Media Center



February 25, 1998 - San Salvador, El Salvador

I should like to begin by thanking the Government of El Salvador and President Armando Calderón for the kind offer they made to the Organization of American States to host, in the city of San Salvador, the First High-Level Meeting on the Security Concerns of Small Caribbean Island States. It is an honor for the OAS that this meeting will be held in El Salvador, which provides a living example of what the peoples of the Americas are capable of doing when they are united in the quest for peace and development.

I also wish to express special thanks to all members of the delegations present and, in particular, from the Caribbean island states, who, with their presence here today, unequivocally confirm the political will of their governments to seek constantly better and more effective mechanisms for cooperation on the sub-region's most pressing security problems. There is no question that today, in holding this meeting, the Caribbean is setting an example of how these challenges can be confronted, using the tools of dialogue and consensus-building and applying a political principle that is one of the most basic, but also one of the most difficult to put in practice: that which says "in unity there is strength".

Distinguished Ambassadors and Delegates:

The end of the Cold War brought a change in the traditional approach to the concept of security. During the 90s, the international panorama has been changing, and yesterday's strategic paradigms for security policy no longer suffice to manage the realities of today.

The greatest challenges to security in many nations of our hemisphere include non-traditional risks, non-military risks. We now have new threats to the security of states and their citizens: international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, transnational criminal activities, deteriorating public security, arms trafficking, and the illicit exploitation of natural resources, among other potential threats to peace and stability in the world today. Added to these problems, in this particular region, are natural phenomena that can also threaten the survival of nations.

The particular characteristics of each sub-region shape its perception of security threats. External factors may represent a real danger for some, but for others may be totally insignificant.

In the Caribbean, the creation of the Regional Security System is a concrete example of the kind of agreement that can be reached. This system is made up of ten states and territorial dependencies that have resolved to cooperate in combating illegal narcotics trafficking, controlling pollution, preventing smuggling, controlling illegal immigration and other areas. As part of a comprehensive approach to security problems, the system is intended for the conservation of fisheries resources, cooperation in the event of natural disaster, and the protection of inland facilities and exclusive economic zones. Most importantly, however, this pact demonstrates the political will of these Caribbean countries to resolve their security problems within a framework of cooperation and mutual assistance.

There are clear reasons why the island states of the Caribbean are more vulnerable than others to such problems as narcotics trafficking, transnational crime, arms trafficking, natural disasters, or ecological changes. They are small countries, highly dependent on foreign trade and tourism, especially vulnerable to natural disasters, sensitive to ecological change, and in many cases, economically reliant on one or two basic products, upon which a majority of the national work force depends. In this region, a change in the price of an export product or the suspension of a concesional tariff can mean an economic imbalance of devastating magnitude. Similarly, a hurricane, volcano eruption, or tidal wave can cause losses in life and property which, measured in relative terms, affect the majority of a population or its territory.

As you will recall, this issue is not new to the OAS. Years ago, these questions were ably addressed by Ambassador Patrick Lewis, who will later present a summary of the report prepared by the Commonwealth Group on the security of Small States. The issue has been on the OAS Agenda ever since, and in 1992, the General Assembly recommended that study be given to the special security problems and economic needs of the hemisphere's small states.

Following the Declaration of Santiago de Chile, we have been pleased to see a renewed momentum in addressing these issues. In 1996, the General Assembly convened a special session of the Hemispheric Security Commission, to which recognized government experts in the field were invited. On that occasion, a major effort was made to identify and define more comprehensively the security problems facing the Caribbean islands, outline a plan of action to reduce the threat posed by certain factors or mitigate their effects through preventive measures as warranted.

Emphasis was placed on the multidimensional character of security concerns in the Caribbean states, and it is from this perspective that the OAS has been working in the fields of trade, tourism, illegal narcotics trafficking, sustainable development, the prevention of disasters, and confidence-building measures in the sub-region.

I should now like to describe briefly how the OAS is addressing these concerns.

First, we understand that illegal narcotics and arms trafficking - and the criminal chain reaction they generate - not only corrupt our societies and undermine democratic values and solidarity, but are also extremely detrimental to tourism, which is one of the region's most bountiful industries. To give only two examples, this activity accounted for approximately sixty percent of gross domestic product in the Bahamas in 1996, and, in the Dominican Republic, accounts for an annual income of more than one billion dollars.

CICAD has been working in this area, and its programs include communications support for the national drug enforcement agencies; strengthening of the Caribbean witness protection program; strengthening of the national drug prevention committees; design of a shared documentation system for the control of commercial firearms cargo; and the training of specialists in drug user treatment.

The Tourism Unit has developed a project to address the issue of security as an essential aspect of sustainable tourism in the Caribbean islands. Similarly, we welcome without reservation a resolution of the Twenty-seventh Inter-American Travel Conference urging the OAS member states to implement programs to protect the security of tourists and their belongings, and we are already working on it.

Second is the issue of economic vulnerability characterizing these countries, whose economies depend largely on income from international trade in one or two basic products. Bananas, for example, account for eighty percent of exports in Santa Lucia and employ sixty percent of the work force in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In addressing this issue, the OAS Trade Unit, together with the World Trade Organization and Georgetown University, has organized an advanced training course for government officials on multilateral and regional trade issues in the Americas. Currently this Unit has become the main source of support for the Working Group on Small Economies in the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Four technical documents have been prepared for this gruop on opportunities and challenges for the smaller economies and other seminars, courses, and workshops will be held to assist in the design of commercial policies.

