Media Center



September 15, 1999 - Washington, DC

It is deeply gratifying for me to be here today, with my wife and children, among so many friends and colleagues from our great American family. Let me make particular note of the presence of the Foreign Minister of Colombia, Guillermo Fernandez de Soto, who is heading the delegation of my country. My greetings as well to all the ministers and heads of delegation who are with us today, and to Ambassador Christopher Thomas, who has accompanied me throughout this journey. My thanks to the Chairman of the Permanent Council, Sir Arlington Butler, for his kind words and for the clarity with which he has sketched out the challenges facing us in the years to come. In the midst of these celebrations, our thoughts must also be with his country, the Bahamas, which so recently felt the implacable fury of nature.

Today, as we meet in this Hall of the Americas, graced by the presence of so many distinguished visitors, to inaugurate my second term as Secretary General of the OAS, it is a fitting occasion to look back over the road that we have traveled, to take stock of the present and to re-examine our role in the concert of nations. But above all, to look forward to the future and to the world that we hope to build. And against that horizon, to think about our dreams, our ideals, our values, and the conviction that we have a common destiny.

Some months ago, during our 50th anniversary celebrations, we were again reminded that the creation of the OAS was the first attempt to construct a hemispheric union that was based on principles rather than on economic or strategic interests. Unfortunately, the Cold War intervened and fear became the common denominator of our union. And now, just as the clock of history has been speeded up, so must we quicken our steps and move forward on an agenda to catch up with new realities, new problems, and the new paths that our governments have laid out for us.

During these years we have also seen a greater feeling of community among our peoples. Our cultural, historical, and geographic ties have become ever stronger, fortified by our certainty in our common destiny. Differences of size, wealth, or power have faded into the background in the face of the enormous political will to share our hemisphere's challenges and problems, but also its goals and dreams.

In this light we have also learned that our prosperity and growth do not follow a straight line, that the road is full of hurdles, that there are no magic or simplistic solutions, and that the path of globalization has enormous opportunities, but also many pitfalls and perils. But those obstacles are just that–obstacles that we shall overcome with our determination to unite our forces, to share our strengths, to overcome our weaknesses, and to move forward with a process of economic and social integration that embraces all the Americas.

As we noted at our last General Assembly, the volatility of capital markets is perhaps the most pernicious of all these undesirable effects. Time and again it has erupted with such force that within a few hours it can destroy the effort and sacrifice of many years. Some of those who lacked sound judgment when it came time to take decisions, those who swing between wild optimism and sudden panic, will say that the solidity of our economic fundamentals has simply been put to the test, that there is not enough information or transparency, or that our approach to adjustment is too slow and gradual.

It is easy to form the impression that stock markets react disproportionately and unthinkingly, and that economic agents in those markets fail to differentiate, when a panic suddenly occurs, between good policies and bad; between transitory adjustments and those that are structural; between sound, solvent companies and weak ones. We, in turn, believe that our economic institutions are sometimes more solidly based than those of the people who pretend to judge us with such exaggerated severity.

As we have said, we must recognize that the greatest number of problems arise in those countries that have the worst imbalances, and it is also true that from each crisis we have emerged stronger, better prepared, with better instruments, with sounder institutions. We may also say unequivocally that in most of our countries the authorities have reacted promptly and firmly, and have put all their political capital on the line to defend price stability and to apply the well-learned lessons about the need for macroeconomic stability, putting worn-out arguments aside and managing, within a few months, to return to the path of stability and growth. No doubt we are now more aware of our vulnerability and we have a more realistic and a more mature attitude about our prospects and about the virtues and defects of our economic structures.

We have also said that in our opinion we must proceed swiftly, clearly and firmly so that those episodes do not degenerate into confusion and fear. Because time and again studies have shown that the countries that achieve the greatest growth are those that have undertaken the greatest reforms, and that by stressing reforms and opening new avenues for institutional change we can give a further impetus to growth rates. Nevertheless, we must say that in this new phase reforms are more difficult to carry out behind closed doors or by authoritarian edict, and that they require more in the way of negotiation and a spirit of compromise–in short, they demand a broader basis of social and political support.

Around the world there are those who believe that globalization is erasing all frontiers and that sovereignty is being diluted in the midst of the relentless flows of information and capital. They believe that in the near future the state will become more essential and less powerful. I don't know if this will happen in other parts of the world. But it is not happening in the Americas, and I do not believe that it is going to happen.

What we are seeing today is that globalization has increased demands upon society and the economy, that it is placing growing pressure not only on businesses but also on the state and its growing responsibilities. Yet at the same time we see that, while these demands are growing, this does not mean that fiscal pressures and the size of the state can continue to grow, since that would strangle private activity.

