Media Center



June 5, 2005 - Fort Lauderdale Fl

It is an honor for me to address this body as Secretary General of the Organization. Once again I wish to thank the foreign ministers who elected me to this office a few weeks ago–a position to which I hope to devote myself fully over the next five years. The General Secretariat will always be prepared to engage in dialogue with the member states, which govern it, and will do whatever is required to further points of consensus to enable the Organization to achieve its core objectives.

When I took over the General Secretariat, I said that the OAS had contributed to a reaffirmation of the essential principles and values of this hemispheric community, but that that did not suffice for a body which, given its political nature, was obliged to put these common values into practice by means of public policies having a positive and tangible impact on the people. These public policies are the basis for our cooperation.

The General Assembly is the body in which our Governments reflect and decide on hemispheric policies to respond to the major problems besetting the peoples of the Americas, a solution essential to international cooperation.

Our Organization–the oldest in the Americas–reflects the history of the Hemisphere, its ideals, and its struggles and achievements, as well as its contrasts and inequities. It comprises countries with diverse degrees of power, at various levels of development, and with different identities. This poses the challenge of acknowledging our diversity and safeguarding the multiple identities central to the wealth of the Americas. It also means that we must endeavor to ensure that development takes root in all countries, overcoming inequality and paving the way to prosperity.

Our diversity, however, has not constituted an obstacle to our agreeing, in a free and sovereign fashion, to adopt democracy as the common form of government of our nations. There is a “democratic condition” in the OAS that establishes democracy as a prerequisite for membership in the Organization.

Throughout its existence our region has experienced difficult periods in which it seemed that this democratic ideal was mere rhetoric. In various countries and in the name of progress or stability, democracy and human rights were suppressed and trampled upon. Dialogue, cooperation, and consensus were supplanted by domination and force as means of deciding issues of public interest and the fate of our societies.

The restoration of democracy was a process that demanded great sacrifice, and today we are proud to show the results of these achievements. In recent decades a clear trend emerged leading first to the presence of democratic governments in almost all the Hemisphere; then to General Assembly resolution 1080, adopted in Santiago, Chile, in 1991; and finally to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed in Lima on September 11, 2001.

Underpinning the international community’s efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights, therefore, is a historical process the genuine authors and custodians of which are the societies of the Americas. The signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the only instrument that embodies the right of peoples to democracy and the obligation of governments to promote and defend it, is much more than a mere declaration of intentions; it expresses a desire and resolve to defend solidarity, justice, and understanding.

The member countries must therefore agree on the necessary mechanisms for full compliance with their obligations under the Charter. The OAS must not limit itself to establishing standards. Rather, in the face of the persistent dangers of backsliding, the cooperation it extends to its members must be broadened so as to reinforce democracy in the region. I wish to reaffirm that the Secretariat is prepared to cooperate in working toward this objective.

At this very moment there are problems and crises in the Americas that call for our attention. In recent months we have sent missions to Nicaragua and Ecuador, and we are fully engaged in Haiti, a sister country in which we have a longstanding commitment to development and democracy-building. We will maintain this commitment well beyond the election process in which we are participating through technical assistance. In Colombia, we are involved in the disarmament and demobilization process; and we stand ready to assist in the restoration or strengthening of democracy wherever our presence is required.

But our concerns must go even farther and be focused on providing our societies with enhanced conditions for good governance so as to ensure quality democracy, embodied in an institutional framework that is essential to democracy.

To find a solution to the problems of citizens and foster their participation in public interest affairs, the OAS must promote programs to ensure that institutions function smoothly and are efficient and transparent. That is how active adherence to the democratic system will be encouraged, generating conditions of trust and security that make it possible to achieve growth and equity as two complementary pillars of development. This is the path we must follow to enhance conditions of good governance for our democracies.

The Organization is facing a wide-ranging challenge in the promotion of sustainable development, based on a democracy that is moving forward but will be fully consolidated only when benefits to citizens in the political sphere are extended to them in the social and cultural spheres.

Democracy and respect for human rights are the cornerstone of harmonious coexistence in the Hemisphere, which must also be supported by multidimensional security and equitable opportunity for growth and social progress.

