Media Center



February 24, 2000 - Washington, DC

The information age is now in full flight and is sweeping our world in astonishing ways that would have been hard to imagine twenty years ago. So immense are the possibilities the communications revolution has opened up.

The Internet and its attendant technologies are so rapidly redefining almost everything about how the world operates these days. In fact, in a sense, it can be argued that those who fail to understand and apply this technology risk being left behind as technological progress continues to wield its overwhelming force.

That is why we at the Organization of American States are proud to be a partner in this important EDSAT-Americas Project which we are here to discuss this morning. From its very beginning, we were able to appreciate its vast potential to bring the hemisphere's people together in one noble pursuit--that of education.

What EDSAT Americas proposes to establish is a mechanism that subscriber countries would run in conjunction with member organizations, to operate and manage a satellite and land-based infrastructure linking up education and health care institutions. It should not be too difficult to see how, once in place, this system could spread its usefulness to other key sectors in which people could use ready access to kind of information, research and interaction that would be afforded on such an infrastructure. I believe people all across the Americas stand to benefit tremendously.

By way of background:

The EDSAT Americas project grew out of an initiative put before a Global Conference on Distance-Education in 1996 and since then, the planning has been working energetically to put substance to the endeavor.

At the moment, ten countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are involved in the planning team that has been writing the rules and devising the structure they are proposing for the non-governmental organization that is to be formed to operate the satellite-based system the initiative will require.

Corporate interests such as Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications, BP Amoco, Psaras Fund (formerly The Learning Channel) also appreciate the tremendous benefit this initiative can offer and are therefore very much involved at this planning stage.

The growth of distance-education has taught us a lot: every day, all over the world, more and more universities and higher education institutions are catching the vision of the future and are fast breaking out of the hallowed walls into their "virtual" destiny--using "online" technologies which we see so radically redefining the very concept of Athe classroom.

And here we must underline the fact that when the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Hemisphere ended their Second Summit of the Americas in Chile nearly two years ago, they outlined a clear mandate in the Plan of Action in which Education and Training would play a pivotal role in a bold strategy to take our nations forward with larger segments of our populations reaping the benefits of development. They insisted that unless the vast majority of the hemisphere's population has access to education, a better life would remain an illusive dream.

Development, in whatever terms we define it, is central to our hemispheric mission. And to make development a reality for the vast majority of our population, a radical effort has to be engaged so that modern technology will help make our people active shareholders in their own present and future--our common destiny.

No serious discussion relating to democracy, economic social and political development can ignore how vital a role technology plays in those realms, and the indications are that technology will command an even greater role in our future.

As we see it, this EDSAT Americas project represents a significant step towards implementing the goal of equipping all children of the Americas with basic quality education by the year 2010.

There is no question that education holds the key to real development. The initiative of EDSAT Americas is a rare opportunity in which we have more than a third of our countries joining together to harmonize their resources, to aggregate their economic strengths, and lessen the uneven burdens of education and technology costs to small countries. EDSAT Americas in other words can, for the first time, "even the playing field" for our small and large countries to bring the education goals of the Summit into reality for all children.

The OAS has a critical part to play in helping the member states attain that objective.

In fact, the Third Summit of the Americas, being not too far away, demands that we take some immediate steps so that by the time the Summit comes around in Canada next year, we can provide tangible evidence of action to back up the commitments made concerning the plan of action from the last Summit.

The OAS is reiterating its support for this endeavor as the technical planning team is getting ready to take the project another step further. We are also very pleased at the endorsement that coming from a number of government representatives, some of who are here this morning.

The Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank and several other international institutions had joined with the OAS committing themselves to the Education Plan of Action from the Second Summit and this is an opportune moment to consider what real steps have so far been taken in that direction.

Last April, this EDSAT Americas technical planning team got together in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and concluded their first planning session with an important framework on which to move the project forward. I can attest to the personal commitment and leadership of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago to this initiative and his hard work has been much of the strength behind our efforts.

EDSAT Americas is worthy of all the support it can get--from corporate and other sponsors including financial agencies--to speed up its full implementation.

A lot still remains to be done to get the venture to a point of readiness for take-off, and I encourage the media to enlist in this effort. You can play an important role in, among other things, helping to raise awareness about the merits of an effort that will be designed to raise the living standards of our peoples across the Hemisphere.

The inventiveness behind EDSAT Americas augurs well for the future and we must acknowledge the effort put in by many individuals, institutions and governments, including Trinidad and Tobago government and corporate sponsors such as Lockheed Martin.

Of course, the NETO-EDSAT agency must be commended for its groundbreaking work. I wish to acknowledge especially former Congressman John Buchanan and Ms. Shelley Weinstein, who have brought together some of the finest minds on the initiative.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ambassador Arneaud of Trinidad and Tobago and members of the NETO-EDSAT team will be available to answer some of the technical questions pertaining to the proposed operation of this mechanism.

Thank you.