Media Center



June 2, 2002 - Bridgetown, Barbados

Mr. Prime Minister, it gives me great pleasure to be back in Barbados to celebrate our Assembly, in this land where democratic ideals and parliamentary rule have flourished for three centuries. We could not have chosen a better place to meet at this critical moment of our history than this prosperous country, this international center for business. We feel energized in this diverse and egalitarian society, with its unique culture, in which the rule of law reigns.

I speak on behalf of all of the peoples of the Americas when I say that we have great respect for your leadership. You are an intelligent and visionary head of government. We admire the rigor of your thinking, your knowledge of public issues, your incisiveness and exceptional training, and your wit in dealing with the complexity of inter-American affairs.

I also take this opportunity to thank you, Foreign Minister Miller, your staff, and the people of Barbados for your generous hospitality. I am very pleased that this General Assembly is taking place in the Caribbean since we will be dealing with matters of great importance to the nations of the Hemisphere, especially those of small island states.

Last year democracy came under severe attack. On September 11 while we were meeting to approve our Democratic Charter in Lima, our ideals and way of life were assaulted in an unprecedented, savage act of terrorism that took the lives of citizens of 30 of our 34 member states. The attacks were the greatest challenge to our civilization, to our values, to human rights and civil liberties, and to the principles of tolerance and pluralism that bind us. Our nations expressed in one voice to the United States, our sister nation, our grief, our indignation, and our sorrow over the loss of thousands of innocent lives and we prayed together for the victims and their families. Secretary of State Powell shared some of those sad moments with us.

These despicable crimes also represented the gravest threat to our collective security. Our member states needed to respond to these challenges with decisive action, strong cooperation, and firm resolve. Those who are parties to the Rio Treaty reaffirmed the principle of hemispheric solidarity and all OAS countries announced in a historic declaration that the attacks against the United States were attacks against all American states, that our states would assist each other in this fight, and that they would provide for their collective defense.

Two specialized conferences had already created the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE). After September 11, CICTE was strengthened to work on policy formulation and planning, to contribute to dismantling financial networks utilized by terrorists, to destroy their logistical support, to eliminate their sanctuaries, to gather and analyze intelligence information, and to take action on the problem of counterfeit documents.

Substantial efforts are also ongoing to increase air, maritime, and land security, to improve money-laundering control mechanisms, to modify or adopt new domestic legislation, and to advance in the signature and ratification of all inter-American instruments against terrorism. A small secretariat was established to provide an institutional home for training programs and coordination with other inter-American agencies, agreements, and follow-up mechanisms.

It has been particularly useful to receive the support of the ministers of justice and attorneys general, who met in Trinidad and Tobago last year, to strengthen mutual legal and judicial assistance, simplifying extradition for international criminals and the forfeiture of crime proceeds through the confiscation of assets. By means of a Canadian initiative, a pilot project is creating a network for the exchange of information on these matters.

The Draft Convention against Terrorism, which is being placed before you for your consideration, reaffirms the commitment of OAS member states to cooperate under international law, offers a solid and comprehensive legal framework, emphasizes border and financial controls, and promotes training.

In the last decade, the inter-American system has generated a considerable number of such instruments, tools, and initiatives in the area of hemispheric security to deal with its myriad challenges. The time is ripe to funnel these diverse tools and ideas into one framework, which is what you have done by deciding to convene the Hemispheric Conference on Security, mandated by the Quebec City Summit in September. The security concerns of small island states must figure prominently in this work. Here we must, for example, seek to adopt all the recommendations of the inter-American committee concerning disaster mitigation and prevention, examine the apprehensions regarding the transportation of nuclear waste, and secure the continuation of our project on global climate change for the Caribbean, financed by the World Bank.

Our most significant new instrument, though on a different matter, is the Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted in Lima, Peru. With the Charter we are protecting the right of our peoples to live in democracy and we are incorporating our shared vision and principles, our needs, aspirations, collective will, and commitment to work together to defend our core values. The contribution of the English-speaking Caribbean, where democracy has proven to be more resilient than in any other subregion of the developing world, has been of exceptional importance.

Representative democracy is more than free and transparent elections. Under the Charter, democracy means respect for human rights and public liberties, the separation and independence of powers, transparency, accountability, honesty, responsibility, citizen participation, a strong civil society, and a pluralistic party system. It also means access to information, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, a system of effective checks and balances, elimination of all kinds of discrimination, and the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Charter draws attention to a new generation of rights, regarding indigenous people; ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity in the Americas; children; women; and migrant workers and their families; as well as the rights of workers based on the conventions of the ILO.

