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Adela Cortina at ECLAC: The Migration Problem is Global and Needs Global Responses

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14 November 2023|Press Release

The renowned Spanish philosopher and professor gave a keynote lecture at the United Nations regional organization’s headquarters in Santiago, Chile, advocating for a “democratization” of all countries in order to start building global justice.


Photo of Adela Cortina joined by ECLAC's Executive Secretary
Adela Cortina, Ethics Professor at the University of Valencia (Spain), joined by ECLAC's Executive Secretary, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs.
Photo: ECLAC

“The migration problem is global and needs global responses,” Adela Cortina, Professor Emeritus of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the University of Valencia (Spain), emphasized today at the headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile, where she gave a keynote lecture to mark the United Nations regional organization’s 75th anniversary.

The renowned Spanish philosopher made a presentation entitled “Reactions to migration in Latin America and the Caribbean: migration, aporophobia[1] and ethical challenges for humanity,” in which she advocated for a “democratization” of all countries in order to start building a global society and global justice.

“The goal is that, in the 21st century, we put an end not just to poverty, but also to scourges like forced migration, which cannot be resolved by hospitality alone. It is not possible that there be such a large number of human beings suffering so enormously. We need cooperation,” she emphasized.

The prominent researcher – whose vast career has included being Academic Director of the Étnor Foundation (whose name derives from the “Ethics of business and organizations” in Spanish), a full member of the Royal Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, and Doctor Honoris Causa of several Spanish and foreign universities, among other distinctions – was received by José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, who welcomed her on behalf of the organization.

“Adela Cortina is one of the greatest leaders of ethical and moral philosophical thought in the Spanish-speaking world, and the world in general. Her writings remind us more than ever that both economic development as well as social compacts and democracy need ethics,” he indicated. “For ECLAC and for our work priorities, and more importantly, for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Adela Cortina’s reflections are not only inspiring, they are also of deep and urgent relevance,” Salazar-Xirinachs added.

ECLAC’s highest authority also noted that Adela Cortina’s reflections add to the invisible hand of the market, and the visible hand of the State, the hand of values, virtues and ethical principles. “Without that moral lodestar, neither democracy nor the economy or politics can work well,” he said. He explained that Adela Cortina also argues that ethics lowers costs, that it is profitable because trust lowers transaction costs. In other words, that the lack of ethics takes a high toll, both in terms of money as well as human pain.

In her presentation, Adela Cortina thanked ECLAC for the invitation to participate in this Keynote Lecture and recognized that “for those of us who carry Latin America and the Caribbean with us in our hearts, ECLAC is a truly critical organization. The world would have been worse without ECLAC and that is why celebrating its 75 years in existence is of great joy to us all,” she declared.

She indicated that the migration issue is crucial and has been given little visibility. “This is not just one of the great challenges of our time, but may in fact be the greatest challenge of our time. It is a true challenge that we must take very much into account because it affects all countries and can only be resolved with all countries’ collaboration,” she warned.

In addition, she explained that in the realm of moral and political philosophy, a distinction is made between justice and happiness. These are two fundamental goals of human beings but there is a central difference, she said: justice is demanded, while happiness is an invitation, a piece of advice, a joint reflection about what would make us happy.

“Happiness is fundamental for people, it is a personal matter; but justice is not personal, it is social. Justice is a demand for society. And a society that does not share the most basic elements of what is just cannot build forward together. That is why it is important to distinguish between what is just and what is good. Matters of justice are not a personal option, they are a social demand. Justice is something on which transactions cannot be established,” she emphasized.

With regard to the relationship between migrant persons and poverty, Adela Cortina admitted that the migrants that produce aversion – or at least arouse suspicion – are not tourists, or foreign professors, or powerful businesspeople, but poor people.

“The view of the poor migrant as ‘someone who has nothing to offer’ has to be dissolved and radically changed because it is not true and because it is absolutely immoral. Migrant persons contribute a good number of benefits to destination countries,” she sustained.

“As (the Executive Secretary) José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs has said, it is necessary to address all the phases of the migration process, the full migratory cycle. The central point is that no person be obligated to emigrate because in their country the conditions for living a decent life do not exist. The end point that we should be moving towards is a cosmopolitan society, which is the only society that could ensure that no one would be obligated to leave their country,” Cortina indicated.

Adela Cortina is the sixth lecturer to participate in the series organized to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of ECLAC, which was founded in 1948 as one of the United Nations’ five regional commissions.

Through February 2024, other prominent thinkers will visit the Commission’s headquarters in Santiago to present their views and ideas about the challenges facing the world and the region. The full list of lecturers is available here.


[1] Aporophobia is defined as the phobia of poor or disadvantaged people (RAE Dictionary).