Media Center



April 30, 1998 - Bogota, Colombia

President Samper,

It is a special honor for the people of Columbia that the foreign ministers of all the Americas have come to Bogota to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Organization of American States. It was as a result of the dramatic events that shook Colombia with the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and in this august setting of the Gimnasio Moderno where the memory of the great educator Agustin Mieto Caballero is enshrined, that the new contours of the Union of American Republics were forged.

On behalf of our organization and of all the governments of the Americas, I should like to thank you, Mr. President, for your personal efforts to make this ceremony the brilliant and resounding success that we are witnessing today. Colombia has once again proven its dedication and its leadership in this concert of American nations. I should also like to extend my personal thanks to the former foreign minister, María Emma Mejía, to Minister Camilo Reyes and to Ambassador Fernando Cepeda, for the devotion and hard work they put into coordinating all aspects of this hemispheric gathering. And above all, I wish to thank the people of Colombia for the extraordinary welcome they have extended to all our delegations.

The Union of American Republics was forged in the course of a long and tortuous process that began when Bolivar convened the Congress of Panama. His idea, at once visionary and realistic, as indeed was his whole approach to liberation, was that if the young states were to survive, they would have to form an alliance. In the Treaty of perpetual Union, League and Confederation we find the origin of Pan Americanism and the OAS.

The grand political schemes of the 19th and part of the 20th centuries were outlined thereafter, as were the principles that were ultimately enshrined in the 1948 Charter of Bogota: the juridical equality of states; the creation of a general assembly to govern the destiny of the Confederation and to interpret the treaties among the parties; collective defense; arbitration of disputes; maintenance of the peace; preservation of independence; abolition of slavery; the struggle against colonialism. All of these issues dated from the discussions and the treaty of 1826.

Throughout the 19th century, the scope of the debate between Americans of the North and those of the South followed two broad trends: on one hand, the main interest of the United States was to place itself on the side of the new republics to defend their independence and also to establish a reliable and homogeneous institutional basis to facilitate and protect investments. The other focus of interests, embraced by the Latin American countries, was that of respect for sovereignty and nonintervention in their internal affairs by outside powers, whether by their neighbor to the North or by the European powers whose actions at times betrayed ambitions for political hegemony, territorial expansion, and the use of intimidation and force to collect unpaid debts.

The first two decades of the 20th century, then, saw major developments in American international law, in which states enshrined principles such as respect for national sovereignty and nonintervention in internal affairs, or the juridical equality of states and the peaceful solution of disputes. The following years, beginning in the 1930s, were a time of good relations between the United States and Latin America. The "good neighbor policy" replaced the Monroe doctrine, and much of the tension was removed from the relations between North and South.

Most important of all, this new climate led to the signing of the Nonintervention Protocol at the 1936 Conference for the Maintenance of Peace in Buenos Aires - that principle was regarded as the basic premise and the greatest achievement of Pan-Americanism at that time.

In the depths of the Second World War formal mechanisms were established for coordination and consultation among governments of the Hemisphere. In 1939, in response to the devastation of Poland, American foreign ministers met in Panama. A few months later, after the fall of France, they met again in Havana. And then in Rio de Janeiro, in 1941, a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At that last meeting they put into practice an idea that would some years later represent the cornerstone of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, the TIAR, according to which an attack on any American state is considered to be an attack on all.

At the same time that the United Nations Organization was created in 1947, to replace the League of Nations, the Pan American Union was transformed into the OAS and assumed the nature of a regional organization within the multilateral postwar architecture.

All the creative vitality of Pan-Americanism was mustered in the City of Bogota. Drawing together the principles that had gradually been built up during more than a century of turbulent relations, it sparked the rebirth of faith in regional diplomacy for dealing with inter-American issues. With pride and a sense of history, it initiated a new era, that of constitutional Pan-Americanism, built on the premise that Inter-American relations must be based on respect for international law and the founding charter of the OAS. This was in fact the first attempt to create a hemispheric union based on principles rather than on economic or strategic interests.

Yet the events that followed the creation of the OAS heralded a different reality. In that second postwar era, and until less than ten years ago, the external and internal containment of communism was the principal strategic objective of hemispheric institutions. The apparent magnitude of the communist threat meant that other values and objectives, such as protecting human rights, preserving democracy and respecting the sovereignty of nations and the rule of international law, were subordinate to the one overriding threat.

The emergence of this bipolar struggle caused a shift in the common priorities of Americans of the North and those of the South. The bilateral focus came to prevail almost entirely in the approach to inter-American relations. Occasionally, the OAS was called upon to validate or monitor actions in the anti-communist campaign, sometimes working against the principles of its Charter and in support of military governments and dictatorships. Those were difficult years for the Organization. Its role in Inter-American relations was weakened politically, since solutions to the principal conflicts of the time, as in Central America, were pursued outside the Organization.