The Charter is a result of the belief that we stand today at a critical juncture. Political globalization has generated a worldwide concern for social justice and the defense of democratic principles and human rights. We face significant threats to the democratic systems of several nations in our Hemisphere. We have weak public institutions and political systems and in many nations the state and the public institutions are unable to provide basic health care, education, and citizen security.

The Democratic Charter is more than a tool to cope with crises and impose sanctions. It is intended to help democracies receive hemispheric support when their political and institutional processes are at risk or when their exercise of legitimate power is in danger. The Charter provides our nations with the instruments to confront threats and challenges collectively, in a manner that is orderly, decisive, timely, and consensual.

In the past year in Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, we demonstrated again the efficacy of our electoral observation missions. Through Quebec City Summit mandates, the OAS is assisting interparliamentary initiatives and continues working to empower local authorities utilizing the guidelines of the La Paz meeting. We are partnering with Caribbean countries, the UNDP, and the University of the West Indies in an initiative supporting constitutional reform in the region.

On the centrally important issue of human rights, the inter-American system is more active today than ever. Without a doubt we now have greater consensus among member states, with better rules of procedure and admissibility, with expanded participation of civil society, and with the role of the rapporteur used in a more comprehensive and effective manner–particularly in relation to freedom of expression. I believe our human rights system is now prepared for a qualitative leap forward, but in order to make this possible, it requires more resources and it must solve the issue of universalization, provide more citizen access to the system, and determine if our human rights organs can work on a more permanent basis.

Through the negotiations of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we have made significant advances on this extremely important matter. We have continued our work on women’s rights and gender equity and equality and integrated a gender perspective into all our programs and policies. The Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) has placed special emphasis on the application of the Convention of Belém do Pará, which addresses violence against women, in the countries of the Caribbean. We are working to improve the rights and the care of persons under any type of detention or imprisonment. All the while, civil society organizations are stepping up their role as direct and collaborative participants in our work.

Turning to Haiti, an OAS country in the Caribbean region that has drawn much of our attention recently, the General Assembly in Costa Rica gave us a strong mandate to work with all sectors of Haitian society to find an agreement to solve the problems of the May 21, 2000, elections, and to launch a national dialogue for reconciliation and the strengthening of democratic institutions. We have reached an agreement for the establishment of a credible, neutral, and independent electoral council. Unfortunately, the armed attacks of July 28 and December 17 and subsequent mob violence have brought further negotiations to a standstill.

In January the Permanent Council renewed our mandate and ordered the creation of a mission to address the long-term problems of Haitian institutions and those of the people of Haiti, as well as to create a climate of security, a necessary condition for resuming negotiations. It has been charged with a mandate to review issues relating to human rights, security, the judicial system, and governance. At the same time, the OAS and CARICOM have assembled an independent inquiry mechanism of three prominent jurists to investigate the events of December 17. We have also named an advisory council to make recommendations for reparations to organizations and individuals who suffered damages as a direct result of the violence of December 17. Through all these events, the Haiti Group of Friends countries were designated to act as a consultative body. The mission has received the full cooperation of the Government of President Aristide.

But, we will fall short of solving Haiti’s most basic political problems if we are not able to reach an agreement to hold elections in the near future and reestablish the full cooperation of the international community and financial institutions with that country. The Government must fully comply with the terms of the January resolution. All parties, including the opposition coalition Convergence Démocratique must show the will to settle the political dispute and return to the negotiating table to finalize the agreement. The people of Haiti need that agreement desperately. I want to thank Ambassador Einaudi and his staff for their hard work and dedication toward achieving this goal. I would also like to thank Minister Hunte of Saint Lucia for his invaluable cooperation.

Ministers, Ambassadors, Friends:

The biggest test of the Democratic Charter has been confronting the situation in Venezuela. The moment the news of the tragic events of April 11 became known, presidents and ministers of the Rio Group approved a strongly worded resolution condemning the violation of the constitutional order and the deplorable acts of violence. The resolution also requested the OAS to convene a meeting of the Permanent Council under Article 20 of the Charter. The Permanent Council called for the Secretary General to head a fact-finding mission to Venezuela, as well as for a special meeting of the General Assembly to adopt the decisions it deemed appropriate.

