Media Center



June 6, 1999 - Antigua, Guatemala

We Americans from the length and breadth of the Hemisphere are proud to be on Guatemalan soil, cradle of one of the most advanced indigenous civilizations in the Americas, the Mayas, and birthplace of one of the greats of world literature: Miguel Angel Asturias, whose Legends of Guatemala enriched the cultural heritage of the Americas.

We are proud, too, because Guatemala is proceeding confidently down the path of peace that you, Mr. President, set for your country when you concluded the Agreement that put a final end to 36 years of conflict. In spite of the setbacks and the obstacles, you more than anyone have been a visionary, a decisive force behind the changes this society must make if it is to successfully meet the challenges of the end of the century.

The OAS has tried to do its part through its special program of support for the peace process. In the last three years, we have helped to increase literacy for thousands of war veterans and their families in demobilization camps and in their communities. We have provided advisory support for mediation and the peaceful settlement of conflicts at the local level. We have worked closely with the National Congress in drafting legislation to implement the peace accords. We have helped to identify and remove mines and other explosive devices. We have supported the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

And this event is being held in Guatemala despite the devastation left by Hurricane Mitch and the considerable damage inflicted on the economies and the social fabric of Central America. I would like to express our solidarity on behalf of all those present and all the peoples of the Americas.

At the close of the millennium, as the time comes to take stock of the decade and the century in every quarter, the OAS must reassess its role in the concord of nations, scan the horizon, chart the course it will take, and determine to what extent the developments that led to its formation, as well as more recent events, come close to our aspirations, to our ideals.

Five years ago, when I was elected by you to take the helm of this institution, I proposed a New Vision of the OAS. I wanted to capture this new spirit prevailing in the Americas, primarily to outline a series of tasks, new goals, that would reflect this feeling of solidarity within the souls of our leaders and, particularly, of our peoples.

When we have looked back at our game plan to see exactly what we have achieved in comparison to what we have proposed, we have found that the reality exceeds our expectations; that we are not sailing a small caravel as Columbus did, but a vessel born of the industrial revolution, of the information revolution; that we have renewed our faith in humankind’s potential.

During these five years, we have also learned that although the path to globalization offers vast opportunities, it holds many traps and dangers as well that our vessel must elude or overcome.

For the last year, storm clouds have been looming on the horizon. Again, we have experienced the most disagreeable aspects of the globalization process: the volatility of capital. The domino effect, the rate at which confidence crumbles and capital flows out of countries in the face of any deterioration in economic variables –whether in fiscal or exchange-rate terms-- poses a serious threat to the achievements we have attained by dint of sacrifice, courage, and decisiveness.

It is true that we have emerged from each crisis stronger and better prepared, with more effective instruments and sounder institutions. We can also say unequivocally that our policy-makers have reacted with exceptional speed and steadfastness, and have wagered their entire political capital to defend hard-won price stability and macroeconomic equilibrium. They have moved beyond tired polemics and, within a few months, returned to the path of stability and growth. We hope that, with our participation, the industrialized world can move to a less secretive, more secure, more transparent, and better-regulated international financial system.

All these factors have ultimately affected in a significant way the economic behavior of the region and the past 12 months have undoubtedly been difficult for all our countries. Although the impact of the crisis seems to be less than was expected some months ago, the analysts agree that the current economic situation is difficult.

In our view, we should proceed swiftly, with clarity and steadfastness, so that these episodes will not lead to confusion, fear of change, yearnings for insularity, and a certain nostalgic tendency to look to the past. Within the OAS, and in the entire multilateral system of institutions, we should provide more orderly, collective, and assertive responses that offer guidance and help to restore faith in the process of modernization and reform we have adopted.

Now is the time to move forward with the second generation of more broadly-based social and political reforms, leaving behind the closed, authoritarian procedures that characterized, in some countries, the first generation of reforms leading to competitiveness, greater confidence in market mechanisms, equilibrium in the economic aggregates, and limiting the scope of state action.

In the past year, the region witnessed significant events that showed the strength of the pillars on which we are building our collective security, including the peaceful settlement of disputes, the defense of democracy and human rights, partnership for development, and economic integration.

First, there was the signing of the peace agreements between Ecuador and Peru, which best reflects the new spirit prevailing in the Americas since the end of the Cold War. The two countries have established relations that will not only be free of fear, discord, and suspicion, but will also be set within a framework of integration and cooperation. With their determination, Presidents Mahuad and Fujimori embody today the aspiration of our peoples to live in peace and harmony.

The Peace Agreement signed in Brasilia, in the context of the Rio Protocol, is an example for all nations. The firm commitment of the guarantor countries, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States, and particularly that of their presidents, paved the way to new opportunities when the obstacles seemed insurmountable. Thanks are also due to the foreign ministries of all the countries-- Itamaraty in particular, which offered us its hospitality, its valuable experience, and its continuing support.

We are pleased also to note the ratification of the agreement between Argentina and Chile for the definitive settlement of the border dispute in the so-called Continental or Southern Ice Fields.

