The 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States convened in Asunción, Paraguay at the beginning of June to discuss regional issues and development. The main themes throughout the Assembly were social inclusion and indigenous rights, which are deep issues that have long held Latin America back from healthy democratic, economic and social advancement.

Several countries are leading the march toward greater social inclusion, especially for indigenous populations. Indigenous rights, including self-determination, autonomy, territorial and natural resource rights and recognition of indigenous tongues and official languages, have been written into the Constitution of Bolivia.

Across the border in Paraguay where the OAS Assembly took place, the indigenous Guaraní language shares official status with Spanish. Paraguay is the only Latin American country where a majority of the population, 90 percent in this case, speaks a single indigenous language. This is a significant accomplishment considering indigenous peoples only make up about five percent of the population. Guaraní is treasured and spoken by street vendors, rural campesinos, businesspeople and government officials alike.

In countries like Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, indigenous groups are not only tolerated, but they play an integral part in the social fabric of the nation. Their rights are inscribed into law by the state and respected.

Yet the region still has great potential for improved social equality. “About a third of Latin America’s population lives in households with an income of between $4 and $10 dollars a day,” reports OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. “They have escaped the poverty that still afflicts more than 167 million Latin Americans, but to call them the ‘middle sector’ makes no sense. In truth, they are the millions of ‘not poor’ people, who occupy an income level that keeps them extremely vulnerable.”

Insulza points out that certain groups, including women, indigenous peoples, migrants, Afro-Americans, the poor and the disabled start from a disadvantaged position, which translates into unequal access to services, education and employment.

In order to continue producing the kind of growth praised by the OAS, the governments of Latin America must pursue policies that promote social inclusion over simply economic advancement.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Deutshe Welle, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times
Photo: OAS