Media Center



June 1, 1998 - Caracas, Venezuela

I would like to thank you, President Rafael Caldera, as well as the people of Venezuela, for the warm welcome and support you have given us on our arrival here today. All the delegations that have come from throughout the Americas would also like to express their admiration for the wisdom with which you are leading your country towards the threshold of the XXI century. Your visionary leadership, your impeccable integrity and your unquestionable sense of duty have secured a promising future for all Venezuelans.

I would also like to recognize, with your consent, not only the professionalism and seriousness that characterize Minister Miguel Angel Burelli, but also his enthusiasm and commitment, as well as that of the staff of his Ministry, who have made this event possible. The great human and intellectual qualities of Minister Burelli are reflected in the success of this meeting and the splendor that surrounds it. This is also proof of his prestige within regional diplomacy, which makes all of his friends very proud, including myself.

We are gathered here today, Mr. President and distinguished ministers, to celebrate the dawning of a new Organization of American States. With the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Charter of Bogota still warm, we see that we have left behind our history of rivalries and mistrust, of common efforts and not so few misunderstandings, of great utopias but also of frustrations.

More recently, a new spirit has guided our relations. We have witnessed cooperation, understanding, but above all, an increasing convergence of principles and values, and the conviction that we all share a common destiny. We have abandoned a sort of atavistic pessimism about our possibilities of common relations as well as a divisive and confrontational language. We have sought to celebrate our anniversary with the future in mind. And we have devoted the best of our time to determining how the inter-American system will confront the huge challenges brought on by globalization as well as those of strengthening the relations between the countries of the Americas.

This spirit was evident less than six weeks ago in Santiago, when the 34 Heads of State and Government of the countries represented here today, demonstrated with their actions that the ties that bind us are infinitely stronger than the differences that sometimes separate us. The Santiago Summit made clear that, in this very broad and diverse Hemisphere, the elements that can serve as the great goals and objectives of the entire community of American nations already exist as we enter the next century.

For the OAS, the Summit was a landmark. In Miami, the Organization received a dozen mandates. However, this number almost tripled in Santiago where it increased to 31. This is a vote of confidence, which also entails enormous responsibility.

As for the OAS, its functions have been expanded, and it now must fulfill its role as a forum for adopting inter-American legal norms, as the principal setting for political dialogue, as a center for the exchange of experiences and for the drafting of common or collective policies, as the responsible entity for preserving hemispheric information systems, and as an instrument of continental solidarity with its cooperation activities. It must also maintain the institutional memory of the summit processes and provide technical support to the meetings of ministers and of experts that will be convened to follow-up and fully implement the Santiago mandates.

In Chile, we reaffirmed our inter-American commitment to democracy and the defense of individual rights and public liberties. At the OAS, we have developed the know-how to strengthen the most vulnerable democracies; and we possess our own capacity to protect human rights, engage in demining efforts, carry out electoral observation missions to secure clean, fair and transparent elections, for those countries that have suffered from internal conflicts. Today, the structure of our diplomatic efforts to defend democracy and the constitutional systems of the states, and the use of peaceful resolutions to conflicts unite in a manner unparalleled within the international community making the defense of democracy one of our principal reasons of being. To this ardent political will, the "Protocol of Washington" has been added to provide new instruments to secure the return to institutional order in case democracy in one of our member states is threatened.

At the Summit, the countries made clear as well the need to strengthen our human rights institutions in order to deepen its financial, budgetary and operational autonomy; to examine more cases; to further its promotion; to strengthen its research capabilities; to increase the support it provides as well as receives from national systems; to expand the coverage of the protection of human rights; and to universalize the ratification of the American Convention and the acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court. It is expected that more cooperation programs will be encouraged for the use of information technology in areas such as the administration of justice, We would also like to see more advances in police and penal training, in overcoming inhuman conditions in prisons, and in educating judges and magistrates about human rights issues. Likewise, we will attempt to strengthen our relations with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and reexamine our national laws to eliminate all forms of discrimination.

And in response to a specific mandate from the Summit, we need to strengthen the right to free speech by supporting the Special Rapporteur, through the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and engaging in our best efforts to disclose and punish crimes against journalists.