Paraguay has also faced some difficult times and uncertainty, which were overcome within the framework of the Constitution. To bring about those changes, the MERCOSUR countries played an effective mediating and moderating role that is to be commended.

The region’s solidarity was also put to the test by the trail of destruction and death left by Hurricane Mitch across Central America. Countries and institutions including the OAS moved quickly to relieve the suffering of the victims and support reconstruction. The Antigua and Barbuda initiative began a process of reinforcing and modernizing OAS activities in response to natural disasters. This initiative is more valid still in light of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Georges in the Caribbean and the earthquake that ravaged Colombia’s coffee-growing area.

I would also like to underscore a historic event that is to take place in December this year – the transfer of the Panama Canal. Within what was then the OAS Council, the United States and Panama opted to resolve their differences through negotiation. The OAS also hosted the signing of the Treaties guaranteeing the reversion of the canal to the Republic of Panama, which will assume full responsibility for its administration, operation, and maintenance. The signature of the Treaties and their full and harmonious implementation represent one of the most fortunate chapters in inter-American relations in this century, an unparalleled example of the validity of the principles, enshrined in our Charter, that are the basis of the inter-American system.

Mr. President:

Looking at the Hemisphere’s immediate past, it is impossible to overlook its increasingly firm commitment to democracy. We are proud that representative democracy, the primary reason for being of this new OAS, is ever more firmly rooted in the fertile soil of the Americas.

Our work in this field is increasing, despite the limited resources at our disposal. We have expanded our activities with the legislatures and judiciaries, in addition to strengthening our traditional electoral support and observation programs. With Canada’s support, we hope to step up these efforts in the legislative sphere as well. Also on the Organization’s initiative, and under the able coordination of the Ambassador of El Salvador, after a prolonged effort the OAS has made itself more open to participation by civil society organizations. We hope that before this year is over we will have guidelines in place to govern their increased participation in our activities.

Within this increasing field of action, I must not fail to mention the removal of the antipersonnel mines that have brought so much pain and suffering to Central America, a subregion unshakably committed to becoming the world’s first mine-free zone. Despite the setbacks caused by Hurricane Mitch in the detection and deactivation of these devices of death, we are working toward completing the demining in Honduras, Costa Rica, and possibly Guatemala, with the support of the Inter-American Defense Board. And we hope to strengthen our support to Nicaragua’s program, which requires additional human and financial resources if we are to complete our tasks by the middle of the coming decade. In the near future, we also hope to begin demining in the boundary regions of Ecuador and Peru, using resources originally granted by the Government of Canada. We welcome the entry into force of the Ottawa Convention, which has been ratified by 24 of the 33 American countries that signed it.

As regards developments in our human rights protection system over the past year, we have seen a significant strengthening of the system and an expansion of the Commission’s agenda to include a new generation of rights better adapted to the problem our country encounter as they build democracy. We welcome the announcements by Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Mexico of their acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Commission, for its part, has begun a broad consultation process to fine-tune its Regulations and enhance the efficiency of this prestigious and respected system, which is receiving an increasing number of cases. We hope that certain differences concerning the functioning of the system vis-à-vis the Caribbean nations will be resolved.

The Commission produced a report on the rights of women, which was supplemented by the intense work of the Permanent Council, under the leadership of the Permanent Mission of Peru to the OAS, and of the Inter-American Commission of Women. The meeting of government experts which reviewed the proposed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples made progress regarding the participation of indigenous communities and civil society in examining that subject, and we hope this means the Declaration will be adopted at the next Assembly session. The inter-American convention on persons with disabilities is up for signature by our countries. The Commission’s report contains the first report of the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, pursuant to a mandate from the Santiago Summit.

These and other activities have enhanced the OAS’s traditional role as the epicenter of political dialogue in the Hemisphere.

In this context, we held a Meeting of Ministers of Education in Brazil, which set into motion a bold program of multilateral projects. The Meeting of Ministers of Justice in Lima agreed, inter alia, to address matters of cyber crime and to create a Justice Studies Center. The Meeting of Ministers of Labor in Chile decided to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of basic workers’ rights, to modernize the ministries in the area of labor administration, and to identify the impact of globalization on the sector. The Santiago Symposium on Enhancing Probity in the Hemisphere stressed modernization of the state and the civil service. And a first meeting of government experts was held in Medellín to deal with problems of crime.

As regards the paramount subject of the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, I wish to mention only that the first round of negotiations was held in Miami, with the participation of some 750 representatives from 34 countries. Deputy trade ministers have met twice as the Trade Negotiation Committee to continue identifying trade facilitation measures for presentation to the ministerial meeting in Toronto.

This past year has been particularly favorable to building a more peaceful, more secure Hemisphere. Allow me to mention some facts of great significance. I have already referred to the agreement between Ecuador and Peru, but I also wish to mention the progress we have made on a new agenda for hemispheric security, particularly important to which were the two meetings on confidence- and security-building measures, the meeting for the small island states, the regional peace and security agreements, and the work of the Committee on Hemispheric Security.

One reflection of this progress is the Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions, which is to be adopted and opened for signature by the countries at this session of the General Assembly. This Convention, originally proposed by Brazil and the United States, is a fundamentally important step in strengthening the mechanisms that foster regional confidence and security, as it makes mandatory a formerly voluntary measure.

