remarks at the Heads of State Roundtable, Noboa proclaimed, in a most colorful fashion that, “Democracy is in danger across Latin America.” And to that remark...the audience erupted in applause. He said that democracies in some countries today are really just dictatorships that look like democracy because they hold elections. Then he rhetorically asked, “Is that really democracy? The essence of democracy is change between one group and another. Now there is no true separation of power in our government systems. Anyone who speaks against government is repressed,” he said. Ecuador has become a country of transit, storage and distribution for much of the U.S.-bound cocaine from Colombia. "Our obligation as heads of states is to lead our countries toward progress amid these rapidly changing conditions." — Gustavo Noboa
Committed to making a difference, Noboa regularly travels, speaks, and writes about the importance of these types of dialogues. He has historically used the example of energy development in Ecuador to prove his point. He says, “In Ecuador, nature has rights. Over time, we were able to build the oil pipeline, in spite of the environmentalists. Nevertheless, wind energy could not be established in the Galápagos Islands due to the opposition of environmental NGOs. There is a permanent theme: How is it that with good intentions, we trip over the same rock—our own groups that impede development? What to do? Dialogue.”
Economic and cultural globalization is moving forward, and through the Social Agenda, Noboa and his fellow heads of state remain on the pulse point of the issues and remain committed to improving education, public health, regional physical infrastructure, housing, and the environment – all for the purpose of opening up opportunities for decent employment, which improves living standards. Noboa has also recognized the threats of illegal drug production, trafficking and consumption as a global problem that threatens the, “development and safety of our countries and of the international community. It is one of the most harmful and dangerous forms of organized transnational crime that threatens the state of law and distorts the economy.” He should know, since Ecuador has become a country of transit, storage and distribution for much of the U.S.-bound cocaine from Colombia. “Our obligation as heads of states is to lead our countries toward progress amid these rapidly changing conditions,” said Noboa at a past Andean Community Summit.
Noboa realistically recognizes that none of the social and political agenda items will happen in a vacuum. It will take joint efforts between the Latin Countries, the U.S. and others in the hemisphere if we are to indeed see a meaningful shift in the overall agenda. He understands that there may be chaos. But, he is committed to teaching the lessons that he, his predecessors, and his colleagues have learned — the mistakes, hurdles, and successes of a country's regime and how to maintain civility through growth, without leaving behind the constructs of basic democracy and human rights. Noboa proclaims, “The adoption of correct, timely, and appropriate policies in the social sector builds up democracy while defending the human rights of the citizens of our countries. This is an everyday task that should occupy our efforts fully.”