Media Center



September 16, 2002 - Washington, DC

Madam Moderator

I am deeply honoured to be present this morning to speak on behalf of the Caribbean Community at this ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The Caribbean Community was particularly appreciative of the initiative piloted by the Government of Peru at the Third Summit of the Americas in Quebec last year. We also welcomed the opportunity to participate in the collective drafting effort that helped to expand and improve on the initial text in order to create a document that would more fully reflect our collective commitment to the reinforcing of democracy in the Americas. It was an enriching experience for all those involved and who should also be congratulated today.

Building on the important precedents of Resolution 1080 of 1991 and the Washington Protocol of 1997 as well as the human rights instruments of the Inter-American system, the Inter-American Democratic Charter is a landmark document whose broad sweep incorporates the body of OAS doctrine with regard to the defence and promotion of democracy in our hemisphere. The Charter is also a significant milestone in the institutional development of the organization whose initial objectives had more to do with furthering regional cooperation than with strengthening and preserving democratic institutions.

Our hemisphere is a diverse one with tremendous differences in size, wealth, ethnic makeup and constitutional frameworks. CARICOM Member States have long enjoyed the reputation of being a bastion of representative democracy, of being a sub-region that has lived by democratic values and the rule of law. It is a tradition of which we are justifiably proud and to which we are deeply committed. In fact, representative institutions existed in some of our countries from as early as the seventeenth century. The Parliaments of The Bahamas and of Barbados are among the oldest legislative institutions in the world.

This having been said, we are all acutely aware that democracy is a fragile plant that requires constant nurturing. There is increasing recognition, tinged with some concern, in certain parts of our sub-region that our societies are outgrowing their model of governance based on the Westminster system and that more appropriate frameworks have to be sought, especially in our multi-ethnic societies. Quality-of-politics issues such as accountability, integrity, tolerance, respect for diversity, responsiveness of governments and public participation in decision-making, have emerged as powerful citizen concerns to which our governments will have to respond. Our constant vigilance is all the more necessary in the face of accelerating societal change, growing political and economic challenges and the multi-dimensional nature of security threats which, if not confronted, could affect adversely the preservation and consolidation of democracy in our States. In this regard, the Inter-American Democratic Charter seeks to speak to these new challenges that require a focus on human security issues - extreme poverty, transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, the environment, and health concerns such as HIV/AIDS to name but a few. The nexus between socio-economic issues and the preservation of democratic values and institutions cannot and must not be ignored.

In an effort to guide Member States further along the path of democracy, and fully cognisant of societal change and the emergence of new civic demands, CARICOM has undertaken several initiatives at the regional level. In February 1997, CARICOM Heads of Government adopted the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society. Its ideals prefigure those that are contained in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. More than being just the Community’s guide to democracy and good governance, it is seen as conferring a qualitative character, as establishing an ethical base, by providing the Community with normative moorings.

In addition to the wide spectrum of rights and the concepts of good governance that the CARICOM Charter upholds, it also seeks to “create a truly participatory political environment within the Caribbean Community which will be propitious to genuine consultation in the process of governance”. In furtherance of this concept of consultative and participatory democracy and of its commitment to involve civil society in the task of building strong democratic systems, CARICOM Heads of Government met with representatives of civil society from the Region in July of this year. This Forward Together Conference as it was called was the culmination of national and regional consultations that brought together a wide range of civil society and private sector representatives from Member States to discuss regional and international issues affecting our welfare. At the end of the Conference, Heads of Government:

“Acknowledged that Civil Society has a vital role to play in the development of regional, political and social policies, the development of those programmes and frameworks currently in existence, their modification where necessary, and the creation of new areas as required.”

The Community is also involved in the process of building a strong CARICOM Youth Ambassadors Forum. The mechanism is designed to facilitate greater participation of youth in decision-making and in the pursuit of regional integration as well as to have them play a critical role in the implementation of regional programmes in the areas of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

It is laudable that the drafters of the Inter-American Democratic Charter sought to include the contributions of civil society. It would be good to go beyond that and to factor in a pragmatic mechanism through which their contributions could be efficiently and effectively channeled. To this end, consideration might be given to convening a forum to gauge the views of civil society on the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

A critical element of the Caribbean Community’s governance structures at the regional level is the implementation of a single market and economy. It is an attempt to create a larger, unified economic space within which economic growth can be achieved through greater productivity and competitiveness. It is also a means of deepening the integration process and thereby better attending to the well being of the peoples of the Community. A key step in this process is the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice which will be inaugurated in the latter half of the coming year. The Court will exercise both an appellate and an original jurisdiction. In keeping with the importance of respect for the rule of law and of the effective administration of justice, every effort has been made to guarantee the independence of the new Court. A trust fund in the amount of US$100 million will make the Court independent of Governments. Appointments will be done by the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission and not by the politicians. Conditions of service as well as their privileges and immunities will further safeguard and protect the independence of the judges. The establishment of the Court has been preceded by a programme of public education and a series of consultations with various sectors at the national and regional level.

Though democracy creates an enabling environment conducive to social, political and economic progress, it is not a panacea for all ills. This truism is underlined by the hard-fought for Chapter III of the Charter on which CARICOM Countries placed great emphasis and which clearly illustrates the need to link democracy to development and combating poverty. As our CARICOM Heads of Government have pointed out on previous occasions, “the persistence of under-development - the denial of social and economic rights in their full plenitude - is the major challenge that Caribbean countries face in relation to the preservation and strengthening of the values for which we stand”.

The decision to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas taken at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec is in many ways recognition of the close link between development and democracy. By seeking to harness our synergies to create better opportunities for growth and development, it has the potential to contribute to the attainment of the lofty goals of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. However, the process will need to remain sensitive to the special challenges that confront small economies.

In July of this year, Haiti became the newest Member State of the Caribbean Community. CARICOM is particularly pleased to have worked together with the OAS in seeking to resolve the long-standing political impasse in that country. This has been another tangible demonstration of the Organisation’s commitment to supporting the democratic process in all Member States. The recent adoption of a resolution seeking to restore committed international financial assistance is a welcome development for Haiti’s people and for Haiti’s fledgling democracy which has been constrained by its authoritarian history and the attendant political culture. The resolution will also deepen the engagement of the Organisation in helping Haiti to establish a viable democratic framework. Though the punitive and preventive aspects of the Charter are necessary and important elements, there is concern among small states that if the measures are not sensitively applied it would lead to unwarranted intervention. However, it is the ability to promote democracy that confers on the Charter its vital dimension.

In concluding, I would like to underline the importance of ensuring that the Inter-American Democratic Charter remain a living document. It must not remain static but should be kept open for future changes. More importantly, our countries must apply its principles and ensure that the ideals and values it embraces guide the actions of the political leadership, civil society and ordinary citizens. In a word, we must concretise the new political ethic that the Charter constitutes.

Thank you.