Media Center



February 22, 2000 - Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mr. President of the University of New Mexico, Dr. Bill Gordon,
Mr. Vice-president of the Regents Board, Dr. David Archuleta,
Members of the University’s Regents Board,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honor for me to be at the University of New Mexico this morning. Albuquerque’s sky does in fact cast a unique, intense light with that magical effect of the 'Land of Enchantment.'

On behalf of the Organization of American States and my family I thank you for the flattering honor you have bestowed on me today.

The University of New Mexico’s Medal fills me with joy and encourages me to continue envisioning a new and optimistic future for the Americas; a future filled with equality and solidarity, with justice and freedom, with more opportunities for the new generations of Americans.

Today, a dream comes true for me, a dream I first had as a student in California when the United States breathed an air of revolution. A young people’s revolution that demanded a society without discrimination, with more tolerance, and more pluralism. That generation, now called the Baby Boomers, sought out New Mexico for its open spirit and undeniable creativity.

New Mexico and its new culture of Hispanic, Native-American and Anglo-American heritages is a state whose singular and wonderful lifestyle is reflected in the joviality of its people, its cuisine, its dress, and its exceptional art.

Mr. President, Members of the Board of Regents, dear friends:

Allow me to take a moment to share my ideas about the future of the Americas and how I think we might move forward in the construction of a more democratic and more prosperous Latin America and the Caribbean. The regional political scene changed, significantly, when the Cold War came to an end. Until that time military dictatorships were supported and protected, human rights were violated --all for the sake of having governments willing to battle communist ideas, using all means at their disposal.

The most important change is, then, how we have buried decades of authoritarianism, of confrontational rhetoric and of mistrust. We have moved away from gaping differences and disagreements and now share a set of common political, economic and social values that unite us together in a common destiny.

Our hemisphere has experienced a new dawn. The Americas have accepted a historical responsibility of defending democracy, pluralism, participation and respect for one another’s ideas. We have learned the joy of peace and we are guided by reason, the rule of law, and the popular will.

In this new century we have to face a great challenge: understanding globalization and our increasing interdependence. This interdependence affects the destinies of our citizens as well as our nations. It transcends borders, social classes, religion and race. In our hemisphere, despite vast differences in size, wealth and power, societies across the continent share a number of problems, challenges and hopes.

The fate of the countries of the Americas is then intertwined. We are tied to one another, for better or for worse, through economic and political ups and downs, dictated by geography, history, culture and commerce. We, in the Americas, know for certain that most issues on the domestic agenda may also have an international dimension. Stable and lasting solutions cannot be achieved separately. Progress cannot be gained at the expense of one’s neighbor’s dreams and aspirations.

It is in this context that the Organization of American States has played a critical role mobilizing all the energies and collective will of our peoples to face challenges, threats and problems, to reach common strategies for development and cooperation, to agree upon innovative and collective solutions. Ours is the oldest multilateral organization in the world, and our member states have decided that it is the legitimate forum to discuss and decide over all the aspects of our development and democratic ideals.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In the last decade the defense and strengthening of democracy became our principal objective. The OAS has therefore cultivated a philosophy of solidarity with democracy. Our goal is to thwart any attempt by any branch of government to destroy another, or to protect against a militarist or other kind of threat, regardless of name or ideology, that would seek to disrupt the democratic process in one of our countries.

The OAS has also built up experience and expertise in protecting democracy through missions to observe and ensure fair, clean and transparent elections; in protecting human rights and preserving public freedoms; and in post-conflict measures in countries that have experienced internal strife. We have developed pioneering work in mine-clearing predating the vigorous effort made by civil society to push for the Ottawa Convention.

From Canada to Argentina, a central item on every country’s order of business is the quest for ways to strengthen, broaden and modernize democratic processes. We are all striving toward these objectives through mechanisms of participation, decentralization, improved accountability mechanisms and effective ways of involving all citizens in the fundamental, day-to-day decisions that affect their quality of life. We are advancing the search for greater balance and respect among the civil society voices and the State.

We are strengthening our institutions: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San Jose, Costa Rica, and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, based in Washington DC. We are dedicated to assuring access to transparent and efficient justice systems for our people. They continue to stand as a beacon to ward off the darker days of our flirtations with dictatorships and a disparagement of the rule of law. It represents the best of the values we share in the Americas.

We are also making efforts to strengthen the freedom of expression at the hemispheric level to protect the rights of women, children, ethnic minorities, and migrant populations; to promote respect for the basic rights of workers and their families; and to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and eliminate all forms of discrimination against them.

To combat corruption, one of the greatest threats to democracy, we agreed upon an Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which has established a useful framework of judicial cooperation. Its provisions have become a model for similar instruments elsewhere in the world.

Mr. President:

Our States are also threatened by growing violence, an ever increasing level of crime and delinquency, by the trafficking of narcotics and arms, money laundering, and terrorism. For these problems there are no easy or immediate solutions but the collective actions we are taking together with more cooperation, with the exchange of information and with coordinated intelligence actions will help us more effectively face these challenges.

We are strengthening the judiciary system in the region, its independence, and judicial cooperation mechanisms. Through justice ministers we are adopting new coordinated strategies to fight new crimes and improve the quality, accessibility, and efficiency of justice for all citizens.

