Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


February 25, 2018 - San Francisco, California

At the OAS, we are guided by the principle of ensuring “More Rights for More People.” Central to that principle is the right of our peoples to live in democracy, a right granted by the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Recent trends have shown us that in order to ensure that right, we cannot remain passive in the face of threats to democratic institutions.

Dear friends, I am pleased to be here with you today to address the discussion of Next Generation Democracy.

It is a privilege to represent one of the oldest multilateral organizations, an institution that is grounded in the belief that democracy is an indispensable condition for stability, peace and development.

The OAS Charter, Resolution 1080, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the Inter-American Conventions on human rights and combating corruption – all of these agreements include commitments based on principles of openness, democracy and cooperation. These agreements have been used as models for multilateral institutions around the world for how to frame their commitments to these very same principles.

We are not a partisan body. We don’t concern ourselves with who wins, but with how the system works.

There is one essential lesson. Without exception, the stronger democracies have all had better, more sustained economic development, with greater social protection
and services.

This is an interesting moment in modern history. Globalization and technology have changed the shape of the world we live in dramatically in the matter of only a few decades. Although globally we have seen inequality decrease, within the borders of many individual countries it has increased.

In response, we have seen a resurgence of populism and a growing appetite for more exclusionary and isolationist politics. To resist these trends, we must recommit ourselves to pluralism, openness and inclusivity.

Inequality, poverty, social exclusion and a lack of access to opportunities have a marked impact on welfare, political stability and democratic governance.

Weak institutions and poor social services are aggravated by growing demands from citizens. Corruption, weak rule of law, and political polarization fuel the erosion of economic, political, social and human rights.

We must focus on social inclusion and the threat that exclusion presents to democratic stability. We must strive to eliminate discrimination, injustice and inequality in order to focus on the heart of our democracies: our people.

Democracy is intended to provide the greatest representation possible. Those who are elected must have an incentive to respond to the will of the people because if they do not need popular support to govern, the imperative to represent the interests of the people is diminished.

We build institutions to provide safeguards for the protection of those without a voice, those who are not in the rooms where decisions are made.

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.

When institutions are focused on the greater good, they will prioritize addressing the structural factors that condition economic and social inequalities, exclusion, poverty and extreme poverty. By working to achieve more democratic, just and equitable societies, they will consolidate democracy for future generations.

To this end, democracy is a process. It something that cannot be taken for granted and must be worked on, diligently, every single day.

Globalization also means the world is a lot more intertwined that it once was. Our economies, our development and our security are increasingly affected by what happens to our neighbors. This is why the OAS established a series of agreements that create both the incentives to adhere to, and mechanisms for enforcing these collective norms to ensure peace, development and stability in the hemisphere.

Today, the situation in Venezuela is a clear example of the high price that is paid when the international community is silent the face of deteriorating democracy.

Millions of Venezuelans are fleeing the country, at an accelerating pace. Organized crime and drug trafficking have flourished, along with the proliferation of arms and crime in a region that already struggles with the rule of law. New global actors with ties to terrorism now have a foothold.

These issues are a threat to international peace and security, on our very doorstep.

This is Venezuela today. Where will we stand 20 years from now, if the dictatorship in Venezuela is allowed to remain in place?

Bad practices are like a disease. They are contagious. If allowed, they will continue to grow and we will find ourselves with a much more polarized and divided hemisphere.

Those in power often want to remain in power, and will try to adjust the rules so that political outcomes benefit them. In a democracy, this can be done through practicesincluding manipulation of voter registration, electoral maps, and the rules of participation.

To safeguard democracy, we must be willing to speak up and call out these bad practices. We cannot allow attacks on the freedom of expression to go unanswered; corruption and impunity must not remain unchecked; interference with the independence of judiciaries must be restrained; the results of referenda must be respected.

Today, democracies are no longer overthrown. They are much more likely to be dismantled, institution-by-institution. Democracy does not simply disappear, it declines because it is easier for leaders to subvert the process that brought them to power, rather than eliminate it Outright.

Institutions and safeguards can be weakened or hollowed-out through so-called ‘legal’ actions that are legitimized by democratic institutions, be it a legislative body or the courts. It can often be done under the guise of improving democracy.

When such actions are taken slowly and incrementally, it is easy to maintain the appearance of a democracy.

Democracy in Venezuela was eliminated exactly this way. Slowly. Quietly. In plain sight. Now it provides a roadmap for how to dismantle a thriving democracy.

In Venezuela, the government began by eliminating freedom of speech. They attacked those who were critical, either forcing self-censorship or simply eliminating them. Journalists were threatened and detained, and sweeping and vague libel laws were introduced.

The judiciary was co-opted and politicized; the judicial system now serves as a tool to target the Executive’s critics. The Congress was undermined and rendered ineffective until that wasn’t sufficient and then the government simply created a new undemocratic, unlawful legislative body. It was not until all of the country’s democratic institutions were hollowed-out that the international community was able to acknowledge that an alteration of democracy had taken place.

Despite the regions’ firm commitment to democratic principles; states justified inaction in terms of policies of non-intervention and were reluctant to comment on the growing human rights violations and the weakening and undermining of democratic institutions. But in reality, this inaction was the equivalent of an intervention on behalf of the dictatorship.

By the time the international community was willing to speak out, it was too late. The widespread corruption and the intertwining of organized crime and drug trafficking with the state and military apparatus made it impossible to achieve a democratic solution. Politics in Venezuela had become a zero-sum game. For the Government, leaving power now means not only losing wealth and privilege but also its immunity.

In order to maintain its hold on power, the regime has had to resort to increasingly brutal tactics to suppress or eliminate any and all opposition. The self-made humanitarian crisis has led to millions of Venezuelans fleeing the country; those who remain are reluctant to protest because the government controls the limited access to what few supplies are still available.

Now, what should be one of the most prosperous countries in the region is a failed state.

Venezuela is a clear warning for us of the importance of strong institutions. It is the distribution of power throughout the institutions that can provide checks and balances to stop this from happening before it is too late.

The Western Hemisphere has historically taken pride in itsinstitutions, often created after democracy was hard-won. We return to a time here being members of this club of democracies when it was a point of pride. It offered privilege and prestige.

We must leave behind the notion of non-intervention as a means to look the other way while corrupt governments dismantle their democratic institutions and take away the fundamental rights of their citizens.

As members of the international community, we 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.

We must institute a cost for democratic backsliding, while at the same time ensuring support and a path back to democracy.
For this Hemisphere, the upcoming Summit of the Americas is an opportunity for States to reaffirm this Region’s commitment to the preeminence of democratic principles. To reaffirm why these membership requirements, for the world’s oldest regional organization, were established in the first place.

In the Americas, this is why the OAS is an institution vital to ensuring the fullest possible observance of human rights, and is our essential tool for safeguarding democracy.

Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy – these are not values that solely exist when it is convenient or politically expedient. The ethical and moral values that we subscribe to mean nothing if we do not make them a daily reality for all people.

These values must come always first, because when we lose these values, we all lose; society loses

Thank you.