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May 6, 2004 - Washington, DC

Your Excellency, Mr. Prime Minister of the Transition Government of the Republic of Haiti, Dr. Gérard Latortue
Permanent Representatives of Member States of the OAS
Mr. Secretary General, Dr. César Gaviria
Mr. Assistant Secretary General, Amb. Luigi Einaudi
Representatives of Permanent Observer countries

On behalf of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, I extend a cordial welcome to the Prime Minister of the Transition Government of the Republic of Haiti, Gérard Lartortue, on their visit to this House of the Americas.

When I think of this visit, I feel it is appropriate to highlight very briefly circumstances that are not known to all the members of this Council and of which they might well be reminded at this time

Haiti was the second independent republic in our Hemisphere, after the United States. Haiti was a pioneer in the drive for freedom in the Hemisphere. This year, precisely, 2004, marked the bicentennial of this historic feet from which all peoples in the Hemisphere benefited. I take advantage of this opportunity to pay homage to all the heroes of the independence of Haiti.

Haiti was also one of the 24 founding republics of our Organization. The active participation of Mr. Joseph D. Charles at the Ninth International Conference of American States, held in Bogotá, at which the OAS was created, is a matter of record in our minutes. Thanks to the cultural and political influence of Haiti, our Organization was, from its genesis, a conclave that benefited from African history and influence in the shaping of our collective personality. Thanks to Haiti, French has been an official language of the OAS for a very long time.

Several decades have passed since the founding of the OAS. I do not believe that I am wrong in saying that over the last 15 years, this Council and the General Assembly have devoted a great deal of attention to the situation in Haiti. On a number of occasions, this Council has expressed its concern over various critical situations that have affected the welfare of the Haitian people with greater or lesser degrees of intensity.

Thus, for example, it was in this same building, on the occasion of your previous visit in 1988, when you were Minister of Foreign Affairs in President Leslie Masnigat’s government, that this Council expressed its willingness to act in such a way as to promote Haiti’s legitimate aspirations for peace and freedom.

Since then, Mr. Prime Minister, contributing to Haiti's economic and social development, surmounting critical poverty and consolidating a stable democracy have been a priority objective for our Organization.

The most recent past bears this out. Since July 2000, when the OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti presented its report on the elections held on May 21 that year, the Permanent Council has paid special attention to the situation in Haiti. Since that date, seven resolutions have been adopted. These resolutions, based on the principles and purposes of our Organization set forth in the OAS Charter range from the dispatch of a Special Mission to try and assist the Haitian people to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the situation of extreme confrontation that arose in the wake of the May 2000 elections to the request for intervention, addressed to the United Nations Security Council last February 26 in the face of the gravity of the situation.

It should also be noted that at its last three regular sessions, the General Assembly of the OAS issued three resolutions on the situation in Haiti, all of which were intended to offer the Organization’s good offices in the quest for a peaceful, democratic and electoral solution to the political crisis. All of these proclamations fell short. Gradually, the crisis worsened and the situation deteriorated because of the absolute inflexibility of major political players in Haiti.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. Over the last five years, the Haitian situation has responded to a type of vicious cycle where the worsening crisis has warranted special attention from the international community, only to be followed for a while by an inertia which gradually turned into indifference. For the good of the Haitian people and the credibility of our Organization, this cycle of crisis-attention-inertia-indifference-crisis must end.

Mr. Prime Minister, it is difficult to convey accurately the sentiments of this Council regarding the situation in your country because opinions are varied. But we accept the facts. It is only in doing so that we can look to the future. Barely two years after the OAS Special Mission was formed, it has not succeeded in finding a solution to the political crisis through the holding of free and transparent elections, with support from the international community. Notwithstanding the commendable efforts of the General Secretariat, the very Special Mission and Member States, especially CARICOM, political polarization and the inflexibility of certain players, especially, stood in the way of achieving the objective of establishing the Provisional Electoral Council. The progressively deteriorating situation led to a disruption of the democratic order.

Notwithstanding, at many recent meetings of this Council, the unanimous desire to support Haiti at this particularly difficult time in its history has been made manifest. There is willingness to keep on the OAS Special Mission and to give it a new mandate that is focused on establishing the rule of law, protecting human rights, giving assurances of security to the political opposition, and promoting national reconciliation. There is a willingness to have this OAS Mission coordinate properly with the Stabilization Mission established by the United Nations Security Council.

In this sense, the OAS supports the objectives stipulated in United Nations Security Council resolution 1542, that is to say, that a political process of national reconciliation can take place in a climate of security, within the framework of the Constitution, respect for the rule of law and for human rights and which will make it possible to hold, as soon as possible, free, transparent elections in which all political forces in the country can participate.

Mr. Prime Minister of the Transition Government:

The national objectives of national reconciliation and political commitment which you announced as being necessary for a return to democratic normalcy through free elections strike us as being highly significant. It is in this sense that the hemispheric community awaits with special interest the appointment of the ninth member of the recently established Electoral Council.

It I also considered of the utmost importance that the topics of security, disarmament, justice and impunity and development be given pride of place among the priorities of the transition government.

Again, I extend to you, Mr. Prime Minister Latortue and the members of your official delegation, the most cordial welcome to the headquarters of our Organization.

Thank you very much.