Civil Sector Backs Regional Integration

June 3, 2005

BUSINESS leaders, environmentalists,indigenous groups and representativesof nearly 40 civil organizations this weekcriticized the sluggish progress made byCentral American governments in creatinga long-discussed regional union. They alsocalled for better monitoring of agreementsmade among these governments, with thehope of shattering the all-talk, no-actionstigma that critics say characterizes integrationefforts.The representatives met Monday in anew effort to organize a Costa Rican chapterof the Consultative Committee of theCentral American Integration System (CCSICA),considered the civil-society branchof Central American integration, representingeverything from unions to universitiesto industry.“We have got to have a space for thepeople to participate in this (integration)system,” explained Cecilia Cortés, executivedirector of the San José-basedFoundation for Peace and Democracy(FUNPADEM), which organized theevent.“AFTER nearly 20 years, the committeeis still very weak and receives no financialsupport from any Central Americangovernment, although it is an official partof SICA… and serves an inspection role,”she added.Since the 1950s, Central Americancountries have been taking steps to integratetheir economic and political systems.After being halted by civil wars in the1980s, the process was revived in 1991with the establishment of SICA, whichincludes the Central American Parliament(PARLACEN) and the Central AmericanCourt of Justice.Both bodies have been criticized inrecent years for lack of efficiency andpower (TT, July 2, 2004). Costa Rica hasnot joined either organization, to the dismayof its four northern neighbors (TT,Jan. 28).PARTICIPANTS in Monday’s meetingconcluded Central American governmentshave failed to comply with theSustainable Development Alliance createdin 1994. The idea of this alliance was topromote integral, sustainable developmentin both economic and social affairs in allCentral American countries, explainedRicardo Sol, FUNPADEM director of thecivil society program.Failure to meet the terms of this andother agreements made between regionalgovernments led participants Monday toconclude CC-SICA should establish amonitoring system to evaluate the actionsgovernments take to fulfill accords theyhave signed.SOME participants, including AlbertoLópez, executive director of Costa Rica’sNational Tourism Chamber (CANATUR),said civil society can bring its experienceunifying regional forces to the more officialSICA effort.“Experience cannot be bought, and wehave experience in integrating tourism inCentral America, including both the publicand private sectors,” he said.López said CANATUR and a federationof Central American tourism organizationswill share their experiences withSICA officials to promote further regionalintegration.While critics are pessimistic about theprogress that has been made in CentralAmerican integration, ground has beenmade in some sectors, such as natural-disastermanagement, said Félix Cristía, whois on the board of CC-SICA.“Despite the problems, despite the violence,despite the gangs, integration hasadvanced; and a Central American identityexists,” he said.

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