Media Center



June 2, 1999 - Montreal

I am most pleased and honored to have this opportunity to participate in this fifth Montreal Conference, which brings together the best in business, government and academia in Canada, and in the United States and Europe as well. With the opportunities that globalization offers and the undesirable consequences and challenges it poses, this forum affords us an invaluable occasion for reflecting upon and sharing our experience, knowledge and information. And so I salute and congratulate Mr. Gil Remillard, founder of the International Institute of Administrative Studies of Montreal and Chairman of the Conference.

I have been asked to speak to you about what the interdependence among the countries of the Americas means for a multilateral political body like the Organization of American States, as well as the consequences that it might have for the future of our societies.

Interdependence could be defined as a set of factors or circumstances that seal the destinies of individuals and of nations, transcending borders, social class, religion and race. These factors are particularly strong in our hemisphere, given the cultural, historic and geographic ties we share. Thus, despite differences in size, wealth and power, societies across the continent share a number of problems, challenges and hopes. It means that each and every issue has to be addressed collectively, since stable and lasting solutions cannot be found separately and the progress that some achieve cannot be gained at the expense of their neighbors’ dreams and aspirations. It also means that the way a country resolves its problems affects other countries.

The dawn of what is known as the information age has had a significant effect on the way in which problems spread from one country to another, from one region to another. It has also affected the way those problems are reported and perceived around the globe, and has produced an awesome increase in the interdependence of all the protagonists of the globalization process.

From an economic standpoint, when one thinks on interdependence, one must look at integration processes. The term integration covers a number of areas, including the declining significance of political borders, the facility with which goods and services are exchanged, and the growing influence that our actions have on others. Basically two factors account for the increased new interdependence: technological change and the change in savings and investment policies. Technology has shortened economic and geographic distances by lowering shipping costs and making it easier to communicate and process information. In the past decade, trade at the global level has grown twice as fast as the product, while foreign investment has increased three times faster.

Returning to this hemisphere once more, it is worth noting that the Cold War had its own chilling effect on the countries of the Americas. All too often, our democracies were sacrificed out of fear of a common enemy: communism. 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 regional political scene changed significantly, however, when the Cold War came to an end. Perhaps the most important change is 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.

It was only with the end of the Cold War that the defense and strengthening of democracy became our principal objective. The OAS has therefore cultivated a philosophy of solidarity vis-a-vis democracy, 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 a country. That philosophy sets in motion a series of diplomatic and coercive measures, backed up by international agreements and instruments to which all the countries have agreed. These instruments have been particularly successful in resolving crises such as the coup d'état in Haiti in 1991, or the attempted coup in Paraguay in 1996, or the disruption of the constitutional system in Peru or Guatemala early in the decade.

But over the course of the years, the OAS has also built up experience and expertise in protecting democracy through election observation missions to 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, such as the Central American nations, Haiti and Suriname. Our pioneering work in mine-clearing in Central America predated the vigorous effort made by civil society and Canada to push for the Ottawa Convention, which has now been signed by 33 American states and ratified by 24. We have made our experience and expertise available to help rebuild the institutions of democratic government.

Not only have we learned to defend democracy, with the end of the Cold War and of the bipolar confrontation, we also have seen the inter-American agenda grow at a dizzying pace, so much so that one could say that by now every item in the domestic agenda has its international dimension. This was very much in evidence when the 12 mandates our Organization was given at the Miami Summit tripled in number at the Santiago Summit. To discharge these mandates, we are putting together a new inter-American architecture that will better enable us to carry out the plans of action that our governments have assigned to us.

And so, the political and institutional agenda was not closed with the spread of free and transparent elections. 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 practices. Although each of our countries has its distinctive characteristics, we are all striving toward those 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. Over the course of this past decade, we have also readied ourselves to take on the threats to our democracies: corruption, drug trafficking, terrorism, illegal arms trafficking and dire poverty.

