Media Center



September 25, 1996 - Washington, DC

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to join you today as you begin your deliberations on a topic of fundamental importance to the future of our Hemisphere. Telecommunications is definitely a building block of the modern age. However, as we look forward to the new millennium, telecommunications is fast becoming a prerequisite for the well-being of our people.

In the days to come, you will have a unique opportunity to shape the destiny of communications in our Hemisphere. But, in so doing you will also have a chance to increase the odds that the transformation, we have been experiencing, over the past decade or two, will culminate in the successful integration of the Americas.

The transformation, I am speaking of, was nowhere more apparent than just two years ago at the Summit of the Americas. At that time, 34 democratically elected Heads-of-States gathered in Miami to identify specific issues on which they could all agree to work together. What is more, the Plan of Action produced by the Summit focused on matters of direct interest to each of our member states. Specifically, they committed their respective governments' time and resources, as well as that of the inter-American system, to achieve meaningful results in eight major areas. As you all know, these are:

Strengthening of Democracy
Economic Integration of the Hemisphere
Defense and Protection of Human Rights
Hemispheric Security and the Fight Against Drug Trafficking
Combating Corruption and Modernizing the State
Protection of the Environment and the Promotion of Sustainable Development
Telecommunications, and
Promotion of Cultural Values
The inclusion of telecommunications on the Hemisphere's short list of priorities was no accident. Without the free flow of information, the attainment of the goals of the Summit of the Americas will be harder to reach. Moreover, the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of their citizens will also be undermined.

Think about it. How do products find consumers? How do candidates appeal to voters? How do environmental problems find solutions? How does education reach children, and medical know-how heel the sick?

At the close of the 20th century, communication and information are a critical part of the answers to these and the many other pressing issues every country in our Hemisphere must confront. The fact is, the extent to which the peoples of the Americas are able to communicate will define the future of the Americas.

The OAS has long understood the importance of this subject. Even before the Summit of the Americas, this organization was already engaged in a number of ways. For instance, the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), which has steadily earned recognition for its work, has been actively pursuing several efforts to assist member states in developing and expanding their national policies. Allow me to highlight some of their efforts.

1) CITEL has been promoting the use of common standards, throughout the Americas, for the implementation of new telecommunication systems and technologies and to ensure the inter-operability of networks within our region.

2) Following the ITU Regional Development Conference in Acapulco in 1992, CITEL and the ITU jointly initiated a project that has resulted in the issuance of the Blue Book on telecommunication policies. This important telecommunications publication covers the experiences of member states in this arena and offer recommendations for the countries to consider as they move toward a more liberalized telecommunications environment.

3) In 1993, CITEL established a legal working group and initiated a program to disseminate information about the differences in the administrative procedures used by each member state. Incidentally, the composition and mandate of CITEL's legal working group have expanded in response to the Action Plan of the Summit of the Americas.

4) And finally, CITEL has been actively working, since 1992, to assist the member states in their preparations for the heavy schedule of ITU World Radio Conferences. The importance of Spectrum management has been identified as a priority item at the ITU Regional and World Development Conferences and in the Action Plan of the Miami Summit.

I would also like to draw your attention to another example of the involvement of the OAS in this field. I am referring to the Hemisphere Wide Inter University Scientific and Technological Information Network, also known as RedHUCyT. the OAS launched this project in 1991 to enable our universities, libraries, hospitals, and governmental organizations, throughout our region, to gain valuable access to information networks elsewhere. Today, It has been generally recognized that, in cooperation with national and regional institutions, the ?RedHUCyT" project of the OAS has played a key role in connecting member states to the Internet.

In support of this effort, the OAS has sponsored several seminars and workshops in Latin America and the Caribbean, to promote knowledge and experience of electronic communication networks. We have provided equipment and technical assistance for the establishment of key nodes and services. Most recently, we have secured access for Paraguay where RedHUCyT provided an earth station for satellite communication.

Presently, all of Latin America has full Internet connectivity and every country in the region has at least E-mail access thanks to all these activities.

Looking toward the future, the challenge will be to expand these networks, within institutions, as well as across borders, so that many more people will have regular access to these resources. As you know, the Internet is fast becoming the preferred communications media to bring together our diverse communities. It is also emerging as the best way to showcase to the world the information wealth of our own region.

The OAS, through RedHUCyT, will continue to look for additional sources of funding so that we may work collectively to make universal access a reality, and ultimately to guarantee that the ?benefits of the information infrastructure will be available to all members of our societies", as mandated by the Heads of State.

As you can see, the OAS has been energetically pursuing these important objectives in the telecommunications arena for quite some time. And, it has done so with considerable success. In essence, the Summit of the Americas has recognized these programs by placing even greater emphasis on the expansion of such efforts .

Since then, CITEL has undertaken two additional new programs deserving recognition. The first has already resulted in the adoption of guidelines for the implementation of Value Added Services in the member countries. This is a clear indication that the countries of the region are moving forward into the 21st century determined to have a closer relationship in the next century than has existed in the present one. The second initiative produced a set of guidelines, thereby effectively launching the process of harmonization of equipment certification in the member countries.

As you can readily see, a lot of work has been done. But as you also know, only the surface has been scratched. So, if we are to achieve full economic integration by the year 2005, as well as reach the objectives of the Summit of the Americas, you will also agree that there is much still left to be accomplished.

The explosive growth of telecommunications and information networks, and the increased interest of so many diverse players -- ranging from small Service Providers to the giant telecommunications companies -- are indicative of the necessity to ensure universal access to modern telecommunications. This week, you have the opportunity to set in motion programs that will take into account all these diverse interests and encourage the establishment of flexible regulatory regimes so that everybody may participate in building the technologies required to make universal access a reality.

The Heads of State in the Miami Summit called on all of us to ". . . encourage private sector investment to increase participation in the telecommunications and information infrastructure sectors; promote competition; implement flexible regulatory regimes; stimulate diversity of content, including cultural and linguistic diversity . . ."

In so doing, the 34 leaders clearly signaled that a modern telecommunications and information infrastructure is an indispensable building block for economic growth of any country regardless of the stage of development.

On this important occasion, you, the senior telecommunications officials of our hemisphere, have an opportunity to propose ways in which the telecommunications sector can best support our collective goals. Your decisions will have a lasting impact for the years to come. And, they will ultimately show us how the information superhighway will lead all our people toward economic growth for the foreseeable future. It is up to you to build that highway.

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I now have the pleasure to declare this Meeting of Senior Telecommunication Officials to be formally open.

Thank you.