Media Center



September 15, 1994 - Washington, DC

I would like to express my appreciation for the remarks made by the Chairman of the Permanent Council, Ambassador César Alvarez Guadamuz. His generosity can be added to the list of virtues he has displayed while representing Guatemala, his country, at the head of the Permanent Council. Esteemed friend, I would like to point out the symbolic significance of having the new OAS Secretary General assume his functions on the same day Central American independence is celebrated. Through you, I wish to convey my warmest congratulations to all Central Americans.

Also deserving of my gratitude is the address given by the Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Christopher Thomas, clearly one of the most important representatives of the Caribbean. I offer my thanks to you, esteemed Ambassador Thomas, for having led the Organization of American States with loyalty, intelligence, and vision during this transition.

I must say that I am very gratified to assume office as Secretary General of the OAS in the presence of so many friends and important figures, among whom I wish to mention Prime Minister James Mitchell of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as one who is especially important to me for obvious reasons, the President of Colombia, Dr. Ernesto Samper Pizano.

During my years as President of my country, I witnessed the ability of peoples to withstand adversity, and their devotion to change and transformation through democratic means. Now you, my fellow citizens of the American Hemisphere, have honored me with one of the highest responsibilities in the Americas. I was not elected then to conduct business as usual. And I well know that neither have I been called to conduct business as usual today.

The member countries, and you, distinguished Ambassadors, as their representatives, will have in the Secretary General the staunchest ally in pursuing your collective aspirations; the most devoted warrior for freedom, democracy, peace, prosperity, integration, and the well-being of all citizens of the Americas.

The task of building a revamped inter-American architecture, an aspiration to which Alberto Lleras Camargo devoted many years, is a collective undertaking of the Organization and its member countries. Fortunately, we are making possible what I perceive as a true convergence between what have been the guiding principles of the OAS since its inception - I refer to the juridical equality of states, the peaceful settlement of conflicts, and nonintervention in internal affairs, among others - and the realities that arise from the new world order which, not without some difficulties, we are beginning to map out. I speak, for example, of interdependence as an unquestionable reality; of building and strengthening democracy and its individual and collective liberties, including, of course, the defense and promotion of human rights; of the need for a partnership among nations; and of efforts toward egalitarianism through mechanisms such as free trade.

Moreover, that convergence to which I refer is a timely one. The Americas, built upon their traditions, upon the advantages derived from unity within their rich ethnic and cultural diversity, are a region considered the second most dynamic in the world in terms of growth, after the Asian Pacific.

That is why I want to initiate this dialogue by sharing with you some thoughts on topics that could shape a new agenda for the OAS. These ideas are meant to serve only as food for thought, and to let you know in a transparent and candid manner the thinking of one who will be your staunchest ally in the attainment of our collective objectives.

Much progress has been made in the Americas toward bringing the Hemisphere closer to the ideals set forth in the Charter of the Organization. Democracy, which was the exception, has become the rule. Statism and trade barriers have fallen, giving way to private initiative, economic and state reform, integration and increased openness. Those who incited conflict now wish to mend their ways and place human dignity above any political or ideological consideration. Decades of warring and rivalry among sister nations have ended. Dialogue and negotiation have made internal peace possible in many nations. There is a renewed conviction that the hour of the Americas has truly arrived.

The primordial responsibility of the OAS clearly is political action to defend, promote, and develop democracy. This mandate originates in the Charter, and makes us the only multilateral organization for which the defense of democracy is a categorical imperative. Until recently, the commitment to democracy was more a matter of doctrine and words than of action. The protection of national interests and an old concept of hemispheric security prevented the Organization from effectively fulfilling this mandate. With the end of the Cold War, the reestablishment of popularly elected governments in nearly the entire Hemisphere and the adoption of new instruments such as the Santiago Commitment, the Protocol of Washington, and the Declaration of Managua have placed the Americas in the vanguard on this front.

