Delegates with the Organization of American States are meeting in Colombia to find ways to help millions of young people in the region. VOA's Brian Wagner reports from Medellin that regional leaders also are addressing political and security issues in member states.
Delegates plan to use the meeting to target a series of problems facing young people, such as delinquency, unemployment, drug use and HIV infection. Officials will meet over two days to agree on a declaration calling on the 34 member states to help reduce risks and expand opportunities, especially for the 106 million youth in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Nils Kastberg, director of the Latin America and Caribbean program for the U.N. Children's Fund, says many problems stem from weak support structures.
"We have 30 percent of the 106 million [young people] in the 15-25 age range out of school and out of work," he said. "That obviously needs to change. Otherwise, you are creating the firmament for all sorts of trouble."
Kastberg says governments need to invest more in education and health programs to benefit children at an early age and help them build a successful future. And he says national leaders need to combat cultural practices that lead to high levels of domestic violence.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told delegates that recent U.S.-backed trade and education programs have aimed to benefit young people. He added that governments must be attentive to all the concerns of young people.
"What they [young people] are looking for is exactly what we should be looking for," he said. "More economic and social progress, stronger rule of law, and, above all, a flourishing and all-inclusive democracy."
Negroponte added that member states also need to address security problems from gangs and drug-traffickers, which pose a serious danger to young people in the region.
Delegates in Medellin also are expected to address political and security issues.
Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza expressed concern about Bolivia, where several eastern states are demanding greater autonomy from the federal government in La Paz. Voters in two states backed an autonomy initiative in elections Sunday, which the federal government has called illegal.
Insulza said the government of President Evo Morales has the constitutional authority, but there is need for dialogue. He said all parties must respect the nation's majority, represented by the federal government, while also listening to the desires of autonomy supporters.
Colombia's government is using the meeting in Medellin to highlight the progress it has made to improve security and combat violent paramilitary and leftist rebel groups. President Alvaro Uribe told delegates the nation needs the support of its neighbors to combat threats from international drug traffickers and terrorist groups.
Uribe said no other country in the region has suffered violence like Colombia has, and partner states can help Colombians achieve peace.
Delegates at the meeting are expected to discuss a dispute between Colombia and Ecuador because of a Colombian military raid inside Ecuador in March. The raid killed a Colombian rebel commander and some two dozen others.