One of the gravest threats to the societies and countries of the Hemisphere is the abuse of and traffic in drugs. In this context, I welcome the progress of negotiations on the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, which have led to agreements on its principles, objectives, and characteristics, as well as on the indicators to be used. The process under way has been so encouraging that we can look forward to approval of the Mechanism in Montevideo in October and to its first application in the 34 member countries during the first quarter of next year.

During the Second Specialized Conference on Terrorism, in Mar del Plata, it was decided to establish the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, whose Statutes are being submitted to the Assembly for approval.

These milestones attest to the depth, breadth, and speed of the Hemisphere’s efforts to redefine, shape, and build a scenario of peace, security, and cooperation for the 21st century. The goal is to revise the concepts of hemispheric security, possibly including disarmament and weapons control, and to hold a special conference on security early in the next decade.

Accordingly, you, the foreign ministers, resolved in Caracas that the Organization should embark upon a process of internal reform enabling it fulfill its new responsibilities and meet its new, varied, and extensive agenda. I believe it is no exaggeration to compare this to the Biblical multiplication of the loaves and the fishes.

To undertake these changes, the Assembly set up a working group which, under the able and efficient leadership of the Ambassador of Uruguay, has made progress in four important areas. It has identified new ideas for improving the procedures and operations of the governing bodies of the Organization, for restructuring the partnership system, for formulating guidelines on the participation of civil society, and, lastly, for enhancing public perceptions of the Organization’s work.

In this context, the Secretariat placed before the General Assembly, at its special session in November, a number of financial, administrative, and personnel proposals that have yet to be considered by the countries. Also in the framework of reform, and in accordance with the decisions taken by the Assembly in Caracas, we have supported the ministerial and expert meetings in follow-up to the Santiago Plan of Action, which have enabled us to assume our role in preserving the institutional memory of the presidential summit process and providing technical support for these meetings.

As early as last year’s regular meeting of CIDI, the U.S. delegation, headed by Ambassador Marrero, proposed the creation of a cooperation agency. The consideration of this proposal has been enriched by intense discussions within the Joint Working Group. We hope that the agency will allow us to focus cooperation on those countries that need it most, enhance the effectiveness of resource allocation, and facilitate the involvement of other institutions and international donors.

Let me now turn to another subject. While the Secretariat has made remarkable efforts in the past few years to improve its efficiency by broadening its field of action and strengthening its priority areas, the number of employees paid out of the Regular Fund has declined by 18.5 per cent since the end of 1995, and the Regular Fund’s budget has been cut by 13.1 per cent in real terms since 1995.

In spite of these efforts, the Organization’s financial health has been declining precipitously as a direct result of mounting arrears in member state quotas and the decline in "other revenues." I have tried in recent years to draw the attention of both the Assembly and the Permanent Council to this topic, but regrettably the outlook has not improved. This is the reason why I want to stress once again that the General Secretariat may be forced to take drastic decisions within the coming months to cut back or indefinitely suspend programs and activities if the quota arrears problem is not resolved. It is very difficult to ensure a sustainable financial arrangement for the Organization today, given that its source of funds is frozen in nominal terms, its quota payments are increasingly delayed, and it is being given additional mandates.

We have also insisted upon the need to review the career service and personnel policy in general. The current rules on hiring do not allow us to do what other international organizations are already doing and to progress toward attaining the staff profile the OAS needs. An administrative reform must strengthen not only the powers of the General Secretariat but also the bodies and mechanisms that provide for oversight by the member states.

Fortunately, throughout this process the Organization and the Secretariat have benefited from the enthusiasm and expertise of the Ambassador of Guatemala, Alfonso Quiñónez, who has earned our admiration and respect. In this magnificent setting, we wish to express our thanks to foreign minister Eduardo Stein, who enjoys well-earned prestige throughout the Hemisphere for his professionalism, and to the personnel of the Guatemalan foreign ministry, for the excellent support we have all received.

Mr. President, distinguished Ministers:

Five years ago I was entrusted by you, the representatives of the member countries, with continuing the tasks of reform and renewal of the Organization which brings us together today. Now, as the time nears for renewing this commitment, I wish to reiterate my faith and my willingness to work for the cause of the Americas, to join again in the efforts to build a more just, more prosperous, and more peaceful Hemisphere.

We shall continue, under the guidance of our leaders, until their dreams and their ideals are achieved¾ dreams and ideals that belong to us and to all the peoples of the Americas. In this city of "clear horizon and old colonial garb," this "old city under the Catholic cross and the faithful guard of its volcanoes," to quote Asturias--in this city, heritage of the Americas and of the world--I call upon you to witness our faith and our determination to steer this vessel into the new millennium, with the wind in its unfurled sails, each and every one of them representing one of our nations, one of our peoples, and one of our citizens--citizens strengthened in their capacity to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligations in a Hemisphere where peace, justice, and freedom reign and where all of us can preserve our hope for prosperity, equality, and fraternity.

Thank you very much.