We already have a rich legacy on which to build new approaches. The role played by the Organization, under the skillful leadership of Secretary General João Baena Soares, in Guatemala, in Nicaragua, in Peru, in Suriname - to cite only a few examples - demonstrates the enormous potential and capacity for collective initiatives to protect fundamental freedoms and resolve crises that threaten the rule of the popular will. But OAS action on this front can be more energetic, more persistent, and farther-reaching.

There should be no doubt that the major topic on the inter-American agenda at the close of the century is the strengthening of the democratic state in the Hemisphere. Hence the Organization should play an increasingly comprehensive and ambitious role, in three directions, in connection with its responsibility to defend democracy:

First, the OAS should play a direct role in handling crises that threaten democracy in the Hemisphere.

Crises that sweep away institutions and democratic principles are perhaps the Organization's most complex challenge. In a crisis situation, it has never been easy to strike a proper balance between defense of the principle of nonintervention and the constitutional and moral obligation to protect democracy. Paradoxically, at times an overly zealous determination to safeguard the principle of nonintervention wears away the agility and resolve required for effective political and diplomatic action. Sometimes, without intending to, we allow inaction to strengthen nondemocratic forces, thus inviting others, in other settings, to apply unadvised solutions to problems that are essentially American.

These fears which many countries have are rooted in the strong desire to not lend legitimacy to unilateral interventions that serve the interests of any single nation or to not create precedents that might give rise to interventions that, strictly speaking, go beyond defending democracy in other areas of growing international concern. In the past, the OAS has been used more to check unilateralism than to spur collective action, more to counterbalance the great powers than to solve the problems of the Hemisphere. But the time has come to generate confidence and a spirit of cooperation that will enable us to seek a true consensus for action.

Undoubtedly, however, there are situations where we in the region are unable to find a solution, and where it is necessary to move to the global arena because of the magnitude and consequences involved, because of the limitations of the Organization's own Charter, or because of the difficulty in reaching a consensus that will lead to action. My feeling is that even in these exceptional circumstances, the OAS has an inescapable role to play as guide. This is why we must exercise our capacity to mediate, to exercise our political and diplomatic powers under the Charter while at the same time creating more effective coordination mechanisms with the United Nations.

Second, the OAS is expected to have the permanent means with which to foresee and dissolve tensions that can unleash processes leading to the breakdown of democratic life. These means are advisement, mediation, conciliation, or good offices.

We know that threats against democracy do not come out of the blue, nor do they happen from one day to the next. A close look at the situations that have had an effect on the stability of some democracies in the Hemisphere suggests that the tensions and conflicts at play were in the making for months, even years. Much suffering could have been avoided had these destructive forces been anticipated and political and diplomatic action taken.

On a more permanent basis, our Organization could make available its political skills by performing or promoting the role of mediator, conciliator, observer, and monitor so that, at the request of the countries, a legitimate way out might be found with regard to those conflicts that cannot be solved within national boundaries and a breakdown of institutions avoided.

And finally, the OAS has been assigned the task of strengthening democracy through support to institutional development and good governance, electoral transparency, and the strengthening of democratic culture.

Strong democracies are those that not only rely on transparent electoral mechanisms but that also have a sound judicial system, effective means for civic participation, a reasonable degree of decentralization, a modern and dynamic legislative branch, and transparency in the running of public affairs, and that are motivated by a constant desire to give the people what they demand, without distinction as to race, creed, or position.

I should like to share with you some of my ideas on possible topics for our hemispheric agenda for the development of democracy in the medium and long term.

First, I believe that, as key organizations in the inter-American system, the IDB and the OAS should work hand in hand, make joint use of our respective comparative advantages, and offer the right mix of technical know-how and economic and political resources to support efforts aimed at the transformation, modernization, and reform of the state in countries that so desire.

It is imperative that the inter-American system devote major effort to supporting a more modern legal structure and to reforming the judicial system, as the IDB has been doing for some time now. It is equally important to bring the legal system in line with economic development needs so that it does not become a source of inefficiency and red tape. Be we must go further so that the people can have confidence in the justice system, so that they can resolve conflict in their day-to-day lives, and so that crime may be neutralized and the people may be given greater security.