This represents an enormous challenge in a Hemisphere where there has been a great tendency to accept an overblown state and excessive bureaucracy, and to select our public officials on the basis of overtly politicized criteria. Only a state that is functioning efficiently can face up to the complex challenges of globalization, or overcome the characteristics of under-development that still hold back many of our productive activities and the delivery of public services.

In this context we must understand what is the responsibility and the mission of the OAS and the inter-American system of institutions. A few years ago the Organization was looked to as an institution that had helped to keep alive the flame of multilateralism through the years of the Cold War. What we have seen in the 1990s is the progressive broadening of the inter-American agenda, to the point where now it virtually coincides with the domestic agenda. There are hardly any issues that do not have an international dimension. And as a result, today we hear much greater demand for collective action by hemispheric institutions, based on the very modest apparatus that survived the Cold War and that, moreover, has been significantly scaled back over the same decade by the budgetary restrictions imposed by member states.

Today, then, we face much greater demands for multilateralism than we have institutions to meet those demands. This has been evident in the process of follow-up to the mandates of our presidents and prime ministers and the decisions of ministerial meetings. We must act responsibly in using our resources to increase the efficiency of our system, in insisting on cooperation and flexibility from all, and in seeking ways to finance a growing volume of inter-American activities.

Dear friends,

I would like now to refer to some of the principal tasks that lie head of us in the next five years, and the framework within which they will be addressed by our organization. Several of these ideas, and others, have been dealt with in the document "Challenges for a New Future", which we are presenting today as a contribution to thinking about the future of the OAS.

When it comes to defending and strengthening democracy within the hemisphere, we have today an authentic inter-American doctrine of support and solidarity, that springs automatically into action against any attempt by the public authorities to negate other centers of power, or against any military threat that might seek to disrupt the institutional continuity of any American country. But it is well to recognize that there is still a long road to cover.

All of us in America are agreed that democracy means much more than merely holding clean and transparent elections, or the possibility of adhering to the inter-American system of human rights. Threats to democratic stability persist in many countries in the Hemisphere. To the old perils, represented by the fear of military coups, we must add new risks, more subtle than the earlier ones but of no less concern, such as attacks on the principal of the constitutional balance of powers, increasing impunity and the subsequent weakening of the judiciary, attacks on basic freedoms such as the freedom of expression, and evidence of stubborn intransigence and polarization between sectors that frequently frustrate even a minimal degree of consensus on how to deal with basic national problems, whether they are of an economic, political, or social nature.

In many countries the honeymoon with democracy is over. Those who thought that democracy was intrinsically linked to greater prosperity have frequently been deceived. The very lack of economic and price stability has cut short any possibility of progress on the social front. For the most disadvantaged sectors, democracy is not associated with any improvement in their daily life. This disillusionment with democracy has frequently been reflected in low levels of voter turnout at elections, and in the low esteem in which public institutions are held, as reflected in many surveys and opinion polls. Our younger generations, for their part, have no memory of the dark days of dictatorship, and so they do not necessarily place the same value on the freedoms and protections that they take for granted today.

All these situations may at any moment have a swift and immediate effect on a country's democratic stability, and can seriously weaken it. And to these situations we must add the problems that are now undermining our democracies, robbing them of strength and legitimacy: drug trafficking, terrorism, corruption, extreme poverty, violence, and crime.

Recently there have been proposals to strengthen the instruments available to the Secretariat for dealing with factors that threaten economic stability, but it is still too early to determine whether that is the route to follow. But the great challenge of the coming years will be to improve and strengthen the quality of our representative democracy, and in some countries, to foster an atmosphere of tolerance that will encourage dialogue, the acceptance of contrary opinions, and the building of consensus on how to move forward with national agendas.

It is equally urgent to broaden opportunities for citizen participation in the process of decision-making, to allow new openings for action by civil society, to increase the activities we have underway with the legislative and judicial branches, and to guarantee full access by citizens to information on the performance of those who govern them. It is clear in any case that there is a hemispheric demand on the part of all players to deepen the political dialogue, and to seek means to facilitate and encourage a more fruitful exchange of experience. We shall be working with the IDB on initiatives to enhance governance in some countries and to develop initiatives to strengthen the hemispheric dialogue.

Let me turn now to the inter-American human rights system. On one hand, the Secretariat is prepared, as the member countries have asked, to provide increasing support for the work of the Inter-American Court and the Commission, by allocating to them more resources and strengthening their financial and administrative autonomy. This will allow them to take on an increasing number of cases and to expand into a new generation of rights that are more in keeping with the problems of deepening our democratic foundations. We also hope to foster greater use of the institution of Special Rapporteur for examining and following up issues of particular importance, such as the freedom of expression, and the rights of children, women, migrant workers, and indigenous people

While admitting that there will be delays and setbacks, our purpose is to ensure that all member states of the organization adhere to the inter-American system of human rights, and that they accept both the competence of the Court and the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This is essential if we are to strengthen democratic values in America.

