Media Center



September 30, 2002 - Washington, DC

Doctor Albright, I would like to begin by thanking you and the National Democratic Institute for this honor. It is indeed a privilege for me to accept the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award on behalf of the Organization of American States. It is encouraging and rewarding for the OAS to have its work recognized by an institution that is so deeply committed to the defense of democracy all over the world. I also extend my heartfelt congratulations to fellow honoree Oswaldo Payá and his Varela Project. His hard work, dedication, and unstinting commitment to democracy are an inspiration to us all. The protection of public liberties and human rights in Cuba is an aim we all share.

After the end of the cold war the OAS embarked on an undertaking to reinvent itself and leave behind the confrontational language, the malicious rhetoric, the systematic recriminations, and all justifications to sacrifice democracy and the protection of human rights to the imperatives of that historical period. Gone are the days in which our common denominator was fear and military dictatorships ruled over many of our countries with absolute impunity. Today we celebrate the fact that all active OAS member states are democracies.

We have had throughout these years many opportunities to defend and promote democracy with you Secretary Albright, and with many of your colleagues in the Clinton administration. We have continued that effort with all our resolve under the Bush administration.

The Summit of the Americas process that began in Miami in 1994 has meant an extraordinary expansion of an inter-American agenda that aims to shape a hemisphere where the idea of democracy and the protection of human rights and human dignity are at center stage. Through this process, we have created numerous instruments and tools to face the major threats to our societies: narco-trafficking, terrorism, corruption, the illegal trafficking of arms, and all forms of international crime and threats to our collective security. The Summit framework has also generated important cooperation within the countries of the Americas through the Ministerial Meetings; today these represent the most important component of our activities in that context. We should note that our success has generated a greater demand for multilateral approaches and solutions than we can easily supply with our current, very limited resources.

The OAS has also been enhancing its role as mediator in regional conflicts. We are pleased with the successful conclusion of the conciliation process in the territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize. Just today we received the proposals of the panel of facilitators in that matter. In a ceremony held this morning we had a strong demonstration of solidarity with the process with the presence and support of the International community. We hope that the referendums will put this problem behind us and that we will open new avenues of understanding to strengthen democracy in Central America.

During the last decade we have witnessed exceptional development of our system of human rights, with many countries accepting the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court and the greater application of the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission. The system now works more effectively than it ever has, focusing on a new generation of rights that relate directly to the consolidation of our democracies.

In our continued efforts to strengthen democracy we have had several opportunities to work with NDI. We have been partners in protecting democratic principles in Peru, seeking democracy and national reconciliation in Haiti, strengthening democratic institutions in Nicaragua and Paraguay, helping to promote peaceful constitutional transitions in Ecuador. Through our Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, we have also stood together exchanging significant information and mutual support in multiple electoral observation missions, ensuring our ongoing effort to foster free and fair elections in this hemisphere. I hope very much that we will continue this close collaboration in the future.

But none of our activities in these years speaks stronger of our determination to defend and promote democracy than the approval of the Inter- American Democratic Charter. With the Charter we are protecting the right of our peoples to live in democracy. We are incorporating our shared vision and principles, our needs, our aspirations, our collective will, and our commitment to work together to defend our core values. On September 11, 2001 the hemisphere’s foreign ministers gathered together in Lima, Peru to sign the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a mandate of our Presidents and Prime Ministers in the Summit of Quebec. Outside of our own OAS Charter and the creation of the inter-American human rights system, this is the most important decision that the OAS has produced since its inception.

The excitement we all felt on the day of its signing was soon replaced with dread and horror as the enormity of the terror attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania became clear. The attacks were the greatest challenge to our civilization, to our values, to human rights and civil liberties, and to the principles of tolerance and pluralism that bind us. At that meeting, our nations expressed in one voice to the United States, our sister nation, our grief, our indignation, and our sorrow over the loss of thousands of innocent lives and we prayed together for the victims and their families. Secretary of State Powell shared some of those sad moments with us. We all decided at that very instant that the best way to express our repudiation of these barbaric acts was to come together in a show of hemispheric solidarity by signing a document that encompasses and embodies all of the values and beliefs that these terrorists so abhor.