It is difficult to talk about full democracy in a region with high rates of poverty and inequality. The OAS must strengthen its social agenda and spearhead a serious effort to promote the cooperation needed to conclude these pending tasks in a framework of strategies designed both globally and in each member country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Attainment of these goals is a means of consolidating the linkage between social development and human dignity. This is a major ethical and political challenge to which the Heads of State and Government committed themselves in 2000 upon signing the Millennium Declaration. Addressing it requires a short-, medium-, and long-term strategy, focusing especially on the countries with the least developed and smallest economies and ensuring environmental sustainability.

It is important for our Organization to work and become a more active partner in the global effort to achieve these eight goals. In our Hemisphere, progress in this regard has been made in varying degrees. The inequality prevalent in our region, in terms of income distribution, extreme poverty, and shortages affecting large segments of society, cannot be explained only by low income levels in many of our countries but are also the result of the unequal distribution of those incomes.

Experience in numerous countries has shown that the goal of overcoming extreme poverty and hunger–the first Millennium Development Goal–could be achieved more quickly if growth went hand in hand with better distribution. By the same token, for the countries experiencing the greatest difficulties in moving toward the achievement of this and other goals, the efforts made must be complemented with additional internal and external resources.

It is true that poverty and distribution problems are difficult to resolve in the short term. Nonetheless, successful experiences have shown that public policies can be applied that, without significantly reducing the inequality of monetary income, afford the poorest sectors of the population quality educational and health services, thus actually narrowing the existing gap.

This is the backdrop to our interest in preparing a Social Charter of the Americas, a task of the utmost importance that this Assembly has endorsed and that we must now implement in the short term, along with an effective Plan of Action and follow-up measures enabling us to achieve the goals of the Millennium Agenda. The agreement reached that enables the working group negotiating the Social Charter of the Americas to begin its substantive work is a positive signal that we must encourage.

Guided by these same concerns, the OAS has been working for some time on the development of a concept of security that encompasses the diverse causes and factors generating threats to peace and security in the Hemisphere. An ongoing effort is required to reinforce our strategies for dealing with terrorism, transnational organized crime, threats to citizen security, natural disasters, environmental degradation, drug trafficking, and pandemics, such as HIV/AIDS, in addition to our programs for overcoming poverty and social exclusion. Our goal must be to strive jointly for a future in which we all have the right to live free from fear. It is in that area that our region has made a substantial contribution to the development of a new concept of security, paving the way for universal acknowledgment of its multidimensional nature.

Many of the challenges we face are closely associated with globalization. The OAS is the regional organization of the Americas. It cannot go about its work, with its back turned on the rest of the world and without associating with international organizations. Nor, however, can it remain indifferent to the problems created by restrictions on access to markets and fluctuations in the global economy for the economies of the region, especially the smallest.

Effective multilateral action presupposes proactive interrelations of the inter-American system with subregional integration blocs and both regional and global economic and financial institutions. It is difficult to conceive of an effective and coherent hemispheric system without this integral and mutually supportive approach. The OAS must be in a position to act in a changing world if it is to address the multiple challenges of globalization.

It is likewise necessary to make an effective contribution to the consolidation of a multilateral system, the only benchmark with sufficient legitimacy to guide the process of drafting rules that govern and make sense of the world as a whole. Thus, the reform of the United Nations is an issue that concerns us, too; as a region, we are part of an integrated, functioning multilateral system. I trust that in this area, as in so many others, the Organization will be the body that forges policies consistent with these reforms.

We must also strive to attain greater civil society participation. The Organization must draw on the contributions and legitimizing power of the citizenry and take account of its interests in the design and management of regional strategies for promoting democracy, social development, and security.

Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Delegates:
In November our Heads of State and Government will meet in Mar del Plata, in Argentina, to examine some of the most pressing problems in our Hemisphere, particularly employment and poverty-related issues. With that meeting in mind, and heeding the mandates of previous Summits, we should set about redefining the fundamental priorities of the Organization of American States.

Currently, we have over 100 mandates assigned by the General Assembly and the Summits process. Ineluctably, therefore, we need to decide how to direct the institution’s resources appropriately, to ensure that we do not neglect our strategic areas of concern: the strengthening of democracy and human rights; integral and sustainable development; and multidimensional security. That targeting is vital, too, for raising the funds that will allow us to reinstate the Organization as the principal regional forum for dialogue and consensus building.

If we deliver results in these areas, we will undoubtedly have charted the right course. I invite you to join our common cause of forging a strategy for achieving these goals.