Media Center



June 24, 1996 - Caracas, Venezuela

The specialized conference we are opening today is clearly a milestone in the war on one of the ills that most affect and threaten the democratic system, not only in our Hemisphere but in all regions of the world.

So it is especially gratifying to me that we are meeting here in Caracas, in recognition of the Venezuelan people's constant efforts to defend and galvanize democracy, and, in particular, of the leadership of Venezuela and President Caldera in the quest for effective anticorruption measures.

President Caldera:

On behalf of the OAS and all its member states, I want to thank your country for its generous offer to host this conference in Caracas, and for its unquestionable and invaluable leadership in bringing the countries of the American Hemisphere together to consider an anticorruption convention for the first time in the OAS arena.

Your participation in the 1994 Summit of the Americas, where the multilateral nature of the corruption syndrome was expressly acknowledged; your presence at the Seminar on Probity and Public Ethics organized by the OAS in Montevideo last November and the content of your remarks at its close; your government's presentation of a draft convention that served as a springboard for discussion of this important legal instrument; the work done on this topic by Minister of Foreign Affairs Burelli at last year's follow-up meeting on the Summit of the Americas in Washington; and the active participation of Ambassador Sebastián Allegrett, among other factors, clearly demonstrate your enduring commitment and that of your government throughout the process leading up to this specialized conference.

Regardless of the reasons given for it, corruption is one of the most serious threats to the survival and strength of democracy, and to the economic development of our countries.

As recent experience shows, corruption is both a difficulty and a real challenge for all the states, both developed and developing, at every latitude and in every region.

Unfortunately, each of us has the problem, though our versions of it differ. Collective action by all the American nations is needed precisely because this is an enemy that knows no national boundaries.

President Caldera:

We come to Caracas to show what joint action can do in the face of a common adversary. We are here to confirm that corruption is not a point of no return. In contrast to the moaning losers who parade their defeat, saying nothing can be done, we come to reaffirm the American nations' belief that corruption can be defeated, and we are here to adopt measures for achieving that purpose.

At the Summit of the Americas in December 1994, the heads of state and government stressed that corruption was a threat to democracy in the Hemisphere and, for that reason, undertook to negotiate under OAS auspices a hemispheric agreement for international cooperation in fighting this scourge.

Hence, barely more than a year after that historic encounter, the OAS presents at this specialized conference the result of one of its mandates from you, the heads of state and government: to consider and, if appropriate, adopt measures for a collective war on corruption.

The process carried forward to date has underscored one of the Organization's great comparative advantages: that it is the natural arena where all the states of the Hemisphere join in dialogue to seek solutions to their common problems. It has also highlighted the immense potential of this organization in matters of development of international law and the drafting and refinement of legal instruments in all areas of common interest.

The itinerary mapped out by the General Assembly in Montrouis has allowed the draft convention to be enriched by numerous inputs. The text presented for consideration at this specialized conference was produced with constant refinements from all parties—first the initial text offered by the Government of Venezuela; then the draft by the Chair of the Working Group on Probity and Public Ethics, Chilean Ambassador Edmundo Vargas Carreño; observations from the Inter-American Juridical Committee; comments by experts in the field; and, always, active participation by all the member states.

Ladies and gentlemen:

At the Montevideo seminar I was able to offer some thoughts on how the war on corruption should be viewed, and to present some ideas on the role the OAS can play in continuing the process that began with discussion of the draft convention.

I said then that this process should lead us to work on the concept and definition of a comprehensive anticorruption strategy; that the problem should be seen mostly as one of corrupt systems rather than corrupt persons; that the campaign against this scourge should be viewed as a process; and that responsibility for this effort lies with all the protagonists: the states, the private sector, society overall, and the international community.

Significant steps have been taken along those lines in the text to be considered at this specialized conference.

First, in terms of its aim, the convention now would not only seek cooperation among the states in fighting the problem but would also promote and bolster the development by each state party of mechanisms needed for the prevention, detection, punishment, and elimination of corruption.

