Media Center



October 7, 1994 - Fort Myer, VA

"Calling for unity—respecting differences and individual characteristics—is precisely the task the OAS is called upon to perform."

A day like today, amidst the torrid Caribbean 502 years ago, saw the beginning of a new phase in American history, a phase which was so important that it shook the very foundation of the political, social, and economic life of what came to be known as the New World. There is no other date of greater significance in the Americas.
When Columbus sniffed the pungent odor of must, in all likelihood from the pages of books of lost adventurers—which later made him the luckiest of travellers in all of history—he never imagined that this island of Guananí which he came across on his route would change the history of mankind once and for all. Although he must have had a premonition when he sensed that those who came out to welcome him, naked and adorned with rings of gold, were not subjects of the Emperor of China, but were rather different men from a new world full of magic and mysterious charms, so much so that some pious travelling companions even described it as the result of an upward voyage that had led them to Paradise.
Neither did anyone imagine at that time that this gold, fashioned with the exquisite beauty with which the American aborigines adorned themselves, would become an endless source of hatred, greed, and ill will, the effects of which overshadowed the scientific and cultural efforts which accompanied those of the conquest. The Incas, with their imperial garden, adorned with life-sized trees and animals of gold and silver, only aroused ambition, and neither they, nor the Aztecs, nor the Mayas, with their monumental works of stone and their millennial wisdom, could gain the respect of the conquerors who came to consolidate the work of the discovery. This was, unfortunately, a long battle in which both European science and American culture lost.
The legacy has been an America in turmoil, in disarray, irreverent, but unlike any other continent, full of social virtue, with an irrevocable calling for unity in respect for diversity. Centuries of subjection have molded the purest libertarian spirit in the American man. The history of our struggles for independence are the most unequivocal corroboration of what I have just said. They are a clear example of the underground currents that bind our sister republics and which are definitely stronger than those that seek, on the surface, to set them apart.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, liberators like Washington, Bolivar, San Martin, Morazan, Juarez, Marti, and Garvey were not the only ones who never placed frontiers on their endeavors for freedom and justice; there were many others. In the cemeteries of America lie the remains of so many people who came from other shores and gave their all for the defense of their libertarian ideals. Later, when independence was a hemisphere-wide constant and when we had to start struggling within our nations against dictators and oppressors, democrats from all over the Americas united as one single force of the persecuted and dispossessed, and from this emerged their support to reinstitute democratic order and law.
Developing this calling for unity—respecting differences and individual characteristics—is precisely the task that the OAS is called upon to perform. It speaks to our very being, it brings forth something that exists within our nations and that is part of our genetics of democracy—if you will allow me the expression. Therein lies the unifying force of our Organization and of our America and the greatest secret to our success. This is why any work we embark upon must fit into these parameters.
The Inter-American Defense Board, heir to the pioneering efforts of the Congress of Panama and the Pan American Union, was born in March 1942, six years before the OAS itself. It was born out of the needs for hemispheric defense arising from fears of totalitarianism and foreign aggression. In 1947, those fears crystallized in the establishment of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, designed more as a defense treaty against aggression than as a mechanism for mutual defense.
Today the Board and all the bodies linked to it, such as the Council of Delegates, the Office of the Chairman, the Staff, and the College are being analyzed not only in the fulfillment of the mandate issued by the General Assembly in Belém do Pará, in the sense of establishing a time frame for studying the tasks involved in defining the legal and institutional relationship between the Inter-American Defense Board and the OAS, but also in the performance of the new tasks arising from changing socio-political circumstances at the end of the century.
This new overall climate that has been in place in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall calls upon us to take a number of steps beyond those that could arise from the three positions that today fuel discussion of the mandate issued by the General Assembly. It would seem appropriate that, whatever the result, whatever the level of resources allocated to this, the Board should be subordinate to the political bodies of the Organization and carry out a number of concrete tasks that are consistent with changes in the concepts of defense and security. Moreover, we should make greater efforts to see that all the countries that make up the Organization, including those that have no national armies, participate in the Board. The concept of security employed by the Board should be sufficiently broad for this to be feasible. The post-Cold War world challenges us with a broadened security agenda open to new topics. This is why we cannot confine hemispheric security to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance; we must also consider a multiplicity of topics related to the well-being of the peoples and institutions of the Hemisphere.
The Organization of American States has already initiated this process. The resolutions of Nassau and Managua stressed the importance of cooperation for hemispheric security and the need for increased dialogue on the topics of security and promotion of peace among the nations of the Hemisphere. Disarmament, arms control and limitation, human rights, the strengthening of democratic institutions, improvement of the quality of life, and confidence-building measures are essential to the establishment of democratic, peaceful, and more secure societies.
We must make the inter-American defense system an integral part of our Organization. We must ensure that its activities are complementary and interact with the other components of the OAS, which would be unquestionably useful in encouraging requests for its efforts and in making its benefits tangible. We must make civilian issues matters of concern and commitment for the Board, and provide opportunities for military matters to be enhanced through civilian contributions.
