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May 7, 08

NEWS / Inter-American Meeting to Focus on Youth and Democratic Values

Civil society groups participating in June meeting in Colombia

By Eric Green
Staff Writer

Washington -- A June 1-3 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) will focus on issues involving youth and democratic values, an OAS official tells America.gov.

Jorge Sanín, a coordinator for civil society issues at the OAS, said creating jobs for youth will be a priority for the annual meeting of the OAS General Assembly in Medellín, Colombia. Another major issue at the meeting, he said, will be how civil society groups can help fight all forms of racial and gender discrimination, discrimination because of sexual orientation and bias in refusing employment to the physically disabled.

Civil society represents the “voice of the people” in the Western Hemisphere in helping to strengthen regional democracy and human rights, and in fighting corruption, reducing poverty and creating jobs for young people, Sanín said.

About 200 representatives from 94 civil society groups in the Americas will meet with OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza and the organization’s 34 member states at the Medellín event, Sanín said.

A Washington-based nonprofit corporation called the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT), in cooperation with the Summit of the Americas Secretariat (executive office), issued a hemisphere-wide questionnaire for young people to post their views on “Youth and Transparency” on the YABT Web site. Those views will be incorporated into a report that will be presented by a youth representative during a dialogue of civil society groups with hemispheric officials at the June OAS meeting.

YABT’s mission is to address critical issues of poverty and unemployment among young people -- issues that the group says “affect the development potential and progress as well as the social stability of all the nations of the Americas.” YABT works in collaboration with national and international organizations in the public, private and educational sectors to help young people become successful entrepreneurs.


Huey Cadette, president of the Tobago Youth Council, told America.gov that a big challenge for his civil society group is that despite “significant [economic] growth” in Trinidad and Tobago in the last few years, young people “have not benefited as significantly as they should.” Cadette’s group promotes sports, cultural, social and other programs for young people in the Caribbean nation.

Young people in his country are held back, said Cadette, largely because of problems with literacy and mathematics, incomplete secondary school education and “poor values clarification,” meaning a “culture of instant gratification/consumerism as opposed to savings or wealth.”

In addition, said Cadette, young people suffer from “institutional biases,” so that they cannot “access certain services due to their age or limited experiences.” This results, he said, in their failure “to meet the criteria” for securing commercial loans. Young people also are unable to “recognize or seize opportunities due to low self-esteem and a fear of failure,” said Cadette.


Marcelo Varela-Erasheva, associate director for the Americas Program at the Georgia-based Carter Center, told America.gov that it is a “breakthrough” that a major regional intergovernmental body such as the OAS listens and acts on the views expressed by the Western Hemisphere’s civil societies.

The Carter Center is the secretariat of the Group of Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, composed of former presidents and government ministers, along with scholars and academics, which will issue a series of recommendations for hemispheric leaders when they gather for the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April 2009. Varela-Erasheva said the recommendations will be posted soon on the OAS civil society Web page.


The OAS meeting in June is one of a number of events leading to the 2009 summit. Those events included a Hemispheric Civil Society Forum held May 1-2 in Miami. (See “Citizen Involvement in Summit of the Americas Process Expanding.”)

At that forum, U.S. National Summit Coordinator Hector Morales said civil society plays an “essential role” in the “defense of fundamental freedoms and the promotion of democracy and economic development in the Americas.”

Morales, also the U.S. permanent representative to the OAS, said that the presence of civil society groups at the Miami meeting sent a “powerful message across our hemisphere of the determination of civil society to engage actively in the decisions that will shape the future course of the Americas. It is imperative that we, as governments, empower [civil society] to do so and to listen to your voice.”


OAS Assistant Secretary-General Albert Ramdin said at the Miami meeting that his organization “firmly believes in a collective and inclusive approach in making and executing policy.” That is why, he said, the OAS has “ongoing dialogue and consultation with civil society organizations.”

Ramdin said the OAS welcomes the opportunities to listen to civil society’s “views, analyses, concerns and suggestions for change. In the end, we all are in some form or fashion members of civil society at large.”

The YABT questionnaire on “Youth and Transparency” is on the group’s Web site.

More information on the Group of Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is on the Carter Center Web site.

More information on civil society’s participation in the Summit of the Americas process is on the OAS Web site.


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