Dear friends,

The changes and transformations of the last ten years in the world's political and strategic landscape impose on us the need to revise the underlying basis of relationships between states, in terms of maintaining security. With the end of the Cold War, the Hemisphere is faced with the historic necessity to defuse tensions that have persisted for centuries, and to build a true commitment to peace by constructing a new paradigm for security. These issues have found within the Organization of American States an especially propitious forum where discussion and negotiation can be approached in a frank, cooperative, and constructive manner.

The backbone of this process has been the regional conferences on confidence- and security-building measures that were held in Santiago in 1995 and in San Salvador in 1998. Those conferences allowed us to address clearly and openly the different concepts and perceptions that states have with respect to potential threats to their own security and to that of the region as a whole. They have created a climate of confidence among parties that used to regard each other with suspicion, and this has been achieved on a basis of transparency and exchanges of information. In this context we have been able to examine the particular security concerns of small island states, which include non-military aspects within a multidimensional perspective. Regarding natural disasters of the kind that have struck with such force in the Caribbean in recent days, we must encourage the efforts of the committee that we have created, together with other institutions of the system.

In applying confidence-building measures we have moved from an approach that depended on the good will of the parties, to measures of a binding nature such as the convention on illegal trafficking in arms, or the more recent one on transparency in arms purchases. In this manner we are beginning to open the way to dealing with aspects of disarmament and arms control, in line with the mandate we received from the Santiago Summit. The great security conference called for by our leaders, which must be held early in the next decade, will surely have these issues among the principal items on its agenda.

We must also continue our pioneering efforts in the area of mine clearing, with a view to achieving our declared goal of a Hemisphere free of antipersonnel mines, in accordance with our commitments under the Ottawa Convention. We are now beginning an additional and important effort that will require the support of member states, observers and the entire international community, to complete the demining task in Central America, and more specifically in Nicaragua, by the middle of the next decade. We have also offered our support for demining operations along the frontier between Ecuador and Peru.

In the Declaration of Lima to Prevent, Combat and Eliminate Terrorism, we defined this scourge as a crime and a threat to the stability of our democratic institutions. The creation of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, in Mar del Plata, will allow member states to exchange information, cooperation, and personnel training to improve their capacity to respond to terrorist acts, following the methods and practices used by CICAD.

In the next few days the inter-American system will have cause for great satisfaction when its member countries adopt the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism in Montevideo. This mechanism, which is to be in operation by the beginning of next year, will represent the most important new departure in the history of inter-American relations, in terms of efforts to combat the drug trade. Countries will be given instruments that will allow them to adjust, modify, or reinforce their policies on a regular basis, and to do so in a scenario where all of the manifestations are taken into account. This will allow them to be more rigorous in planning their actions, judging the effectiveness of their working methods, drawing more cogent lessons from their successes and failures, and benefiting from hemispheric information and similar experiences. It is not a question of creating a supranational tribunal, nor is it intended to impose sanctions.

To achieve this, the system must conduct technical and objective analyses and evaluations applicable to all countries on an equal footing. The system will be based on the principles of the Hemispheric Anti-Drug Strategy: joint responsibility, reciprocity, balance and consensus among states, impartiality, and transparency. It is not an enforcement mechanism, but a true strategy for cooperation.

The mechanism has been refined within CICAD, and agreements have been reached on its principles, objectives, and characteristics, as well as on the indicators to be used. If it is successful and is based on solid technical arguments–we are sure it will be–it will enjoy full legitimacy and credibility and will be the essential point of reference for governments, the media, and civil society.

With these achievements behind us, we shall continue on this track. The hemispheric summits are giving new direction and guidance to our efforts. In Canada, we hope to see our institutional architecture strengthened, to take on more formal mandates and to involve the Review and Implementation Group more closely. We also hope to strengthen the Special Committee on Summits Management within the organization.

In this way, the coming years will be crucial to the development of our role as custodians of the institutional memory of the Summit process, and in providing technical support to meetings of this type. These activities have enriched the traditional role of the OAS as the epicenter of hemispheric political dialogue, as the forum for exchanging experiences, as the body responsible for building and preserving hemispheric information systems, as a storehouse of successful experiences, and as a scenario where we can work out common policies of hemispheric scope.

