El Espectador (Colombia)

Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Secretary of Foreign Affairs

The Ibero-American Conference was created in 1991 when, because of the profound transformations experienced in our region in the 1980s, Spain, Brazil and Mexico decided to advocate for the creation of a forum that would bring the two shores of the Atlantic closer together in a horizontal and collaborative spirit. At a meeting that year in the city of Guadalajara (Mexico), the Heads of State and Government of 21 countries formally committed to building a community of dialogue and cooperation.

Twenty-four years later, the Conference returned to Mexico, marking the culmination of a process of renewal and the beginning of a new cycle. Under the slogan "Education, Innovation and Culture," the Ibero-American leaders gathered in Veracruz in December 2014 to set a new course for the conference, based on concrete educational, social and cultural goals.

Today, December 12, the first meeting of Ibero-American Conference Foreign Ministers will be held in Cartagena, Colombia. The foreign ministers from the 21 countries that make up this community have come together to assess the degree to which the agreements reached in Veracruz have been implemented. Halfway to the 2016 Summit, we will undertake a comprehensive review of the robust framework of Ibero-American cooperation.

At this meeting, we will set a course toward the 25th Ibero-American Summit to be held in Colombia in late 2016 under the slogan "Youth,  entrepreneurship and education." This will give continuity to the Veracruz mandates but, above all, will put the 158 million Ibero-American youths who represent over one quarter of the population on center stage.

We are happy that Colombia, an ally and strategic partner of Mexico, is heading the efforts to strengthen cooperation among the member countries of the Conference. In education, Ibero-America is a region of contrasts. Our young people today are the most educated generation in our history: 70% of those studying at the college level are the first generation of their families to do so. At the same time, we have big challenges regarding completion rates at the high school and college levels (59% and 10%, respectively).

In addition to working towards increasingly widespread and inclusive access to education, the Ibero-American community faces the challenge of providing quality education that is innovation-oriented and designed to meet the specific needs of our societies. Hence the enormous importance of this topic that will guide our efforts en route to the 2016 Summit.