Media Center



January 13, 1998 - Tokyo, Japan

Let me begin by expressing a special thank you to the Government of Japan and to the organizers of this international conference for inviting me, as Secretary General of the Organization of American States, to share a few thoughts on the role of this institution in our Hemisphere today and, in particular, on its conflict management and prevention activities.

I am certain that the proposals, discussions, and exchanges of experience at this meeting will bring everyone up to date and shed new light on a highly important and timely subject: diplomatic action, both national and multilateral, to foster the peaceful coexistence of nations in today's world and to contribute to the solution of internal conflicts.

First, I would like to recall briefly the origins of our Organization and the purposes for which it was created.

The OAS can be called the oldest regional organization in the world. Back in 1890, a Commercial Bureau was established to promote and facilitate commerce in the Hemisphere. In 1910, that Bureau became the Pan American Union.

In those times, regional rivalries and fear of intervention by the United States on behalf of the Monroe Doctrine or just to defend its interests were the Hemisphere's foremost concerns in terms of international politics. For that reason, successive years witnessed significant development of international law in the Americas. The states, seeking a grater balance in the relationship with the United States, formed principles such as nonintervention in internal affairs, the juridical equality of states, and the peaceful settlement of disputes. These principles were incorporated subsequently in the founding Charter of the OAS.

At the end of World War II and with the Cold War as a backdrop, 20 Latin American nations and the United States signed the eminently political Charter of the Organization of American States in Bogotá in 1948. One year earlier, they also concluded the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) to defend the Hemisphere against external aggression. All these principles were later included in the founding charter of the OAS. Naturally, the OAS Charter and the TIAR were shaped by the new international political world, in which they arose-specifically, by the U.S.-led policy of containing Communism.

As the various English-speaking Caribbean Island states gained their independence, the number of OAS member states grew to the present figure of 35. The more than 700 million inhabitants of these nations, from Canada in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south, speak four languages and dozens of ancestral dialects. We also count the European Union and 44 nations, including Japan, among the permanent observers to the Organization. In 1962, in the Cold War context, Cuba was suspended from the Organization.

What essential purposes were enshrined in the founding charter of the OAS? In addition to those mentioned, they are: to strengthen peace and security in the Hemisphere; to promote and consolidate representative democracy; to organize collective action by the member states in the event of external aggression; to seek solutions to political, legal, and economic problems that may arise among them; to promote, through cooperative action, their economic, social, and cultural development; and to achieve effective limitation of conventional weapons so that the greatest amount of resources may be devoted to economic and social development.

The OAS is the only international organization that refers to democracy in its founding instrument and whose principles include promoting and defending democracy. This is the central purpose of the Organization. As we will see, it is the source of the political mandates issued to the Secretary General and the permanent bodies of the OAS to exercise, in a variety of ways, what has been called preventive diplomacy in our hemisphere.

Let us take a closer look. With the exceptions of the "Chaco war" between Bolivia and Paraguay that took place from 1932 to 1935 and the Malvinas war in 1982, this century in our Hemisphere has been characterized more by tensions and incidents between countries and internal strife than by outright conflicts among nations. This is true of the incidents between Colombia and Peru in 1932; El Salvador and Honduras in 1969; the internal conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the '80s; the conflict in Guatemala that ended barely more than a year ago; the civil war in Suriname in the early '90s; the internal conflicts still going on in Colombia and, to a lesser extent, Peru; or, more recently, in 1995, the incident between Ecuador and Peru.

How did the OAS respond? What has it done in the past, and what can it do now in the face of similar events?

The Western world, for over 40 years, had in the Soviet bloc, and in Communism, an enemy with which reconciliation was not possible. This was a clearly defined threat, not only to a country's security but also to the physical and political survival of the Hemisphere as a whole. This harsh reality was a perilous yet simple circumstance. Everyone knew who the enemy was; almost everyone was on one side or the other. It was difficult to stand alone.

This Cold War reality greatly limited political action by the OAS, so much so that issues such as protection of human rights, preservation of democracy, and even respect for national sovereignty and observance of international law were subordinated to the overriding threat. For these reasons also, solutions to some of these conflicts, such as in Central America, had to be sought outside the Organization, because the disagreement within it was insurmountable. While the United States saw an East-West struggle, Latin America tended to see a regional conflict.

That difference politically paralyzed the Organization, where decision-making by consensus has been the tradition. Outside the OAS framework, the Contadora Group and the Esquipulas mechanism arose, facilitating dialogue and paving the way for negotiated political solutions to those conflicts. Still, the OAS actively participated in the post-conflict phase. In Nicaragua and, later, in Guatemala, it largely assumed responsibility for verification and implementation of the peace accords.

Today the scene is much more complex, a chiaroscuro in which the demise of Communism and East-West strategic contests has not meant an end to confrontation and war.

On the somber side, first of all, vestiges of the Cold War remain in our Hemisphere. Revolutionary and terrorist groups in Colombia and Peru continue to threaten democracy.

Second, old border disputes remain among countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Although they do not threaten confrontation, recently we saw one of them, the event in 1995 between Peru and Ecuador, escalate into an armed incident.

