Media Center



June 10, 2003 - Santiago, Chile


First of all Madame Chairman, I wish to sincerely congratulate you on your being elected to serve as Chair of this 33rd Session of the OAS General Assembly. I also wish to express heartfelt appreciation to our hosts, the Government and people of Chile for their hospitality and all courtesies extended to my delegation since our arrival in this delightful city of Santiago de Chile.

Madame Chairman, the topic of democratic governance which is engaging the attention of this august body in my delegation’s view, is both opportune and appropriate. In the fast-evolving and developing Inter-American system, the question of Democracy and Governance has assumed critical importance in the political and socio-economic dialogue. Changes, some dramatic, some gradual within many countries of the Hemisphere, have ushered in democratic systems of governance which have replaced dictatorships, oligarchies and military regimes.

This “Brave New World” of democratic governance, so to speak, has been the norm for Trinidad and Tobago. Madame Chairman, we take our elections very seriously and when the occasion so dictates, we have no hesitation to consult the people. Within very recent times we have had to face the polls on three occasions in three years. In one instance, we were obliged to return to the polls shortly after an unprecedented eighteen- eighteen deadlock between the two contending political parties. It is instructive that, in spite of the tensions that this political impasse created, both political parties, in the firm belief that politics is about people, had no reservations in consulting the electorate again. This bold decision resulted in the strengthening and deepening of the democratic processes and institutions that were already entrenched in our political system.

These include institutional reforms and innovation at the national level; increased efforts at consultation between government agencies and the private sector; increased involvement of other representatives of civil society such as academics, legal professionals, and other special interest groups in helping to guide, shape, and influence domestic and regional policies in education, the environment and health, to identify just a few key areas.

The greatest challenges to democratic governance, however, reside in the socioeconomic sphere. In this realm, development, growth and accessibility of resources underpin the political legitimacy and success of our governance structures. They fortify the polity against external and internal threats such as terrorist activities and rash attempts by dissident or disaffected groups, who may seek to remove governments and radically alter structures by undemocratic means. In accelerating and expanding education programmes, and community and poverty eradication projects we hope to continue to ensure the equitable distribution of the benefits, peace and stability that democratic governance affords us. In this way, our democracies are also rendered more flexible and adaptable to the seemingly unrelenting, fast-paced drive towards economic “globalization”.

Without any doubt, while democratic forms of governance continue to take hold throughout the hemisphere, so too has inequity in the distribution of wealth. Lack of amenities such as health care services, employment opportunities and poverty continue to dog large sections of our populations, who are becoming increasingly marginalized. In the face of this we must ask ourselves is democratic governance serving the needs of our people? Democratic governance must serve people’s needs. Democratic governance embraces people participation. It must be inclusive and provide for equal access and opportunities for all sectors of our society.

The test of democratic governance then, becomes not just a question of the legitimacy of the government or the failure of judicial, legislative or political party systems. Rather, it is anchored in the need to deepen dialogue between interested groups to ensure that representational structures continue to afford accessible avenues of communication for all sectors of society. The achievements of government in general must complement the realistic aspirations of the populace at large, in a responsible and transparent manner. This should include, among other things, the increased participation of women, young people, the aged and other special interest groups in the democratic process. This is an area that could be further enhanced at the hemispheric level through suitable educational projects and programmes designed by this Organization.

Within the English-speaking Caribbean, an enduring testament to the question of democratic governance is the very success of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) itself, where fifteen different states in the region have successfully addressed a number of challenges as a grouping through structures such as the Heads of Government Summit, the Community Council of Ministers, the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), the Regional Negotiating Machinery, and the soon to be established Caribbean Court of Justice.

In the tradition of democratic governance, CARICOM countries will continue to explore other ways and means of reassessing current structures to make them even more relevant to the changing global environment and its inherent challenges. Over the Community’s thirty-year history, our Governments have deepened their cooperation and commitment at practical level. We have strived to put systems in place so that peoples of the Caribbean Community could continue to face these challenges resolutely, in order to achieve a quality of life that is comparable to that of the developed world and to promote the potential for the continuing development of our human resource capabilities. This requires not only the provision of decent jobs, more opportunities for secondary and tertiary education, and adequate health and community services for our people. It also requires favourable trade and commercial relationships and increased investment opportunities for the region, which will highlight the very best of Caribbean society, and so, broaden our own pool of skilled and talented citizenry.

In both the international and regional arena, Trinidad and Tobago has joined with other countries, politically and through financial contributions, to support efforts against the scourge of terrorism. In this regard, at the institutional level Trinidad and Tobago has been engaged in a number of initiatives. It was a former President and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Arthur N.R. Robinson, who spear-headed the renewed call at the United Nations in New York for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This appeal was favourably supported by numerous like-minded countries which understood the need to enshrine the principles of justice and the role of law internationally.

By way of complement, in our own hemisphere, it is worthwhile recalling that the Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted by the General Assembly in Lima, Peru on the fateful day of 11 September 2001, recognizes, inter alia, that “economic growth and social development based on justice and equity, and democracy are interdependent and mutually reinforcing”. Additionally, “the fight against poverty, and especially the elimination of extreme poverty” were identified as being “essential to the promotion and consolidation of democracy, constituting a common and shared responsibility of American states.” However, it is Member States´ effective implementation of the provisions within the Democratic Charter that would enhance its relevance and practical value for the peoples of the Americas.

In view of its mandate to support and promote representational democracy in the Hemisphere, the Organization of American States must become an even more effective agency for promoting cooperation between Member States in their respective efforts at achieving democratic reforms, especially with respect to achieving a higher degree of transparency and probity in governance.

The time is at hand for concerted action by all States in the Inter-American System to transform the healthy process of dialogue within the Organization into timely, pragmatic and expeditious follow-up programmes for the delivery of much needed services to our people, in order to attain the goals inherent in our quest for democracy and good governance.

I thank you.