Second, the draft expressly recognizes, in the preamble and many of the new articles, that the problem, once present, cannot be resolved solely through enforcement and punishment, but also requires preventive policies to modernize institutions and remove circumstances that engender, facilitate, or encourage corruption.

Third, the new text treats the war on corruption as a process, not the simple result of specific, isolated, unrelated efforts. One takes from the draft that this should be an ongoing effort, already initiated by the countries, that would move forward with this convention and proceed in the form of decisions by the states at the domestic level, or again at the inter-American level through additional protocols to this convention.

Fourth, the draft, while recognizing the responsibility of the states for eliminating corruption, stresses the importance of action by all sectors. In particular, it recognizes the need to strengthen society's role in preventing and fighting corruption, and provides that the states will afford one another the broadest measure of technical assistance, foster the exchange of experience, and pay special attention to ways for citizens to join in the campaign.

Allow me, if you will, to highlight also the steps taken on other matters that arose from the seminar in Montevideo, as well as other recent developments.

With respect to investigations and the delivery of information by banks and other financial institutions, the convention will make significant progress toward the aim of preventing the use of bank secrecy to hide or shield the corrupt. In regard to the right to asylum, mentioned by President Caldera in his statement in Montevideo, and on which some heads of state and government of Latin America also commented at their last meeting, held in Bariloche, Argentina, I feel headway has been made toward a reasonable compromise between the values protected by asylum and those inherent in the fight against corruption.

The purpose and essence of asylum must in no way be undermined, but neither must asylum serve to hide those who are guilty of corrupt acts or help them to evade justice.

Of great importance in this connection is the draft's provision that the fact that the proceeds of an act of corruption were used for political ends or an allegation that the act was committed for political reasons or purposes shall not in itself constitute sufficient grounds for considering it a political or related offense.

Another topic to which I would call your attention is the campaign against graft in international commercial transactions. At the Summit of the Americas the governments of the world were urged to adopt and enforce measures to combat this problem, one of the greatest sources of corruption in our countries.

The measure proposed in the draft not only would represent great progress but would place our Hemisphere in the vanguard in this area, since rules concerning this illicit practice and the commitment to punish it would be enacted through a legally binding instrument.

Attention should also be called to the provision on illicit enrichment, according to which the states that have not yet done so will adopt the necessary measures to establish it as an offense, and those that have already done so will treat it as an act of corruption for purposes of the convention.

I would also like to mention the recent advances made, within the OAS framework, in the war on money laundering. As you know, and as a number of delegations emphasized at past meetings, this subject is closely linked to the purposes of this draft convention.

At the ministerial conference held in December of last year in Buenos Aires, it was recommended that a working group on the subject be set up in the OAS. This group was created by the Permanent Council and, in accordance with the mandate it received, began to reflect on a coordinated hemispheric response, including the possibility of adopting an inter-American convention to combat money laundering.

Distinguished Heads of delegation, delegates:

The Inter-American Convention against Corruption will doubtless be the single most important collective action taken in our Hemisphere to fight this scourge. Naturally, however, we are all agreed that it is not the destination but rather the first major step by the American states, under the aegis of the OAS, to eradicate corruption by recourse to coordinated action on the part of all the states.

Indeed, from the moment the convention is adopted, the first undertaking of the states present here today must be to ensure that it is ratified as soon as possible.

The convention does not herald the end of our Organization's commitment to the war on corruption. Rather, this convention should be the navigation chart for the course on which the OAS must embark henceforth to assist the countries in their efforts to eradicate this problem.

Both the Secretariat and the Chair of the Working Group on Probity and Public Ethics have submitted a few preliminary thoughts on the role the OAS can play in the future as a stage for coordinating relevant policies among the states, as a forum for coordinating actions whit other international organizations and national agencies, and as an instrument for supporting the development of programs for horizontal cooperation and the exchange of experiences as well as judicial assistance and technical cooperation.

These and other ideas that have emerged throughout this process have led to the conviction that to continue this effort, from the moment the convention is adopted the OAS should define a plan of action to combat corruption, as other international organizations have done. To that end, I shall shortly be submitting a proposal to the Permanent Council.

