Media Center



September 30, 2002 - Washington, DC

Secretary General César Gaviria, Representatives of Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project, Members of the Diplomatic Community, Members of Congress and the Administration, Friends and Supporters from the Labor and Business Communities, Fellow NDI Board Members, guests, and collectively, friends of democracy: Good evening.

For two decades, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, and our sister organizations have operated on a simple assumption: that democracy is inseparable from human dignity and peace.
Twenty years ago, the Communists said: freedom is a bourgeois illusion. Human happiness is measured in physical things -- health care, housing, food on the table. Twenty years ago, authoritarian governments on every continent asserted: people need a strong hand to guide them. The alternative is chaos. Twenty years ago, well meaning proponents of development said: democracy is a luxury. Poor people are uninterested in these Western things.

How much the world has changed, and in only twenty years! In a hundred nations, in a million voting booths, citizens have shown that they aspire, above all, to guide their own lives and their own communities. In more and more nations, people expect and demand working parliaments, representative parties, accountable governments, free and fair elections, local empowerment, and the rule of law.

I am proud that NDI has played a role as a catalyst, as a trainer, and as a resource. Most of all, I am proud of our role as a meeting ground, as we can see from our audience tonight: a place where democrats convene from throughout the world, to support each other, and learn from each other, and go forth renewed.

Tonight we salute two very different recipients of the Averell Harriman Democracy Award. One is large intergovernmental organization, the other is an individual. One we hail for its refusal to become staid and tired, and for its ever-increasing commitment as a force for democracy. The other we recognize for his courage and ingenuity, and for the small fire he has lit in a nation still repressed.

How fitting this is. It shows a truth of democracy: that it can be advanced by governments, and by courageous individuals acting on a vision and a dream. There is another truth here: that the spirit of democracy must rise perpetually to meet new tests. NDI looks forward to the day when a democratic Cuba will be a full participating member of the OAS. So tonight we celebrate what has been accomplished, and mark the challenges that remain.

When I served as Secretary of State, I learned that whoever holds the office wears many hats. The Secretary is a diplomat, of course, and a policymaker. She -- or he! -- is a counselor, an administrator, a representative, and a partner.

I was particularly mindful of those last two. I understood that while I represented the United States of America, I was also a partner in a larger enterprise, the affairs of all the Americas. And I knew that this was a cooperative venture, a collegial endeavor, of hemispheric neighbors collaborating for their mutual interest and shared ideals.

My respect for the OAS as an agent of change grew with each passing year of my tenure as Secretary of State.

With growing force and conviction, the OAS has emerged as an advocate of honest elections, accountable governance, and the rule of law.

With growing confidence, the OAS has articulated a vision of democracy in the Americas.

With considerable courage, the OAS has formulated practical standards and workable methods for rooting out corruption, rebuilding political parties, and engaging a new generation of leaders.

The influence of the OAS now is felt far beyond the Western Hemisphere. The organization has become a model for other regional groupings throughout the world, setting a standard for legitimacy and collective action.

For many years, the OAS, like the UN, was hampered and held back by East-West and North-South tensions.

Its ability to work on behalf of democracy was limited because many of its members were not democratic. Relations between Washington and the region were strained.

As a result, public expectations of the OAS were low.

But the past quarter century has been marked by an onrushing democratic tide.

The images best remembered may be of Polish dockworkers, Germans dancing on the Wall, and Boris Yeltsin climbing atop a tank, but the changes in our hemisphere were equally profound.

From Santiago to San Salvador to Santo Domingo, generals gave way to Presidents and ballots replaced bullets as the pathway to power.

So today, we expect our multilateral organizations to do more than just host meetings every year and write reports the size of doorstops.

To be relevant, they must be instruments of action. To keep pace, they must renew themselves constantly.

And to be effective, they must be champions of democracy.

The OAS, as much or more than any other regional organization, has met the challenges of this new era.

Once reticent, the OAS now acts to defend and preserve democracy among all its member states.

Once passive, the OAS has led in devising practical methods for promoting good governance and protecting freedom of the press.

Once a strong sense of direction, the OAS under Secretary General Gaviria and Assistant Secretary General Einaudi has articulated a clear vision for our hemisphere; a vision in which every nation will be free and every free nation a partner in fighting poverty, disrupting crime, preserving peace, and helping democracy succeed.

The OAS has today made the transition from talk shop to doer.

Since 1991, its Unit for Democracy Promotion has helped countries strengthen political parties, improve local governments, build citizen participation and otherwise assemble the nuts and bolts of freedom.

And over the past decade, the OAS has sent more than 40 delegations to observe and validate the fairness of elections in our hemisphere.
I know we all look forward to the day they are sent to observe free elections in Cuba.

In 1994, I was U.S. Ambassador to the UN. A coup in Haiti had ousted the elected government.

Military authorities had violated an agreement to restore democratic rule. Haitian dissidents were being tortured and killed.

The OAS approved a bold Resolution calling for a return to constitutional order.

If the OAS had not acted, I would not have been able to persuade the UN Security Council to act.

A disastrous precedent would have been set.

And we might not have had the will we have shown since to oppose and thereby prevent constitutional disruptions in Guatemala, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

Former Soviet leader Brezhnev once declared that no Communist country should ever be allowed to become non-Communist.

Through the Santiago Declaration and subsequent actions, the OAS is helping to establish a new doctrine that no country, once free, may be taken over by forces contrary to the people’s will.

The OAS is also a force for peace.

We saw a demonstration of that earlier today when the organization endorsed an agreement it helped facilitate to resolve a longstanding border dispute involving Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize.

If ratified by the people of these three countries, this pact will settle a disagreement more than a century old. By definition, that is an historic accomplishment.

Given our shared commitment to democracy, it is not surprising that there are now intimate connections between the OAS and NDI.

We are currently working together on efforts to strengthen political parties, whose ability to renew and reform themselves may very well determine the future direction of democracy in this hemisphere.

There are personal ties, as well.

A number of our Board members have been closely involved in its work, including Hattie Babbitt, who served as our Ambassador to the OAS; Bernie Aronson, former Assistant Secretary of State for the region, who was actively involved when the OAS drafted and approved Resolution 1080; and Arturo Valenzuela, who worked closely with the Organization during his tenure at the State Department and the National Security Council. We are all among friends tonight.

Secretary General Gaviria, you were a defender of democracy even before you assumed your current role.

You risked your life to run for President of Colombia in a campaign in which two other candidates were assassinated.

You ran to lead your people, yes, but also to give them courage.

And you succeeded: You strengthened Colombia's democratic system and led the reform of your nation's constitution.

Now, under your direction, the OAS has been revitalized, reformed and renewed in ways that make it easier for the 800 million people of the Americas to live as true neighbors, working together in the light of freedom, to enrich and improve the lives of all people.

On behalf of the National Democratic Institute, I am proud to present to the Organization of American States, the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award.

Mr. Secretary General, congratulations, the award and the floor are now yours.