Media Center



December 13, 1995 - Washington, DC

The end of the year is always an appropriate time to take stock, to evaluate what we have accomplished, and to prepare for the future at hand. It is of course difficult to escape the Christmas spirit which invites deep and mature reflection, a reaffirmation of values, and a renewal of the convictions that guide us. It is, moreover, a good time to share with friends and colleagues the successes we have achieved together.

This is why I have asked the Chair of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Carmen Moreno of Mexico, to give me an opportunity to address you at this special meeting of the Permanent Council as the year draws to a close.

History, which generally marches to its own beat, seems to have decided to bring the XX century to a premature close--towards the end of the past decade. Winds of change have torn down walls and dictatorships, and spawned new values and new legitimacy. The Cold War ended and the global village has resurfaced as the expression of a world marked by two unquestionable realities: multipolarity and interdependence.

These facts are already part of the collective consciousness. It has become commonplace to speak of the old order and brandish the new one. But, it is not enough to pat ourselves on the back for having left the tumultuous times behind. Neither should we be content to herald the dawn of a new era. The fleeting euphoria of young people dancing on top of the dismantled walls and the spontaneous joy of the people celebrating the end of the dictatorship are waning.

We are now faced with the task of sculpting reality out of fancy, of translating collective dreams into decisions, and of assuming responsibility for building the future instead of being satisfied with contemplating the ruins of a world that fades on the horizon.

Being in step with the times takes effort. The present is so elusive that we either rid ourselves of the fear of constantly re-inventing each day or we run the risk of living in the comfortable inertia of the past.

By turning the page, destiny holds the promise of new opportunity. We have ahead of us a clean slate. There are those who prefer to leave it to history to fill the vacuum. They choose to live in limbo--between the inconsequential languishing of the established order and the insurmountable distance of the future.

But, let us not fool ourselves. The evolution of humankind is without pause, without respite. He who dares not shape history leaves to others the destiny of his fellow countrymen, his children and his grandchildren.

And although what I say may seem remote, it puts in context what I believe to be the enormity of the mission upon which we have collectively embarked.

I have no doubt that all of you, Ambassadors, have always understood that it is now our duty to lay the foundation that will make our Organization a champion of the future. I am convinced that you have opted for a more difficult but more satisfactory path, the path of shaping the forces of history.

And I am pleased to say that over this past year, the Organization has made great strides in becoming a valid instrument for the community of nations of the Hemisphere to build a democratic, peaceful and prosperous tomorrow.

I crave your indulgence as I take a look at some of the results which fuel my optimism.

When I assumed office as Secretary General 15 months ago, I found an Organization in search of new direction. Guidelines for renewal emerged at the Assembly session in Mexico. On my arrival I felt it was my obligation to share some ideas which could possibly be used as raw material in giving the Organization renewed purpose and instruments for collective action. These suggestions have been enriched and transformed over the year thanks to the contributions of the Permanent Council and the member countries. And they have evolved in the direction of shaping a new and dynamic agenda that addresses the needs of the time.

Ten weeks after my arrival, the Summit of the Americas took place. There, the heads of state and government of the Hemisphere gathered together. Our first great challenge was to ensure that our Organization was at one and the same time protagonist and instrument of this historic meeting. The "spirit of Miami" not only confirmed the existence of new priorities and objectives for our nations but also paved the way--perhaps as never before in history--for collective action and a place in the multilateral landscape.

The Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action emanating from the Summit define the strengthening of democracy and its institutions, economic integration and free trade, combatting poverty and disenfranchisement, environmental protection and the quest for sustainable development, and combatting corruption, terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, as the great pillars of a new hemispheric agenda based on fully converging values and an unprecedented political will.

The inter-American system in general and the OAS specifically emerged strengthened from the Summit of the Americas. Insofar as our Organization is concerned, we assumed commitments dictated by the present-day need to redefine our priorities in the political arena, and also to make changes in the functioning of the General Secretariat.

On the matter of priorities, Montrouis provided the backdrop for the General Assembly to endorse the proposals we jointly outlined in the document "A New Vision of the OAS." Thus, the adoption of the ambitious working agenda which the Organization has today is perhaps the most significant outcome of our effort in 1995.

With regard to the functioning of the General Secretariat, we have promoted proposals aimed at strengthening its capability in policy formulation, the timely processing of the Organization's agenda and, of course, proper attention to the needs of the Assembly, the Permanent Council, the committees and the member countries.

