Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


September 12, 2014 - Washington, DC

I would like to begin my address by congratulating the Permanent Council’s Working Group on the Strategic Vision of our Organization for the work they have carried out.

I sincerely hope that this effort will be brought to a successful conclusion today with a clear and precise definition of the principles and objectives that should guide the OAS’s work, so that it is adequately equipped for the responsibilities that history has placed on it and that we are all obliged to fulfill.

The need to define a strategic vision for the Organization – one in line with current times and capable of meeting all the contemporary challenges and circumstances of multilateral action on the hemispheric stage – has been our constant concern.

However, as I have told the Permanent Council before, I do not believe that the need for that Strategic Vision was in any way motivated by a crisis or loss of direction within the Organization.

On the contrary, if the OAS continues to exist and if, in spite of those voices that are regularly raised to announce its obsolescence, it remains the main international reference point for political debate and cooperation among all the countries of the Americas, it is because it has been able to adapt to the enormous changes that this region has lived.

Those very pillars that we now proclaim as the Organization’s central axes were built over time, to meet very specific challenges facing our countries.

The crimes of the dictatorships that proliferated in our region up until a few decades ago were what demanded the creation of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the later signing of the Convention, and the establishment of the Court.

It was the fact that our Hemisphere did not face the great common external security challenges that it sought to tackle but was instead affected by the violence caused by the growth of drug trafficking and other forms of common crime, against the backdrop of organized crime activity, that a few decades ago led us to adopt the 2003 Declaration of Mexico City on Multidimensional Security and to create our Secretariat for Multidimensional Security a few years later on into my time in office.

The development area did not exist when the OAS was created; but, as a result of our experiences, it became essential in order to address the economic, social, and environmental problems of this Hemisphere, which is so rich in resources but that are so unfairly distributed.

It was our peoples’ courageous struggle for democracy that made that form of political organization – the content of which far transcends electoral matters to include respect for human rights, political pluralism, administrative transparency, and the rule of law – the chief driving force behind the unity of our Organization for the past three decades. What was previously a rhetorical aspiration set down in a few documents became, thirteen years ago, a right of all the peoples of the Americas, as established by our Inter-American Democratic Charter.

It is therefore necessary to plan for the future of our history of more than a century of peaceful coexistence and collective efforts to drive the economic development of the peoples of the Americas.

The issue we face is primarily neither financial nor organizational, although those aspects are also intimately related to attaining our objectives. But to resolve those matters, we must first define the substantive issues that give meaning and presence to the century-old pact that unites us.

That was why I proposed addressing, as a requirement for reorganizing and prioritizing the many, many mandates that have accumulated over all these years, a discussion on the basic principles and tasks that make up the essence of the Organization of American States going forward into the 21st century – a request that had been made by numerous members of the Council.

And so I addressed the Permanent Council on two occasions with that in mind. The first occasion was in December 2011, by means of the document A Strategic Vision of the OAS. The second was in April 2013, with the document A Strategic Vision of the OAS. Second Presentation, in which I sought to further develop the ideas and proposals I had put forward in the first version.

In those texts I was frank in stating that I wanted to present a proposal of a political nature and was striving to return to the essentials of our Organization, centering our attention and our efforts on the four pillars around which – in my opinion – we must concentrate our political and cooperation activities: strengthening democracy, the promotion and protection of human rights, fostering integral development, and promoting multidimensional security.

When I presented the second version of my Strategic Vision, I brought to the attention of the Permanent Council that the changes that we were experiencing imposed the need for an inclusive Organization, comprising countries that were sovereign, diverse, and legitimized by democracy, pursuing the same hemispheric agenda, in conditions of full equality. That is, in my opinion, the definition of the OAS of the twenty-first century.

But we are not starting from zero. Our Strategic Vision must be based on what we have built over all these years. The purpose of this exercise was not to invent a new OAS in laboratory conditions, but rather to reaffirm the ties between our strategic objectives, the values we share as a hemispheric political organization, and the way we organize, fund, and manage our activities.

But along with that general guidance, I must once again highlight the need for it to be the political guidelines, jointly identified by the member states and the General Secretariat, that inform the adoption of financial decisions, and not vice-versa.

The essential pillars on which the actions of the Organization of American States are based are those that were clearly defined in the resolution of the General Assembly in Asunción and are developed further in the draft resolution before this special session. Those pillars are grounded on two foundations, two fundamental treasures that are the true strength of our Organization: namely, dialogue and law.

Regarding dialogue: we must never forget that our essential mission is to serve as a political forum in which the states of our Hemisphere will always have a place for constructive, democratic, and equal dialogue, where they can set out their common ground and their differences and organize their collective action. In the conditions currently prevailing in the Hemisphere, a dialogue among equals is an essential prerequisite.

That is the purpose for which the OAS was created and through which we have succeeded in constructing the oldest and longest-lasting union of states among all the contemporary forms of regional political association.

That union was not attained, as has been tried at some moments in the past, through the unanimity of ideologies or political beliefs among our states. It has been attained because their ideological and political differences found, in the Organization of American States, the forum for discussion they needed and the institutional and legal framework to enable them to be overcome peacefully and with solidarity and mutual cooperation.

Over recent years, our ability to offer such a political forum has been heightened, and the Permanent Council and General Assembly have become the venues in which the region’s countries can address and resolve their differences and conflicts.

The diversity of ideological and political trends that now characterize the Americas has been apparent within the OAS and, far from weakening or dividing it, has served to strengthen it.

