Mr. President, on behalf of the Organization of American States, I would like to begin by thanking you, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the entire Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the authorities of this beautiful city, and the noble people of Bolivia for all the effort you have put into successfully organizing this forty-second regular session of the General Assembly that we are inaugurating today.
I would like to thank you all, in particular, for your warmth and hospitality and for the interest you have shown in our work, from the Model General Assembly, conducted with university students from numerous countries in the Hemisphere to the TIC Americas Competition among our young entrepreneurs, to the meetings we had this morning with civil society, workers, the private sector, and youth. I also thank you for the quality of the facilities, decorated with the natural beauty that characterizes the art and culture of this land and that so highlights the core theme of our Assembly.
Although it is common for the press and public opinion in our countries to show interest in our General Assembly, the coverage prior to this year’s session, in Bolivia and in many countries of the Hemisphere, has been out of the ordinary.
It is a curious paradox that, while some talk of putting an end to the OAS, or of “surpassing the OAS,” or of various OAS without someone or another, more and more resort to it, knowing that here they will always find a forum for dialogue, a space in which not all their concerns may be resolved but at least they will be heard and acknowledged.
Just take a look, for instance, at the meeting with civil society, the talent competition among young entrepreneurs; or at our electoral observation missions, which, far from diminishing, have grown more numerous by the year. What other hemispheric institution houses the law of the Americas as the depositary of more than 200 international treaties and more than 6,000 bilateral cooperation agreements, the richest stores of legal knowledge; or how many countries we visited in recent years, in response to invocation of our Inter-American Democratic Charter; to ask ourselves how many cases are now lodged with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights or the Court, or why it is that, in one country, the OAS is being asked to act as guarantor of a Pact against Violence among gangs, so as to lower the crime rate, and in another it is supporting efforts to reform the national security system, while, in Belize and Guatemala, the OAS is facilitating those two nations’ quest for a solution to their historic differendum and maintains a mission in the Adjacent Zone between the two countries. Look also at the very important work done by a much more numerous OAS contingent in our Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia; and our ongoing demining work.
Observe the ever more solid part played by our Inter-American Commission of Women in verifying compliance with the Convention of Belém do Pará on Violence against Women and in promoting standards and public policies that guarantee women’s access to work and politics on a genuinely equal footing; the construction of a civil registry in Haiti and in other countries; the increasingly pro-active part played by our Inter-American Social Protection Network; and the active participation of indigenous peoples in the discussions on the Inter-American Declaration on their rights. See how many entrepreneurs attend our annual Competitiveness Forum; how many undergraduate and postgraduate students receive OAS scholarships thanks to the increasingly efficient and diversified use of our resources; how may thousands of people are reached by our Educational Portal every day; the thousands of judicial facilitators we have in a number of countries in the Hemisphere; and the steadily growing number of countries that ask to be evaluated by our Follow-up Mechanism for the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC). Note, too, how, right now, parallel to this Assembly session, a Meeting on Judicial Cooperation and Extradition is drawing to a close in Paraguay.
But why go on? There is much more I could say, but this is not an exhaustive list, so forgive me for not mentioning so many other activities.
Role of the OAS in this Decade
For these and other reasons, the OAS continues to be an indispensable institution, even though we are criticized – rightly, on occasions – for our shortcomings and mistakes. But, to be sure, it is not the only institution. I have often said that this is a Hemisphere of regions: integration matters are best handled in CARICOM, SICA, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, or the Andean Community of Nations (CAN). There are activities that neighboring countries perform better in their own sphere, and other functional groups and forums that also play an important role. Regional integration organizations are supplemented by other functional entities and forums for dialogue. Countries have numerous affinities and can often advance major agenda items in flexible partnerships among themselves. We do not just seek to co-exist with these institutions and forums; we want to engage in active cooperation with them to advance the values we share with them.
The OAS has spheres that are hemispheric in scope, either by their very nature or because we have long since been engaged in them and undoubtedly possess comparative advantages for addressing them.
In fact, the best diagnostic assessment that has been carried out of our Organization is the one that calls upon us to focus on a narrower range of activities. For the third consecutive year, our Board of External Auditors has warned us that we cannot fulfill our mandates with the resources at our disposal. It is not merely a matter of better administration, although there is always room for that, or of saving as much as possible. Nor are there generalized payment defaults, even though arrears are detrimental to our work. Rather it is a matter of the resources and contributions we receive in the form of annual quotas not being sufficient to do everything that this Assembly has explicitly mandated.
For that reason, I have proposed to the Permanent Council of the Organization the adoption of a strategy essentially focused on the four pillars that have characterized the historically evolving work of the OAS: democracy, human rights, peace and security, and sustainable development. Allow me to reiterate here that document’s thoughts on what would be the priority tasks of our Organization:
First, the preservation, strengthening, protection, and expansion of democracy, in particular on the basis of the mandates contained in the Charter of the OAS, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, and a host of resolutions adopted in this regard, particularly since the 1980s.