The Summit has also stressed the importance of strengthening the rights of women by ensuring their full and equal participation in all programs, in light of the fact that there are still some countries that have discriminatory laws and practices de jure and de facto which limit the full participation of women in the workplace. Moreover, domestic violence, the phenomenon of feminization of poverty and unequal access to higher education still persist. We will also endeavor to support the work of the special commissioner on migrant workers of the Human Rights Commission and advance actions aimed at promoting these rights.

Since Santiago, new opportunities have also emerged within the framework of the meeting of Ministers of Justice and attorney generals to strengthen the judicial branch. These include reinforcing its autonomy and its legal and judicial cooperation mechanisms; identifying how to make this public service available to all citizens of the Americas, identifying alternative mechanisms for conflict resolution and introducing oral proceedings; and determining how to strengthen the mechanisms for the fight against organized crime and transnational delinquency. This is the context in which our new program to fight organized crime should be framed.

At the Summit we presented a detailed evaluation of all the activities undertaken since the Bolivia Summit on Sustainable Development. The multilateral institutions, under our coordination, have provided a valuable support to the process of selecting activities contained in the plan of action and the identification of the necessary mechanisms to attract the support of financial entities and technical cooperation agencies. We have been working to identify new instruments and sources of financing as well as to establish the hemispheric network of experts. We hope that soon the ministerial forum we proposed will be created to strengthen the regional and sub-regional agreements in this area. Many of the initiatives agreed to must be defined more clearly prior to setting up the mechanisms of implementation.

Within the framework of the Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, we must find the appropriate formulas to secure the effective exercise and application of fundamental labor laws and basic rights of workers to improve relations between labor and management. We must also determine how to modernize the Labor Ministries and ensure the exchange of information and methods of modernization strategies.

One of the most dynamic processes within the OAS is the definition of a new agenda for hemispheric security through the adoption of confidence and security building measures. Since the meeting held in El Salvador in February on this issue, 20 measures have emerged which ensure the predictability and transparency of initiatives, decisions and military spending. These measures, together with the reasonable reduction of expenses such as percentage of our GDP, which today represents a mere 2%, places our region at the lowest level in the world.

Of these measures I would like to highlight the important opportunity presented to the Commission on Hemispheric Security, as mandated by the Summit, and after an analysis of the meaning, scope and projection of international security concepts in the Hemisphere--, to develop a focus which will enable us to tackle disarmament and arms control issues. This is a process that Latin America, in particular, is increasingly prepared to undertake. This would be the primary contribution to avoiding an arms race that would threaten regional interests. It would also be the most important contribution for achieving regional security in the Americas and the best guarantee that only peaceful means will be used to resolve controversies and conflicts in accordance with existing treaties and international law. As the Summit anticipated, such a proposed process should conclude by the beginning of the next decade with an important specialized conference within the framework of our organization. We wish to point out the importance of strengthening the functions and the secretariat of the Commission on Hemispheric Security in order to secure the effective fulfillment of the important tasks that have been assigned to it.

With respect to the small island nations, I would like to mention that, in El Salvador, we were able to comprehensively identify and define their security problems. These include economic, financial and environmental aspects, and take into account their vulnerability and level of development.

And speaking of security problems, I must mention the progress that Peru and Ecuador have made in resolving their differences, in agreement with the Protocol of Rio, with the active participation of the guarantor countries. Furthermore, I would like to call on all the countries, who have signed the Convention against Anti-Personnel Mines in Ottawa, to ratify it. This is essential to the efforts to convert the Western Hemisphere into a zone free of land mines and to allow our Hemisphere to remain a pioneer in this crucial global and humanitarian effort.

All of these actions require that the OAS strengthen the means of participation and allow a larger presence of civil society in the hemispheric dialogue and in the activities in order to address common problems. The Summit decided that the OAS should serve as a forum to find ways to enable the creation of institutions of civil society and foment dialogues and alliances between the public sector and civil society. Particular references, among others, were made to successful experiences of the National Councils for Sustainable Development and Inter-American Strategy for Public Participation.