In this sense, we are consolidating an institutional agenda which will enable the General Secretariat to play a more dynamic role in making proposals to the governing bodies of the Organization to stimulate the process of change.

The Protocol of Cartagena already foresaw a Secretariat that was more in tune with the aspirations of the Hemisphere, one that had a greater capacity to serve as a catalyst in the process at hand. The General Secretariat must contribute actively to discussion in the Permanent Council through working documents, as well as the orderly and timely delivery of Secretariat functions. The establishment of the team of advisors to the Secretary General and the move towards instituting specialized units which would encompass the main items on our agenda are steps in that direction.

The specialized units give the Secretary General a chance to exercise coordination and more effective monitoring of those topics which, given their political importance to the countries, should not be coordinated solely on the basis of technical criteria.

With regard to a characterization of the Secretary General, I believe in the purpose to be served by a Secretary General who has initiative, who is present when our nations need him, not only when the core principles of the Organization are threatened, as in the case of the preservation of democracy and peace, but who is visible in various field, academic, and representational activities. This is why in just over a year in this Administration, I have maintained a pro-active program which has led me to visit almost all of the member states.

The Organization has also been present in the public debate on topics in its sphere of competence, in regional integration organizations, in the Congresses of various countries, in academic institutions, in private foundations, and in those fora where its participation is vital in terms of promoting a vision of the new America.

Much progress has been made in redefining the Organization's agenda. Today there are great expectations in the countries regarding the immense possibilities for progress which, thanks to the renewed political vitality of collective action, have opened up for the people of the Americas.

But to succeed, it is not enough to make a commitment to the future in speeches and in documents. It is not enough to trumpet new common goals if we are not capable of translating this political will into administrative, budgetary, and labor decisions that make them a reality. This is why the allocation of resources and discussion of the budget must be understood as a political exercise. It is not merely a tedious and monotonous accounting effort.

By deciding how we spend our resources and what we spend them on, we are defining what we want this Organization to be. What weight will the existing projects have in the new agenda? To what extent are we going to move towards focusing resources more effectively on greater investment in the countries that most need it? To what extent are our budgetary mechanisms going to enable us to work with other institutions of the system, cooperation agencies in the countries or private foundations and academic institutions through budgetary programming that is more program-oriented and less the simple summation of projects that are fully financed with OAS resources. These are some of the questions that we must ask at this juncture.

There is nothing more difficult than breaking the inertia of budgetary tradition. And I have seen--and I am sure you have too--the failure of major political projects because of the inability of many leaders to translate their vision into a pragmatic proposal on the distribution of dollars and cents. And when this happens, it is because there is a preference for not disturbing the vested interests, the patience that is required to evaluate what is going on with a critical eye on is lacking, or we succumb to the comfort of perpetuating routine. In the face of the approaching challenges, let us not renounce courageous action that is in step with the new goals.

The Secretariat is committed to a careful review of each of its projects and activities as an integral part of this process of changing budgetary procedures. We are gathering detailed information to be able to evaluate objectively, seriously, and responsibly the activities in which the Organization is currently engaged. We must come to a halt and break the inertia in which the Organization has been embroiled for years in this area.

Clearly, a good many existing projects must be terminated, but it is equally true that a good portion of resources available must feel the impulse of the new agenda and of the new priorities. We would be ill-advised to tie our resources to distribution formulae which, though admittedly based on past agreements, are inflexible and mechanical and ultimately make it very difficult for us to meet the new commitments arising out of Mexico, Miami, and Montrouis.

In this respect, the review of programs is of the utmost importance if we are to have enough information on which any decision as to the use of unprogrammed budgetary resources should be based. The special session of the General Assembly which we have proposed for January offers an opportunity to take decisions on the reallocation of resources based on an understanding of our present actions and future plans. What is more we shall ask that body to empower the Permanent Council to put into effect the amendments to some of the budgetary rules and procedures recommended by the CAAP.

I wish to stress what I have said before, which is that our budget cannot continue to be merely the summation of projects fully financed by the Organization. On the contrary, we need to have global resources to meet program priorities and facilitate our cooperation with other institutions while at the same time preserving control and the political allocation of resources by the member countries. Specific projects which are duly prepared and evaluated must be programmed.

We are in an ideal situation in terms of building an Organization whose structure, activities, and budget reflect the tasks of the present and the "new agenda" which has been defined at the highest political levels.