Nevertheless, the OAS, which had until then served as a forum between the United States and Latin America, began to change its character with the entry of countries from the Caribbean, who upon obtaining their independence became members of the Organization. These new members were democratic and peaceful, in contrast to the turbulent and authoritarian regimes of Latin America. They were interested in promoting cooperation and regional integration at all levels. In 1990, with Canada's entry into the OAS, it finally became the truly hemispheric Organization that it is today.

The regional political scenario has also changed drastically during this time. Authoritarianism and dictatorships disappeared from Latin America, and the way to democracy was opened in nearly all the nations of the Hemisphere; many internal conflicts were overcome; trade barriers were dismantled; the process of economic integration gathered speed. And in the international sphere, with the end of the Cold War, the shackles that had immobilized the OAS were broken. The politics of fear were over.

And today, as happened 50 years ago and in this very place, we dare again to dream of creating a true American community of nations based on common principles, ideals and values, where cooperation and collective action are the norm.

With the Cold War behind us and globalization in full swing, we are restructuring the OAS and the entire inter-American system of institutions so that they can meet the goals that our peoples have set for us. What they seek is a future of integration, peace and democracy; one of equality, justice and liberty, of solidarity, nature conservation, growth and prosperity. But they also want a future that can deal with problems like drug trafficking, terrorism, corruption, impunity and extreme poverty, which detract from the legitimacy of our democracies.

And this, Mr. President and Foreign Ministers, is the challenge that we have before us.

In recent years we have been preparing the way. We have ended decades of isolationism, confrontation and mistrust. There is undeniably a greater degree of political balance in hemispheric relations.

The changes that we have made so far have been inspired by the need to adapt our agenda to these new times and to the purposes set out by our heads of state and of government. No one can doubt that today there is much more room for diplomatic action, for economic cooperation, for the prevention of conflicts, and for moving forward, as indeed we are doing, to define a new concept and a new agenda for hemispheric security.

And in this new stage, it is the defense and strengthening of democracy that have become the principal objective of the OAS. We have created an American doctrine of solidarity with democracy that will stand against any threat, regardless of its name or ideology, that seeks to interrupt the democratic and institutional process in any country. And this doctrine has led to a series of actions, involving both diplomacy and force, all of them backed by international agreements and instruments fully accepted by our countries.

And yet during these years the OAS has also developed its own expertise and capacity in protecting human rights and preserving public freedoms; in responding to post-conflict situations in countries that have had internal confrontations; in carrying out demining operations in those countries; in ensuring calm, fair and transparent elections by sending observers. And we have put this capacity to work to rebuild democratic institutions. In short, we have today an organization that is more balanced and more universal in its political objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends:

The relevance and importance of the Organization of American States does not come from its long and continuous history, nor does it depend on the vagaries of its positioning in the collective life of the Americas. It comes from its capacity to adapt to a Hemisphere and to a world in constant change and from its ability to respond to the challenges of every era.

Today the political reality of our Hemisphere is once again testing that capacity of our Organization to transform itself. As I see it, what is really important is to try to think and focus our attention, not so much on the OAS as it is today, but on the role that our institution must play in the future. The question is this: how are we going to respond to this new challenge, with what institutions and mechanisms and under what rules of the game? Or to put it another way, as the name of this meeting suggests: how will the OAS be seen in the 21st century?

It is a fact that the Summits of the Americas have profoundly altered the inter-American agenda, and while the OAS received perhaps a dozen mandates in Miami, it received nearly three times that many in Santiago. There are virtually no issues now that are excluded from multilateral action. That is why we must think about the organization of tomorrow. We are beginning a new process to reform the OAS and to create a new inter-American architecture to give substance to the declarations of principles and the mandates from the plan of action of the Santiago Summit.

We must make of our institution an instrument that is useful and effective in carrying out that mission. The OAS must fulfill its role as a forum for the adoption of rules of inter-American law, a scenario par excellence for political dialogue, a center in which experiences can be shared and common or collective policies shaped. It must discharge its role as an institution responsible for preserving hemispheric information systems and as a tool of hemispheric partnership in its cooperative endeavors. At the same time, the Organization must be the institutional memory of the summit process and provide technical support to the meetings of ministers and of experts held to provide follow-up to the Santiago mandates.

The immediate future is going to test the capacity of the governments of America, our foreign ministries and our multilateral institutions to put in place some mechanisms and some rules of the game that will give practical effect to the political proposals for integration that have issued from our Heads of State. And to ensure that all bodies within the inter-American system are working in accordance with the same priorities, the same hemispheric agenda. That is the challenge we have before us, a challenge that will demand not only greater clarity of purpose and creativity in action, but also real political will.

