To the Argentine Congress
March 22, 2006 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Without a doubt, it is a tremendous honor for me to be welcomed this afternoon at this historic monument to Argentine democracy. I thank you in name of all Chileans.
This is the first time that a Chilean head of state has come to this ally country on a State Visit just days after taking office. I took office as President not ten days ago.
And as the Vice President said, this is not a coincidence. I wanted to illustrate, with my presence before you and the Argentine people, my unequivocal willingness to strengthen the deep ties of friendship and cooperation that Argentines and Chileans have built based on common values, such as democracy, respect for the rule of law and a shared vision of strategies for our development.
We have built up this friendship since we became independent countries, and we have intensely deepened this relationship more recently, once we both came to have democratic governments.
As you well know, mine is the fourth democratic administration since we restored democracy in 1990. Since then, Chile has changed and progressed quite a bit. Today, we have a fully democratic Constitution, without enclaves of authoritarianism. I should point out that we still need to improve our electoral system, in order to make it truly democratic and representative.
We are a country united around common values. Chilean society is moving quickly towards a more tolerant, egalitarian and democratic culture.
Today, Chile is a country that is free of fear. How could there be any doubt about it? The first female President of Chile is here before you. This is a society that, without a doubt, has changed and matured. A few years ago, frankly, this would have been unthinkable. I want to point out that at my inauguration, many women said to me, “you are an inspiration, but also, you are an aspiration.” And so it is—whether it’s a good example or not—that the women on this continent, and in other places, are clearly watching us with interest. This is about societies and countries that are able to mature and offer equal opportunities to both women and men. That is, without a doubt, a goal for everyone here in this room.
In Chile, we have opened up the economy, and we have maintained a sustained rate of growth, as well as a persistent fiscal discipline.
However, we went way beyond what the Washington Consensus prescribed for us, because as a progressive coalition, we knew that market policies would not be sufficient to resolve the grave inequalities affecting our society. They could even work to perpetuate those inequalities.
That is why we have carried out policies that have allowed us to offer increasing equality of opportunities and increasingly better access to basic services. We especially want to guarantee those services for families with lower incomes and fewer possibilities.
We have made great progress, but we still have much to do. That is why, in the next four years of my administration, we are going to continue with our economic policies, but I am going to dedicate my energy to consolidate and further those advances.
At the end of my term, I want my government to be able to guarantee all Chilean citizens a social welfare system to protect them from cradle to grave. This includes a programs—I am not going to go into detail about them here—to increase coverage in daycare and pre-school education, as well as improving quality at all other levels. It also includes increased access to decent, timely healthcare for all citizens; the construction of better quality public housing with more square meters per person, because quality of life has to do with how many square meters per person we can provide; and, without a doubt, it will include the pension system, which is experiencing a period of crisis. The great reform that I will carry out in my country will take place in the pension system, by finding, among other things, a decent equilibrium between the needs of the economy and the maintenance of sustainable, adequate environmental policies.
These are not easy issues; developing countries like ours are coming up against dilemmas that we cannot hide from. We need to confront them, because modernity and our people require us to do so.
But I want to talk more about another aspect that is undoubtedly important for you: the issue of continuity and change. I always said that I represented the continuity of everything that we have done well, but that I was in favor of changes to everything that we could do better, or what we have not yet been able to do. Those things are less common in my country, which is why we are experiencing a very positive era of democracy in our history. This allows us, and allowed me as a candidate, to seriously and responsibly tell the people that we would be able to achieve more and make increasingly more ambitious progress, including in our foreign policy.
My administration intends to maintain a balanced foreign policy. Chile is a highly globalized country, and we share values and common foreign policy goals with Latin America, Europe, the United States, several other countries with whom we often agree, as well as the Asia-Pacific region, of course.
But I would say that during my term as President of Chile, I want to make Latin America a major priority and reinforce regional integration efforts.
There is a common thread here that links these challenges to our history since 1990. We have made massive efforts to make Chile a respectable and active member of the international community once again. We must also be able to contribute to peacekeeping and international cooperation efforts, and to the legitimate, multilateral foundation upon which the United Nations is built. Meanwhile, we will fight against poverty and inequality, advance sustainable development, and make efforts to gather support throughout the world for our political, commercial and cultural accords.
And the common thread is that in Chile, we never thought of this task as contradictory in any way to our position and location within the context of Latin America.
This region has always been the basis of our cultural identity, and it includes other countries with which we share a common history that binds the identities of our indigenous peoples with the cries of freedom that led to our independence at the beginning of the 19th century, and the many tactics we have employed since then to seek out a better destiny for our people.