Faithful observance of the Protocol of Managua, of the decisions taken in the framework of AGECID and, of course, of the responsibilities entrusted to us at the Miami Summit, the start-up of CIDI, involves widespread restructuring of the Organization. At issue is the reconfiguration of the instruments available to the OAS to make the mandates of the partnership for development a reality.

CIDI is far more than the simple sum of CIES and CIECC, with their virtues and defects. CIDI must be the axis around which new inter-action between the political mandate and OAS action with the countries should be built. The CIDI that we propose will be the arm of the Organization. It will take up the commitments which the countries collectively assume at the highest level and convert them into concrete political facts. The Inter-American Council for Integral Development will be, among other things, the body that turns to advantage the enthusiasm generated by the "Spirit of Miami."

The OAS is in a position to provide a truly multilateral forum for the follow-up work relating not only to the Miami Summit but also to any other summits that might be convened. CIDI, through its Executive Secretariat, would be in a position to provide the logistical and technical support required to equip any meetings of Ministers of all branches with a follow-up mechanism of their own to ensure the usefulness of their effort.

The creation of the Executive Secretariat of CIDI is the opportunity to give the OAS the planning mechanism that it has never had. It should be the sphere in which the so-called "second-generation projects" are created on a continuing basis, in which the Permanent Council, under the leadership of its Chair, has shown a timely interest, and which, of course, has had the full cooperation of the General Secretariat.

The transition to the CIDI is our great opportunity to rethink the OAS, to restructure it in terms of its new priorities, in sum, to provide the Organization with multilateral institutional spaces to enable it "to reflect" and "to take action." "To reflect" so as to contribute to the dialogue that is going on within it, as the great political forum of the Hemisphere. And "to take action" so as to serve the member states and their common priorities better, through the renewed executive capacity mentioned above.

As is well known, the General Secretariat has for several months been working on a proposal related to the structure and functioning of CIDI. Two preliminary versions of the document have already been forwarded to the missions to be refined and for the final effort of the deliberations that took place in the Joint CEPCIES-CEPCIECC Group. I shall very soon pass a third version of our working document to that Group, for forwarding to the Permanent Council.

To make this new approach a reality, it is also indispensable to ensure that the General Secretariat receives the instruments required to carry out the increasing and delicate tasks that the Assembly, the Permanent Council, and member countries have assigned it. The so called "new topics" are issues with delicate political implications that require careful coordination by the Secretary in addition to flexibility with respect to their administration and resources.

This is why we are convinced that CIDI should also be supported in the creation of the specialized units on the environment and sustainable development and on social development. We should also open up an adequate institutional space for such important topics on our agenda as security in its widest sense, tourism, and science and technology, to mention only a few. In the weeks to come, I shall present a document on each of these two new units. In those documents, we will describe the role that these units will be called upon to play, so that the OAS may obtain an important space with respect to both topics and cooperate with other international agencies already working on them.

In these areas, our Organization has an opportunity to become an important catalyst of new public policies and of the institutional and legal frameworks required to implement them appropriately. To illustrate this renewed currency of the OAS, it is a pleasure to note that the Government of Bolivia has decided to give our Organization a leading role in the process of promoting the Summit on Sustainable Development. Given the creation of a working group of the Permanent Council on the matter and the increasing technical contribution of the General Secretariat to this process, the Summit will be a further expression of the collective will to build the future together.

I now wish to mention the work being done by the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) and the Trade Unit (UT). I need not give examples of the qualitative exchange this represented for the Organization and for the member countries which now have an efficient, professional instrument to support the democratic processes in the Hemisphere. In particular, in the course of this past year, the contributions made in Haiti, Central America, Paraguay, Peru, and in many other places in the Hemisphere, were particularly valuable.

We feel eminently satisfied at the fact that the UPD is broadening the scope of its action to subjects such as the removal of mines, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, institutional strengthening, education for democracy, and the sharing of experiences among member states to mention only a few significant examples.

However, I am convinced that we must go even further. We must begin to articulate this entire range of activities within an integrated, coordinated, and consistent strategy with a long term perspective, with a view to building up a concerted effort in aid of the consolidation of democracy in the Hemisphere.

The UPD is in the process of defining its navigational chart. If all due priority is not given to this effort, there is a risk that its resources and energy will be spread too thin. The Unit cannot be geared solely towards project implementation. If that were the case, the OAS would fail to benefit fully from all the potential that the UPD has, as an instrument for the prevention of crisis and for the defense, consolidation, and promotion of democracy in the Hemisphere. We hope, during the first half of next year, to submit to the Permanent Council a working document that adopts this integrated vision of the functions, responsibilities, and activities of the Organization in one of its essential areas.