As I said before, corruption is one of the greatest threats to democracy in our hemisphere and across the globe. To combat corruption on the hemispheric plane 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.

But, before I go on to other topics, I assume that most of you have received sufficient information on the progress made toward establishing a Free Trade Area of the Americas that will provide a stable legal framework in which to expand trade and promote investment in the region.

In terms of this Hemisphere, since the late 1980s the American nations have taken significant strides toward greater political and economic stability, regained their ability to grow, strengthened their internal financial systems, and moved toward a more open trade and investment system. Since the 1980s the average tariffs in Latin America have dropped from an overall 40% to 11%. The lower tariffs have helped to stimulate trade--which has doubled in 10 years in the region--and investment, forging closer economic ties.

The road from Denver to Santiago has not always been smooth, but all the countries have stood firm in their political commitment and the results have been quite positive. This has been an exercise in learning and understanding, the expression of an exceptional political commitment to the most ambitious undertaking this Hemisphere has launched. The ministers have given their guidance and political support. The approach they have taken to this task has been extremely useful in that objectives and time frames have been set, providing for periodic review and evaluation of the process.

By this time you surely have reviewed the role played by the vice ministers in technical matters during the preparatory phase, and now during negotiations, as well as the role of the working groups, such as the tripartite OAS/IDB/ECLAC committee.

I am sure you have reviewed the basic principles of the agreement: consensus, the juridical equality of states, the balanced and comprehensive approach, the commitment to taking into account the needs of smaller economies, and its essential characteristic: that it is a single enterprise and thus all the countries must accept each and every obligation in the agreement. Another important characteristic is its consistency with WTO rules.

A number of positive results have already been achieved. What was once the hope or dream of a Hemisphere free of customs tariffs and other barriers to trade in goods and services, and to investments, is now much closer to realization than the most optimistic observers could have predicted.

On the other hand, one of the fears sometimes brandished against integration is its potentially negative effect on levels of employment and on the proper protection of workers' rights. A balance must be struck between attaining the necessary flexibility in labor markets and safeguarding social security for workers. At the most recent Meeting of Ministers of Labor, held in ViZ a del Mar last year, agreement was reached on a plan of action that places special emphasis on dealing with the social and labor aspects of globalization, devising ways to ensure the effective application of essential labor regulations, and improving relations between employers and workers.

But we all know that integration cannot be a purely economic process. In Santiago we were already asking: How can we make integration not only a matter of trade but also one of enormous social and political implications? How will we hold on to the political support of governments, congresses, and the public throughout the Hemisphere? How can we make this benefit the small economies and those with lower per capita income? What will the OAS and the rest of the system do to support countries that need to meet the immense demands placed on their economies and societies by globalization and the information revolution? How will we respond to the great pressure on our social security systems? Or to the risks posed to our cultures?

Our education 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. Many analysts speak with increasing frequency of a radical divide between our educational system, our need for political and economic change, and our social development. They point to 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, the 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 and a meeting of education ministers of the Hemisphere, which was held last July in Brasilia. Mention should be made of the significant efforts being made to increase spending on education. As a percentage of GDP, it increased from 2.8% to 3.7% between the 1990-91 and 1996-97 periods.

Legal certainty and dependable justice systems are essential to the progress of integration. We must strengthen the judiciary, its independence, and judicial cooperation mechanisms. And we must deal with the problem of prison crowding. This past March, in Lima, Peru, the first hemispheric meeting of justice ministers was held. Discussed in that forum was the need to adopt new coordinated strategies to fight new crimes, such as Internet and computer crime. Also discussed were proposals for improving the quality, accessibility, and efficiency of justice for all citizens.