I could mention here some overwhelming statistics about how much our trade with Latin American countries has increased since 1990, or about how we have made different efforts to strengthen democracy and governance on our continent, or about our commitment to increasingly institutionalize our common goals.
We have done this work while simultaneously making numerous free trade agreements with developed countries, which have linked Chile all the closer with the new, globalized economy. We have also participated in the debate over the reform of international organizations, to remove the remnants of a dualistic, Cold War-era ideology; the world has changed so much from the way it was at the beginning of the 1990s.
So our priority is for Latin America to root itself in this new international reality.
Just as the emerging global world has made a unilateral mark in the military sphere, we are confronting a multilateral perspective in politics and economics, which considerably increases the margin for maneuver in the regions of the world.
Groups of countries with shared visions can propose ideas and mechanisms for this era of international transition that we are currently experiencing, and thus constructively contribute to building global governance based on out own regional specificities.
As for economics, the international competition between the two Cold War superpowers, with two opposing visions for the organization of society, has given way to a world structured more around three large areas of economic development: Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific Region. Disagreements over ideological visions of economics or history have diminished, and scientific and technical progress and social and productive innovation have increased.
Demand for Latin America to become a region with force and identity in this “world of regions” has come not just from within our region, but from outside it as well.
Do we have any alternatives besides integration, in our efforts to increase our external influence and act on the generous values that we share?
My firm belief is that the beginnings of the 21st century pose great challenges for the countries of Latin America: overcoming poverty, consolidating our democracies, integration and peace, and articulating ourselves as an increasingly relevant actor as a region on the international stage.
If we do not head in that direction, we are not going to be able to close the cultural and technological gap that threatens to exacerbate our worst problems: poverty, inequality, and exclusion, which the majority of our people firmly reject. They demand that we take concrete steps towards building a better world.
Latin America is experiencing some decisive moments, in which we are hoping to put highly negative notions, principles and experiences behind us. In recent decades, we have experienced political progress, and the people have elected governments in legitimate elections. But we have also watched as many economic and social indicators have experienced setbacks.
In the 20 years since the crisis of 1982, which rocked all the countries of the continent almost equally, the number of people living in poverty here increased from 130 million to 220 million people, including 99 million women, men and children living in indigent conditions; their families did not even receive sufficient income to buy enough food.
Meanwhile, we have watched as internal inequalities have increased, taking on a powerful territorial concentration that has excluded major spaces within our countries from any kind of material advance or social progress.
This doubtless explains the general negative feeling that the citizens of Latin American have about governments and politics, and it also explains the wide variety of new options that we have seen take power in recent years.
I believe that the major task we have ahead is to institutionally consolidate our democracies, but also make them effective and efficient in their abilities to generate the goods that our people need and hope for. We cannot complete this task in an isolated fashion; we will only be successful if we come together to achieve our common goals.
As I said during my visit here last year, the possibility of changing the future lies before us. We Latin Americans have been challenged to guarantee our own democratic governance and support each other in order to do so.
That is the foundation of what I want for Latin America, and of my firm support for the integration process.
When I talk about integration, I am not referring to utopian visions that generations of Latin Americans had of a common homeland. I have an immense respect and admiration for the great vision and continental intuition of the liberator Simón Bolívar.
I also respect the proposal made a few decades later by the Argentine patriot and thinker Juan Bautista Alberdi to think about our own progress within the framework of a continental alliance among our countries.
I admire the many efforts in the 20th century that led us to create the Latin American common market, in order to pool our resources, from the Rio Grande to Patagonia.
However, what is happening today has another, more urgent and immediate reason: many of us feel that we will be in a much better position if we face the challenges of globalization together.
We have a very challenging international agenda, and we have the capacity to build up a shared, globalized and balanced view of world affairs.
We need to advocate for the strengthening of multilateral institutions and governance throughout the globalization process. You are presiding over the UN Security Council this month; good luck in this work.
We need to work for a peaceful, stable state of affairs, and for an international system based upon respect for international law and the promotion of democracy and human rights.
With all these restrictions and limits, integration is already in progress and will not cease. It is no longer based on one impulse, but rather on the complexity of multiple understandings and accords among two or more Latin American countries. It is as heterogeneous as Latin America itself.
This must be an integral process that we need to perfect, based precisely upon these trends and data; we need to be careful with it.
