The Organization of American States (OAS) today commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the Summits of the Americas with an edition of its Policy Roundtable which included a debate on its achievements ahead of the next Summit, to be held in April in Panama City.
The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, delivered the opening remarks to the event, titled “20th Anniversary of the Summits Process: Progress and Partnership,” held in the headquarters of the institution in Washington DC. The event included a discussion panel which featured the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno; the former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States, Alexander Watson; the Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Luis Carlos Villegas; and the Director of the Carter Center´s Americas Program, Jennifer McCoy. The Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, moderated the panel, and the Secretary of the Summits of the Americas Secretariat, Alfonso Quiñonez, delivered the closing remarks.
Upon presenting the topic of the event, Secretary General Insulza said the Summit of the Americas, which brings together the Heads of State and Government of the Americas, is “the fundamental event in the Inter-American System for multi-lateral decision-making,” and emphasized that “there is no higher level, or more important moment for hemispheric decision-making.” In addition, he emphasized that the Summits have produced several concrete results, among which he mentioned the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which had it origins in the Summit of Canada, and the creation within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression, which was born in the Summit of Chile.
Insulza highlighted that historically, the end of the Cold War and the recovery of democracy in the region brought “a new era of consensus and understanding,” in which countries are able to work together to “collectively resolve, on the basis of cooperation, concrete problems that are common to all, or that affect all the countries.” The creation of the Summits of the Americas and its growth over twenty years, said the Secretary General, is “the clearest demonstration of multilateralism in our region and that we are capable of searching for collective solutions to our common problems.”
Finally the OAS leader emphasized the importance that the countries of the region focus on the issues on which there is consensus, and in particular urged participants to debate the issues of economic growth and distribution of wealth within societies. The success of the Summit of Panama, said Insulza, will depend if “we can move directly to working on concrete issues on which we can work together.”
Alexander Watson, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States, focused his words on the Summit of Miami in 1994, the first hemispheric meeting, at a moment in which there was “a convergence of interests” among the countries of the region, where democracy had replaced authoritarianism in most countries, and the tensions of the Cold War were disappearing. Watson recalled that in that moment, many spoke of a new sense of unity in the region, founded on shared values. Since then, said the former U.S. diplomat, one of the great challenges has been the implementation of the agreements reached in the Summits, because “sometimes there are too many initiatives, and the great majority of the governments don´t have the structures to implement them all.”
The President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, highlighted the changes that have taken place in the last 20 years since the first Summit of the Americas, among them the fact that today there are “more than 50 percent of the population living in the middle classes,” and the greatly expanded role of women in the societies of the region. Moreover, he highlighted the importance of the Business Summit that took place in the Summit of Cartagena, Colombia in 2012, which will be repeated in 2015, and “which aims to gather together the concerns of the business sector.” That dialogue, said President Moreno, has had as a consequence a group of areas of work of the IDB, among them regional and global integration, facilitation of trade, infrastructure, logistics, connectivity, finances, human capital and innovation, among others.
The Director of the Americas Program of the Carter Center, Jennifer McCoy, made a series of suggestions for a greater role for civil society in the Summits. “The problems we have as a Hemisphere are transnational, and require multisectoral cooperation,” she said. A main challenge in that area, according to Director McCoy, is the lack of trust between governments and civil society. “I propose that we hold a discussion about that tension and that we focus on how to build trust and how can civil society organizations hold themselves accountable, and what can governments do to reduce the restrictions on civil society.” Second, she proposed a true exchange during the Summit between governments and civil society. Finally, she suggested a greater focus on the follow-up to the Summits, and how to comply with the mandates that emerge from them.
The Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Luis Carlos Villegas, discussed the changes in the relationship with Latin America to the United States in the last 20 years, owing to “the various vehicles for exchange, from education to energy, from immigration to cooperation in science and technology.” “And the two things that cannot be changed except in the Summit of the Americas and that have not been changed yet are Cuba and the issue of drugs,” added Ambassador Villegas. Despite the fact they have not changed, “the place to come to agreements on change is the Summit. There is no other place where the Heads of State can sit and discuss the way they can at the Summit.” “The issue of Cuba is a Latin American reality that the United States must process,” insisted Villegas, and added that “Cuba is part of the Latin American community, formally and informally, politically and economically, aside from whatever debate there is about the regime.”
The Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, who moderated the event, emphasized that there are no armed conflicts in the Americas, something that sets the region apart, and that he called “an important achievement of a process in which political leaders have the will to talk together.” Despite the fact that the Summits of the Americas are less frequent than those in other regions, said Assistant Secretary General Ramdin, they have achieved the establishment of more than 50 initiatives, processes and mechanisms.
In closing the event, the Secretary of the Summits of the Americas Secretariat, Alfonso Quiñonez, presented an exhibition that was inaugurated at the headquarters of the OAS on the history of the eight Summits of the Americas, which includes key documents, memorabilia, and photographs, among them the original document with the signatures of the Heads of State and Government of the Declaration of Quebec.
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
The B-Roll of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.