But democracy requires active civic participation. Developing alternate ways for citizens to make their voices heard and widening the avenues of participatory democracy will undoubtedly help to open up the political systems in the Hemisphere and to make them more responsive. The key to long-term democratic stability is not just to pull the disadvantaged millions into the economic mainstream and allow them to enjoy the fruits of progress, but to make them part of the culture of democracy and the political decision-making process.

Similarly, we must promote transparency in the management of public affairs. Corruption and lack of ethics in government weaken democracy, feed skepticism, and foster disenchantment with the political system. This is a serious problem that underlies much of the breakdown that democratic institutions are experiencing both nationally and locally.

With regard to elections, in many cases the OAS observation missions have proven to be a positive experience and have added to the institution's prestige. But I believe the time has come to improve and build up the system we use. One has to be more selective and, above all, more careful in ascertaining both the circumstances surrounding each election and the nature of the mandate and the responsibilities of the observers. The OAS could also work to make the electoral organizations and systems of the nations of the Hemisphere stronger and more independent and encourage exchange of election-related technology, a vital element in a democracy.

Each of our countries has valuable experiences to contribute and can learn from the others. Like the UN, the OAS could make available to its members an extensive multidisciplinary roster of first-rate consultants in matters such as government reform and constitutional and institutional change. It could work toward creating, in association with other institutions of the inter-American system, universities, and nongovernmental organizations, a Center for the Study of Democracy that would be devoted to teaching, research, and technical training. With that, the resources allocated to this area would go farther.

The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy must, therefore, have all our support, given the complexity of the tasks that this new agenda will involve.

Another fundamental issue, closely related to the defense of democracy, is the protection and promotion of human rights. No other institutions have lent more prestige and distinction to the OAS than its human rights protection agencies. To thoroughly accomplish their delicate task, both the Inter-American Commission and the Court should have our full support.

If we are to build upon what has been achieved thus far, we must make certain that both the Commission and the Court are able to enjoy more and more autonomy in discharging their functions. To be useful and constructive, the evaluations of the human rights situation in each country and the examination made of specific cases must be done in an atmosphere devoid of political pressure or influence.

The resources currently available to the Commission and to the Court are obviously inadequate. We have to endeavor to provide these bodies with the means that will enable them to delve into more cases, using their own criteria and personnel, while compiling all the available evidence needed to give those cases a thorough and independent examination and then settle them.

But the duty of the system's human rights bodies goes well beyond the fundamental and crucial function of guaranteeing justice. The lessons being taught when human rights violations are condemned have to be coupled with vigorous measures to prevent human rights abuses and to promote the cause of human rights. This is particularly true in the case of the Commission, which is geared to creating within society a culture of respect for fundamental rights, to strengthening national agencies charged with monitoring the protection of those rights, and to suggesting policies or courses of action to those countries that wish to improve their own institutions' performance in this field.

Another fine demonstration of our collective dedication to respect for human rights would be for all the member countries to become parties to the American Convention on Human Rights, as would more generalized acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court.

Having briefly addressed the strengthening of democracy and the culture of respect for human rights, I would like now to turn to two other topics that should figure prominently on our agenda: environmental conservation and hemispheric integration.

The environment is an issue that will undoubtedly require collective action, since environmental concerns go well beyond the specific interests of any one nation. The OAS must continue to consider such priority topics as the expansion of world trade and environmental protection; an economic agenda that has ample room for issues associated with environmental conservation; technical cooperation for sustainable development; and education to make our peoples and our governments more aware of and interested in these matters.

This seems to be an opportune moment to move to consolidate international environmental standards within our Hemisphere. Treasures like the Caribbean Sea, the rain forest, the Antarctic, and our biodiversity have to be used, protected, and preserved according to standards that will truly guarantee sustainable development. With the communities and the NGOs participating, we in the Americas must strive to adopt common environmental policies and modern environmental regulations, just as we want the industrialized countries to honor the commitments undertaken at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

In recent years, substantial progress has been made in the area of trade and investment in the region, especially on the subject of integration in a world that is beginning to organize itself into blocs. Apart from the many bilateral agreements concluded, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the G-3 agreement have been signed; MERCOSUR, the Andean Pact, CARICOM, and the Central American Common Market continue to become stronger.

