Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 28, 2006 - Washington, DC

Mr. Jeb Bush, Program Coordinator

Welcome to the Organization of American States and to the Hall of the Americas. As you entered this grand salon, you walked through the Hall of Heroes and perhaps had a chance to recognize the busts of some of the outstanding individuals from various countries that have made lasting contributions for the betterment of their countries, the Hemisphere and, indeed, the world.

At the outset I want to thank the “Presidential Classroom” for inviting me to address this group for the second time. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to speak with the Future Leaders Class of 2004 and enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the provocative questions. I also wish to thank Aline Hommes and the Office of External Relations for inviting me to address you.

I always welcome the opportunity to interact with youth, to hear fresh ideas and share some of my own experiences. I am particularly pleased to note the geographic diversity of this group with representatives from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe, as well as from many OAS member states.

I want to stress today that whether you like it or not, you belong to that small –not more than 5%- group of people in the world that has the potential and opportunity to impact on the life’s of your fellow citizens, to influence the course of history and to change the way in which communities at all levels are organized. Your participation in this Presidential Classroom initiative makes that your destiny! By now you must know that the exercise of leadership comes with obligations and responsibilities, that leadership has to be executed with dignity and foresight and that leadership entails primarily serving the needs of others.

I am pleased today to be able to share with you some of my thoughts on the importance of international organizations, especially in the Western Hemisphere.

II. Key developments in international relations

Before I speak on the OAS and its role, I like to briefly touch on some of the major trends in the world of today, that has changed international relations:

1. The search for a new international order after the end of the “cold war” and the “bi-polar world order”, and the strategic repositioning of the major international powers, as well as the emergence of new “giants”. This objective has gained new dimensions in recent days, especially in light of the global and regional efforts to fight terrorist groups and to prevent and in the worse case respond effectively to their attacks.

2. Globalization as an unstoppable and irreversible phenomenon has a tremendous impact on the political, economic and social life of countries and of individuals. Globalization has brought indeed opportunities, but also uncertainties. A critical issue in the debate on globalization is the question on how this process affects national sovereignty.

3. Rapid developments in computer, telecommunications and information technology, combined with global efforts to liberalize and regulate the world economy, have changed, in a very dramatic manner, the environment in which international relations are taking shape.

4. The speed with which information, instructions and positions nowadays, can be channeled has changed the driving forces behind international relations and with that, the nature of diplomacy as well as the role and functions/functioning of diplomatic and economic missions abroad. We can indeed ask ourselves if nations have responded to this international dynamism, and if they have amended their mission statement and reformed key institutions at national and regional level, to effectively address the new demands? The same question can be posed to the structure, function and activities of multilateral institutions. For this reason we have seen the United Nations efforts to modernize its operations. The OAS is also engage in a process of restructuring and modernization.

5. Another interesting discussion is the impact of the Internet on political sovereignty. This debate has just started, but needs serious consideration on our part, as the new information technology can be used to strengthen our performance and has the potential of cutting cost. Just to mention some of the positive aspects of this new technological innovation, and ignoring the negatives at this time.

6. Another phenomenon of the international environment is the emergence of a common agenda. In general terms we can conclude that the main elements of a national agenda reflect the sub-regional agenda, that the sub-regional agenda derives from the hemispheric agenda and the hemispheric agenda is strongly related to the global agenda, in which issues as poverty, security, drug trafficking, AIDS, etc. are becoming the main features. This has resulted in what we today –at least in part- refer to as “global governance”.

7. It is interesting to see how this common agenda is formulated. More and more, Heads of State and Government meet “face-to-face”, in the so-many summits, which are providing the opportunity for policy dialogue and decision-making. In the past years, the amount of high-level engagements has increased tremendously. This has created for many poor and/or small countries in the Western Hemisphere limitations in regard of their effective participation in these meetings.