In Santiago we asked ourselves how integration could be made not only a commercial process but one that would have broad social and political consequences. How are we going to preserve the political will of governments, parliaments and public opinion from one end of the Hemisphere to the other? How are we going to ensure that benefits will flow to the smaller economies and those with lower incomes per capita? What are the OAS and the rest of the system going to do to help countries cope with the immense demands that globalization and the computer revolution are placing on their economies and societies? How are we going to respond to the enormous pressures already facing our social security systems? Or the threats looming over our cultures?

We must work collectively to ensure that our education systems prepare citizens who are independent, informed, responsible, tolerant and critical in the face of all this information; citizens who value democracy and the peaceful settlement of disputes; who have the capacity to reason and to learn by themselves, who have the knowledge, the values, the skills for personal and professional growth, for succeeding in the world of work, for competing internationally, for moving toward greater equality.

And we must also strengthen our human rights institutions; give them greater financial, budgetary and operational independence to cover more cases, to promote rights more broadly, to strengthen investigation mechanisms, to support national systems and derive support from them, to broaden the scope of protection for rights, to secure universal ratification of the American Convention and acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court. And we must also strengthen the right to freedom of expression within the OAS throughout the Hemisphere and protect the rights of women and ethnic minorities, of migrant peoples, and move towards respect for the basic rights of workers and their families and the elimination of all forms of discrimination.

In the immediate future we must decide how we are going to implement the initiatives of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which made the Western Hemisphere the first region to have a plan for sustainable development as a follow-up to the agreements from the Earth Summit.

And above all, how are we going to ensure that America ceases to be the most inequitable region of the world? What role must economic and social policies play in that effort? What about education? What about fiscal policy? What reforms must be made to the State in order to accommodate such an undertaking? For all of us it is surely paradoxical that a Hemisphere so rich in resources and possibilities has left millions of its people destitute, trapped in the clutches of misery

We also face an enormous challenge in establishing mechanisms and procedures for evaluating national anti-drug policies within CICAD on the basis of the principles of the Charter and the guidelines enshrined in the Hemispheric Strategy, particularly the commitment to shared responsibility. I am certain that if we are able to mount an effective mechanism based on solid technical foundations, the process will gain enormous legitimacy and credibility.

We also have the responsibility, under the agreements on security and confidence-building measures, to examine possibilities for further disarmament and arms control. In the context of the meeting of ministers of justice, we must strengthen our judiciaries and guarantee their independence, we must reinforce mechanisms for cooperation in this area, and we must seek ways to give all the peoples of the Americas access to this public service. And in the framework of the meeting of ministers of labor, we must find formulas for ensuring respect for fundamental labor standards, and ways to improve employer-worker relations.

All of these actions will require the OAS to strengthen its mechanisms for participation, and to welcome a greater presence by civil society in the hemispheric dialogue and in the task of dealing with our collective problems.

In a few weeks, at our General Assembly in Caracas, we shall begin this transcendentally important discussion. In launching this reform effort the Organization of American States has one great strength, which is the full respect shown for each of its founding principles. What we need now is to adapt and strengthen our structure, but not to change the fundamentals of our hemispheric alliance.

Mr. President, Foreign Ministers, friends:

We are now putting behind us a history full of ups and downs, a history of rivalries and suspicions, of common efforts and not a few disagreements, of great utopias and equally great frustrations.

Your presence here today at this celebration, and the discussion that will begin today, must carry us beyond the realities of the present so that we can think in terms of the future. We need to reflect on our ideals, our values, in the conviction that we have a common destiny. We need to talk about the things we have not done well, the things we have yet to do, and the long road that remains ahead of us. Because this new era for the Americas, this new hemispheric order is what we must build. In fact, there is a long road of creative and collective action that lies ahead of us.

All citizens of the Americas must benefit from this collective effort at hemispheric cooperation. Not for one minute must we forget that the essential purpose of the multilateral system is its people. It is they who inspire our work, the millions of Americans who share this fertile land and who, like us, are still dreaming of the ideal of union and integration that was championed by Bolivar, Santander, San Martin, Morazán, Hidalgo, Juárez, Garvey and Washington.

I don't want to end my remarks about the 50th anniversary of the OAS without mentioning the illustrious former president of Colombia, Alberto Lleras Camargo, who was our first Secretary General. As the proud heir to the tradition of Pan-Americanism, he was one of the architects of the new inter-American institutional landscape. Throughout his mandate at the OAS, with the skills of an experienced journalist and writer and the sharpness and common sense of a statesman, he devoted himself completely to the dual tasks of defining and shaping those nascent institutions and disseminating throughout the Hemisphere, with the true passion of a pedagogue, the principles and the ideals enshrined in the Charter of the new international organization.

It is that legacy that comes to us with such force and vigor from the Summit of Santiago, and that will give us hope and faith in the future as we approach our next assembly in Caracas. Let us take maximum advantage of the strengths that we have acquired in these fifty years, and shed our doubts and our fears, so that we can reap from this land of the Americas a harvest of well-being, peace, justice, freedom, prosperity and the union of our peoples.

Thank you very much.