The political forum that the OAS offers to all the states of the Hemisphere has expanded and now covers almost all the main areas of hemispheric interest for our States. And so, when there is problem that needs addressing, they all come to this forum to share their beliefs and to compare them to those of the others.

And also here, in our increasingly vibrant civil society forums, all our region’s social organizations can say what they think and discuss their problems. There is no other international organization in the Hemisphere– and few in the world–that can offer a forum like that in such a broad and non-discriminatory fashion.

Our second treasure is law. The OAS is the depository and the keeper of all the law of the Americas. No agreement reached at the hemispheric level fails to refer back here. All hemispheric institutions are created with the agreement of the OAS, and each of the pillars we referred to at the recent General Assembly has its operational base in any Convention or Agreement of the OAS Assembly.

In speaking of the principles of the Organization, we must not forget the OAS Charter. Sometimes, we fail to read it often enough! It contains all the principles on which our unity has always been–or should have been–based: the juridical equality of states, self-determination, nonintervention, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the foundations for our endeavors in the fields of democracy, development, and human rights.

But, in addition, each pillar has its basic reference point: our political action has:

– For conflict resolution, the Pact of Bogotá, on the peaceful settlement of disputes,

– For the promotion and defense of democracy, the Inter-American Democratic Charter,

– For the defense of human rights, the American Convention on Human Rights,

– For integral development, the Social Charter and the Protocol of San Salvador,

– For multidimensional security, the 2003 Declaration of Mexico on Multidimensional Security.

And a series of other treaties and agreements, such as the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons, or the three conventions on discrimination, and the Convention of Belém do Pará, to name just a few.

We have, therefore, the instruments necessary to make our vision a reality, without the need to enact new provisions for that purpose, provided that we all accept them, are willing to be governed by them, and adopt the corresponding political decisions. In the second version of my Strategic Vision I listed a number of possible decisions that could guide the kind of decision that is now needed.

Three of our four pillars also have an additional advantage: there is a general consensus regarding our comparative abilities for pursuing them. Nobody questions the OAS’s role in the areas of electoral observation and the promotion and defense of democracy; no other institution has the credibility or the weight that our human rights Commission and Court now enjoy within the system; neither are there any doubts about the presence we have built up on the issues of drugs and public security.

Other institutions, particularly the financial ones, can support countries with funding; but it is in the OAS where policies are discussed and determined, provided – I repeat – that that takes place at the hemispheric level and does not invade the legitimate prerogatives enjoyed, in each region, by regional entities.

So, if we must find the way to exercise our competences more efficiently in those three areas, the same cannot be said of the area of integral development, which is where the hemisphere’s institutional structure has undergone the greatest transformations.

That is where, following the foundation of the OAS, there have emerged a significant number of agencies at the hemispheric level, which are equipped with more resources than us and which work in the same areas. Greatly improved coordination with them and the joint pursuit of a large number of activities, beginning with the ministerial meetings that we all hold in parallel, must be an integral part of our review process.

I must take a moment here to say that in October of this year, the United Nations Development Program will hold a meeting of ministers of social development; in December, I understand that CELAC will hold one as well; in March the OAS was to hold one; and in April, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean was to hold one, because it is not possible to have one sole meeting of ministers of public security and then see what each of the organizations is going to do instead of continuing to parallel all the activity within the region in the area of development.

The Summit of the Americas and, in particular, the Joint Summit Working Group could be the optimal venue for that.

I want to reiterate once again, in concluding this address, the importance that, with a minimum of realism, must also be given to administrative and financial matters. I set about that task from my first day as Secretary General, amidst an acute financial and organizational crisis and, above all, a crisis of confidence. Let me quote here Acting Secretary General Luigi Einaudi who, in passing the position on to me, described the OAS as an huge ship that was unable to maintain its engines and that, instead of sails, had only a few patched rags better suited to an aging catamaran than to the great vessel that we aspired to be.

Through the efforts expended on resolving that situation, we can today showcase a management system that offers standardized handling of all our resources and regular and standardized reporting of absolutely all the expenditure items that make up our budget. Our capacity for accountability is, today, greater than at any previous time in the history of our Organization.

Today we can see, in real time, not only the state of our budget execution, but also that of each and every one of our projects. The planning and management process for projects and programs also allows us to prepare proposals for the Budget by identifying, classifying, and costing the operational goals of the entire General Secretariat and of the other agencies of the OAS.

We can identify the specific results that each subprogram seeks to attain with the resources assigned to it.

And accountability for any of our activities is available for the examination of all missions, all external donors, our commission of external auditors, and any responsible person or institution that so requests.

But none of that will be sufficient, or even useful, if we forget that the OAS survives through the contributions of its member states. The rhetoric of our inflamed speeches must never replace the obligation of making a material contribution to the pursuit of our shared objectives.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates:

I believe – I would like to believe – that our member states are willing to continue building our partnership on the basis of contributions from all of them and that, following the modernization effort, no one will seek to weaken the pact of unity and cooperation that gave rise to the inter-American system 125 years ago.

We are here to strengthen that pact and we will accomplish that goal provided that we all demonstrate our willingness to abide by the same rules, under conditions of equality, and are able to present solid principles that have already been agreed upon, specifying clear objectives, specific work plans, developing an austere and efficient administration, and maintaining appropriate coordination with the other institutions of the inter-American system.

The next phase is, surely, the most difficult: adopting the political decisions needed to adapt the work of the Organization to the priorities that we ourselves have been determined.

Thank You.