On assuming the office of Secretary General, I mentioned the importance of creating a Center of Studies for Democracy. In this respect, we are pursuing discussions with the IDB, with a view to affording the inter American system, under the joint auspices of the two institutions, the opportunity of having more studies and information on the subjects of democracy and governability, further sharing of experience in a revitalized democratic forum, and a greater presence in the academic discussion of the issues of democratic practices and institution building. I feel certain that within a few weeks, we will be able to implement the proposal that will make this center a reality. I shall keep the Council informed of progress in this area.

Since my arrival in the office of Secretary General, I have stressed that the OAS cannot be a mere onlooker in the process of economic and commercial integration under way in the Hemisphere. Since the creation of the Organization's Special Committee on Trade, it has been clear that the member countries felt it important to use our multilateral scenario to support, encourage, and even lead the process of trade liberalization taking place throughout the Hemisphere. It is therefore satisfying to report to you that in the past year, the Organization has played a role that has been more and more recognized and vital in this aspect of our agenda.

Last April, we established the Trade Unit and, in keeping with the mandate issued by the Miami Summit, we assigned it the task of helping member states in the transition toward the formation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. During its brief existence, the Unit has produced various useful reports and studies that were considered by the Ministers at their meeting in Denver.

On that occasion, it was decided that the Trade Unit, together with the IDB and ECLAC, would provide technical and analytical assistance to the seven working groups created at that meeting. Since then, the Unit has concentrated on preparing a significant number of documents and creating databases, which are now critical for clarifying doubts and serving as a support for decisions related to the process of harmonizing trade agreements. The Unit has also made an important step to offer to the public, trade and specialized information through the incorporation of the External Trade Information System (SICE) of the OAS into INTERNET.

In the coming year, the Trade Unit will continue its work of supporting the existing working groups and those which will be created at the meeting scheduled for March in Cartagena. The Unit will also continue to support the work of the Special Committee on Trade and its Advisory Group, as well as expanding its relations of cooperation with institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank, the IDB, ECLAC, ALADI, CARICOM, the Association of Caribbean States, and the Central American Common Market. I have every confidence that the work being performed by our Unit will continue to be a source of support and encouragement for the pursuit of such a key objective as the liberalization of trade in the Hemisphere and the strengthening of economic integration.

I will not deny to you that I feel deeply satisfied with the progress that has been made in the political arena in the formulation and discussion of a new agenda for the Organization. Let me cite just a few examples.

In mid November, the Regional Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures took place in Chile. This conference was a milestone in the history of the inter American system. The dialogue started there that will help us move toward a new concept of hemispheric security in other words, toward a cooperative security which, without exception, calls for the solidarity and interest of all the peoples of the Americas. The success of the Conference was not a product of chance. Today, there are concrete conditions that are generating tremendous room in the multilateral arena for strengthening confidence among countries of the Hemisphere. Only on this basis will it be possible to define a new way of working to preserve the peace and security of the region.

Behind us are the years of the "Cold War" when one was either friend or foe. And in that context, the great hemispheric threat was communism

The peace and prosperity of our peoples are threatened not only by possible armed conflicts between nations of the Hemisphere. Today, organized crime, international terrorism, drug trafficking, and the proliferation of arms in the hands of criminal groups, among others, represent new and perhaps more devastating threats to all countries without exception and they have a driving force that transcends national frontiers. This is why a great step was made in Chile, as the foundations were laid on that occasion for a new agenda for the twenty first century, in which Latin America and the Caribbean will assume a leading role in the definition of new values, parameters, and institutions for the future security of the Hemisphere.

The work being done by the Working Group on Terrorism chaired by the Ambassador of Peru is taking place in this revitalized scenario. Its members have already made significant progress with deliberations on the agenda that is to be discussed at the specialized conference on the matter, to be held in Lima next April.

Also, the topic of security in cities has acquired singular importance. The way of dealing with this problem which affects virtually all cities in America is not to have more security agencies, but to provide training and support to those that exist and to create an alliance between authorities and civil society.

In this regard, it must be specified that issues related to the preservation of security in cities cannot continue to be dealt with from the narrow point of view of policing. The scope of the discussion on these matters has to be elevated; it must be recognized that there is a threat to the governability of major cities, and we must seek greater sharing of experiences at the level of mayors and other senior authorities.

