Argentina glories in its achievements as a democracy in the economic sphere and reiterates its commitment to human rights and international law.

Argentina is turning 200 years old today. We regard the commemoration of the Bicentenary as a process in which celebration goes hand in hand with reflection. That is what we have been doing recently. The purpose of these lines is to include all peoples of the world in our celebration, presenting some highlights of our reality in order to look at Argentina today on the domestic and global front and to convey our priorities and objectives.

We would like to take readers back in time to May 25, 1810, to relive the events that are the centre of our attention today. In Buenos Aires, the then capital of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate, the patriots decided to disregard the Spanish colonial authorities and establish the first autonomous government council. This challenge to the colonial order was the first step to set in motion the process that would lead to the declaration of independence, and its final victory came when the Spanish troops suffered a military defeat, after ten years of combat, in battlefields around half the American continent. Today we pay tribute to those patriots and heroes who founded our nation.

Where does Argentina stand in the year of its Bicentenary and what are the priorities defining its medium-term prospects? The democratic political system which has prevailed for nearly three decades is a reality and has given proof of maturity. The commitment to human rights has received new impetus after the repeal of the amnesty laws and the reopening of trials of civilians and members of the military responsible for crimes against humanity.

Argentina's economic growth since 2003 has been higher than in the whole preceding period that began in 1810. Its exceptional growth rate and positive balance of trade made it possible to service external debt commitments using genuine resources. In the last seven years, public education and health again received the attention they deserved, regaining their priority status as basic institutions for social integration, through budgetary allocations that will treble their share in public expenditure.

The state has resumed its leading role in the promotion of research in science and technology, earmarking substantial amounts to pay teachers and researchers in the public university system, which over the course of the twentieth century trained the five Argentine citizens who went on to become Nobel Prize winners.

Reversing poverty is also a priority of the administration of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. To this end, policies are being implemented to support companies that hire workers, thus promoting decent work, as well as universal benefits within the framework of a social policy aimed at protecting children.

We, the Argentine people, are the result of a meeting of highly diverse cultures. The coexistence and integration of immigrants from all over the world has been a particular feature of our history which we continue to embrace. In spite of the serious global economic crisis, we have implemented the “Greater Homeland” programme, based on state-of-the art legislation for the regularisation of foreign workers.

We advocate full respect for international law. Multilateralism is the most effective instrument to promote peace and security and to win the fight against poverty and exclusion, disease, the crime of drug trafficking and environmental degradation. The promotion and defence of human rights is a state policy that strengthens our national identity and our leadership in the international community.

We are actively integrated into trade within MERCOSUR and believe in the need to advance towards greater institutionalisation of this bloc. We politically support UNASUR as a key forum that gathers the region's countries with a view to maintaining peace and democracy. We also take active part in the G20.

Our appeal to the British government, formally supported by the United Nations, to discuss sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, reflects the spirit of the Argentine people and is one of the pillars of our foreign policy.

Our country still has unpaid debts. They go back a long time and we are intent on achieving recognition of the rights of vast sectors of our population that have been relegated. Foreign commitments are also a priority for the Argentine government.

It is our country's 200th birthday today and we invite the peoples of the world to join the celebration, to get together with us as we share the best of our own people, our culture and our history.

(The author is Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of the Argentine Republic)

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