Distinguished delegates:

Allow me to share with you a few final thoughts. The first concerns the future of democracy in our Hemisphere; the second, the role of multilateralism in addressing and solving collective problems.

After the dark night of dictatorships, democracy rose in our countries. But, in all honesty, I must say that this does not mean the threats have vanished. On the contrary, our economies, democracy, peace, and security are assailed by old and new problems alike.

I have arrived here from Cartagena de Indias, where I had the opportunity to tell entrepreneurs of our Hemisphere meeting there that the Free Trade Area of the Americas was not merely an economic project, but a political one as well, that in addition to respect for the countries' will or that of their governments, or maintaining the dynamism of commercial trends as one of the engines of our economic growth, it was also necessary to persist in the commitments of the Miami summit in the area of social policy and to strengthen our democracy to fight perils such as corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism.

It will be pointless for us to progress in matters of trade if our democracies totter, eaten away by corruption, or if the people rise up against the free enterprise system in the mistaken belief that is to blame for the governments' failure to push through social policies that really do improve the standard of living of the most deprived sectors.

Miami has taught us how better to recognize our own weaknesses and uncertainties. Today it is easier for us to recognize economic factors, political limitations, and the need to strengthen the state without increasing its size in many areas.

What has occurred in the Americas is not very different from the way in which the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have developed economically and politically. Until a few months ago, we thought that globalization, prosperity, progress, and economic reform were inevitable because we shared a few economic values; we underestimated the political and social problems. We were riding a wave of boundless euphoria. Today we know there is no obstacle-free road to Utopia.

However, I do not feel that any country in the Americas is sliding backwards. Instead, we live in a more realistic world, without economic miracles and without blind faith in the sort of determinism in which the vigor of market mechanisms was sufficient to guarantee growth and well-being.

The peoples of our countries have not turned their backs on modernization; they have learned the hard way the high cost and traumas of burgeoning fiscal deficits and the loss of financial and monetary stability, as President Caldera himself clearly stated at the recent installation of Congress; and in all countries they have been prepared to pay the price of recovering fiscal balance, price stability, and entrepreneurial confidence, the starting blocks of prosperity and growth.

But the citizens of the Americas would also like the reforms to be extended to public functions and the state to have the capacity to address those problems that most profoundly affect their daily lives. Our peoples would like to see how their governments defend their political and economic freedoms, but also how they guarantee equality, social justice, the new rights, more democracy, greater participation, and better citizen oversight.

To integrate the Americas in the next decade, while defending economic reforms, we must be able to strengthen democracies and freedoms, eliminate political corruption, and confront violence in its various forms.

The process of this draft convention also confirms our view that it is through collective action, cooperation, and the definition of common rules established on an equal footing—subject to principles that are the essence of the Charter of our Organization, such as respect for sovereignty and noninterference in domestic affairs—that we can confront common enemies and threats.

We must resist and put a stop to the temptation to act unilaterally or adopt simplistic or extreme solutions to common problems. That would lead us nowhere. Precisely for this reason, it is incumbent on us all to strengthen multilateralism and, more particularly, the inter-American system as the natural framework in which our Hemisphere's shared problems should be solved.

As I said in Haiti, the great paradox of our time is that those who had long thought of multilateralism as an instrument useful solely for legitimizing the decisions of the powerful today find that these very organizations can now play a role that would ensure balance in international relations today and can be the ideal place for collective action.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates:

What better place than Caracas, the birthplace of the Liberator, Simón Bolívar, for "the sons of the hemisphere of Columbus"—as he dubbed all the peoples of America—to meet to make common cause: the consolidation of democracy and the war on corruption, one of its greatest enemies.

Simón Bolívar, spoke of the "moral plague." He said that dishonest administrations destroyed countries and that corruption poisoned republics and deprived them of all hope.

I wish you great success in your deliberations. I am sure that this conference will provide us with invaluable instruments for eradicating corruption from our countries and for guaranteeing, like Bolívar, that "honesty is the best policy."

Thank you very much.