Given these international trends and developments, we can ask ourselves if national governments will become less relevant and be superceded by supranational and multilateral organizations? I don not think that this will happen in its absolute form, but certainly national sovereignty is being exercised in a different way these days than before. The views and positions of countries in most instances are becoming part of a consultative process that emerges in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. International and regional organizations are becoming more and more the principal organs for restraining the exercise of sovereignty.

It is clear that countries that are committed to compliance with international treaties and agreements will be losing some domestic control over their foreign policy and economy. It is also true that multilateral diplomacy is becoming the main vehicle for resolving common and cross border issues, incl. developments in countries that can pose a threat to regional security.

OAS members in the “Declaration Affirming Respect for the Personality, Sovereignty, and Independence of States” specifically accept this, where it states, “that hemispheric problems of a multinational character should be resolved by multilateral efforts rather than unilateral action on the part of individual states”.

Governance, these days, is not only limited to national authorities and agencies; more and more governance takes place at all levels: globally, at the hemispheric level and much more intensive at a sub-regional level. The role of international organizations as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and at the hemispheric level the Organization of American States is predominantly to act as a platform for consensus building, on issues of common concern, to monitor the implementation of international agreements, and to resolve conflicts in the new system.

III. The Organization of American States

The OAS is the oldest regional body in the world. The OAS was established in the capital of Columbia, Santa Fe de Bogotá on April 30, 1948. Twenty-one nations adopted at that meeting the Charter of the Organizations of American States, the most important governing statute of the OAS. Since then on several occasions new instruments, in the form of Protocols, Agreements and Inter-American conventions, have supplemented the Charter.

The OAS is now involved in a wide array of activities to support democracy, freedom of human rights, rule of law, democratic governance, etc. in the Western Hemisphere. New areas of concern have been addressed in more recent days: terrorism, conflict resolution, and illegal trafficking in firearms and drugs, corruption, violence against women.

In building a strong hemispheric community as advocated by the Leaders of the Americas during the three Summit of the Americas in 1994, 1998 and 2001, we need a strong inter-american system that can effectively tackle some of the major political, economical and social challenges in a hemisphere that is heterogeneous in many ways.

This therefore requires us to think outside of the box and to confront the new challenges with new creative approaches. The acceptance that the security threats posing the countries of the Western Hemisphere are of a multidimensional nature was an important step in “modernizing” the OAS mandate. Apart from military and physical threats, political instability, economic and financial crises, the impact of HIV/Aids, environmental degradation and natural disasters can impact on the security of the people in the Americas.

We need a strong Organization of American States that can continue to be the main platform for political debate on how to resolve political and social crises. And the OAS has been intensively involved trying to resolve many political conflicts, such as currently in Venezuela, Haiti and more recently in Bolivia, Ecuador, etc.

We need a strong Organization of American States to determine the best use of existing important tools to resolve crises, such as the Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted on the very day that the USA was attacked by terrorists.

We need a strong Organization of American States to be able to reach political consensus and to put new implementation mechanisms in place to deal with some of the problems I mentioned earlier.

But above all we need a strong Organization of American States to strengthen democracy, good governance and economic development so that we can create a sustainable and viable hemispheric environment for the People of the Americas.

Contrary to many others, I believe that the OAS, as the main hemispheric vehicle for political consultation and broadening understanding, has proven to be an effective mechanism for multilateral diplomacy, for collective action, especially in cases where problems arise across national borders, and where political instability can cause sub-regional and hemispheric security concerns.

And of course, we can do better and for that we not only need to reflect on our performances so far, but we also need hard currency –that is enough funding- to implement more effectively the many mandates and tasks given to the multilateral body every year, when Foreign Ministers meet during the regular General Assembly in the first half of June.

In closing, I want to repeat that we are living in a changed world since the September 11 attacks, but that doesn’t mean that serious threats to our livelihood from before that date can be ignored.

We live in a world of uncertainty and it is up to you future leaders to comfort the people you will be leading and directing and satisfy their natural needs for safety, security and prosperity. The challenge is yours, and ceases the unique opportunity to change the world into a better place. I wish you good luck and lots of success in your future careers.