We have also advanced in strengthening the pillars of our collective security. We have been able to make positive advances in what we call confidence and security building measures. These help us to preserve the region’s harmony through collaboration of our region's militaries. We are, also, looking for peaceful resolution of our nations’ differences. We are helping to curb the risk of an arms race in the Hemisphere. We are confronting terrorism that is threatening the stability of our democratic institutions.

As we mentioned, drug trafficking has jeopardized state security, democracy and the health of our people. In the past 25 years, it has become a steady source of violence, corruption, destruction, and damage to entire generations. Drug trafficking has also interfered with relations between governments of the region. Regrettably, our Hemisphere has been at the heart of these difficult efforts to combat drug trafficking. It has generated tension, misgivings, and mutual recrimination.

Fortunately, real progress has been made regarding cooperation in this area; we adopted a Hemispheric Strategy against this scourge. We are working together on trust and cooperation with the establishment of a multilateral evaluation mechanism for drug control policies.

New Mexican Friends:

Over the past five years, governments in the Americas have been laying the foundations for the creation of the FTAA -- which aims to create an economic space, free of barriers to trade and investment, by 2005. This is the most ambitious enterprise our hemisphere has ever tried, and we are moving ahead with determination and political will.

We also know that integration cannot be a purely economic process. Integration is not only a matter of trade but also one of enormous social and political implications. We need to hold the political support of governments, congresses, and the public throughout the Americas. We know that integration has to benefit the small economies and those with lower per capita incomes. We have to support countries that need to meet the immense demands placed on their economies and societies by globalization and the information revolution.

We have a clear understanding that people are now demanding increased results in the battle against poverty, that they want a fairer distribution of income, higher real wages for workers, lower unemployment rates, and an educational system that can cope with the requirements of an ever more globalized society.

Recently we have had several crises coming out of the volatility of capitals, the most dangerous of the traits of globalization. But it is also clear that we have emerged from each crisis strengthened, better prepared, with better instruments, and with sounder institutions. No doubt we are today more aware of our vulnerabilities and we take a more realistic and more mature approach in assessing our possibilities and the virtues and shortcomings of our economic structures.

The other important task facing us is to make sure that the financial crisis does not derail the very positive results we have achieved over the past decade in liberalizing and integrating our economies.

Dear friends:

The common denominator in our hemisphere other than geography, cultural richness, and literature, is inequality. Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean sometimes surpasses our own ability to imagine misery. The eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequality are at the forefront of the concerns of all our countries. It is unacceptable and even paradoxical that a region like ours--one so well endowed with human and natural resources-- would continue to relegate so many of its people to a state of poverty and social exclusion.

To combat poverty we need to stimulate medium and small businesses to reach high levels of productivity and better salaries. We need to invest more in science and technology through a shared strategy among governments, private businesses and our educational institutions.

We also have to face the serious problem of environmental degradation and lack of public services. We are working hard in advancing the principles of sustainable development and ecological awareness. There is just one world and that we all depend on its conservation and on the environmental balance that human beings achieve is a precise reflection of our interdependence.

But by far the most important of our tasks is to improve our education. Ours in Latin America has not met the challenge of new development approaches focused on international economic competition, or the political, economic, scientific, technological, social, cultural, and ethical demands of the 1990s. We are worried of the radical divide between our educational system and our need for political and economic change, and our social development. We are facing the poor quality of public education, its declining role in promoting social mobility, the weakness of technical vocational training at the secondary level, and the proliferation of overextended university systems with numerous low-quality institutions.

This is why, in Santiago de Chile, Presidents called education the key to progress. In that forum they not only agreed to adopt similar policies and objectives to improve the quality, coverage, and relevance of education in each of the countries but also decided to call for a joint, cooperative plan of action for education.

The task to which we must commit fully must be centered around achieving better quality education, greater coverage, more efficient use of education resources, more training, better salaries and working conditions for our teachers, better access to teaching materials, and better evaluation standards. For the Americas, in education lies hope.

Mr. President:

The University of New Mexico is a mobilizer of resources, an engine of inter-American ideas. We at the OAS are proud of our work with (ISTEC) and Ramiro Jordán, with the Latin and Iberoamerican Institute and Gil Merkx, and Theo Crevenna who at the OAS was at the forefront of the hemisphere’s labor issues. At The OAS I want to thank Leonel Zúñiga, and Carlos Paldao, executives of our technical cooperation department.

Mr. President and distinguished participants:

One can see the increasing number of topics reflecting the growing interdependence of our countries and the integration process. These reflect an inescapable fact of a variety of technological, economic, political, social, and natural factors but it is also made of our collective will to integrate our markets, and face the enormous challenges and the promise of even greater opportunities. The OAS and the University of New Mexico are to take them to the benefit of all American people.

I would like to thank you once again for this recognition with which you honor me today. To close I want to mention a person who fought to transform this university into a significant force in Inter-American affairs, Dr. Arturo Ortega, who was a member of this University’s Board of Regents. His work has set a formidable example to the rest of us. It is my profound wish to see that it might all be driven, like he was, by the ideals of development, agreement, peace and co-existence among our brothers and sisters from the North, South, Central and Caribbean Americas.

Thank you very much