The results have been surprising: the foreign sales of the MERCOSUR and Andean Group countries tripled in the last four years, and intraregional trade in Central America is as vigorous today as it was in the latter half of the 1970s. The Andean Pact and MERCOSUR have become the principal foreign markets for the countries in those blocs.

Still, the ultimate objective has to be to create a free trade zone for the countries of the region. Some strategies have been mapped out and are outlined in a recent study done jointly by ECLAC, the IDB, and the OAS.

It has been suggested, on the one hand, that existing bilateral agreements be further developed to make them fully compatible with internationally accepted practices. They should provide for a considerable percentage of reciprocal trade and contain accession clauses that are open and simple.

Nevertheless, the bilateral approach has some serious limitations: it promotes discrimination against third parties and diverts trade; it discourages investment to the extent that it creates uncertainty. Then, too, the proliferation of bilateral agreements may trigger conflicts in the region and ultimately exclude small countries.

In the early stages, the multilateral strategy is more complex and slow than the bilateral strategy, but it is a necessary step along the road to creating a free trade zone in the Hemisphere. It is imperative, therefore, that a multilateral strategy be devised that simultaneously works toward combining the 23 integration agreements existing in the Hemisphere today, pulls other countries into existing agreements, and creates a set of standards for greater homogeneity in the collective liberalization that will be required in the future. This will be the first time since the Alliance for Progress that the OAS gains prominence in economic affairs.

Through its Special Committee on Trade (CEC) and in conjunction with other agencies of the inter-American system, the OAS could be active in statistics, technical assistance, and legal advisory services for the settlement of the various differences that arise in the negotiations or on various trade and investment issues.

OAS activities should also complement those of the multilateral agencies with a view to developing transparent regulations and a common investment framework that gets the private sector involved in the development of communications, transportation, and energy in the region. This is the only way we will get local and foreign capital involved in building up infrastructure, thereby freeing up state resources to be used to meet our peoples' pressing needs in the areas of justice, health, and education. With that we will clear one of the major hurdles on the road to establishing truly democratic societies.

Other important issues that the Organization has addressed on numerous occasions are the new vision of security in the Hemisphere and nonproliferation. The Santiago resolution, the Declaration of Nassau - containing some regional contributions to global security - and more recently the conclusions reached at the Managua session of the General Assembly are worthwhile approaches that the OAS will have to continue to reflect upon in times to come.

Some issues are taking on increasing importance: disarmament, arms control, transparency in arms purchases, conflict prevention, adoption of measures that create a climate of trust between peoples by sharing technical and military information, the use of mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the constant improvement of relations between civilians and military in the member countries. These are indicative of the OAS's growing interest in developing an agenda on the security issue, to add to the long-standing debate surrounding the future of the Inter-American Defense Board and the scope of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR).

Furthermore, the Americas cannot underestimate the threat implied by the drug trade and the narcoterrorist interests that profit from it. Neither the heroic efforts of some societies to control the supply nor the programs of others to reduce consumption suffice. The international community must organize a cooperative system that would make it possible to attack the illicit trade from the illegal sowing of coca, marijuana, or poppies to its final destination in the hands of addicts. But the control of money laundering and of traffic in chemical precursors, as well as in arms, also constitutes a front on which we can and should all do much more.

The OAS, through CICAD and in a successful effort to obtain resources from not only member but also third countries, has focused its effort on particularly important non-repressive areas of this struggle linked to the bolstering of anti-drug legislation at the local and international levels, the prevention of consumption, and the development of a collective awareness of the dangers involved. But, of course, this is not enough. The nations can and should do much more to achieve the ideal of a drug-free youth.