This objective includes follow-up on the mandates of our Democratic Charter; electoral observation missions; support for member states that wish to improve their electoral systems; the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Inter-American Convention against Corruption; crisis prevention and assistance; implementation of democratic-institution-building programs in member states.
Second, the protection and promotion of human rights, based on the mandates contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, the Protocol of San Salvador, the Convention on Violence against Women, the Convention on Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on Children. This also includes strengthening the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Court of Human Rights; follow-up activities on the Convention of Belém do Pará and efforts by the Secretariat to combat all forms of discrimination against vulnerable groups: indigenous populations, people of African descent, migrants, and persons with disabilities.
In third place, the preservation of peace and security throughout the Hemisphere, especially based on the mandates of the Pact of Bogotá on Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and the provisions adopted by the Special Conference on Security held in Mexico City in 2003. This currently includes, as a priority, confronting threats from organized crime in all its forms and fighting drug trafficking. It also includes the work of our special missions in Colombia, Haiti, and the Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala, as well as measures to promote peace.
Fourth, the integral development for all our member countries, based especially on the Charter of the OAS, the 1987 Protocol of Managua, and the Social Charter, the text of which we will adopt at this Assembly session. This includes carrying out the mandates issued by our Summits of the Americas in the areas of education, work, environment, social protection, free trade, and competitiveness
I believe that if we focus effectively on these four areas and reduce or eliminate, however painful it may sometimes be, those that do not relate to the fulfillment of those functions, it is possible to strengthen what we do considerably and I hope that by the time we discuss our budget at our next special session in October we will have reached agreements on this agenda.
The Summit of the Americas and our responsibilities
The relevance of this agenda was apparent at our recent Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. The growth achieved by our countries, even in the midst of the global crisis, has triggered expectations in our region. Nevertheless, our leaders acknowledged that in order to preserve and increase those growth rates it was necessary to overcome the hurdles that continue to beset our societies.
Under the motto of Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity, the objective of our Heads of State and Government was to address the principal obstacles in our region to real and sustained development by achieving: major improvement of our physical and energy infrastructure; better use of modern communication technology for economic and social development; a concerted effort to overcome the endemic evils of poverty and inequality, threats to public security, drugs, and organized crime; and more effective policies to prevent and mitigate natural disasters
As an institution of the inter-American system, we need to assume the mandates arising out of that Summit, and I shall now speak about some of them.
In the previous decade, our region made considerable headway in the fight against poverty, which, although it is still at unacceptable levels, declined from over 40% at the start of the decade to less than 31.4% at the end of it. A fundamental part in that progress had been played by social protection programs. Our region has been a leader in creating and strengthening social protection networks, including programs for income transfers and school meals. There are numerous such programs: Chile Solidario, Bolsas Famílias in Brazil, Oportunidades in Mexico – a total of 17 countries in the region have already created programs of this kind, covering, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), more than 20 million families who account for 11% of the population where those policies are being implemented.
Our Inter-American Social Protection Network, created by our Ministers for Social Development in 2005 at a meeting prior to the Fifth Summit in Trinidad and Tobago, has been essential in exchanging experiences and best practices, thus allowing those policies to expand into other countries and fostering horizontal cooperation among them. We hope to expand the actions of that Network, to incorporate more effectively topics related to microcredit and this Assembly’s agreements dealing with the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
But if poverty has been reduced, that has also meant greater pressure for us to tackle inequality. We are still the world’s most unequal region, and that problem has acquired a hemispheric dimension as the phenomenon has also expanded in North America.
The OAS’ profound commitment to progress on social issues will be greatly boosted at this General Assembly by adoption of the Social Charter of the Americas, an instrument whereby all the member states enter into commitments with the peoples of the region and pledge to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the economic development we are experiencing is accompanied by social development. To that end, our Organization is instructed to adopt without delay an Action Plan for implementing those important pledges.
Fighting organized crime was another of the concerns addressed by our Heads of State and Government in response to the clamor of our populations constantly assaulted by bands of criminals oblivious even to the fundamental right to life. For that reason we are actively following up on the decisions taken in Cartagena regarding this topic.
The problem of drug trafficking in the region, which prompted extensive debate by the Heads of State and Government, culminated in a mandate to the OAS to prepare a study on the successes and shortcomings of the various programs under way in the region. That study is supposed to come up with possible scenarios, for our governments to examine, on how to proceed in the future with a more comprehensive strategy in that area. That mandate constitutes an enormous responsibility. We are pursuing it as a matter of priority and with the alacrity needed to complete it within at most one year. We foresee that such a study will entail ample participation by other organizations, experts, civil society institutions, and governments of the member states. That way, we will have the inputs needed to present a vision based on proven facts and prove useful to those who entrusted us with it.
Significant consensus was reached at the Summit for the development of an institutional structure that will enable us to examine, with technical capacity, the natural phenomena that arise, particularly as regards climate change, and to coordinate efforts for cooperation and for the development of National Prevention Plans. I believe that a great step forward has been taken with the adoption of the Inter-American Plan for Disaster Prevention and Response and the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, prepared by the Working Group of OAS member states. In that it contains concrete suggestions related to risk management and the coordination of international humanitarian assistance within a framework of national sovereignty and with active citizen participation, this Plan will serve as our foundation for furthering the agreements on this topic reached at the Summit.