As a first step in this area, it would be well for the military training and liaison activities that have been conducted in the Hemisphere since the very inception of the Board and, particularly, of the Inter-American Defense College to be utilized by enhancing its courses through increased civilian participation.
Along these lines and those set forth in the aforementioned resolutions, I would like to mention some activities it would be wise to conduct in these areas. With respect to the registry and transfer of conventional weapons, the OAS has been working with the United Nations Disarmament Agency to consolidate a complete registry of such inventories. Concerning the control of weapons of mass destruction, we should continue the pioneering efforts in the area of nuclear nonproliferation, as was done with the Treaty of Tlatelolco and its two additional protocols, the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Convention on Biological Weapons, and, more recently, the Convention on Chemical Weapons.
The strengthening of our democracies, of civil guarantees, of citizens’ rights, and of peace within nations has made it possible to imagine a future in which steps will be taken toward reducing the conventional arsenals of our own armies. At a time of scaled-down world defense expenditures, it is essential for our armed forces to have budgets that are planned, programmed, and allocated in an open manner and discussed publicly and transparently, so that their aims will be clear and their benefits to all of society clear as well. In this way, society will be able to approach them and welcome them as one welcomes programs that benefit everyone.
With regard to human rights, the comparative study of the military codes and their direct link with the matter of defense and the preservation of citizens’ rights must be an important topic in the Board’s activities, taking into account the complexities of each nation as a reflection of its particular domestic conditions. Humanitarian endeavors, like those associated with the mine clearing that was so beneficial for the rural people of Nicaragua, must continue. It is not insignificant that the Nicaraguan peasants saw the withdrawal from their land of 6,000 of these ignominious devices designed by human genius to stifle ideological debate, civilized controversy and self-determination. To this end, the plans established for Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica must continue.
In improving the quality of life and strengthening democratic institutions, it is essential to convert the broadening of citizens’ freedoms, in keeping with respect for the rule of law, the struggle against injustice and social inequity and the right to dissent and to self-determination in our societies, into an element that is inherent in the ongoing activity of the armed forces. To this end, the Board can be a platform for promoting and circulating these ideas within the countries themselves.
It is also imperative to explore avenues to train the Board to carry out other activities aimed at strengthening and galvanizing our democracies. In this area one could consider the possibility of having the various centers for study and research on democracy that exist in our Hemisphere, and new ones that will arise from our efforts, establish connections with the Board in order to develop joint activities and to look into opportunities for the teaching of hemispheric democracy, using as the preferred channel the armed forces.
The security of citizens and the improvements in the quality of life are complementary elements. That is why it is relevant for the topics of the College and of the Board in general to be linked to those concerning the security of citizens and of the police, especially since in many of our countries the latter is a military police. This is not a minor issue, since it is the basis of many of the problems that end up generating distrust and suspicion toward the actions of the state and, in particular, its commitment to defend democracy. We need to have our police be in the vanguard of the consolidation of citizens’ rights. It is essential for those serving as police to attend the College, for appropriate programs to be established for them, and for measures to be considered to improve the quality of life and the well-being of the police. In this area, there is room for the development of collective activities, like those in the area of justice being worked on by the Inter-American Development Bank.
This new framework of citizens’ security is inconceivable unless activities are developed at the same time to control and reduce weapons in the hands of the civilian population. The Board might well coordinate its action with CICAD in the area of trafficking in light weapons.The exchange of experience between civilians and the military in the area of intelligence and, in particular, regarding abductions, extortion, and drug-trafficking must be an objective of the Board. The same could be said for terrorism and common crime, which seem to affect everyone today in equal measure.
The Hemisphere is one of democracy and peace, but there still subsists in it heightened distrust concerning security. That is why the topic of confidence-building is crucial. Military clashes and unilateral interventions in some countries have not always had a sufficient grounding to make them just causes and have left in their wake suspicion and open wounds. Actions in the name of democracy and liberty have not always been taken with due rectitude or in accordance with the rules of International Law.
Endeavors such as peace-keeping and peace-making call for an atmosphere of consensus and a clear political will which can only be achieved by developing machinery to ensure mutual trust. The conference to be held in Chile next year is a valuable opportunity to present new approaches to the prevention of conflicts through transparent and prior knowledge of military activities.
I cannot conclude without making a reference to a topic of great importance to hemispheric security, namely Haiti. There is satisfaction in the Hemisphere because resolution 940 of the United Nations Security Council was implemented in a relatively peaceful manner, regardless of the opinion one might have about the resolution. But we are all responsible for the promotion, strengthening and defense of Haitian democracy in an atmosphere of security and peace, and we are all committed to the efforts of the constitutional government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It is precisely at moments like these that the analysis, study, and recommendations of the Board would be very useful.
In conclusion, I should like to say that on this day, when we are celebrating yet another anniversary of the discovery of America and when the Inter-American Defense Board is honoring the armed forces of its member states, we must see to it that, sooner rather than later, the entire Hemisphere will be sterile ground for dictatorships, de facto governments and uprisings against democracy and the will of the people.