All this is part of the effort to strengthen democracy and bring about a world free from violence and poverty and drugs, in which human rights are respected and development and conservation of our natural resources are possible. By setting its sights on integration, the Hemisphere is calling on a force that cannot fail to bring our nations together. The presence today of Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez and the great Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes symbolizes the force of culture, on which we must rely in facing the challenges of our time.

I do not wish to miss this opportunity to touch on some points that affect our Organization internally and relate specifically to its structure, as well as to technical cooperation, educational assistance programs, and staff selection.

Although it is true that the OAS has changed and has begun to adapt to the needs of our era, leaving behind some of the faults that condemned it to immobility or inaction, I believe it should not be unconcerned about the manner in which it is carrying out its technical cooperation and the fact that this cooperation sometimes lacks the relevance or the impact it might have. Or the way its fellowship program lacks focus, resources, and clarity as to the standards on which its grants are based. And also - and why not say so - the manner in which it selects the personnel that must shoulder responsibility for the various areas.

In the historical moment which the OAS is living, in the way it has assumed its destiny in the years just past, lies an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. To begin, we should carry out an external assessment of technical cooperation, the fellowship program, and the staff selection and evaluation program.

Technical cooperation is enormously important for some member countries, and no doubt it is sometimes indispensable for the smaller ones. Nevertheless, a commonly heard and in my view accurate criticism underscores the impossibility of helping all the countries in all matters with such scant resources. This should prompt us to design cooperation programs concentrating on high priorities and redirecting them to the countries most in need of them. The larger countries, where technical cooperation is negligible, would receive from the OAS the benefits deriving from its political endeavors.

And it is also necessary for the Organization at the same time to spur horizontal cooperation among its members. This type of cooperation constitutes not only an expression of solidarity but also perhaps the best recognition of interdependence among our nations.

The challenge confronting all of us is enormous. And we will have to start by making the Organization aware that it is a part of a system of organizations with which it can forge closer ties and work together, avoiding duplication and fragmentation and thus taking advantage of the combined strength produced by joint effort. The OAS will also have to enhance its ability to raise additional resources from other nations or organizations as well as its members. For that purpose it will of course be necessary to inspire confidence and respect in the international community.

In the near future we should also evaluate the work of the national offices. The Hemisphere's new concerns, the focusing of our cooperation resources on the poorer countries, and the need to apportion internal resources for new programs are matters to be considered in weighing the need to maintain national offices, some of which could perhaps be discontinued.

We must seek to become a model of professionalism and efficient management, a model that any member state would want to emulate. We should seek out the region's best and brightest in order to boost the experience and ability of this organization's staff. The OAS should be a body in which the Hemisphere's new generations of professionals will want to bring their talents to bear and realize their hopeful vision of the future. It is they who will make the difference.

Mr. Chairman of the Permanent Council, ladies and gentlemen:

The initiative of the President of the United States to invite the chief executives of the Americas to join in designing the future of the Hemisphere and define their common aims is an historic opportunity which we cannot allow to pass us by.

Even though natural differences exist, inescapably, on hemispheric issues and complex situations, it would be well to make an effort to aim the agenda and discussions of the Summit of the Americas at the substantial range of issues uniting us and not those separating us.

An end can be put to the legacy of mistrust left by the errors of the past, in which the unilateral exercise of force engendered suspicion and wariness, if we turn the Summit of the Americas into an occasion for developing a true common agenda, one that I personally expect to look much like the one I have outlined for you today, for I perceive these to be the essential issues for the Hemisphere.

The confidence and hope of the American nations cannot survive another episode of empty rhetoric and unfulfilled promises. The OAS therefore stands ready to accept such responsibilities as the Summit assigns to it, for realization of the promises requires more than vague monitoring or evaluation mechanisms. The initiatives call for responsible institutions willing to take on the job of bringing them to fruition.

