Media Center



June 4, 2000 - Windsor, Ontario

Our presence here in Windsor, Ontario, in the year 2000, is of enormous significance. When Joe Clark, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, signed the Charter of the OAS more than a decade ago, he remarked that with that decision, Canada had become more than just an Organization member; it had entered into a partnership with the rest of the Hemisphere. He also said “For too long Canadians have seen this Hemisphere as our house; it is now time to make it our home.” How right he was. These last 10 years have seen Canada’s influence and presence in the affairs of our Hemisphere grow to the point that it is now heading up the summit process that our heads of state and of government have undertaken, and is playing host to the most important hemispheric meetings. It is the most zealous proponent of the power of partnership to deal with the problems of the Hemisphere, and is convinced of the enormous opportunities opening up in this new millennium. Canada’s enthusiasm has been particularly strong during the government of Prime Minister Chrétien and Minister of Foreign Affairs Axworthy. Ambassador Peter Boehm, Canada’s Permanent Representative to the OAS, has ably articulated that policy with professionalism, dedication, and efficacy.  
The year that has passed since the General Assembly’s session in Guatemala City has been, as the foreign ministers sensed it would be, a year of trials, threats, and stumbling blocks for democracy in the Americas.  
Just two weeks ago in Paraguay, the constitutional government successfully thwarted an abortive attempt at a military coup. It did so with the support of a swift international response led by the countries of Mercosur, to which the OAS also promptly contributed. Elsewhere, when the lawful institutions of government were in peril in Ecuador, the strong spirit of democracy of the Ecuadorian people and their leaders and the resolute and timely reaction of the Hemisphere and our Permanent Council withstood the challenge peaceably, thereby preserving the institutions of democratic government.
With its numerous electoral observation missions, the OAS is increasingly contributing to the consolidation and defense of democracy, at the invitation of the countries involved. Our job is to ensure the integrity, impartiality, and reliability of electoral processes, so they promote citizen participation, prevent irregularities, and provide the guarantees necessary for every citizen to express his or her will freely and produce equity, confidence, legitimacy, and transparency for all parties to the political process.
The case of Peru merits special mention. There our mission had to commence its work in an atmosphere of considerable distrust of the electoral authorities and of the government itself arising out of a lack of due checks and balances among the different branches of government throughout the past decade. According to our mission’s report, which is available for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs to consider at this assembly, although there is no evidence of fraud, there were irregularities, defects, inconsistencies, and inequities in both rounds of elections, which made it difficult for our mission to testify that conditions were such that the elections could be described as free, fair, or transparent, according to our own criteria or by international standards.  
Then, too, unresolved border issues flared up and roused the kind of tension that we had all hoped time and democratic practices would have put behind us. The General Secretariat, under instructions from and by mandate of the Permanent Council, has acted as the Charter dictates, in strict observance of the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. Its presence, mediation, or facilitating role in the cases between Nicaragua and Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and Guatemala and Belize have thus served to ease tensions and have been instrumental in devising procedures to resolve differences.
The OAS was quick to act in all these situations and demonstrated its capability, neutrality, and effectiveness at helping to strengthen peace and democracy.
As for the difficulties facing democracy in the Americas, quite apart from the shortcomings that many find in some of our political systems, we have to face the fact that democracy can no longer be considered an absolute certainty. So many problems are still unresolved and so much remains to be done. Many have become somewhat skeptical and disenchanted because democracy is not living up to citizens’ expectations; democratic institutions have neither power nor legitimacy because of their inability to resolve social problems, given the limited progress in the fight against poverty and the poor distribution of income; and because they detect signs of authoritarianism, they observe that checks and balances among the branches or government are not working properly or that not enough citizen participation is being achieved.  
Despite more economic stabil ity, lower inflation, and smaller fiscal deficits, in most of our countries institutions are still weak, their policies highly questionable, and their means limited. They are moving backwards, laboring under the burden of the debt crisis and market reforms.
The enormous failures on the part of states to honor their obligations are weakening Latin America’s democratic institutions and their credibility. In Latin America, only a strong, effective state that commands respect can ensure the efficacy of our democracy. What we require is a democratic state that respects and guarantees everyone’s rights and protects the most vulnerable among us, a state that reinforces its oversight, regulatory, and control functions; its educational and health functions; and its functions in administering justice, enforcing the law, and ensuring security. Ours must be a state that can contend with and conquer corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism. And we have to contend with these challenges without increasing the size of the state to the point that it stifles private initiative.  
These are difficult tasks for which there are no easy answers. Collective solutions have been worked out in the OAS to help to resolve some of these complex problems, thereby fulfilling its role as a forum of political dialogue and cooperation. The yardstick by which to examine and measure the relevance and timeliness of our actions must be the extent to which those actions contribute to that objective of dialogue and cooperation.
We are fortifying the inter-American human rights system, thanks in part to the work of the ad hoc group that the foreign ministers created. That group has singled out a number of priority areas: promotion of human rights, the universality of the system, observance of its decisions, and its financing. The Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs has also been instrumental in this effort to strengthen the human rights system and has put forward a number of recommendations for the states, the Commission, and the Court to consider.