We also must strengthen our human rights institutions. We must increase their financial, budgetary, and operational autonomy so that they may cover more cases, carry out more promotion activities, strengthen their investigation mechanisms, better support national systems and receive more support from them, broaden the scope of human rights protection, and achieve universal ratification of the American Convention and universal acceptance of the Court's jurisdiction. On the latter, significant progress was made this past year with the addition of Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Efforts must be made to strengthen the freedom of expression at the hemispheric level --for which subject the OAS has appointed a rapporteur; 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. Canada remains at the forefront in the Hemisphere, having established a vast new territory, Nunavut, which formally recognizes the indigenous Inuit peoples of Northern Canada and their rights.

Ecological awareness has clearly played a pioneering role in demonstrating the unquestionable nature of interdependence and its deep significance for humanity as a whole. Recognition that 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 the concept of interdependence. The control of emissions affecting the ozone layer, acid rain, the protection of our ecosystems, biodiversity, and responsible natural resource management are tangible examples of the growing ecological agenda.

The Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in Bolivia, in 1996, drawn up at the level of heads of state and government, marked a new stage in the commitment by all countries of the Hemisphere to guarantee economic and social development consistent with the need to preserve the environment and nonrenewable natural resources. Thus the region was a pioneer in translating the recommendations issued by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro into concrete commitments, set forth in a Plan of Action.

In the midst of this complex agenda, if we are to preserve the economic model we have freely chosen, we must face a critical problem--extreme poverty and the poor distribution of income. What can we do to prevent the Hemisphere from being the most inequitable region in the world? What role do economic and social policies play in that scenario? What about education? What role does fiscal policy play? How will the State have to change to undertake a task of such proportions?

The eradication of poverty and the reduction of levels of inequality are at the forefront of the concerns of all our countries. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, indicated in its last report that between 1990 and 1997 poverty in the region dropped in most Latin American countries, with the percentage of households in poverty falling from 41% to 36%, which was almost a return to the 1980 level (35%). Despite these advances, 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.

Security is another element figuring among the concerns of all countries of the Hemisphere. Although we have unquestionably been the region of the world least exposed to military conflict in the past, this does not mean that we should ignore potential risks and challenges. The recent conflict between Ecuador and Peru taught us the danger of allowing such controversy to go unsolved. And its definitive solution is also a fine example of the opportunities inherent in the mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes envisaged in our Charter. Thanks to the courage and resolve of Presidents Mahuad and Fujimori, and the decisive support of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States, a constructive agreement worthy of both countries was reached.

Perhaps the hallmark of the effort made to establish a new security agenda is the holding of two meetings to agree on confidence and security building measures among the armed forces and the States, somewhat along the lines of the steps taken in Europe to arrive at the Helsinki Agreements. This effort should culminate in a major conference on security matters early in the next century enabling us to discuss disarmament and arms control issues in a multilateral context.

Moreover, next week, the General Assembly of the Organization will adopt the Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Arms Acquisitions. This is an innovative step which makes it mandatory for a State Party to report on arms acquisitions. In my view, it is a key factor in helping to curb the risk of an arms race in the Hemisphere.

Another problem that has jeopardized state security--one that also has implications for democracy and health--is drug trafficking. In the past 25 years, it has become a steady source of violence, corruption, destruction, and damage to entire generations in all parts of the world. Regrettably, our Hemisphere has been at the heart of this tragedy. Drug trafficking has also interfered with relations between governments of the region. Efforts to combat it have generated tension, misgivings, and mutual recrimination.

Fortunately, real progress has been made regarding cooperation in this area. For example, in 1996, thanks to the work of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, CICAD, we adopted a Hemispheric Strategy against this scourge. On that basis, it was possible, as a result of a mandate from the presidents, to work together to establish possibilities for trust and cooperation. The most recent development--and surely one of the most important-- has been the negotiation, now nearing its conclusion, on the establishment of a multilateral evaluation mechanism for drug control policies. Once this mechanism has been adopted, in October 1999, it will radically change the system now being used internationally and will take on great political legitimacy.

Terrorism, in an otherwise peaceful Hemisphere, is without a doubt a clear threat to the stability of our institutions. It is an area in which multilateral cooperation is crucial. A decision has been made to set up an Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, along the lines of CICAD, to serve as a focal point for cooperation in these matters.