Third, a set of new problems, because they are transnational in nature, has become the new enemies of democratic stability in many nations, or has fomented internal strife. These phenomena-drug trafficking, terrorism, and arms smuggling-transcend all national borders, threatening regional security.

But there are new bright sights too in this chiaroscuro, most notably the fall of authoritarianism and dictatorship in Latin America; the settlement of many internal conflicts; the removal of barriers to trade; economic integration; the transition to democracy in practically all the countries of the Americas.

A new era has begun in our region, in which nations are united by a commonality of values and ideals. Cooperation is the trend today. We have closed the curtain on decades of isolationism, strife, and mistrust. Little by little, around focal points such as fighting corruption, combating drug traffic, and arms control, the American nations have gathered to sign hemispheric conventions or strategies in which policy and law make them partners in common undertakings.

There is no doubt that the actual economic integration that characterized the Americas is significantly contributing to lessen tensions between the countries of our hemisphere.

We are witnessing a transition from the old order to a new one we are just now building. The Organization's hands are no longer tied in all the ways they once were. There is more room for diplomacy, for conflict prevention, for the task we now have under way: redefining what hemispheric security in the Americas means and putting together a new agenda in this area that addresses the concerns of all the countries and sub-regions.

We know that the challenges are great, but so are the opportunities. I am among those who believe the new order will not arise spontaneously, and that it would lack the necessary consensus, the necessary checks and balances, as well as the parameters everyone can trust, if we did let things happen without a plan.

In terms of conflict management in the inter-American system, we are acting at three different, not necessarily sequential, stages: preventive diplomacy, crisis management, and post-conflict management.

The objective is always the same: to protect the democratic system; consolidate democratic advances in the countries; and strengthen representative institutions. We have created an American doctrine of solidarity with democracy that acts against any threat, whether from the right, the left, or organized crime, regardless of denomination or ideology, whenever anyone attempts to hinder or interrupt the workings of a country's democratic institutions. And when this doctrine is invoked, a series of diplomatic and coercive measures are set in motion, all of which are backed by international accords and instruments.

Preventive diplomacy is employed both to resolve tensions among countries and to help governments handle internal conflicts.

To reduce tension, throughout the '90s, especially since 1995, the OAS member countries decided upon a number of confidence-building measures based on the regular exchange of military and security information and on consultations in certain areas. Our Committee on Hemispheric Security compiles and distributes this information, which involves the countries' military budgets, prior notice of military exercises, the exchange of documents on security doctrines, inventory data on certain weapons, meetings to build security in border areas-in short, a compilation of security and defense information that, because it is reported to all parties, and because it generates consultation mechanisms, establishes an atmosphere of greater tranquillity.

At our most recent General Assembly session, the member states of the Organization also adopted a resolution on transparency in weapons procurement. We have placed the highest priority on this subject, and have planned for February the second regional conference on confidence-building measures, which will evaluate progress made thus far and surely produce recommendations for improving that process.

As I see it, conditions are being established in our Hemisphere for addressing conventional weapons control. Given the truly encouraging pace of progress in the adoption of confidence-building measures, even beyond what has been achieved at the United Nations, this is the logical next step. Let me recall that, 25 years ago, Latin America became the first region free of nuclear weapons when it concluded the Treaty of Tlatelolco to which most Caribbean countries, including Cuba, have adhered then-since.

Also, in 1990 our General Assembly established within the General Secretariat a Unit for the Promotion of Democracy. Salient among its various activities to promote and protect democracy are its many observer missions to ensure free and transparent elections. It also coordinates mine removal efforts in Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, one of the most important activities in those countries in the wake of the bloody conflicts they went through. I should note that, in the context of the recent world summit in Ottawa, Canada, to combat the use of antipersonnel land mines, the Central American countries renewed their commitment to completing mine removal in the year 2.000.

As for crisis management, in 1991 the OAS member countries took a very significant step in adopting resolution 1080, which empowers the Secretary General of the Organization to convene the Permanent Council or the General Assembly on an emergency basis when the workings of any democratically elected government in the region are interrupted in an abrupt or irregular manner, and to take action in the framework of the OAS Charter. This procedure has been invoked on four occasions, in response to events in Haiti in 1991, Peru in 1992, Guatemala in 1993, and Paraguay in 1996.

In Haiti, this resolution was applied in response to the coup d'etat of September 30, 1991. Three days later, the foreign ministers of the member states met in Washington. They decided to recognize as the sole legitimate government that of President Aristide, calling for its immediate reinstatement and for full observance of the rule of law. For the next three years, escalating diplomatic, political, economic, and military pressure was applied, in coordination with the United Nations Security Council, ending with the return of the Aristide government.

This is a very important case for three reasons. First, it was the first time in history that the OAS had acted to defend democracy according to objective criteria agreed to by all its member states, free of the distorting effect of ideological struggles. This means the inter-American system returned a president to office without regard for his political background, his ideas, or the standing of his country, solely because he had been removed by unlawful means.