The challenge of achieving socially just and sustainable development continues to be one of the most urgent tasks facing our Hemisphere. We must not forget that our region has the worst record in the world when it comes to equity indicators. We shall continue working with the senior authorities for social development in inter-American cooperation to design pilot projects and encourage the exchange of experiences. We shall intensify our efforts to make education the backbone of our efforts to compete internationally and to progress toward greater equality. We shall continue promoting the vigorous campaign of multilateral projects set out by the Meeting of Ministers of Education in Brasilia. It is surely an unacceptable paradox that a Hemisphere so rich in possibilities and resources has left 150 million of its children unprotected and mired in the grip of poverty.

Within the framework of the OAS, meetings of ministers of justice have permitted a policy dialogue with respect to the major problems facing the Americas in this field. We shall give decisive support to the Justice Studies Center, as the fundamental instrument for strengthening cooperation in the Americas and for making the Organization into a center of information that will facilitate judicial cooperation. We shall give our support to the meetings to be held in Costa Rica in the year 2000, and in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001.

Together with the Inter-American Development Bank, we hope to help the ministers of labor in strengthening enforcement and respect for the basic rights of workers, in modernizing their ministries, in dealing with issues relating to labor administration and in identifying the consequences of globalization for this sector. We will need to seize the policy initiative in the issue of corruption, not only to give effect to the Convention throughout the Americas, but also to ensure support at the highest level for the inter-American program that we have been designing. We shall continue working with the IDB at the country level to overcome difficulties in ratifying the Convention.

Mr. Chairman,

With the political mandate of our governments and the decisions of our Trade Ministers, the Secretariat, as part of the tripartite committee, will continue providing its technical support to the negotiating groups for creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). At the same time, the Secretariat intends to strengthen technical assistance, to offer more education and training for officials, and to develop its trade information systems. As long as we perceive a significant expression of political will on the part of our governments, we shall continue mobilizing our financial and human resources within the objectives and time limits that have been set for us, in the secure knowledge that we are contributing to shaping the most ambitious economic and political project that the Americas have ever undertaken.

There is no doubt that the Summit of Santa Cruz de la Sierra represented a milestone in OAS responsibilities with respect to sustainable development. We must work on many fronts to carry out the actions agreed there. There is a great need to have a forum for defining priorities, for refining actions that were belatedly added to the process, for retrieving precedents and for setting lines of action and methods of execution. In some cases we will have to establish responsibility centers for execution, and in others we must strengthen actions and make them more operational. It is indispensable also to work out the financial aspects. In order to come to terms with these needs, the report presented at Santiago recommended establishment of a forum on sustainable development, at the ministerial level, that would function under the aegis of CIDI. This would no doubt be a significant step for progress in some of these tasks.

With creation of the Agency for Cooperation and Development, technical assistance projects financed by the so-called voluntary funds of the OAS will come to be administered directly by that Agency, which will allow it to keep better account of the resources contributed, their destination, and the results of their application. What we must do is create more flexible instruments that will strengthen the capacity to mobilize new resources from other institutions in the inter-American system or beyond, such as agencies, foundations, and development banks. There should also be a stronger Secretariat with greater functions and the possibility of using resources under the guidance of a smaller body with executive powers.

This will allow the rest of the General Secretariat to devote itself fully to supporting policy dialogue in thematic sectors, and so concentrate on providing an effective forum where national authorities from different social and technical ministries can engage in a fruitful exchange of experiences that will strengthen the hemispheric dialogue and the design of more efficient policies.

Dear friends,

I cannot conclude my remarks without touching on the administration issue, where there is still much to be done. In particular, special attention should be paid to the financial health of the Organization, which continues to deteriorate as a direct result of growing arrears in the payment of the quotas that members are supposed to contribute to the regular fund, the nominal freeze on quotas, and the decline in other revenues. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the growing number of mandates and tasks with our limited financial sources.

Mr. Chairman, ladies, and gentlemen,

I hope to be able to deliver to you an encouraging report in five years, when I have completed my mandate. For one example, I long to see a solution to the Cuba problem, one that will move towards a pluralistic and democratic society with greater public freedoms and greater respect for human rights. And I hope that in arriving at such a solution, all of us in this Hemisphere will use the diplomatic means at our disposal to seek a peaceful and orderly transition, and thus leave behind us what continues to be the single most vexatious political problem of the Hemisphere.

I also hope that peace may flourish in my country, Colombia, so that we can build a land of progress and tolerance where today there is only sadness and despair. And I hope, of course, that the peoples of the Americas will take advantage of the tremendous opportunities offered by these modern times to extend prosperity from Alaska to Patagonia, from Canada to Tierra del Fuego.

Upon assuming my functions for a second term as Secretary General of the Organization of American States, I want to invite all of you to help reshape the OAS and the inter-American system of institutions so they will respond to the vision that our peoples have set out for them: a vision of integration, peace, and democracy; but also one of equality, justice, and liberty; one of solidarity, of the preservation of nature, and of growth and prosperity.

Thank you.