But the essential element is support to the FTAA working groups and a readiness to provide technical cooperation to the Caribbean countries if they so request, within the trade ministerial framework.

The third group of threats warranting special attention, given their potentially grave consequences, consists of natural disasters, which, as I said, can be of devastating proportions in this region. But these are not the only environmental threats to the Caribbean islands: global warming, fragile ecosystems, disposal sites for nuclear wastes and other hazardous materials, are also areas of significant concern.

Accordingly, with the awareness that most environmental problems call for international cooperation, the OAS Unit for Sustainable Development and the Environment is now conducting three projects of major importance. The first is designed for the mitigation of disasters in the Caribbean through programs in such areas as community preparedness, the introduction of building codes, strengthened security for shelters and the preparation of maps showing high-risk areas. The second is a program for Caribbean coastal management, designed to strengthen institutional capacity and develop legislation for the development of ecosystems; and, finally, a plan for adaptation to global climate changes, including the installation of a network of sensors to report data and facilitate its rapid dissemination and analysis. This unit has also worked to foster inter-American dialogue on disaster prevention, organizing an inter-institutional meeting to incorporate this effort into the economic planning process.

Finally, we cannot neglect the traditional aspects of security in the Caribbean. Central here is the connection between the issues I have just described and the process of implementing measures to promote hemispheric confidence and security. I want to call particular attention to the active participation of Caribbean countries in the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons and in the International Standardized Report on Military Spending, as well as the information provided to update the comprehensive and integrated inventory of confidence measures conducted by the OAS.

Particularly gratifying for all of us are activities such as "Tradewinds", whose participants include not only the members of the Regional Security System and other CARICOM member countries, but also the United States and the United Kingdom. This activity undeniably helps to strengthen trust and cooperative ties among the armed forces of the countries involved, including those invited as observers. Logistical support and emergency supply measures conducted by the armed forces of several Caribbean states, through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Unit, serve a similar purpose.

In this connection, I am confident that declaration of the Caribbean as a zone of peace in the context of the United Nation's proposal would capture the attention of the entire international community and help to heighten awareness about the special concerns of the small Caribbean island states. As we have said, a first step in that direction would be for all states to ratify the Tlatelolco Treaty, forbidding nuclear weapons in the region.

Distinguished Delegates:

I realize that for many it may seem unorthodox to mix such issues as trade, tourism, or natural disasters in a conference on Caribbean security. But this, doubtless, is a sign of the new times. How, indeed, can we tell a country or group of countries that a latent menace, of whatever kind, that has the potential to threaten a country's very survival, or the majority of its population, or which could result in economic collapse, should not be considered a legitimate threat to national security? Clearly, such threats bear on the very existence of these countries as independent states.

But the fundamental point of this debate, it appears to me, is to analyze how this reality may shape the new strategic thinking in the Americas or, more specifically, the new security paradigm for the hemisphere. This afternoon, in opening our Second Hemispheric Conference on Confidence-Building and Security Measures, I will revisit this issue, but I would like briefly to share some thoughts here as well.

In my view, we must approach these issues from a political perspective, in a realistic manner. We cannot proceed mechanically or through theoretical speculation, affirming that there is a security dimension in almost all, political, social and economic issues. To give into the temptation of building up a very broad definition of hemispheric security, would bring confusion in a diversity of important issues, such as international cooperation or the roll of military institution in the national level. For example, an exaggerated broadness in the interpretation of the concept of security, may lead to justify a greater involvement of military institutions in affairs naturally corresponding to the civil power, or in the other case, to subordinate international cooperation decisions to security approaches.

I believe, therefore, that this process of re-defining the concept of hemispheric security brings opportunities, but it also proves dangerous.

Today our concept of security is no longer shaped solely by military considerations as in days past. Nor is it determined by economic, social or political concerns. Security must addressed on its own terms and by its own institutions. This balance, of course, is difficult to achieve, but clearly necessary. In my view, it should be pursued at the sub-regional level.

Let us look at this last point. Within our hemisphere, taken as a whole, the old threats of the Cold War now coexist with the new nontraditional challenges to national security. The tendency is to seek the peaceful settlement of conflicts and the universal application of confidence-building measures, using the many mechanisms of preventive diplomacy, but in some countries, internal conflicts or frontier disputes persist, and in others, transnational crime, in varied forms, has grown alarmingly.

The concept of hemispheric security should therefore be reconstructed by combining three processes: first, the imperative for nations to confront powerful common enemies that know no boundaries; second, the need to administer or reduce military arsenals accumulated by certain countries during the Cold War period and, finally, the duty of all states to defend their territorial integrity and constitutional order.

In this scenario, sub-regional agreements will form the guidelines for this process. Far from ignore them, we have to promote them, because they will constitute the starting point for regional discussion. There is no reason to think that in the future a set of sub-regional agreements on security issues would not be compatible within basic regional consensus. On this basis, I believe we can move back to a conception of hemispheric security acceptable to all, in which there are no impositions or omissions.

This task is doubtless much more complex than before the Cold War, when everything was subordinated to the supreme threat and there were no options: no one dared be alone and nations had to line up on one side or the other. The panorama today is different. Hence the critical importance of this meeting, and meetings held in other regions on this same subject.

I have no doubt that the conclusions reached today will greatly enrich our hemispheric debate on the new security agenda and the new challenges before us on that front.

I wish all of you good luck in your deliberations. We are confident that the Caribbean, following its tradition, will once again contribute to peace and concord among its neighbors, throughout the Americas, and around the world.

Thank you very much.