Elsewhere, we have in CICAD the enormous challenge of establishing the mechanisms and procedures to create multilateral governmental evaluation of national policies against drugs based on the principles of the charter, the guidelines set forth in the Hemispheric strategy, and above all on the principles of reciprocity, shared responsibility, comprehensiveness and balance in the treatment of the issue and of consensus among states. Our hemispheric alliance should be strengthened in such a way as to permit the countries to enhance mutual trust, dialogue and hemispheric cooperation. In addition, this will allow them to analyze more rigorously, to have the parameters necessary to evaluate the quality and relevance of policies, to regularly reinforce and adjust them, ensure the effectiveness of the work methods, to have a better appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses, and to learn from the similar information and experiences of other countries. The purpose is not to create a supranational tribunal, nor is it to establish sanctions. I am sure that if we put in place an effective mechanism based on reliable technical elements, the process will acquire enormous legitimacy and credibility, as well as serve as a benchmark for governments, the media and civil society. CICAD has already begun its post-summit work with a proposal, presented for your consideration, regarding model regulations on firearms, and is already working on the implementation of model regulations for money laundering and precursor chemicals.

To confront the problems of drugs, in addition to the enormous importance that is has for the fight against crime and delinquency, the countries in Santiago have also called for the ratification of the inter-American convention on the illegal production and trafficking of firearms, munitions and explosives.

We also look forward, as agreed to in Santiago, to hold in Argentina the second hemispheric meeting on terrorism, to evaluate the progress accomplished since the Meeting in Lima, and to define future courses of action for its prevention, fight and elimination. Furthermore, on the subject of corruption the Summit emphasized the ratification by all of the inter-American Convention, the need to implement the Inter-American plan to fight against this scourge, the development of codes of conduct for public officials, progress in the search for common formulas to confront money laundering and implement the agreements reached during the Meeting on Financing of electoral campaigns. Soon, we will move forward on these objectives in Chile with a symposium on the Strengthening of Transparency in the Hemisphere as decided by the Summit.

I would like to draw your attention to the recent meeting of CIDI in Buenos Aires. In two years, CIDI has demonstrated a capacity to adapt and reform that a Hemisphere and a world in change require. The participation of the Hemisphere’s agencies of cooperation, of the World Bank and the cooperation agencies of observer countries have provided us a broader vision of the dimension that our actions can assume and the cooperation we can undertake. And regarding its policy dimension, there is no doubt that the CIDI can and must transform itself into a forum for the design of hemispheric policies, to create regional information systems, and for the exchange of political, economic and social information. The CIDI should also be the depository of the agreements on common hemispheric policies and actions of an inter-American character. In this way, the CIDI should become the principal source for developing decisions of the Hemisphere’s summit process. Undoubtedly, CIDI has yet to reach its potential. In the months ahead, we must improve its efficiency, perhaps, by separating matters pertaining to cooperation from those policy activities; by providing the secretariat the means to work better with other institutions of the inter-American System; and, by examining proposals presented by countries and in particular by the delegation of the United States.

As a part of this review of our work, let us examine now two issues that were of great importance at the Santiago Summit And which are crucial for the collective will of the Hemisphere. The principal among these is, of course, poverty, a fundamental factor making of Latin America, in particular, the region with the greatest inequities in the world. It is paradoxical that a Hemisphere rich in resources and opportunities has left behind millions of its sons helplessly trapped in the claws of misery. And while growth rates in recent times have reached higher levels than in past decades, these remain nevertheless way below the necessary levels to lower the persistently excessive indicators of poverty. Moreover, the employment levels have reacted too slowly, even in those countries that experienced the highest levels of growth. Hopefully, the Inter-American Plan to combat poverty, developed by the High Authorities for Social Development, will contribute significantly to the quality of policies and the institutional framework to confront this collective problem.

The mandates that have been given to us pertaining to education deserve a special mention. As we all know, in the era of globalization people -- and not the natural resources and territory – are the countries’ most important resource. For our citizens to enjoy access to better educational systems, we must address the problems of resources, institutions, educational procedures, quality of teaching especially for the inhabitants of rural areas, for those from ethnic minorities and for those who need special education. Programs should be developed to enable us to address these problems, and the Summit placed special emphasis on programs of evaluation and professionalization of teachers, educational management, increase of institutional capacity, as well as bilinguilism and multiculturalism.