The inter-American system is also determined to expand its protection to include other rights. To promote the rights of indigenous peoples with the eventual adoption of an inter-American declaration, a meeting of experts was held with Native American representatives in attendance. To further women’s rights and gender equality, a meeting was convened of ministers and high-ranking government officials in charge of these matters. The findings and contributions from these meetings will provide input for the programs and decisions of the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.  
We are also making headway on a more proactive policy to defend freedom of the press and freedom of expression through the work of the rapporteur with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and to defend and promote the rights of children, especially during armed conflicts, and the rights of migrant workers and their families.
Seminars are being held under the Organization’s umbrella to find ways to enlist greater civic participation. We strengthened the role that civil society organizations play within the OAS, to which end the Permanent Council approved guidelines that regulate and foster that kind of involvement in our activities.  
Legislative representatives from across the Hemisphere gathered for the first time, all thanks to a Canadian initiative.
The enormous opportunities afforded by the Internet, which open up new opportunities for citizen participation and involvement, have facilitated all these activities. It has also been instrumental in allaying any sense of alienation citizens might feel vis-à-vis the political systems and, for the OAS, is a means to provide everyone with more complete, more accessible, more reliable information systems.
As we have already noted, a vigorous democracy requires a strong, more responsible, efficient and transparent state. Perhaps the most immediate challenge is the devastating effects of corruption. As the Working Group on Probity and Public Ethics indicated, a reasonable time period must be set for all states to sign and ratify the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and to establish monitoring mechanisms for the inter-American program to fight corruption and ensure that the private sector undertakes its own commitment.
By a decision of the Ministers of Justice we established the Justice Studies Center for the Americas and have made progress in determining specific measures in the area of cybercrime, prison and jail policy, and access to the courts.
Thanks to the work of the Ministers of Labor, we are making headway with projects to increase employment, build up labor institutions, and strengthen collective bargaining. In general, these projects recognize the need to ease labor markets, but also promote the creation of instruments to protect the worker, all pursuant to the ratification of and compliance with the ILO conventions.
These measures reveal how we in the Americas have set in motion a process of integration and free trade that fits into the all-encompassing vision that the Summits of the Americas have of the inter-American system of institutions with a wide range of initiatives, connected through strong synergy and interdependence. This will enable us to be creative and to devise and conduct collective measures on a wide range of social, human rights, labor, and environmental issues, possibilities not available with the WTO and other strictly trade-related forums.
In this way, intelligent strategies can be implemented for the insertion of the countries of the Americas into the world economy, reducing vulnerability to external disturbances, mitigating their impact, ensuring that the smallest economies and those with the lowest per capita income benefit from trade negotiations, and adopting the social measures and policies necessary to counteract some of the undesirable effects of globalization and to sustain a constant and free exchange with all sectors of society.
In the area of trade, we are confident that the negotiation groups will continue their work with the instructions they received from the ministers in Toronto and will make headway on what the first draft of the FTAA Agreement should look like, in time for the ministerial meeting in Argentina.
These issues also tie in with the expansion of partnership for development. We are all hoping that with the launch of the new Agency for Cooperation and Development, we will be better able to marshal additional external resources and to focus the assistance on those countries most in need and where the assistance is most relevant. This Secretariat would like once again to call attention to its proposal that more countries should become net donors of resources. In so doing we would magnify the sense of hemispheric partnership in these efforts and give the OAS as a whole greater political equilibrium.
The Director of the Agency now has more clearcut mandates and broader authority to negotiate cooperation agreements with member countries or permanent observers and to promote the best use of the resources that other international, regional and national organizations and agencies already have. It is a matter of adapting to the recent trend, which has revenues from member states’ assessed quotas on the decline and the specific funds associated with actual projects or activities carried out by the OAS on the rise. We look to the Agency to provide fresh ideas and renewed momentum that, as the Director has proposed, modernize the organizational structure, as well as the methods for deciding on, financing, and executing projects.  
This effort should enable us to work more closely with other institutions, especially the IDB, with which we have worked hard to advance the hemispheric agenda based on the mandates received from our chief executives. Mr. Enrique Iglesias, who is with us today, has made a vital contribution in this regard and has been pivotal to the development of a more modern hemispheric agenda with a more tightly woven mesh of political, economic, social, environmental, and cultural threads.
As instructed by the General Assembly, we have set in motion the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction, the main forum for inter-American institutions to ponder and discuss strategies and recommendations that will help reduce the impact of natural disasters and the human and social toll they take.
To complement these measures, we might consider the possibility of a meeting of ministers of the environment sometime in the year 2001. There, we could identify the progress made since the Santa Cruz Summit, pinpoint some of the initiatives, find financial and technical resources, and identify national and international institutions that would conduct them.
