Media Center



June 3, 2001 - San José, Costa Rica

This session of the General Assembly is held against the backdrop of significant achievements at the Quebec Summit that have placed enormous responsibilities and duties on those of us gathered here today. Our task is to build hemispheric institutions that measure up to the great process of economic, social, and political integration our leaders and peoples are engaged in today. We left Canada imbued with faith and hope in the future of progress, peace, and democracy for all in the Americas.

Who could have imagined a better place for addressing and taking up those challenges than Costa Rica? In this prosperous and beautiful land, the truest democratic ideals, the highest expression of pacifism, respect for human rights, the protection of our natural world, and the firmest political will to work for social justice have flourished. These values, these principles, which sprang from this fertile ground, are what unite all people of the Americas today and join us in a common destiny. And what better host could we ask for than President Miguel Angel Rodríguez?

Mr. President:

You are the epitome of a true leader—responsible, upright, intelligent, visionary, and staunchly democratic. You have devoted your government service to promoting democratic values, the rule of law, and the modernization of the country’s economic framework. Thanks to Minister of Foreign Affairs Roberto Rojas for his invaluable support, Ambassador Hernán Castro for his tireless efforts, and the people of Costa Rica for their generous hospitality.

In Quebec City, our leaders added a democracy clause for participation in these hemispheric meetings and instructed our foreign ministers to prepare a Democratic Charter. These measures serve notice to all those who would disrupt the constitutional order that they will encounter a community of nations united in collective action to enforce the observance of democratic institutions. Both of these decisions point to what we consider our primary responsibility–working to defend, strengthen, and consolidate democracy in the Americas. This, even more than our principal task, is our reason for being.

There is perhaps no better example of our determination, and of the usefulness of collective action in support of democracy, than the work we have done in Peru under the mandate we received in Windsor. Together with the Canadian foreign minister, and in consultation with the Government, political groups, and civil society, we designed a dialogue with an agenda of democratic reforms. This made it possible to work effectively in an environment in which our role was one of facilitation and mediation. Former foreign minister Eduardo Latorre and Ambassador Peter Boehm assisted us in this task with their skill and dedication.

Our mandate was to help Peru fully reestablish its democratic institutions and constitutional order, from which it had been led astray by a government that employed increasingly authoritarian procedures, beyond the bounds of political oversight, to crush the independence of the judiciary, silence the press, use intelligence-gathering agencies for purposes entirely foreign to the interests of the Peruvian state, misuse public funds, and totally undermine the atmosphere of freedom and fairness surrounding the presidential election.

Fortunately for all concerned, and thanks to the courage, coordinated efforts, and determination of the political opposition and civil society organizations, an alternative capable of taking the reins was forged when the regime collapsed under the weight of public scrutiny of its illegal and undemocratic actions. President Paniagua and Prime Minister Pérez de Cuellar have led an exemplary transition faithful to the constitutional order, returning stability and hope to Peru. Thanks to them, Peruvians today are exercising their political right to freely choose their leaders. Former foreign minister Eduardo Stein has again led our electoral mission. We democratic people of the Hemisphere owe him a debt of gratitude for his sterling performance in defense of democracy.

This experience has shown us once more that electoral observation missions, as we see them at the OAS, are highly useful in guaranteeing the integrity, impartiality, and reliability of electoral processes. Their presence fosters an environment of respect for the principles of transparency, equality, and equity that provides the necessary guarantees for the participation of all citizens and the expression of their free will. The autonomy with which the General Secretariat has been able to define its approach has furthered this aim, and should be preserved.

This commitment to democracy explains our concern over the situation in Haiti and our dedication to addressing it. The present crisis stems from the problems indicated by our electoral observation mission during the local legislative election held on May 21, 2000. According to the mission’s final report, the observers noted numerous irregularities, which made a recount impossible at many polling stations. The mission confirmed that results had been manipulated during the post-election phase. This included a method of calculating percentages to determine Senate seats that violated constitutional provisions, inaccurate reporting of results, and the arbitrary processing of challenges.

For these reasons, the Organization decided not to observe the second round of those elections or the subsequent presidential election. However, by agreement with the Haitian Government, the Permanent Council decided to send a mission, made up of various OAS ambassadors and CARICOM representatives, to facilitate dialogue and help to resolve the crisis. During the following months, Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi returned to Port-au-Prince on several occasions. This effort was facilitated by the active participation of CARICOM and the countries comprising the friends of the United Nations Secretary-General in Haiti. Unfortunately, despite all the facilitation efforts of the joint OAS-CARICOM mission, the crisis is continuing.