We signed the document in Lima because the Peruvian experience with authoritarianism was the inspiration behind the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Our work there gave us confidence in the possibilities of our collective action in the face of a democracy in trouble. Our electoral observation mission played a significant role in bringing national and international attention to the irregularities, the lack of fairness, and accountability of the electoral process. Together with the significant effort of political parties, civil society, and the Catholic Church, the OAS set up a Mesa de Dialogo, or dialogue table, to begin to face and correct the many problems of Peruvian democracy: the subordination of the armed forces for illegal and political ends, the lack of independence and separation of powers, massive corruption, censorship of the media and curbs on civil liberties.

The Charter makes clear that representative democracy is much more than free and fair election. It provides a holistic vision of what democracy is and what it strives to be. Under its terms, representative democracy means respect for human rights and public liberties, the separation and independence of powers, transparency, accountability, honesty, responsibility, citizen participation, strong civil society, a pluralist system of political parties, access to information, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, a functioning system of checks and balances, elimination of all forms of discrimination, the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Charter stands for the proposition that those who attempt to break the constitutional order in our hemisphere will face an American community of nations united in collective action to protect democratic institutions. It is far more than a tool to cope with crises and impose sanctions. Those who view the Charter as simply a punitive instrument underestimate its complexity and nuance. The true essence and strength of the document is that it provides recourse to governments who feel their democracies are in peril.

The biggest test to date of the Democratic Charter, and of the OAS’s efforts to defend democracy in the region, has been in Venezuela. The events of April 11 in Caracas motivated the hemisphere to join together to ensure that democracy would continue in Venezuela; we think our actions made a significant contribution to that end. But we are extremely concerned with the dangerous level of polarization in Venezuelan society.

At this moment, under the terms of an OAS mandate we have formed a joint mission with the Carter Center and the United Nations Development Program to promote political dialogue with various opposition sectors, grouped under the so-called Coordinadora Democrática de Venezuela.

Distinguished guests, friends:

Democracy in our hemisphere is at a critical historical juncture. Massive citizen disenchantment with government performance has led to hard questions about the very viability of democracy. Our actions, then, will have to go farther than applying passively the principles of the Charter. We need a new political ethic, a new social policy, better organized political parties, a more decisive commitment to fight poverty, better income distribution, more competitive economies, and better education systems. We need more social discipline to solve fiscal problems. We must demonstrate that we can navigate the sometimes raging waters of globalization; we must not be impotent in the face of its consequences or challenges. The current crisis underscores the need to reclaim the confidence of our citizens in public institutions. We need stronger public institutions that are more effective, more respected. They must possess the capacity to check, to control, to regulate, to supervise. We need democratic state institutions respectful of the rights of all our citizens.

The creation of a free trade area should help us to strengthen solidarity between nations, between governments, between people. We must learn to channel our capacities and capabilities, to harness the synergies of the market-integration process, to create millions of jobs and opportunities all over the Americas. That is our commitment. Then we can say proudly that we are defending the rights of people to live in democracy.

Finally, a brief comment on a situation that endangers democracy in the Americas. I am particularly concerned with the delays that are taking place in the negotiations between the IMF and Argentina. There are myriad reasons to explain the Argentine crisis. But the Duhalde Administration is undertaking very significant efforts to fix the errors of the past and Argentina needs and deserves the support of the hemispheric community. A misguided and unorganized plan to deal with the Argentine crisis may have grave consequences for the future of democratic ideals and the region’s insertion into the world economy. The support and leadership role of the US Treasury within the IMF is essential to that solution and probably is not as strong as it should be.

I thank you again for this great honor tonight. In the last year we have discovered the linkages among our goals of democracy, growth, and prosperity, as well as the enormous challenges that lie ahead. We will need many more democratic reforms. We can do more. We are prepared to do more. We will fulfill this task with determination, to bring peace, prosperity, equity and justice to all our people

Thank you very much.