Mr. Tabaré Vasquéz, President of the Republic of Uruguay, at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention
Mr. President of the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention;
Ladies and Gentlemen of the participating delegations;
National and departmental authorities;
Academics and intellectuals;
Representatives of non-governmental organizations;
Although today is the last day of a meeting that began four days ago, allow me to begin this statement by extending to you all – and especially international delegations – the most heartfelt welcome to this country, in which we want you to feel at home.
Welcome to Punta del Este, a place that is favoured by nature.
And welcome to this first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
It is an honour for Uruguay to host this important meeting and to receive those who are participating in it.
As a medical oncologist, I would have liked to attend all the sessions of this meeting. I would no doubt have learned a great deal and would probably have been able to share some of my professional experience and academic concern.
But the governmental responsibilities that the citizens of Uruguay vested in me on 31 October last and which I assumed 67 days ago have made it impossible for me, as President of the Republic, to share more than a few minutes with you.
Given that time is so limited, I am not going to repeat in this statement the points that have already been raised on behalf of the Government of Uruguay by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment and other members of our delegation at this meeting.
I want, instead, and very briefly, to share a few thoughts in relation to the subject matter that brings us together, from the perspective that is our incentive.
I believe that the implementation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (which is the subject matter that brings us together) must be considered together with the challenge (which I see as an incentive) of realizing a project which combines human development with environmental sustainability.
A project in which being born is not a problem; where health, education, work and a decent place to live are not a privilege; where growing old is not a sentence; and where the ability to dream is a reality.
A project that guarantees individual freedoms and promotes tolerance, respect and pluralism.
A project in which policies safeguard equal opportunities and social guarantees.
A development project which is open to innovation, culture, creative activity and critical thinking.
A development project in which the economy is at the service of the people and individuals are truly recognized as being part of society and of a natural environment.
In short, a truly forward-looking project. Because progress is not about “accumulating”, “having more” or “consuming more”; progress is about “being better”.
“Being better” is, of course, about making a commitment to our contemporaries.
Gone is the time when, in the interests of securing a better future, which was always distant, we would disassociate ourselves from the present.
There is no reason to wait when it comes to promoting peace, democracy, justice, equality and solidarity.
There is no reason to resign ourselves to poverty or to relinquish our rights…
“Being better”, however, is also about making a commitment to future generations.
It requires, among other responsibilities, acknowledgement that even though it might be necessary to strive for productive development, production cannot increase indefinitely without causing environmental damage. It also requires recognition that diminishing available resources inexorably exacerbate competition and social tension.
I am not saying anything that is “politically incorrect”: we all know that the limits of nature are, when all is said and done, social problems which must be resolved through politics.
This is because society is much more than the sum of its parts. It is also its past, its future, its values and principles and its interaction with nature.
It is also because politics is about articulating the complex but dynamic blend of history and future, needs and hopes and rights and responsibilities that is society.
And talking about politics is talking about democracy. Personally, I cannot imagine democracy without politics and I refuse to believe that democracy is anything that is not a dictatorship.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of democracy as a human impulse is that it will never be perfect, but will always be capable of being perfected.
As my delegation has already indicated at this meeting, Uruguay reaffirms its commitment to comply with the terms of the Stockholm Convention.
It is doing so convinced of the Convention’s importance.
It is doing so with a commitment to work towards preventing the health and environmental risks associated with chemicals management.
Uruguay reaffirms its commitment to implement the Stockholm Convention without renouncing the inalienable right to development of all the countries and people of the world.
It is doing so committed to a national project of sustainable productive development.
It is doing so with a responsibility to promote a policy of cleaner production in the agricultural, livestock and industrial sectors, which is fundamental to optimizing the use of resources and making the productive sectors more competitive.
At the same time, it makes a commitment to ensure the effective implementation of the necessary oversight and regulatory activities, and to meet its obligations transparently and publicly.
This is because environmental policies are above all political, and there are no politics without people as their subject and there is no truly democratic government without a strong ethic of public management.
Uruguay reaffirms its commitment to the Stockholm Convention with confidence in itself and trustful that at the international level it is possible – not easy, but possible – to strengthen political commitments and technical efforts to improve the management of common environmental issues and to address other problems that are directly linked to the environment: I am referring, in particular, to poverty.
I think it unnecessary at this meeting to mention the links between poverty and environmental degradation.
I think it is necessary, however, to tell you about the firm intention of the Government of Uruguay – I am sure that you understand that, unfortunately, not all of Uruguay is like Punta del Este and not all Uruguayans have the standard of living that you have witnessed here – to commit itself firmly to its principal wealth: its people.
It will commit itself to providing a decent standard of living for its more than three million inhabitants, approximately a third of whom currently live in poverty or hardship.
This reality is serious. It is even more serious if you take into account that poverty and hardship in Uruguay has a young face: 57 per cent of Uruguayan children are born into poor households and approximately 60 per cent of Uruguayans under the age of 18 live in poverty.
What future awaits them?
What future awaits us if we do not change this reality?
To improve things, it is necessary to imagine them differently and then to find a way to bridge the gap between today’s dreams and tomorrow’s reality.
Uruguay wants economic growth. We are trying hard to achieve this. But it wants that growth to go hand-in-hand with the social distribution of wealth. We are trying hard to achieve this, too.
We have, of course, adopted a pragmatic approach. But our pragmatism has not made us abandon our values and principles or lose sight of the objectives towards which we are striving.
This meeting, at which you have kindly received me, through its subject matter, which is so closely linked to the objectives that have been set by my country, must help guide us in the right direction.
But as these objectives, far from being exclusively ours, are shared by the nations and bodies represented here, this meeting must help us all.
It was for this reason that it was convened. And we trust that this will be its result.