In the days immediately preceding this Assembly session, the former Prime Minister of Dominica, Madam Eugenia Charles, and I went to Port-au-Prince in a renewed attempt to unblock this process. Regrettably, we confirmed the absence of a favorable climate to initiate negotiations between the parties. We are deeply concerned over the mutual lack of trust and the shaky commitment of all those involved to creating an atmosphere of negotiation in which the political crisis suffocating the country could be resolved.

It is urgent that the Government reaffirm its unwavering intent to move forward with a negotiation process and that the international community increase its participation and impress upon those involved the need to arrive at an agreement at the earliest opportunity. International pressure on the government to correct the serious irregularities has been helpful, but the outlook for the Haitian people will be entirely too grim if the country is isolated from the international financial community. Once it has been ascertained that irrevocable steps have been taken to correct the serious anomalies in the May election, it should be possible to normalize this relationship.

With the resignation of some of the senators elected in an irregular manner, the Government of Haiti is taking a first step toward correcting these serious anomalies. President Aristide informed us of his decision to establish a new electoral council (CEP) that will guarantee impartiality and effectiveness, with the participation of all sectors. This step–one that is urgent and necessary–should be tarnished by additional elections that might undermine both that impartiality and the equilibrium of the council that could arise from possible agreements. It is essential also that President Aristide, as he offered in his letter to the Assembly, honor the commitment made by Minister Antonio to the Council this past March to shorten the terms of all legislators elected on May 21, 2000, and to hold early legislative elections next year to renew the Assembly and the Senate.

Upon leaving Haiti, I pointed to the need to strengthen the work of the OAS-CARICOM mission and to bring into the process, as friends, certain countries that have decisive influence in Haiti. We must send an unmistakable message on the need for all parts of Haitian society, the Government of President Aristide, the political parties, civil society, the churches, and the private sector to commit themselves to finding a national solution to the problem. The fulfillment of President Aristide’s promises and announcements should pave the way for a process of negotiation, with our facilitation, aimed at overcoming this crisis and strengthening democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and justice.

The Haitian people are the primary victims of this polarization affecting all sectors of national society. This burden prevents the country from embarking on the economic growth and social development all its citizens so urgently need and hope for.

Closely tied to these objectives, the other priority of the Organization, mandated at the Summit, is to strengthen the inter-American human rights system. The history of the Americas has been one of fighting for liberty, of defending human dignity and the rights of all citizens. The documents upon which the work of the Commission and the Court is based–especially the Pact of San José and its protocols–are a true monument to the values we all share. They have been an effective stronghold against dictatorships, abuses, and authoritarian license. The Court and the Commission have clearly demonstrated their capacity to protect the freedoms and essential rights of all people of the Americas, in a climate of increased respect for democratic values. Their conscientious, professional, and valiant work has won them our respect, loyalty, and support.

But that does not mean we should not continue to strengthen the system or develop its strong points. The universal adoption of the system should continue to be a priority objective and a commitment for all of us. This is also true of the search for means of ensuring compliance with both the recommendations of the Commission and the judgments of the Court. The future of the system, its cohesiveness, integrity, and legitimacy, will depend mostly on the enforcement of its provisions. We should applaud the recent decisions by the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, and Barbados to recognize the competence of the Court and emphasize the importance of Peru’s return to that jurisdiction.

The question of victims’ access to the process has been receiving attention. Its importance was underscored again by our leaders in Quebec City. I want to highlight and applaud the recent adoption of new rules of procedure by the Commission and the Court, which allow victims to participate directly in the process, and to congratulate Costa Rica on its ambitious initiative of proposing to the General Assembly an optional protocol that would make significant headway in this area.

We should also move toward more ongoing operations for the Court and the Commission. I am convinced that the present arrangement asks far too much of the Commission members and the judges. It was therefore very wise for the Summit leaders to ask us to increase, at this session of the Assembly, the allocation of human and financial resources to the system. In addition, we should ensure that investigations are not duplicated by the Commission and the Court, strengthen the Secretariats’ capacity to prepare cases, and secure greater support from the national systems, all of which would surely allow the Court to hear a much greater number of cases.

We should also continue with the system’s work agenda to address the new and changing needs of North and South America and the Caribbean. The efforts to defend the rights of indigenous peoples, migrant workers, women, and children, the link between the environment and human rights, and the appointment of rapporteurs to step up protection in areas of particular importance, such as freedom of expression, demonstrate that the system is keeping up with the evolution of our societies.

In turning once again to the issue of democracy, a matter of concern to us today, reference must be made to the expansion of the concept of democracy over the past decade. I would like to highlight three aspects of this expansion or enhancement.

First of all, it is clear today that democracy is not simply a matter of free, fair, and transparent elections and the observance of human rights. It consists of the balance of power in government, transparency and ethics in government administration, citizen participation and accountability, the strengthening of local governments, the consolidation of political parties, access to information, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression.

