Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


May 28, 2020 - Washington, DC

I accept the congratulations and the responsibility to continue the work of the Organization of American States in this second term as head of the General Secretariat of the Organization.

• This OAS, this Pan American Union, having adapted and taken on the challenges of the 21st century, is today once again the Organization that is the main political forum of the Americas where the region’s most important problems and issues are discussed.

• The OAS continues to revolutionize diplomatic actions, instruments, mechanisms, formats, languages and practices that perhaps not long ago were unthinkable in the framework of the multilateral system. We will continue our work.

• I can say for certain that I am both government and opposition. My mandate will be more rights for more people. We have brought the daily work of the OAS General Secretariat closer to what it should be under inter-American law.

• We will sustain the relevance and modernity of the OAS, as the new normal, an active OAS with clear objectives on the regional political and democratic agenda. And we must also make an additional transition as an Organization. No one was prepared or could have predicted the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on each of the pillars: human rights, democracy, security and development. Our approach to and treatment of structural challenges such as poverty, inequality, challenges to public order, political stability, institutional strength, and separation of powers is more valid than ever. This crisis has exposed vulnerabilities, not only socially and economically, but also in the workings of institutions, and it requires us to give thought to the most fundamental things, to the stability and solidity of the foundations of our political systems. The basic stability and democratic solidity of our countries, as fundamental instruments for the development and well-being of our peoples, are what we strive for through our work.

• In this second term we must normalize democracy as the ideal political system for the Hemisphere, without discussion or exceptions. The Inter-American Democratic Charter states that democracy is a right of the peoples of the Americas and States have the obligation to promote and defend it. Essentially, we were born as democratic nations when we became independent. Democracy is part of our national identities; freedom is our essence—more than in any other continent, more than in any other hemisphere.

• I hope that at this time of crisis we will reaffirm our fundamental principle of fighting for democracy. We may observe pendulum swings between left and right, between one party to another; alternation is normal and healthy in democracies, but we must never accept dualities between democracy and dictatorship.

• Let us maximize the possibilities for strengthening democratic institutions, social inclusion, and support for those most vulnerable to poverty who face injustice and discrimination.

• We must continue working—in parallel—to ensure the financial and administrative sustainability of the Organization, under an efficient, austere, and transparent administration, as we have been doing and as we must do to improve.

• More rights for more people because that is the most dramatic aspect of our Hemisphere: bearing the most repulsive ignominy of being the most unequal region in the world. Because not all of us have access to the same rights, because not all of us have received fair reward for our efforts and resources.

• The OAS has to be the voice of the voiceless, of the oppressed, of the discriminated. It has to be the voice of the poorest, of the African population, of indigenous people, of women, of the LGBTQ+ population, of the disabled, of those suffering from rare diseases, of all those who suffer discrimination and inequality.

• The continent's structural problems are embedded in the four pillars of the Organization; we must promote good practices and attack bad practices in the areas of development, security, access to rights, and democracy.

• We will step up our efforts for regional political stability, which is key to development. We will continue to work on strengthening democratic institutions, which are essential as instruments for the security and development of our peoples.

• The OAS must work more vigorously than it has done to date to achieve better levels of quality, inclusive and equitable education. We are lagging far behind in scientific expertise in much of the Hemisphere, be it technological or social, just as we are in terms of collective efforts in the areas of skills for the future of work. Innovations in job training, teacher training, content delivery, STEM, citizenship education and promotion of multilingualism.

• However, the first major challenge we have today is to support the governments and peoples of the Hemisphere in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, an invisible enemy that recognizes no borders and threatens lives and political, economic, and productive systems. Our efforts are now focused there.

• To emerge successfully from the pandemic, we need the unity of all countries, the solidarity of all communities, and the volunteering spirit of all our citizens. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us

• Unity is key for the G7 and G20 summits to move towards real financial solutions for development in the Hemisphere.

• We need a more radically feminist OAS, with full rights for all women.

• No one can allow themselves to be defeated today by the virus of panic; action is needed and the OAS must be an example to follow. It is necessary to work because it is necessary to produce food, to produce medicines, to continue producing financial and security services, and that entails the mainstreaming of rights.

• We must preserve each and every one of the social, economic, civil and political rights of our peoples and to that end all policies must be crosscutting.

• The responsibility must be absolutely across the board, not only at a public level, but also in business, among workers, among each of our peoples, and among each of us as individuals.