The theme chosen by the Government of Bolivia for this General Assembly session is closely linked to the fight against poverty and inequality. It is that inequality that explains why, in a region of the world – and I mean the Americas as a whole – that produces more than enough food for its own consumption and could become the world’s leading supplier of food, around 60 million of its inhabitants continue to go hungry. More than 50 million people suffer from hunger or some form of malnutrition because, although there is sufficient food, either distribution is inadequate or people cannot afford it.
I believe we have reached a major consensus on the need to shift to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption, in a context of climate change that no one can now ignore. Just a few days shy of the Rio + 20 Conference, we have an excellent opportunity to explore in greater depth the correlation between food security and climate change and perhaps to push for a sustainable, socio-economic, environmental, and, naturally, inclusive development agenda.
This forty-second regular session of the General Assembly in Cochabamba provides us with a unique opportunity to advance this debate and reaffirm our commitment to overcome poverty; promote integral development and economic growth with equity; and reduce the number of people who go hungry, by guaranteeing that concrete steps are taken to achieve appropriate food production, access, and consumption for the benefit of all the citizens of the Americas.
One of the topics to be addressed at this meeting is the Strengthening of the Inter-American Human Rights System. A Special Working Group to reflect on this matter was established at our last General Assembly session and its report, approved unanimously by both the Group and the Permanent Council, is now being presented to the General Assembly for it to decide on its implementation. In my opinion, this is the key issue facing us today. The revised version of the Report I presented to the Council has also been submitted to this Assembly. However, it contains only suggestions and clarifications based on the Working Group’s report; it is up to the Assembly to decide what to do.
We need to be especially careful in this area, because the defense of human rights is one of the principal functions of this Organization, which won well-earned prestige for its defense of the citizens of the Americas in the hard times of the dictatorships and internal wars and has continued to provide invaluable services in recent decades. However, it is also a fact that recently problems have arisen that we must resolve, not to go against the system, but rather to perfect and strengthen it.
To that end, we have reached some basic points of consensus: First, we want a comprehensive and universal system to which all OAS member states are party. That is the case with the Commission, as required by the OAS Charter, but not with the Court, which depends on the American Convention that has not been ratified by several countries. Achieving full adherence by all member countries to the System is thus an objective we share. Second, we also want a system that is adhered to, in which the member countries respect the recommendations of the Commission and abide by the mandatory decisions of the Court. In third place, we want a better funded system, in a position to respond rapidly to the growing demands placed on it. And fourthly and finally, we are convinced that, to be effective, the organs of the system must enjoy complete autonomy in adopting their resolutions.
Inducing member countries to respect the system’s autonomy, abide by its decisions, fund it better, and, without exception, recognize its jurisdiction depends fundamentally on the credibility that the member countries accord it, and that requires constant dialogue among all actors in the system. The Court is a judicial organ and must always act as such. The Commission is not a court of first instance; it is an organ that must be open to direct dialogue with government on the cases lodged with it. It must always seek friendly settlements, propose alternatives, visit democratic governments, and accord them, too, greater credibility.
The OAS and its member states need an autonomous and strong Commission and an autonomous and strong Court of Human Rights. But these bodies also need to take into consideration, in the course of their work, the points of view of the democratic governments of the Hemisphere.
All that requires time and dialogue and I hope that this Assembly will adopt, with the necessary prudence, the decisions needed to constructively continue the process of strengthening the system that the Working Group has embarked upon.
INTER-AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC CHARTER
Mr. President, Ministers,
The Inter-American Democratic Charter is one of the central instruments of our Organization and continues to chart the path we must follow to strengthen our democracies. Being one of the few democratic continents in the world is not just a source of pride. It also obligates us to further enhance the effective exercise of democratic values. That is a core task of the OAS and for that reason we will continue to accord it the top priority it deserves. In so doing we know that we are meeting a demand of our peoples that the governments of the Hemisphere have instructed us to implement.
The consolidation of democracy consists, in part, of its effective exercise in facing up to its problems and adopting timely measures to promote the objectives set forth in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
In concluding this speech, I would like to reaffirm, with you, my profound faith in the inter-American system and, especially, in our hemispheric organization, the OAS: an Organization criticized by many but which continues to demonstrate, every time a serious problem arises in the region, that its validity and usefulness transcend short-term factors and the positions that some take on specific issues. The very fact that this General Assembly is taking place, in the presence of so many distinguished Ministers of Foreign Affairs and even Presidents of member states, highlights, more than any words can do, that this is a valid and relevant forum where, as I said earlier, every member’s voice is heard, where all can air their problems, offer opinions, and participate in the search for solutions.
In that tolerance, the unflagging desire and intention to maintain unity within diversity, to favor dialogue over confrontation, lies the strength of this Organization.
Mr. President, Delegates, let us ensure that this General Assembly session demonstrates yet again that that is what all of us yearn for.
Thank you very much.