Second, democracy is also the proper functioning of the state. Citizens see the shortcomings of the public institutions responsible for oversight, regulation, and monitoring or those providing basic public services as defects in the democratic system. Democratic institutions have suffered considerably, in particular in Latin America, as a result of inefficient governments weakened by the debt crisis and overwhelmed by fiscal constraints.

We should also bear in mind that economic performance today is much more closely linked to issues of democracy. Considerations such as freedom from social unrest, political stability, and respect for the rule of law are as important to growth as savings or investment.

Third, globalization has led to a worldwide awareness of the search for social justice and the defense of democracy and the rights of all citizens. Until recently it was an option in our countries to have an ill-functioning political system–an option that is no longer possible with globalization. As a result of the development of the media, the worldwide dissemination of news, and access to the Internet, we are all mobilized by problems of election fraud, the abuse of power, discrimination against women or indigenous people, or human rights violations anywhere in the world.

Citizens of the Hemisphere take offense when any government ignores its judicial system, brings undue pressure to bear, or fails to comply with a decision of a constitutional court. Likewise, citizens are expressing solidarity and joining forces to support others in the face of adversity, as we saw recently in the case of the earthquakes in El Salvador. Isolationism and indifference are no longer a part of our lives.

By the same token, the NGOs and civil society in large numbers are currently enjoying much more freedom of movement, their voices are being increasingly heard, and their outcries are resonating across the continents. Today we have more agents, more spokespersons, and more organizations pointing out the deficiencies of our institutions, discovering their limitations, and calling for their transformation.

There are benefits to be derived from this sudden, emerging strictness in judging our democratic institutions. Respect for the rights of every citizen of the Americas has become a matter of concern to all of us. The frontal attack on corruption, the pursuit of heightened transparency, and further accountability are inescapable.

While this broad vision of democracy expands the scope of our actions, it also puts us in a complex situation signifying that democracy ends up being responsible for everything the state, the government, or any public body does or fails to do or may have done or failed to do. It is blamed for the limitations of social or educational policy. It has to bear responsibility for the legacy of injustice and inequality of the former economic model and the consequences of structural adjustment, which in some of our countries has increased poverty as the social gap has widened. It has to assume responsibility as well for the aggravations and tensions of the intense economic, social, and political change of the last decade. More serious still, many citizens are starting to identify democracy with the contemporary problems threatening it, which strip it of legitimacy and corrode our societies: drug trafficking, terrorism, corruption, and violence.

These responsibilities were unsought but cannot be evaded. Today these problems are more prominent and widespread than before. The democratic system must be reflected in the betterment of political, economic, and social institutions; in an enhanced political system and better performance of state functions; in closer international cooperation to combat threats to democratic systems; and in a clear-cut improvement in the quality of life for everyone. It is our duty to ensure that these goals are achieved.

This is the enormous challenge which our governments must face every day. It is a responsibility borne by all of you and your governments, which in many countries does not correspond to the precarious resources available to you. And that is where our collective efforts are needed to complement the work of our governments without endangering the values embodied in our Charter.

It is these considerations that give significance to the draft Democratic Charter, which you are about to consider and which the Permanent Council has worked on with dedication and intensity since Quebec City. The draft incorporates many of these new issues and principles into the constitutional aspects of democracy and our political systems. I shall not mention the scope of its entire contents, which organizes and harmonizes many components of our Charter or are part of our General Assembly resolutions. It also covers recent as yet unregulated practices and certain standards that constitute important achievements.

For example, the draft shows significant progress with regard to resolution 1080 in terms of the increase in situations that can represent a collapse or alteration of democracy as well as the breadth of measures or actions which our political organs, the Permanent Council, and the meetings of foreign ministers, as well as the General Secretariat–can turn to provide their unshakable support for democracy pursuant to the principles of our Charter. It also gives significant weight to promotional aspects.

It should also be noted that countries may seek support when their institutional democratic political process or their legitimate exercise of power is at risk. Likewise, there is a provision whereby the Organization is to continue its diplomatic measures for restoring democracy in the affected member country.

When the Charter was drawn up, it was clearly borne in mind that, while we can say that in the past decade we successfully handled the crises endangering our democracies, we must also intensify our efforts to strengthen democracy and overcome the enormous challenges posed by a broader, more complex, and more costly agenda.

These considerations point to the importance of the mandates that we received in Quebec City to promote, in cooperation with other agencies of the inter-American system, actions to reform political systems. With regard to questions of state reform, the role of the multilateral banks, especially the IDB, has been fundamental. They have assumed these tasks with an integrity and dedication that underline their commitment to democracy. However, it is obvious that this reform continues to be a matter of the highest priority.

However, we should recognize that our inter-American system, apart from the IDB, is extremely small and chronically bereft of funds. We are short of resources, skills, comparable information, and a richer exchange of experience.