• Another challenge we face in tackling the pandemic is to stop attempts by authoritarian regimes and organized crime to step into voids.

• We have legal and political resources, which means that we also have the responsibility to strengthen our capacity for negotiation, mediation, and consensus-building from the OAS. Consensus in action, not in inaction; consensus to achieve results, not to become gridlocked; consensus to do more, not less; consensus to advance principles, not to erode them; consensus to defend political prisoners, not to ignore them; consensus to protect the tortured, not to abandon them to their fate; consensus to ensure that there is no impunity, no crimes against humanity, no corruption, and no consensus to keep out of it.

• Consensus on democracy, not dictatorship; consensus on development, not bad practices that precipitate humanitarian crises; consensus on human rights, not regimes that lock up political prisoners and engage in torture; consensus on security, not the state's criminal links to drug trafficking and corruption; and dialogue, always political dialogue.

• We are not going to give an inch in our fight against dictatorships. If everybody is onboard with that, fine; if nobody is, fine too.

• As I said (at the General Assembly where I was reelected) on March 20, I am the Secretary General for the 35 member states of the Organization. No one can leave empty-handed if they need the OAS General Secretariat; no state, no people, in any of the 35 countries.

• I take this opportunity to express my firm commitment to mobilize the full array of the capabilities of the General Secretariat supporting the resilience building measures of Caribbean member states whose development have been severely disrupted by the onset of this pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the region was anticipating modest but positive economic growth but it is now faced with declines or contractions averaging 30 per cent. This kind of contraction would be difficult for any developed country but for a region with inherent vulnerabilities like the Caribbean, it is an almost unsurmountable challenge. With the start of what is expected to be an active Atlantic hurricane season -only days away, we begin to appreciate the enormity of the challenges of this region, as it seeks to build its resilience to these shocks.

• In a scenario such as this, the merits of the OAS as an institution for hemispheric cooperation and solidarity is stronger now than ever before. In this regard, I call upon the international financial community to assist the region in reducing its vulnerability and increasing its resilience to external shocks, and to adopt vulnerability and resilience indicators in assessing their eligibility for concessional financing and the restructuring of debt. We need a new Caribbean Paradigm.

• We are going to deliver it. We do not have money for it, but those that have money have not been helpful either, those organizations that have money have not been good at helping you designing the policies for development or for the elimination of poverty. The failure then has been double, incapacity to resolve the issues, incapacity to properly address the issues, plus doing so spending valuable financial resources, making the financial convergence not in the countries of the hemisphere but in the institutions themselves.

• We look around and find an abundance of things that we are lacking: infrastructure, interconnectivity, the development of new skills that workers and entrepreneurs need to do the jobs of the future, to be able to create them; in generating quality, sustainable products, services, and niches of greater added value; in complementing our capacities and experiences so that regional collaboration in the Americas represents a model of growth and integral development, a valuable and strategic asset; in investment in institutions and capacities for innovation and entrepreneurship in an intelligent and effective way.

• In particular, structural change measures are needed (change in the production matrix through diversification strategies, particularly from exports towards products with higher value added, higher technological content, greater economic complexity) and policies to increase the quality of the export basket.

• Latin America and the Caribbean have had 200 years of lost decades, more or less. That is the political, economic, and productive reality of our region, which is why we are as underdeveloped as we are, despite all the resources we have, despite how hard-working our people are.

• Let us work to make that much-needed leap to sustainable development by strengthening democratic institutions, with initiatives that support transparency, accountability, and the fight against corruption.

• As a fellow countryman of mine said, “The homeland is dignity above and joy below," and for that we must continue to fight every day to conquer more and more rights for more people, because it also means more peace, more sovereignty, and more justice. That is the essence of multilateralism and that is the raison d'être of our Organization.

• THANK YOU ALL, in capital letters; thank you to the President (of Colombia, Iván) Duque for presenting my candidacy, to each of the foreign ministers who came to the Permanent Council to endorse it, to each Ambassador who defended and promoted it, my super-friends; to each and every one who challenged my candidacy —in this arena or in any other— because that is essential for each and every one of us to try harder. To the friendly band that lifts my heart. You are stuck with me.

• A thousand thanks to the service staff for their dedication and professionalism; they and others made it possible to hold the special session of the General Assembly in the best possible conditions for health and safety. They are our vulnerable population; they are the ones who have had to keep doing other jobs outside the OAS to sustain themselves in times of pandemic. To them go my gratitude, my affection, my work.