Most of you are familiar with my report to the Assembly. We met with President Chávez and a broad spectrum of representatives of the country’s leading institutions. We came away very concerned with the level of polarization we found in Venezuela, a polarization which stands in the way of democratic dialogue and the search for agreements to foster understanding and contribute to social peace.

I told the Assembly then that the international community, including the OAS, should promote measures to defuse some of the most serious conflicts, to regain governability, to achieve political stability, and to foster economic recovery. Our Assembly expressed its satisfaction with the return of democratic order in Venezuela, confirmed member states’ determination to continue applying the Democratic Charter, and welcomed the Government’s acceptance of an on-site visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission’s report is before you. Before you as well is the recent report of the Government of Venezuela assessing the events related to the breaking of the constitutional order.

Our Assembly also supported the initiative of the Government of Venezuela to convoke an all-inclusive dialogue and to urge all sectors of Venezuelan society to participate in–and make every effort to restore–the full exercise of democracy and national reconciliation. That dialogue is already under way and is bringing relief and hope to millions of Venezuelan citizens. The National Assembly is very seriously dealing with the crisis, as Minister Chaderton will surely confirm. The Assembly’s work is based on an agenda of the most critical issues, including an investigation of the violence and deaths that will be undertaken by a truth commission selected from civil society representatives. A special law is to be enacted to establish its terms of reference.

We all agree that Venezuela at this very critical juncture needs the solidarity and cooperation of all the people and governments of this Hemisphere. The OAS is ready to do anything demanded of it by the Government of Venezuela to strengthen democratic institutions.

Moving to another subject, a diverse group of countries from across the region has stressed to the Permanent Council that we in the Americas possess the world’s greatest income inequality and that there is a fervent desire to increase the role of the OAS in fighting poverty. We have very limited resources but, with the instructions we received from our ministers of education in Punta del Este and guided by the spirit of the Monterrey Summit, we can play a role in supporting horizontal cooperation to increase dialogue among social actors and help to establish better opportunities for training to increase our role in human development.

To our traditional program of scholarships, we have added the new offerings of our Agency through public partnerships and modern technologies. The activities of the Educational Portal of the Americas will make courses and teacher training available online. We will use it to enhance distance education through the University of the West Indies and we will keep working with the EDSAT project in the same field.

The Summit process makes trade a priority of the inter-American agenda. In the past year the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), with technical support from the OAS, has made significant progress. We also continue to work on trade-related capacity-building and technical assistance–a matter of particular importance for many countries, including those in the Caribbean region. We have worked closely with the so-called Regional Negotiation Machinery in this area and through the Group on Small Economies. Underlying our entire effort is the creation of the Research Network on Trade in the Americas, designed to enhance transparency and connect academic institutions.

We are all aware that from now until 2005 we will have, together with the most complex technical negotiations, a political discussion regarding the broader implications of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The discussion will not be limited to trade. It must address concerns in relation to globalization that are creating so much resentment in our region. It must also find new ways to articulate through the inter-American system some of the issues that cannot find an easy fit in a free trade agreement. Unlike the WTO, the inter-American system can help member states address many of the problems not directly related to trade that could create hurdles to the FTAA. The approval of trade-promotion authority in the U.S. is good news for the process. We expect it will help also balance some of the apprehensions regarding recent decisions on tariffs and subsidies.

Last year in Ottawa, with the OAS in the role of technical secretariat, the Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor continued to implement the Viña del Mar Plan of Action dealing with the labor dimensions of globalization, the social aspects of economic integration, the dynamics of labor regulations, unemployment assistance, training, and “safety nets.”

In the fight against corruption, the OAS has established the follow-up mechanism for implementing the Inter-American Convention and experts have begun to analyze country policies and agree on rules that ensure the work is transparent, rigorous, independent and objective, and open to civil society. The Trust of the Americas is bringing significant private-sector support to the fight against corruption.

The tourism sector of the Caribbean has been the most affected by the events of September 11, exacerbating a decline that was already in place in the first semester of 2001. The OAS is working on a program, which has yet to find complete financing, to assist in the post-September 11 recovery of the tourism sector in the Caribbean, in the areas of education and public relations, marketing, planning, and product development, as well as institutional strengthening and technology transfer. The support of USAID has permitted the opening of tourism resource centers in Dominica, Grenada, Barbados, Saint Kitts, and Saint Lucia.

The Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, in its first round, achieved basic progress in moving national agendas to a point where nearly all member states have formulated national counter-narcotics master plans and are cooperating more closely than we once dared hope. This work is critically important and could not be more timely for some of our member countries. I urge our full individual and collective commitment to this technical and policy product that has done much to change the very ground on which this plague is fought, based on the principle of shared responsibility.

In Colombia, for example, we see the most sinister dimensions of the drug problem in the connection between terrorists and narcotraffickers. This is a mutually reinforcing, destructive phenomenon. Colombia needs the region’s solidarity to confront the wave of terrorist acts it is facing and to achieve peace based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The country needs to ensure its monopoly on the use of force by government officials and public institutions. It is still in need of political solutions, but also and urgently needs to strengthen its armed forces, police, judiciary, and investment in social programs. President-elect Uribe enjoys the enormous support of all Colombian citizens and deserves the same from the rest of the Hemisphere.

In relation to the difficult financial situation of Argentina, I am certain I echo the sentiments of solidarity we all feel with the Government of President Duhalde and the people of Argentina. On behalf of all our nations, we ask that political forces and public officials cooperate with the Government in the daunting task, the extraordinary effort, required to come to an agreement with the IMF. That is important not only for Argentinean people but for all hemispheric nations.

It is certainly important that such an agreement be consistent and viable. But it is equally important that we send to the international financial institutions and the boards of those institutions a message regarding the importance of a satisfactory solution to the Argentinean crisis. I have been very concerned with some voices that call into question the status of Argentina as a strategic partner. That is an offense to all people of this Hemisphere. Others speak with certainty that this time there will be no “contagion effect” in other countries. This is a mistake. There may not yet be an immediate contagion consequence for the economic stability of neighboring countries, but an ill-conceived and disorderly solution to the Argentinean crisis may bring significant damage to the considerable effort already undertaken by our countries to become integrated into the world economy.

It is important to say that the OAS continues to play an important role as mediator in potential regional conflicts. It has helped ease tensions between Honduras and Nicaragua in their maritime dispute in the Caribbean Sea. The OAS has also worked with the Governments of Belize and Guatemala in the search for a solution to their border disagreements. We thank member and observer countries for their continuous support of the Fund for Peace.

We also thank member countries and observers for the support to our demining program. Operations in Honduras and Costa Rica are near completion, but we need additional resources for Nicaragua. We also have a program in Ecuador and Peru. We are steadfast in our commitment to make the Western Hemisphere an antipersonnel land-mine-free zone.

This brings me to my final topic. In the past year, we have reduced arrears to the Regular Fund, making it possible to meet our budgetary obligations and place funds in reserve. But we are looking to member countries to give the OAS a long-term solution to our chronic funding shortages. We fully agree with our Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Affairs, the CAAP, on the need to be extremely cautious in using our reserves and cash, and we expect its actions will avoid a full-blown cash crisis in the near future. If we continue with a frozen budget in nominal terms, in the years to come many of our responsibilities in support of ministerial meetings will be very much in danger, our increased support to the human rights system may be increasingly unachievable, and our actions to strengthen democratic institutions may be increasingly out of our reach, to list just a few of our goals.
Tomorrow, for the first time, you will have an opportunity to hear as a regular part of our Assembly the report of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG). This represents a significant step in incorporating the Summit of the Americas process into the inter-American system, with the OAS as coordinator institution of the group comprising the OAS, the IDB, PAHO, ECLAC, and IICA, with the participation of the World Bank and other subregional financial institutions such as the Andean Development Corporation and the Central American and the Caribbean bank. The report touches on the creation of a secretariat for the Summit process, improving the support of ministerial meetings, expanding security-related activities, and improving the coordination of technical cooperation. The General Assembly also has before it a draft resolution proposing a new contracting mechanism for replacing the career service, which is the result of a long process of study and work with our missions and the Staff Association.

In the last year we have discovered how interconnected our goals of democracy, growth, and prosperity are, as well as the enormous challenges that lie ahead. We will need a new body of inter-American law, many agreements, and collective work. The need for a stronger, better financed, better staffed inter-American system is more pressing than ever before. We can do more. We are prepared to do more. We will fulfill this task, with determination, to bring peace, prosperity, equity and justice to all our people