HAVANA.- It is important to advance integration and close the gaps between countries, said Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of Cuba, during the 37th session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

During the event, Díaz-Canel highlighted the need to transform the culture of inequality associated with the region's colonial past, which affects indigenous communities, people of African descent, girls, boys and women to a greater extent.

It is urgent to reverse the pyramid that makes it possible for minorities in the region to appropriate the highest levels of wealth, and to concentrate efforts on disadvantaged populations in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDOs), he said.

Only in this way will it be possible to face the serious challenges the region faces today, including slow production growth, poor diversification of production structures and poor technological modernization, he said.

He also expressed the need to promote development policies and programs to reduce poverty, inequality and hunger.

The distribution of income and wealth is the central element in closing the gaps, and to this end, the governments must guarantee access for all to food, work, health, culture and better living conditions, he said.

He also pointed out that ECLAC has been a benchmark in the area, placing equity at the heart of development, while demonstrating that the region continues to be the most unequal on the planet.

The real objective of this type of meeting, he emphasized, must be the search for equal opportunities and social justice, as ways to reduce and eliminate the growing poverty suffered by hundreds of millions of Latin Americans and the Caribbean.

Other central ideas of the speech were the need for peace to achieve development, to confront climate change, to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and cooperation among the countries of the area and to comply with the SDOs for the future.

Referring to Cuba, he said that despite the current economic problems, mainly associated with the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, the country will continue to focus on the goals for the year 2030.

With the principle of "no citizen left behind", the national plan for development to date, drawn up in line with the SDOs, will continue forward, for a more prosperous and sustainable socialism.

Cuba assumed the presidency of ECLAC today for two years, "and we do so with great commitment and awareness, focused on promoting integration with a view to fulfilling the agenda," he said.

During the opening ceremony, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, presented Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez with the commemorative medal for the organization's 70th anniversary.

The award was also received by António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, and sent to the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, through Francisco Guzmán Ortiz, head of the Office of the President of that country.

The highest meeting of the regional body will be held this week at the Havana Convention Center, with the participation of representatives of its 46 member states and 13 associated states.