Corruption is a threat because of its perverse capacity to weaken democracy and undermine the confidence of citizens in their institutions. In recent weeks, two important events have taken place, in which the Organization played an important role: the Montevideo Seminar and the special series of meetings of the Group on Probity and Public Ethics. These meetings, which aroused the keen interest of all of the countries and the particular enthusiasm of Chairman Caldera of Venezuela, provided us with an opportunity to go deeper into the conceptualization of the problem and the adoption of effective measures to deal with it. The most important measure adopted was the one regarding the study and, where appropriate, the adoption of a draft inter American convention.

Given the steps already taken by the OAS--which should be continued--I propose to submit a document to this Council with a few ideas that could serve as a basis for the discussion and possible adoption of a Plan of Action to combat Corruption for the years to come.

No less relevant is the fact that member countries recently gave the OAS the mandate of drafting a convention of hemispheric dimensions to combat money laundering. The increase in the voluntary contribution of the United States and other member countries of the Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) and the entry of new members in that body of the Organization are noteworthy. These expressions of confidence in the process of CICAD's administrative and conceptual revival will cause the Organization to assume a leading role in the fight against the scourge of drug trafficking.

During the next six months, we propose to deliver to the Permanent Council a working document on this subject so crucial to the stability of democracy and the physical and moral health of our nations.

Perhaps one of the fields in which the OAS very clearly has a comparative advantage is in the development of international law. This field represents one of the most valuable assets of our Organization, which has made some of its most important contributions to the consolidation of a peaceful, fair, and egalitarian international order. For this reason, I considered it advisable to review how we operate in juridical matters. A new agenda also requires a new law.

I propose to restructure the Secretariat for Legal Affairs to strengthen its functions in the areas of development of inter-American law and cooperation in legal and judicial matters. I also hope to present the Permanent Council and the Inter-American Juridical Committee with a document proposing ways to ensure that the system functions well overall and to define our Organization's legal agenda for the upcoming years.

Regarding the inter-American human rights system, we are reformulating the way we work in human rights defense, protection, and advocacy in light of the new political reality of the region. Even though--as I have said time and time again--, our institutions have a high standing in this area, and deservedly so, it is nonetheless true that the only way to maintain this prestige is by strengthening the system through a sustained effort. We cannot rest on our laurels. The time has come, in this "reinvention" of the OAS for us all to be engaged in one way or another, to take decisions that would give the system a new and long life.

The challenge to us is to preserve its autonomy, strengthen its capacity to interact with national systems for human rights advocacy and protection. For this reason, it is not enough just to provide the Commission and the Court with increased human and material resources, which we are doing, but we must also design the necessary instruments that would allow it to interact in a specialized manner with the national bodies involved in promoting and defending them.

To make headway in this area, in the first months of the coming year, we will make a proposal to the Permanent Council to hold a specialized conference on human rights with broad participation by authorities and experts in the field. We are seeking a broad-based dialogue that would help us outline a new hemispheric system for promoting and protecting rights in the XXI century.

As part of our philosophy for modernizing this Organization, we have throughout the year promoted the idea that self-sufficiency is no longer viable and that under the present circumstances nothing can be effective without alliances with the other actors in the international system and, in particular, without working with our natural partners in the Hemisphere. For this reason, this year we signed cooperation agreements with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Andean Development Corporation. We are now holding talks with the World Bank and other international organizations to define new areas of cooperation with them.

Our agreement with the IDB is an expression of the political will at the highest levels of both institutions to work together and in a broader sphere than the area set out in the Summit of the Americas, to prevent overlapping and to pool our comparative advantages. In addition to its imminent involvement in the Center for Research on Democracy, the IDB is working with us in defining the areas for joint efforts in the future. We intend to issue a joint document in the first quarter of 1996 setting out this plan in black and white.

Last week, a concrete example of the type of alliances and projects we are referring to came on stream: an OAS-IDB-UWI agreement was signed establishing a program for training officials from government and private institutions working in the area of social policy. This program will benefit 14 countries in the Caribbean. It is also possible that, in the area of human resource training, we may join forces with the IDB to create the most ambitious program of this nature in the Hemisphere. For the time being, in the OAS, we have been undertaking a detailed revision of our fellowship system ion order to modernize it, relate it to the priorities of our agenda, and introduce transparent criteria for selection and award of these fellowships.

Let me go back for a moment to the administrative issues. When I took over the reins of the General Secretariat, I found a panoply of complex labor relations characterized by uncertainty. Thanks to support from the staff, numerous efforts on the part of the permanent representatives of the member states, and steps taken by the staff involved in transition to the new salary system, such doubts and uncertainties are being dispelled.

