From June 19th to 21st, Cancun hosted the 47th OAS General Assembly, which had participation from both the authorities and representatives of governments and hundreds of organizations and social actors from the continent.
This General Assembly was marked by several new things and last minute changes, such as the new methodology of dialogue proposed by the Mexican government and the sudden change of the city that would host the event. Initially, the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs had announced that the event would take place in Mexico City; however, a few weeks before the Assembly the event was re-located to Cancun. This change presented a major obstacle to many CSOs by increasing participation costs and restricting the logistics for entering the new venue.
Despite this, civil society and several Latin American and Caribbean social actors faced the challenge, overcame those difficulties and arrived in Cancun. 449 people attended and 308 organizations registered to be part of the OAS official activities. Aside from that, 30 civil society coalitions were registered to dialogue with the OAS authorities and representatives of governments.
Unlike the past General Assemblies where confrontation between civil society actors was permanent, this time organizations and their representatives were able to articulate themselves through constructive dialogue prepare their statements, without confrontations or verbal violence. This was possible because of the political will and official decision of the Mexican government to guarantee discrimination-free spaces, for example to have all-genders bathrooms which helped the trans community to feel safer and comfortable.
However on June 19th, the date of the official dialogue, the civil society and social actors were snubbed by the Secretary General and Permanent Missions. Luis Almagro was only present during the session’s installation and then left the room permanently. Representatives from other governments also left gradually throughout the session. This clearly signals little interest that is still common in some official authorities to guarantee spaces for dialogue with civil society of the Americas, although it’s worth noting that the mexican Government showed great interest in establishing a fruitful relationship with Civil Society during the past months.
It’s also important to point out that the new dialogue methodology, in which the civil society organizations were organized in coalitions, had positive aspects: it generated more order and proposals and recommendations that were more focused and clear. However, the dialogue with the Secretary General, who had been showing a little interest in civil society issues, was completely lost. Additionally, although the preparatory work in building coalitions between organizations gave greater legitimacy to the social participation, the new methodology didn’t allow a plural dialogue among different social actors. It’s true that we have failed as a sector to manage our differences in a dialogical and constructive way, but we still require spaces to reach minimum agreements to keep going.
We must learn from this experience, evaluate and make joint recommendations for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which is to be held in Peru. The Summit should be more successful for us, as civil society, if governments are more open and willing to dialogue.
Link to the article in Spanish: https://proyectopasca.org/2017/06/30/la-sociedad-civil-cumplio-en-cancun-y-los-gobiernos/