I would not wish to close without referring to two subjects of concern to all of us who wish to live in peace in a tension-free and democratic Hemisphere. I refer to the state of affairs in Cuba and Haiti. Both those countries belong to the Americas and to this Organization, so that we cannot fail to be involved in their fate. Nor can we allow opinion on these matters to be the exclusive preserve of those with whom considerations of domestic policy weigh heavily. We must preserve an inter-American determination to analyze these realities and help to solve them.

I dare to say, with the authority of one who has pondered these problems from a national perspective, that deep down there is a fairly widespread consensus on the direction we must take in order to guarantee Cuba's full reintegration into the inter-American community of nations.

No one doubts that Cuba needs to make sweeping economic and political reforms - in accordance with the will of the people - towards the establishment of a pluralist regime and public freedoms. By encouraging change, albeit gradually, working out consensuses, recognizing achievements, adopting confidence-building measures, encouraging exchanges, and defusing tensions, we would be making contributions that would certainly facilitate such changes and, consequently, expedite Cuba's reintegration.

If we are to encourage these constructive tendencies, we cannot isolate Cuba. We must open the doors so that ideas can be aired, information can flow, and the future can be discussed dispassionately.

It is a source of guarded optimism that the United States and Cuba have succeeded in resolving the difficult problem of migration in a rational manner, through bilateral negotiation. This is a precedent that evinces the immense potential of dialogue as an instrument for overcoming the serious differences that still persist.


President Aristide will return to Haiti.

That is the wish of the people who elected him and that is the unequivocal wish of the international community, faithfully reflected in the decisions of the OAS and the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, to which some countries object, but which are being fully implemented.

Before, during, and after his return, the OAS will assume its responsibility to the Haitian people. The work of the joint UN-OAS Civilian Mission and the efforts of Ambassador Dante Caputo deserve our full support. But in the approaching reconstruction of democracy in Haiti, the role of the OAS as the inter-American system's political organization par excellence will be crucial.

We must promote a process of full reconciliation in Haiti, protected by the principles of the Agreement of Governors Island. In this Agreement, all sectors of Haitian society will have their own democratic institutions, which must be rebuilt and strengthened day by day. The OAS will be available at all times to spearhead, and contribute to, the implementation of the Agreement, for if there is any place where it is certain that democracy is not possible without social and economic change, it is Haiti.

To fulfill the will of the people and restore public freedoms would be meaningless accompanied by the usual poverty. We hope that those who today make a great show of demanding the restoration of democracy to Haiti will not turn their backs on the poorest nation in America as soon as its tragedy disappears from the headlines and the television screen.

This time the OAS must really set out to seek justice for those whom history has punished with such undeserved indifference.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished Ambassadors, friends:

A few years after the first European set foot on American soil, others, hearing that there was enough gold in this Hemisphere of ours to wipe out their ignominious past, embarked on one of the most terrible expeditions that man has ever undertaken to a world of dreams. Some sought El Dorado. They found nothing of the kind. Only mountains, rivers, heat, and cold, scattered communities that already had their astronomy, their medicine, their agriculture, their system of government, their destiny. Others sought the Seven Cities of Gold. The last of them was less lucky than Columbus and was put to death by his comrades. There were also those who, fearing death more than poverty, were enthralled by the illusion of a fountain whose crystal-clear waters would bestow immortality on anyone who drank from it.

Not one of them ever realized that immortality and fortune were within their grasp; that these were born of the encounter of which they too were protagonists. They could not see that gold and time, wealth and immortality were a mirage, a symbol of something that eludes only those without sufficient understanding. I refer to life in a land that allows of freedom, work with dignity, spiritual growth, progress, the rearing of children, and rest at the end of the road. That is what the old inhabitants of those lands were trying to show them. They spoke in metaphors of a united Hemisphere that one could cross from coast to coast without feeling a stranger in any part of it, and where the different cultures enriched each other for the prosperity and well-being of all.

It is that dream, the dream of men like Bolívar, San Martín, Morazán, Juárez, Martí, Garvey, and Washington, that unites us today. It is that dream, at last understood after such long isolation, that will forever guide our steps.

Thank you.