Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


October 2, 2017 - Miami, Florida

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Vibrant democracy grows from within. There is no single solution. Across the hemisphere we see countries at different stages of democratic consolidation based on different models, using different processes.

Thank you to all of you!!! … and thank you to Governor Scott for having me here with you today.

I have been asked to speak about the importance of democracy in the Americas on behalf of the OAS.

Many people don’t realize that the OAS is, in fact, the oldest multilateral organization in the world.

The United States played an integral role 127 years ago, when it hosted the first Conference of American States – bringing countries from across the Americas together for the first time. It was this Conference of 18 States that began was has now become the Inter-American System we have today; the only one that brings all of the countries in the hemisphere together.

With this Organization, we have created something truly special. We have created a foundation for our hemisphere grounded in a common vision on who we are and what we believe.

With its clear membership requirements, the OAS is the foremost political forum of the Hemisphere; the space where diplomacy, democracy and human rights come together.

This community of States that we have created in the Americas clearly articulates these principles in our founding documents, through the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Conventions on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Democratic, the veritable constitution of the Americas.

And let us be clear, these agreements are not designed to protect States or whichever government happens to be in power, they are signed by Member States, “in the name of their people.” These agreements outline a series of rights, and at the same time obligations that guarantee a basic well-being for our citizens.

Freedom, security and prosperity – must benefit all of the people of the Americas.

One thing is clear, the essential elements and principles of democracy are the immovable foundation upon which sustainable, just, and prosperous societies are built.

There has been tremendous progress across the hemisphere in recent decades between the consolidation of our democracies and the growth in our economies.

Vibrant democracy grows from within. There is no single solution. Across the hemisphere we see countries at different stages of democratic consolidation based on different models, using different processes.

Today, our democratic institutions are stronger and there is greater rule of law, offering better social protections. Our economies are more open and integrated, improving the quality of life for citizens across the Americas.

However, our hemisphere remains one of the most unequal regions in the world and this inequality is the greatest weakness to both our economies and our democracy.

Growing demands from citizens aggravate weak institutions and poor social services. Corruption, weak rule of law, and political polarization fuel the erosion of economic, political, social and human rights.

The unequal distribution of income, access to basic goods or services, and justice are a constant factor that further undermines development.

In order to create balance, multiple centers of power in a society are required. No one entity, or position, or person should be strong enough to control the others. Legitimate power must be shared, dispersed and restrained. Both power and wealth are strengthened when diversified and shared.

This is why the separation of power between the branches of government is a hallmark of democracy. Each body, the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, they each have a vital role to play and a different set of voices to represent.

People, processes, institution, these entities are all corruptible. Principles are not.

We can build inclusion, security and prosperity by strengthening democracy and the rule of law. But this commitment also means that we cannot be afraid to act when we see backsliding.

This is why two and a half years ago I took on the leadership of the Organization with one goal, “More Rights for More People.”

Equality, opportunity, a prosperous economy, social development, human rights protections, citizen security- these are all elements of a truly democratic society. They can only thrive after strong democratic institutions have been built.

No matter how developed our societies may be, we cannot become complacent. There are too many real and urgent risks across the region that serve as a warning.

In Venezuela, the Regime dismantled its democratic institutions piece by piece, plunging its economy into chaos, creating a self-inflicted humanitarian crisis not seen by this hemisphere in decades.

This tragedy is not only a warning for the entire hemisphere. The collapse of Venezuela presents real and practical dangers that can affect us all.

The humanitarian crisis, which has already needlessly killed Venezuelans by the thousands, threatens a migratory crisis beyond the three million citizens that have fled in the past few years.

Venezuela’s neighbors are already feeling the strain as desperate people are pouring across the border in search of food, medical assistance and jobs.

The insecurity created by the complete elimination of the rule of law not only creates instability and violence within Venezuela borders, but it allows organized crime to grows unchecked, and in some cases aided by the elements of the Regime, results in the spread of drugs, weapons and other criminal activity throughout the region.

The crisis also poses an existential threat. The deterioration of democracy represents a threat to peace and security in the entire hemisphere.

Corruption and bad practices are contagious. They are a disease that is easily spread and create a very dangerous precedent. In some neighboring countries, we have already started to see some copycat actions to roll back democratic rights, taken by emboldened leaders who are determined to cling onto power.

In a region where our democracies have been hard earned - a reality too many in this room are acutely aware of – a corrupt, authoritarian Venezuela reopens a door that the people of the Americas fought hard to close.

In a democracy there is only one sovereign: the people. Government is a service to the public. It is not for profit or power. Those who are elected to represent the people, are there to channel the voice of citizens into the decision-making process of the state. Their legitimacy is bestowed directly by their citizens.

Everyone, including dictators, love elections when they are winning. The real test is how a government responds when they lose.

When Maduro’s regime in Venezuela began to lose the support of its population, instead adjusting their policies in service of the people, and winning back the hearts and minds, they chose a more authoritarian route. They took away their democratic rights of the people.

They illegally annulled the constitutionally mandated recall referendum. They politicized the courts to ensure they serve only as a mouthpiece for the consolidation of the Regime’s power. The illegitimately fabricated a so-called “constituent assembly” to overrule the legitimately elected National Assembly.

Through the activation of Plan Zamora, the government has identified any person in opposition to, or even critical of the Regime as an enemy of the state.

Citizens have been detained by the thousands, they are held without trial, they are prosecuted in military courts, they are beaten, abused, and tortured.

The number of political prisoners has reached levels not seen in Venezuela since the military dictatorship of the 1950s. More than 100 civilians were killed in the recent protests. At least 17 of them were shot in the head.

There is no democracy when words are met with guns.

This Regime is only concerned with maintaining their power and wealth, and acts with total impunity. It has become the very thing that threatens the lives and prosperity of its citizens.

Venezuela shows us the cost when democracy fails. It shows us the price of corruption, of exclusion, of polarization and the rejection of the people by those chosen to represent them.

Venezuela has instead has become a model dictatorship of greed, corruption, violence and impunity.

As Secretary General, I have the responsibility to give my voice to the people of the Americas that do not have a voice.

As a human, I have a responsibility to stand against tyranny an injustice.

I have, and I will continue to denounce the corruption and violations of human rights and repression that is taking place in Venezuela. I will use my voice to help ensure that these criminals who have stolen this country from their people are held accountable.

This is why I appointed a former prosecutor from the International Criminal Court and a panel of independent legal experts to investigate and assess whether crimes against humanity have been committed.

As members of the international community, this community of States in the Americas must remember our responsibility to uphold our commitment to these ethical and moral, values and principles that we have painstakingly outlined in long legal agreements. These agreements mean nothing if we do not make them a daily reality for the people of the Americas.

At the end of the day, it is our values and principles that remain. When we lose our values; we all lose; society loses. If Venezuela loses; we all lose.

Thank you!