The Council’s Committee on Hemispheric Security has made progress in reinvigorating the agenda for the special conference called for by our heads of state in Santiago. The Consultative Committee set up under the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials held its first meeting. Nineteen states signed and Canada ratified the Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions. We are moving forward with the mine clearing in Central America and have expanded the program into Ecuador and Peru. We are working on carrying out the work plan that arose out of the first meeting of the Permanent Committee against Terrorism. By mutual agreement with the IDB and PAHO we are hard at work identifying the elements of what might eventually become a Hemisphere-wide campaign against violence and crime.  
The most significant development in this area is the progress that CICAD has made toward establishing the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism to assess drug policies. With this, we hope to forge a new spirit of cooperation within the Hemisphere, one that will put behind us an era in which the drug issue was the source of so much recrimination, tension, and mistrust among the states. The mechanism is built upon principles of shared responsibility, respect for the sovereignty and jurisdiction of states, equality, and reciprocity. This unique, objective governmental evaluation is a comprehensive, coordinated, and balanced means to track the individual and collective processes, to strengthen hemispheric cooperation, to learn from the experience of others, to fine tune responses and policies, and to devise joint initiatives.
The results of this initial evaluation exercise, its even-handedness, its transparency, and the pertinence of its recommendations will be open to public scrutiny and become signposts by which to steer the policies and discussions on these issues in the future. Although this is fundamentally a technical exercise, it has enormous political implications.
The Government of Canada has been advocating a new concept: that of human security, where the individual will become the key reference point for analysis of security problems. It is an ambitious proposal that, on the hemispheric scale, is consistent with our hemispheric agenda and proposes to modernize and develop the OAS response capability and its capacity to propose—with this new emphasis--policy options to the problems confronting our societies, and it is feasible today given the way in which we have moved closer to a hemispheric community of values and principles.  
Ministers of Foreign Affairs:
The Summits of the Heads of State and of Government have charted new courses and promoted fresh initiatives and the OAS has become the engine, forum, and executing agency for those mandates. There is no room, however, for complacency. The work we are doing is on a very limited scale. To do more, we need an OAS endowed not only with stronger mandates but also with increased resources and greater confidence from you and our peoples.
The finances of the Regular Fund are in a critical situation. Unless corrective measures are taken, this may severely restrict the capacity of the Organization to fulfill the tasks we have entrusted to it.
The problem stems from the failure to make quota payments on time, especially those of the larger contributors; from the freezing in nominal terms of our revenue during the past five years; from the drop in rental and financial income; and from executing numerous new mandates, which has brought enormous pressure to bear on our budget.
Action has to be taken to deal with this crisis. For example, this is the first time ever that the activities of human rights institutions have been seriously curtailed due to budget restrictions.
To tackle this problem with all the seriousness and urgency it merits and to achieve a healthy financial structure, three decisions should be taken: that countries in arrears agree upon a payment plan that can be honored and that enables the Organization to plan its income flow realistically, that it be compensated as of next year for inflation, and that the states authorize their permanent representatives to make the necessary decisions to allow us to move on to new priorities and relinquish certain programs, activities, and structures relating to past priorities.
I cannot close my remarks without first saluting and thanking Ambassador Christopher Thomas for all these years of tireless dedication as Assistant Secretary General. With his intellect, his natural gift for diplomacy, and his absolute commitment to the progress of the Americas, he was able to fulfill his difficult functions with success and received well-deserved recognition and gratitude from the member states.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Having reviewed past events, th e actions our countries undertook this past year and the work that lies ahead, I would like to conclude by pointing out that there is no longer any room for simplistic formulas for safeguarding democracy or discovering the path to sustainable development. We can no longer afford to ignore political phenomena or embrace that kind of blind faith in the market that would render the state superfluous. Equally passé is the notion that if certain economic objectives are achieved, our societies will have arrived. We have discovered that accomplishing those objectives merely lays the groundwork for achieving the infinitely more important social objectives.
It is clear, then, that we embark upon this new century with a fair amount of skepticism and some disillusionment, and with some of our young democracies weaker. We are also conscious of the need to carry certain economic reforms even further, to work for equality, to move toward an educational system suitable for globalization, all with a view to ending poverty.
But the resources that can be put toward these undertakings are limited. More research is needed, as is a lively exchange of experiences. A much broader sector of each nation’s public must become involved if we are to effectively strengthen political and social institutions.  
This teaches us that it is not just by strengthening the political role of the OAS that we are going to defend and strengthen democracy. Hemispheric political dialogue must be given a more important and meaningful role. This implies more ambitious initiatives; making more resources available; enriching information centers; broadening exchanges; and making our universities, centers of learning, and civil society organizations part of our concerted effort. This also means that governments, ministries of foreign affairs, sectoral ministries, and many other public institutions must act in order to make headway with the vigorous hemispheric agenda arising out of the needs of these times of integration and globalization and out of the mandates conferred upon us by our heads of state. That is perhaps the great challenge for the Quebec Summit.
A promising future awaits the peoples of the Americas, their governments, and institutions in this new century. The challenges and problems we have encountered cannot dampen the spirit of the more than 700 million people of this Hemisphere nor break their determination to move forward. We have an historic opportunity to shape and build a more prosperous, democratic, and just common destiny. I invite you to join our efforts to seize that opportunity and make it a reality.