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Canada’s vital partnership with Latin America

Alejandro Toledo Manrique

Canada has long held a special place in my heart. The majesty of the Canadian Rockies recalls the same magic of my birthplace in the Peruvian Andes. Canada’s multicultural makeup and its immense territory stretching from Vancouver to Halifax remind me of my nation’s own cultural diversity, which has also been enriched by our First Nations and by immigrants from overseas. Running even deeper than our similar landscapes and multiculturalism, however, are the common values that Canada and Peru share: a commitment to human rights, democracy, the peaceful resolution of disputes, meaningful regional integration, and the fight against poverty. I have a great deal of admiration for Canada’s efforts to promote sustainable economic growth and social development in our hemisphere.

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of Canada’s membership in the Organization of American States (OAS), it is important to acknowledge and appreciate all that we have accomplished together, at the same time as we look ahead to the common challenges set before us. After two decades of Canadian participation in the OAS, it is difficult to imagine an OAS —or any other hemispheric multilateral institution for that matter— that does not include Canada.

Even before Canada joined the OAS, it had been an active player in inter-American affairs. Indeed, it is worth noting that Canada’s entire leadership —be it Liberal or Tory— has firmly embraced its nation’s commitment to multilateralism. I know that I speak for my fellow Latin Americans in expressing gratitude for this solidarity with our hemisphere. Lester B. Pearson’s focus on the United Nations (UN) as a means to peacefully resolve disputes, and particularly his contribution to the development of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, is a great accomplishment that has undoubtedly benefited our hemisphere. More recently, Canada’s volunteering of its security forces to assist Haiti in the aftermath of the tragic 2010 earthquake reflects Canada’s humanitarian engagement with our region.

We also esteem the Canadian government for promoting the concept of human security, which entails a holistic approach to resolving our region’s conflicts. Increasing personal safety while reducing violence also constitutes an essential component of the regional policy consensus embodied in the Social Agenda for Democracy in Latin America for the Next 20 Years that I have developed in collaboration with 20 other former Latin American presidents. At its heart and core, this social agenda asserts the basic rights of all Latin Americans to have access to clean drinking water, health care, an unpolluted environment, access to clean energy, affordable housing, micro-finance, and above all a quality education that will allow us to compete in the 21st century’s knowledge economies. I believe that these issues, in addition to the rest of the 16 policy issues comprised in this agenda, provide the basic underpinnings necessary for the region’s development, and I thank Canada for playing its part in this effort.

During my presidency years in Peru, I had the honour to work with former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was signed in Lima, Peru, in September 2001. Coupled with the Social Agenda for Democracy, the Charter can greatly aid current and future leaders to shape the development of our Americas. In this vein, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has continued Canada’s commitment to economic growth in Latin America, and has supported these basic principles of hemispheric integration, including the signing of the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Such agreements build upon mutual interests and investments between the two countries. Canada does not only invest in Peru’s mining sector, but also benefits from exports of Peruvian textiles and our vast array of agricultural products. We encourage Canada to continue investing in Peru and Latin America at this exciting time of economic growth —and to go beyond traditional investment sectors.

Collaborating with our countries on the advancement of information technologies would be especially welcome. As part of the second phase of the Social Agenda for Democracy consensus, the foundation that I preside, the Global Center for Development and Democracy, is currently undertaking a Digital Democracy initiative. This project is supported by the UN Democracy Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank, and our foundation is currently exploring additional partnerships. 

Again, I cannot overstate that Canada is an indispensable partner in continuing to develop a hemispheric agenda that promotes peace, prosperity, mutual understanding, education, closes the digital gap and brings an end to poverty. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with our Canadian neighbours, within the inclusive community of our American states.

Dr. Alejandro Toledo Manrique is former president of Peru and President of the Global Center for Development and Democracy (www.cgdd.org). For more information about the GCDD’s Digital Democracy project, please contact Barry Featherman, Executive Director for North America at bfeatherman@cgdd.org.

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