Media Center



April 17, 2001 - Washington, DC

President Bush, it is a pleasure for me to welcome you to this House of the Americas only a few weeks after your inauguration and a few short days before the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada.

During your presidential campaign, you talked about strengthening relations between the United States and the countries south of the Rio Grande. In the weeks since you took office, you have sent clear signals that you stand by your campaign commitment and that fomenting good relations is indeed a priority for your administration. You have personally reached out to hemispheric leaders, proposing new policies and fostering a climate of close cooperation. In this spirit, your administration has responded quickly and effectively to the earthquakes which struck El Salvador earlier this year and to Colombia's enormous challenges.

We at the Organization of American States are encouraged by your strong support for the Free Trade Area of the Americas. This trade pact will open new doors of opportunity for the people of this hemisphere, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

Mr. President, with the end of the Cold War, we have left behind an era of pessimism, mistrust and political confrontation. We have built a community of common values, visions and aspirations. The result has been a new political reality and a healthier balance in the relationship among Latin America and the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. This relationship has grown and deepened in recent years -- and the OAS has become the center for political dialogue in this hemisphere, the forum where we can come together to confront our common problems and challenges.

Defending and promoting democracy has become our Organization’s guiding principle. We have rapidly and effectively responded to attempts to alter the constitutional order in member countries. The Organization’s electoral observation missions have helped to ensure the integrity, objectivity and reliability of the electoral process in many of our member states. These missions have contributed to create a climate of trust, legitimacy, transparency and citizen participation. The United States has been a strong ally in these endeavors.

Nevertheless, we cannot claim that democracy is strong everywhere. In many of our young democracies, our political institutions are weak, and citizens are feeling disenchantment, skepticism and diminished hope for the future. They need to see that democracy makes their lives better. It is our collective responsibility to help make this happen.

With the effective work of the Inter-American System we have also made considerable progress on human rights. We are adopting a new generation of rights to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens, including children, women, migrant workers, indigenous peoples and families. We have also defended freedom of expression and freedom of the press. At the same time, we are forging a new relationship with civil society.

The OAS has worked to confront the enemies of democracy: drug trafficking, corruption, violence, insecurity and extreme poverty. The Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism is a new tool that measures the progress of each country -- and the entire region -- in the fight against illegal drugs. This instrument is already leading to greater cooperation to address this problem in a way that respects the principles of the OAS Charter. We have moved forward on this issue by acknowledging that all nations share responsibility for the drug problem and have a common interest in working together.

We have also made significant progress in bringing about peaceful solutions to disputes between states. In this post-Cold War era, we are reframing security issues to take into account the concerns of all of our countries and sub-regions.

Mr. President, the citizens of the Americas have made it clear what they want: peace and democracy; equality, justice and freedom; preservation of the environment; growth and prosperity. We will respond to those demands.