Media Center



May 16, 2002 - Washington, DC

It falls to me to welcome you tonight to the Hall of the Americas and the Organization of Americans States for the 20th Anniversary of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Fourth Biennial Meeting of the Sol Linowitz forum. I understand you have all just come from dinners at several Embassies and are ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

I should begin by telling you that it is a distinct pleasure for me personally, as well as in my capacity as Secretary General of the OAS, to have this event take place in what we have come to call the Casa de Las Americas. It has hosted some seminal events in the recent history of our region, and we are glad to add this celebration to that list.

Since its founding in 1982, The Inter-American Dialogue’s constant engagement, analysis and critique of the issues of concern to our hemisphere has been a model for its openness and its incisiveness. It has without doubt contributed to the success of our work here in the OAS, and it has enhanced the quality of our hemispheric collective action. As a forum for evaluation of a broad range of actions related our hemisphere, its task forces on diverse issues, and its ability to convoke high level representation to its policy discussions confirms its place as the premier organization for exchange and deliberation on inter-American affairs.

The IADialogue has always been a friend to this organization and its work, something the OAS has always appreciated sincerely. Today the OAS is involved in a host of issues that affect deeply the fate of the citizens of this hemisphere. We are working from an agenda renewed and updated by the Presidents and heads of State of our region at the past Summits of the Americas. From human rights, to trade, to drug trafficking, to terrorism to perhaps our most central calling, strengthening and safeguarding democracy, I believe the centrality of collective action today is as important, perhaps more important, than ever. Even though we are at a significance distance in time from the dictatorships of the 70s and 80s, we are still a hemisphere that benefits from ---even needs --- the shared values, teamwork and consensus that an Organization such as ours provides, and which the IADialogue has supported since its inception.

From Argentina, to Venezuela, to Haiti, to my own and very dear Colombia, the problems of the Western hemisphere today are multifaceted and complex. We have tried to keep pace by creating the tools with which to confront this new level of complexity. Our new Inter-American Democratic Charter is a recent and significant example. Approved by the hemisphere’s foreign Ministers on that fateful day September 11, in the presence of Secretary of State Powell, the Charter constitutes the OAS’s new instrument to respond to deviations from the democratic norm.

Under Art. 1 of the Charter, the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and governments an obligation to promote and defend it. The Charter creates new terms of reference, a new framework within which the OAS comprehends a rich menu of issues that relate directly to the fundamental exercise of democracy. It touches on the building blocks of democracy --- subjects as wide-ranging as elections, subordination of state institutions to civil authority, labor rights, political parties, ethnic cultural and religious diversity and discrimination, and a range of general and specific human rights and liberties. It also begins to underscore the “preventive” aspects of the democratic strengthening, an important feature that was lacking from our collective action toolbox.

The Charter recently withstood its first trial by fire, when it was invoked in relation to the April events in Venezuela. In the face of a difficult and fast-changing situation, it served as a rallying point for all the countries of the region, and it charted our collective response. And I am convinced it be consolidated and reinforced in its applications. It will become stronger every time we resort to it.

I should end by telling you that only a few days ago, I was at the Inter-American Dialogue being harassed by Peter Hakim on the utility of the Charter. He asked, in his inimitable style, whether we were not better off before approving the Charter. I told him then what I told you tonight. But what I did not do then, and I will do tonight is tell Peter how much we appreciate his questions, his probing, the constant inquiry of the Inter-American Dialogue. Very simply, it strengthens our work.

To all of you, to the Sol Lonowitz Forum and to the Inter-American Dialogue, I wish you every success, and 20 more years of important work.

Thank you.