The staff, fully informed and by a firm majority, gave its support to the transition to a new salary system with fixed and stable rules, backed not only by the political will of the states but by the fact that the same rules apply in the United Nations system. Today I see a dedicated staff eager to cooperate. As in any dynamic institution undergoing change, there are also issues of concern to staff. I will briefly touch on them:

The review of cases in which positions were declassified has been slower than we would have liked. Throughout the process, I insisted on the need for all staff to know and understand the UN classification system so that they could request any clarifications necessary based on that knowledge. No one has suffered a loss in terms of salary conditions though, in some cases, staff feel affected by changes in the titles of their posts.

I am confident that the auditing process will be completed as quickly as possible. We must realize that, apart from the individual reviews, it is the implementation of the audit--a prerequisite for transition to the new salary system--that has allowed us to adopt a better salary and benefits system for staff.

Furthermore, the Organization's new course implies not only changes in its structure, but a reallocation of human resources. Hence, new technical and expert skills will be required. Of course, these adjustments will be made respecting the rights of the staff.

It is neither realistic nor advisable to expect an increase in the size of the staff of the General Secretariat to face our new responsibilities. Meanwhile, some staff have expressed their desire to retire from service on reasonable terms. Through the voluntary early retirement plan that I have sent to the Permanent Council, it will be possible to satisfy the aspirations of these staff, provided that they are in the interest of the Organization. This will create openings for new staff to be hired to meet the Organization's current needs, without exceeding the staffing ceilings set by the General Assembly, and for enlisting the services of expert consultants.

Regarding other operational issues, in respect of the changes to the Administrative Tribunal approved by the General Assembly, I responded to the invitation extended by that CAAP working group and presented the General Secretariat's observations and recommendations on this area.

This was our contribution to member states' efforts to clarify the Tribunal's jurisdiction, competence, and procedures, strengthening its capacity for action in the field for which it was established, and clearly outlining the scope of its rulings. Clarity in the nature and operating methods of the Tribunal should contribute to smoother working relations in the OAS.

I would also like to touch on the issue of General Secretariat offices in the member states. The narrow "all or none" debate seems unproductive if the approach is to be reasonable. We must move beyond this to find solutions that combine the political and budgetary realities we face with the fundamental purpose of providing greater cooperation to the countries that most need it. Yesterday, in the General Committee, we presented an advance copy of the document that the Secretariat is preparing on this area, as mandated by the General Assembly. We hope to provide the Council with all the necessary information to formulate a well-founded policy.

I am of the opinion that any decision on this should be based on some basic assumptions, namely: working to create a support system that the General Secretariat needs; stressing its eminently technical and non-diplomatic nature; a decision-making process on a case-by-case, i.e. office-by-office, basis; considering the cost-benefit ratio for the OAS in maintaining each office. We should also consider the role of these offices within the new partnership for development framework that will ultimately be put in place.

I can assure you that the General Secretariat has no preconceived notions in this area and that it is working on a scenario that will enable me to present to you, during the first half of 1996, with all the elements necessary for finally making decisions that are long overdue.

In April 1998, the Organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Five decades of service to the Americas is no mean achievement. This anniversary must be marked with the dignity and importance it deserves. I wish to suggest to the Permanent Council that it set up a working group to make the necessary timely preparations for this event. But, more important than the festivities, is completing a half century of existence with institutional vitality and renewed capacity that would make the OAS the hub of collective life in the Americas for the next 50 years. For this reason, the best gift we can give the Organization for this special anniversary is to continue on the path toward change and transformation that we have travelled over the past year.

Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The strikes and counterstrikes of history have shown that there is no territory conquered once and for all. Panama is just around the corner. We have to move beyond vision to action.

If the New Vision gave us inspiration and confidence in our capacity for collective action, if in Montrouis we did not hesitate to outline the possible dream, Panama will be the place where we will finalize the transition to CIDI and, with that, the institutional reform of the OAS General Secretariat. The modern and dynamic OAS that we are building requires us to continue putting our determination and temerity to the test.

We must have the courage--the times and our people demand it--, to innovate, to be creative and able to rise to the challenges we face. We will not allow force of habit to make us revert to doing things the old way.

Let us exploit to the fullest the strengths that we have acquired in 50 years, root out any handicaps, and make a pledge of well-being, peace, and prosperity to our nations under the skies of the Americas.

Thank you.