Second, it demonstrated the recognition by the OAS member states that force can be used only by the United Nations. Neither then nor now has there been disagreement within the OAS on this point, since the OAS Charter itself speaks exclusively of peaceful and diplomatic means-specifically, direct negotiation, good offices, mediation, conciliation, judicial proceedings, arbitration, or any other measure agreed to by the parties.

Third, it showed that an effective level of cooperation between international organizations is possible, in this case between the UN and the OAS. Until the time the United Nations Security Council approved the formation of a multilateral force, the UN acted in support of diplomatic and political measures undertaken by the OAS.

In the other cases in which resolution 1080 was invoked-Peru in April 1992, when the Executive suspended Parliament and the Judiciary; Guatemala in May 1993, when, similarly, the Congress was suspended and judicial officials were removed; and Paraguay in 1996, when a military uprising threatened to overthrow the president-the situations were overcome quickly with active participation by the OAS in the form of peaceful, diplomatic measures.

In the most recent case of Paraguay, the nascent coup d'etat was derailed in a matter of hours, simply with the announcement that the Hemisphere's foreign ministers were to be convened and the OAS Secretary General's immediate arrival in that country. The support and good offices of the MERCOSUR member countries-Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil-and of the United States Government were decisive in those moments. What was new was the immediate joint action by the OAS and a number of the region's foreign ministers, just when the coup was being hatched. The full weight and effectiveness of regional diplomacy was demonstrated. De facto rule was prevented and the constitutional mandate of a democratically elected president was preserved.

In 1992, the Organization adopted another mechanism, known as the Protocol of Washington, which established that "a Member of the Organization whose democratically constituted government has been overthrown by force may be suspended from the exercise of the right to participate in (…) the Councils of the Organization...". This instrument entered into force a few months ago and should serve purposes similar to those of resolution 1080: discourage breaches of democracy in the member countries or, if one should occur, create an insurmountable level of political and diplomatic isolation that exerts enough pressure to normalize the situation.

Finally, in post-conflict situations of recent years the OAS has played an important role in activities such as monitoring cease-fires, disarmament, and demobilization of armed groups in Nicaragua and Suriname between 1989 and 1992; assistance to refugees in Nicaragua, Haiti, and Honduras between 1990 and 1995; humanitarian assistance in Haiti in 1995; community-based dispute settlement in Guatemala in 1995 and 1996; and human rights monitoring in Haiti and Central America.

Three experiences with such post-conflict activities have been particularly meaningful.

First, the International Civilian Mission that has worked in Haiti for over five years, involving joint efforts by the OAS and the UN. It has focused primarily on protecting human rights, and to a lesser degree on conflict mediation. This is an important case, since the Mission arrived in the country a few months after the coup d'etat and has played a decisive role in normalizing democratic life in Haiti since then. At the beginning, in 1993, it consisted of 230 observers, while last year, as the situation was returning to normal, it was reduced to 53, of whom 28 are members of our Organization.

Second, the International Commission for Support and Verification, whose mandate in Nicaragua concluded last June with much success. The Commission made a key contribution to protecting human rights in that country, to national reconciliation, and, in general, to implementation of the peace accords. Its main task was the reintegration of 22.000-armed combatants. Their return to civilian life was a gradual process.

Third, the Special Mission to Suriname, which began in 1992 and continues today. It was formed at the end of the civil war that rocked that country. The Mission has done very important work in areas such as technical support to electoral institutions; advisory services to indigenous community organizations; special studies on population, natural resources, and the environment; and, in general, a wide variety of institution-building activities.

Distinguished Delegates to this Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The relevance and importance of the Organization of American States in our Hemisphere is derived neither from its age nor from its continuity over time, but rather from its ability to adapt to a Hemisphere and a world where change is swift and ongoing, from the way it rises to the call of each period's challenges. Therein lies its strength.

First it was commerce; then the effort by Latin America and the Caribbean to find political equilibrium with the United States; later, containment of Communism; today, the quest for peace and integration at all levels; but always, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the defense and promotion of democracy. A history of achievements, small or large depending on one's vantage point; a history of rivalries and overcoming distrust; a history of stumbles, mistakes, and successes. But a history of change, of continual transformation, of answering the imperatives of the day.

Our Organization today is more balanced, more universal in its political objectives. The entire structure of our preventive diplomacy, our use of peaceful procedures to handle crises and carry out post-conflict activities, is built on the principle of defending democracy. That is our paradigm of solidarity. We have developed our own expertise at protecting human rights, observing elections, responding when countries experience internal strife; and we have placed that ability at the service of rebuilding democratic institutions.

Fifty years ago, an illustrious ex-president of Colombia, Alberto Lleras Camargo, who served as the first Secretary General of the OAS, said that this Organization was neither good nor bad; it was what the countries wanted it to be. And today what the nations of the Americas want is for it to continue its transformation, to lead the integration processes now under way, to help put the Cold War period forever behind us. They want strategic thinking in the Americas to lean toward cooperation, where agreement is the basis of multilateral action, where efforts are joined to fight common enemies, where national interests and democratic values converge in an effective way. That is our task.

Thank you very much.