I should now like to refer to what so far has seemed to be the least desirable effect of globalization and, at the same time, the greatest sign of increased interdependence, capital volatility. We have witnessed how the crisis in Russia and, most recently, in Asia, has spread to the economies of Latin America, jeopardizing our achievements from the last decade in terms of stability and growth. The contagion effect, the rate at which mistrust spreads and capital flows out of countries in the face of any deterioration in economic variables –whether fiscal or exchange rate-- poses a serious threat to our achievements which have been gained by dint of sacrifice, courage, and decisiveness.

Some say that the soundness of our economic fundamentals has been put to the test, or that we lack information or transparency, or that adjustments are being made too slowly or too gradually. Fortunately, we have come out of each crisis stronger and better prepared, with better instruments and more solid 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 the well-learnt lessons of the benefits of macroeconomic equilibrium. They have moved beyond outdated theories and within a few months returned to the path of stability and growth. We hope to move to a less secretive, more secure, more transparent, and better-regulated international financial system.

Mr. Minister, distinguished participants, one can see the increasing number of topics reflecting the growing interdependence of our countries – a process that will continue. This is an inescapable fact of life, the result of a variety of technological economic, political, social, and natural factors. The process we face today poses enormous challenges and holds the promise of even greater opportunities. I am convinced that we cannot leave it to its own devices.

Were we to do so, a new system would emerge, but it would lack the balance, consensus, and confidence needed to overcome the obstacles, avoid the risks, and take best advantage of the opportunities that interdependence entails. It is integration, under stable legal frameworks and with appropriate mechanisms to settle disputes, that allows these processes to create a better environment so as to proceed along the inevitable but sound path of globalization.

The common agenda I mentioned at the outset must be integrated and transformed, and result in a collective plan based on common principles and values, and guided by shared goals and ideals. Mr. Axworthy, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, has for the last two years been introducing and defending the concept of human security, which is a significant contribution to the discussion and to the definition of this joint effort we might call the hemispheric political agenda.

The concept is realistic and visionary, one that combines three aspects underlying in one way or another in each of the topics I have presented today: peace, civil rights, and economic and social progress. As with all ambitious, forward-looking initiatives, it is now the object of study throughout the Hemisphere.

I would like to emphasize the importance of the struggle against violence contained in this proposal. Homicide rates in the Americas are the highest in the world and intrafamily violence continues to increase despite a growing awareness of the special need to protect women and children.

In more general terms, to take human beings as the point of reference; to protect them from threats, whether violent or otherwise, to ensure their political rights and their right to justice; to minimize risk and act with solidarity in the face of difficulties – these principles are the basis of the ethics that the Canadian Minister so rightly proposes for adoption in the 21st century. Such tenets and principles must be adopted by consensus by all states of the Hemisphere. Precisely because of their humanistic nature, they may not be unilaterally imposed. If, on the other hand, the countries rally round them, they will become the guiding light of the integration process on which we have embarked.

Inspired by the language of the Presidents of The United States, I should like to say that the state of the integration process in the Hemisphere is good. The yearning for integration has received vigorous support at the highest levels, at the Summits of the Americas in Miami and Santiago, Chile, attended by 34 heads of state and government. The next Summit will take place here in Canada in 2001. The first two summits established the political mandates needed to create a set of principles and proposals to guide the Inter-American agenda and a plan of action that has set in motion a vast process of hemispheric integration. We are certain that Canada will provide us with exceptional leadership on our ongoing quest to forge a common future.

Distinguished friends:

With Canada’s vision, we will pursue our task of renewing an inter-American system of institutions in order to tailor them to the objectives that our peoples have set for us,: a prospect of integration, peace, and democracy – but also of equality, justice, and liberty; of solidarity, growth, and prosperity. And at the same time, the prospect that the problems that detract from the legitimacy of democracy – poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism – can be addressed.

Thank you very much.