We need to avoid setting goals for ourselves that are impossible or unsustainable, and which could end up eroding citizen support and creating skepticism about our ability to make progress here.
In this dynamic atmosphere, we have begun to move past many resistances and contradictions: we now have MERCOSUR, and, since December 2004, the South American Community of Nations, an advance that means we must make major efforts to continue along this path.
I am talking about matters that I spoke to President [Kirchner] about yesterday, and early this morning with the governors as well: infrastructure, the IIRSA plan, energy integration efforts, fights for social inclusion, and efforts to strengthen our cultural identity.
I have decided to focus on integration in Latin America, and our own South America within that; to resolve conflicts that continue to separate us; to articulate concrete projects and initiatives to express solidarity with countries relatively less developed than our own; and to consolidate what we have learned so that we can better face these challenges, which can divide us if we remain separated.
And this is where I will propose to deepen the strategic alliance that Argentina and Chile have begun to build. I see it as a natural corollary to the important closeness between us over the past 15 years, making our bilateral relationship among the best in the region.
Argentines and Chileans share the second-longest border on the planet—it is more than 5,500 km long. In times of territorial disputes and distrust that only began to settle down after the 1984 Peace Treaty, we ignored each other and even avoided building roads to connect us.
This is what we have undone. In just seven years, starting in 1991, we peacefully resolved our territorial disputes and began to replace that policy of distrust with one of friendship.
Now, important actors from Argentine provinces and Chilean regions meet every year in Integration Committees, in order to propose and plan international crossings, railroads, productive projects and university policies.
We have also begun to carry out joint missions in Asian and European countries, in order to sell our products or seek out access to new technology.
We have overcome the conflict hypothesis that led to mutual confrontation for 100 years, and in its place, we established exemplary mechanisms of openness in military spending, defense policies and military development, which have served as a model for many other countries in the region.
Since we have been persistent in this new era, we have now been able to propose more ambitious cooperation objectives, in order to come together to build a safer region and world. We would not have even been able to imagine this a short time ago.
For the first time in our recent history, we have been able to contribute at a regional level to solving a severe crisis in Haiti, which required the intervention of major powers.
Now, we have begun a process of creating institutions to guarantee the survival of this progress, with the first-ever Chilean-Argentine joint peacekeeping force.
We have increased trade among our economies. Our trade balance reached almost 5.4 billion US dollars in 2005.
We have also massively increased the amount of investment among our countries.
Chilean impresarios have begun close to 15 billion dollars’ worth of projects in 15 out of the 23 Argentine provinces.
In 2004, Chilean businesses in Argentina paid 1.2 billion dollars in taxes, exported 570 million dollars’ worth of goods and directly created 33,000 jobs, along with indirectly creating 46,000.
Meanwhile, Argentina has become the third-largest market for Chile’s exports, after the United States and Brazil, and Chile has become the sixth-largest market for Argentine exports.
The merit of Argentina and Chile, or, I should say, Argentines and Chileans, lies in the fact that we stopped seeing each other as adversaries and learned to look at each other as allies and friends.
We are met with the challenge of regional integration just at a time when we have built up mutual trust and learned to move forward in a mutually beneficial way.
My Argentine friends, members of Congress:
Today I come to this Congress—the expression of the free will of millions of Argentine men and women, to propose to you that we reinforce our commitment. Let us speed up the construction of roads connecting the coasts of the continent; let us make the circulation of people, capital and goods between our two countries easier; let us make the southern cone of Latin America—a space we exclusively share for close to 3,000 km—an emblem of cooperation between the two most dynamic oceanic basins of the 21st century: the Atlantic and the Pacific.
I will conclude my speech here by talking about the future of the relationship between Argentina and Chile.
Let us put the conflict hypothesis that divided us in the 20th century behind us. Our economies are increasingly more interdependent, and we are building up a strategic alliance.
Let us not lose perspective on this moment. We achieved independence only because we were able to unite in the face of common challenges that confronted us at the time.
Later there was a prolonged period in which we built up our own national states and became distant. And, as I said, in recent years we have returned to the path forged for us by San Martín and O’Higgins.
That is why as I take office as President of the Republic of Chile, I wanted to make my first international gesture by coming here, crossing the Andes that unite us and propose to you and the people a strategic alliance, in order to continue along the path begun by our forefathers. This time we will have a different task: our common hope of destroying poverty and social exclusion, strengthening democracy and uniting our forces in the construction of a more egalitarian, humane and democratic globalization.
Viva Argentina, and viva Chile! Thank you very much.