Our efforts will be directed to making education the backbone of our strategy for economic growth by preparing independent, informed, responsible and tolerant citizens who have the knowledge, the values, the professional aptitudes to enter the labor market to compete internationally, to achieve greater equality, to protect the environment, to create a climate of peace and protection of human rights. This must be done, as the Summit decided, by, among other actions, accessing effective information and communication technologies and by developing programs of distance education and of hemispheric information networks. With this objective in mind, we will hold next month in Brasilia a meeting of Ministers of Education where, with the support of other multilateral institutions, we will seek to begin implementing the decisions adopted in Santiago.

Pertaining to the issues dealing with trade and hemispheric integration, the multilateral institutions who comprise the Tripartite Committee -- OAS, IDB, CEPAL – have mobilized a large amount of personnel and financial and technical resources to support the responsibilities of the ministers and the working groups that have enabled the completion of the preparatory phase of FTAA. We have disseminated to public an unprecedented volume of valuable and reliable information to undertake the phase of negotiations.

During this new phase, our responsibility will be to support the negotiating groups that have been agreed to, contribute financially to administrative secretariat of the FTAA and to provide technical advice to the small economies for the development and training of negotiators, access to information and institutional strengthening. It is crucial that they be well prepared for the negotiation phase and able to secure the benefits of free trade. In any event, the purpose is to ensure that integration will be not only a commercial process but also one with vast social and political implications. Moreover, the purpose is to guarantee the preservation of the political will of governments, congresses and public opinion throughout the Hemisphere.

The new responsibilities assigned to the OAS during the meeting in Chile are, in some ways, a recognition of the will it has shown to modernize itself and to adapt its agenda to that of a region that is continually evolving. During the last several years, the Secretariat has made a notable effort to improve its ability to increase its areas of action and to reinforce its priority areas within the context of limited resources and reduced personnel. This 28th Assembly will be, in addition, another demonstration that the organization is open to new ways of working. Thanks to the leadership of the Foreign Ministry of Venezuela -- and in particular that of Ambassador Francisco Paparoni -- as well as to the will of the member states, we will hold a shorter and more responsive meeting during which hopefully the dialogue and creativity of the Foreign Ministers of the Americas will bear fruit.

Such efforts, however, can fall short of the challenges that today’s reality imposes if we fail to act promptly with purpose and strong political will. Without any prior knowledge, one can conclude from what has happened lately around the Hemisphere that there is more multilateralism than there are institutions. The shift to an environment of greater cooperation and integration has been so radical that even entities such as the OAS have fallen behind in some areas in the face of the staggering evolution of political and economic realities.

Surely for this reason, the Heads of Government and State meeting in Santiago have asked their responsible ministries to review the architecture of the inter-American system and of the OAS in particular. This is one of the principal issues of this Assembly, and in this perspective, I hope that the discussions carried out by the heads of delegation will define the parameters that will lead to an improvement of the institutions with which we will develop the Hemisphere’s collective action.

I believe the time has come for the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Ministers to engage in the complicated process of decision-making that awaits us in the months ahead. Within the Organization, we are fully aware that we are expected to do more with fewer human, financial and technical resources, to reduce our personnel and our costs. This is what we have done since 1994. The number of permanent employees has been reduced by 20% while the budget, in real terms, has been lowered by 10% since 1995.

Nevertheless, The Secretariat believes that it can assume the vast majority of the agreements of Santiago within current resources. However, to this end it is necessary to take prompt budgetary decisions that will affect some of the traditional programs of the organization, at the very least, for medium and larger countries. Such determinations will allow the OAS to adjust itself to the new areas and responsibilities without affecting the cooperation activities that are essential to the smaller countries and economies. This would also provide the organization with the elements of a greater hemispheric solidarity and a new political balance more in line with the new hemispheric relations.

It is also necessary to shift some of the organization’s human resources to strengthen some of the thematic areas emanating from the Summit, through early retirement programs. Moreover, the timely payment of quotas is critical as well as maintaining their value in real terms. Specifically, it is critical that countries that are in arrears honor them. We must give back to the Secretariat some of the authorities, provided for under to the charter and the general standards in the area of management, that over time have been lost in practice as a result of, in my opinion, an erroneous application of the rules of consensus regarding not only political matters but also the most basic personnel, financial and administrative issues. This makes the organization cumbersome and, as a result of this co-administration, it eliminates the political control countries must exercise.