The Summit decisions demonstrate the resolve of our nations to have recourse to the inter-American system and strengthen it. We are hopeful that, as decided by our leaders in Quebec City, the Organization will be endowed with the financial and human resources needed to tackle new initiatives, assume new responsibilities, improve information systems, foster the exchange of experience, and draw closer to civil society.

We must equip the inter-American system to meet the dynamic hemispheric agenda set by the needs of these times of globalization and integration. The creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas will radically change the region’s economic process and will provide our citizens with new, far-reaching opportunities for progress. More importantly, unlike other entities such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), our system gives us the opportunity to work together on many issues, through simultaneous action on matters relating to the environment, labor issues, human rights, democracy, social policy, and physical infrastructure. Our mission is to strengthen it and to use it to the full. Only by doing so will we be able to bring together our goals of peace, security, justice, and prosperity.

Recent payments by Brazil and Argentina have solved the grave problems of liquidity that we were facing and, for the first time in more than a decade, they have enabled us to establish a Reserve Subfund. Unfortunately this has not resolved the structural problems of our budget, the solution of which will require a permanent increase in our funding. This does not mean, however, that we are going to abandon the drastic austerity policies that we have been following or our efforts–which I believe should be stepped up–to move on toward the new priorities and to leave behind programs, activities, and structures associated with priorities and problems of the past. Neither does it preclude implementation of many of the Summit’s mandates in the shape of projects that simply entail expenditure during their execution.

Distinguished Ministers:

We have already seen how the OAS meets new challenges. When tensions and disputes arise along our borders, such as happened between Honduras and Nicaragua or between Guatemala and Belize, the Organization’s actions have been a force for mediation and facilitation, with the effective involvement of Assistant Secretary General Einaudi. We have thus helped soothe tensions, develop instruments for trust, and establish dispute-solving mechanisms acceptable to the parties involved. We have also been able to demonstrate our suitability, neutrality, and effectiveness in supporting the parties in the search for peaceful solutions to their differences. In this undertaking I must express thanks for their support to those member states and observer countries that have contributed to the subaccounts of the Fund for Peace set up for these tasks.

We have also seen it in the successful launch of the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism for drug control policies. A new spirit of cooperation and multilateralism for facing up to this challenge has been created.

With regard to anticorruption efforts, tomorrow the States Parties to the Convention will formally sign the document drawn up at the conference held in Buenos Aires in early May, creating a follow-up mechanism for enforcement of the Convention.

Our new Agency for Cooperation will help us mobilize increased external resources. The Agency can work with greater agility and has broader powers for establishing cooperation agreements, and its Director has used this to ensure better use of the resources that already exist within other bodies and institutions, public and private alike. We are all awaiting prompt access to these resources by some countries in order demonstrate the viability and usefulness of these new possibilities.

Mr. President, Ministers:

The hemispheric summits are now, without a doubt, the most powerful instrument for regional integration and the chief source for the political mandates that guide our efforts in these times of growing interdependence. The trust placed in us by the Heads of State and Government in Quebec City will not be betrayed. The OAS assumes, with pride and confidence, the challenge of rising to meet our governments’ demands, of fully and efficiently discharging its duties as the technical secretariat and institutional memory of the summits process and of the sectoral meetings of ministers, which are an essential tool in carrying out the tasks ordered by the Summit.

The Office of Summit Follow-Up needs to be strengthened, as does the Fund set up for this purpose. In this way we will be able to meet the goal of providing all our secretarial and logistic assistance and support to the SIRG, to its Executive Council, and to the Special Committee on Summits Management.

The Organization will mobilize the best of its resources to meet the 30-plus direct mandates it was given, to facilitate and improve coordinated action by all the bodies of the inter-American system, to support our 34 member states in pursuing the ambitious and visionary agenda that our governments set for their people.

We have drawn up, for your information and consideration, a document that will provide you with an idea of how we envisage complying with those mandates, the specific actions we hope to pursue to achieve that compliance, and a notion of the cost.

We also want to propose that this document serves as the basis for a system to provide information and to follow-up on the goals set, in accordance with the mandates and the progress made by each of the system’s institutions. This will allow us improved coordination and complementarity among the international organizations and subregional development banks with which, over recent days, we have reached agreements for providing a more orderly and vigorous response to our governments’ mandates. Similarly, we will work with civil society to facilitate access to information and exchanges with government representatives.

Distinguished Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The year that has gone by since the last meeting of the General Assembly in Windsor has been one of renewal, dynamism, and hope. The obstacles and challenges facing our societies are difficult and complex, but the determination of our governments and citizens is firm and clear. We embark on this road with confidence, driven by our faith and our decision to work toward a future of peace, democracy, social justice, freedom, and prosperity for all the citizens of the Americas.

Thank you very much.