The organization has been in an intense process of change as a result of the creation of CIDI when at the same time it was also adapting to the new inter-American agenda and enhancing the move of the Secretariat into the new technical units. Today, it is clearer that we must strengthen the role of the OAS as the political forum of the Americas and as a center of information and exchange of experiences. Moreover, we must initiate deeper changes that will permit a more effective linkage between the system of presidential summits, the General Assembly and the Summit follow-up group in such a way as to allow us to use of the General Assembly as a focal point for broad definitions, for coordination of tasks to be carried out during the year throughout the Hemisphere, and for the allocation of the resources of the Organization as well as those of the countries.

Furthermore, it is necessary to adopt new successful organizational arrangements to deal with the new areas set by the Summit, and in particular the meetings of the Ministers of Labor, Justice and Education. Likewise, we need to strengthen the functions in the political area of the OAS, perhaps, by creating a new Assistant Secretariat for Political Affairs. We need to unify the hemispheric agenda and avoid the duplication among parallel efforts. And, we need to introduce changes to the cooperation arrangements in order to adjust better its operations to the needs of the new Summit process. In this respect, the reasonable concerns of groups of countries, such as Central America and the Caribbean, must be taken into account to ensure that the changes do not undercut either the attention or the resources that these currently receive.

The reform of the OAS requires both the goodwill as well as the direct participation of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Member States. The Secretariat hopes that this Assembly will define the parameters and send a clear message, at the political level, concerning the reform of the OAS as well as the budget and certain aspects of cooperation. We hope that the Extraordinary General Assembly, to be held during the second semester of this year to adopt the budget, will serve likewise to reach decisions that will allow us to fulfill the mandates of our heads of state and government, transform our agenda; and, to be useful to the integration process to which our countries are committed.

With respect to the Secretariat I head, I would like to assure you that I have all the goodwill and enthusiasm to put into practice what you decide. The commitment to work for the inter-American system is unshakable, especially as I am convinced that the timely and thoughtful decisions you adopt will ensure that the Organization will begin, on the right footing, on its way down the road of the 21st century.

Mr. President, Distinguished Ministers:

I could not conclude my remarks without mentioning an issue that preoccupies us so often. I am referring, of course, to Cuba, a founding member of this organization 50 years ago in Bogota. It is clear to all of us that since the visit of his holiness John Paul II a new climate has emerged that allow a more constructive approach to this issue, as suggested recently by several of the region’s heads of State and Foreign Ministers.

What is important today is to be attentive to the opportunities that will eventually present themselves to contribute to the search for a solution to what is the most important political problem to be resolved in the Hemisphere. Many of us, in the Americas, would like to see the formulas of diplomacy, negotiation and gradualism that have succeeded in other regions applied to this problem. We always hold out the possibility of considering Cuba’s return to the inter-American system should tensions be lowered, progress be made toward greater public and economic freedoms as well as should greater protection of human rights be achieved on the island.

Mr. President, Foreign Ministers and Friends:

At the beginning of my remarks, I said that the Assembly that opens today is the first of the next fifty years, that we are moving forward with renewed energy and higher sights, that the relevance and vitality of the OAS will depend on its ability to adapt, to adapt to the new agenda as well as the new aspirations and hopes of our peoples. Fortunately, many of the restrictions that immobilized the OAS in the past have disappeared. Today, our organization is more efficient, better balanced and more universal in its political objectives.

We will act decisively on the long list of ever evolving responsibilities to resolve the problems that we share and those that stem from a more energetic and tight closeness. We hope to realize the dream of Simon Bolivar when he called together the Antifictionic Congress of Panama for the purpose "of uniting all of the new world into a single nation and a single bond that joins all of its parts together with the whole", because " the Union of the Americas will not come to us by divine intervention but as a result of efforts properly guided." Let the will of Bolivar be our guide at the beginning of the new century.

Thank you very much.