Media Center



June 5, 2005 - Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. I would like to thank Governor Bush and Mrs. Bush for the hospitality that has been shown to us here in Florida. Thank you very much to Ft. Lauderdale and to all of the officials who have put in so much work to make this a warm welcome and to make this Assembly a success.

I would also like to welcome Secretary General Insulza. President Bush and I are eager to work closely with you over the next years to make this organization even stronger and to make it a very effective instrument for the promotion of democracy and prosperity in our hemisphere.

Distinguished colleagues, ministers, delegates, ladies and gentlemen: It is a wonderful and tremendous honor to welcome you here to Florida for this year’s General Assembly of the Organization of American States. Florida is one of the Americas most vibrant states, because it reflects the diversity of every state in the Americas.

Latin American and Caribbean communities are flourishing here in Florida -- and throughout the United States -- because they are free to work hard and to dream big.

The last time the OAS met in the United States, some 31 years ago, it looked a lot different than it does today. Of the 23 member states, 10 were military dictatorships. Democracy was supposedly a condition for membership -- but it was one that was all too easily neglected.

The General Assembly of 1974 was long on talk and short on action. For seven days, leaders of unelected governments waxed hypocritically about the “ideal” of democracy. Between the lines, however, the message of the dictators was clear: As long as freedom was a threat to tyranny, democracy would remain an “ideal” -- not a reality.

Well, my fellow colleagues, today in the Americas, democracy is a reality.

Over the past three decades, the people of Latin America and the Caribbean have transformed our hemisphere through their desire to live in liberty. They have replaced dictatorship with democracy, conflict with commerce, and widespread social misery with increased social justice. The free nations of the Americas have made it clear that dictators will never again set the agenda for our hemisphere.

The democratic members of the OAS now share a strong consensus that political and economic liberty is the only road to lasting success. The divide in the Americas today is not between governments from the Left or the Right. It is between those governments that are elected and govern democratically -- and those that do not.

This is not to diminish or underestimate the hurdles of development that remain in our path -- problems like poverty and inequality and weak democratic institutions. Our challenge today is one of inclusion -- the inclusion of all democratic citizens in the solace of safe communities, in the fruits of economic growth, and in the promise of social mobility.

Delivering the benefits of democracy is a dramatic challenge indeed. And the OAS has an essential role to play -- a role that is defined by the Inter-American Democratic Charter. In this document, we all affirmed our intention to defend our people’s right to democracy. Now we must act on this pledge.

This organization is growing and it is prospering. I would like to thank the Assistant Secretary General Einaudi for his long service to this organization and for his service particularly in the last seven months to shepherd this organization. But it has its best years, of course, ahead of it. The Democratic Charter must become the core of a principled, effective multilateralism for the Americas. Together, we must insist that leaders who are elected democratically have a responsibility to govern democratically. And as Secretary General Insulza has rightly declared, governments that fail to meet this crucial standard must be accountable to the OAS.

We must act on our Charter to strengthen democracy where it is weak. In places like Bolivia, and Ecuador, and Haiti, the institutions of democracy have perhaps brittle roots. To help democracies in our hemisphere, in places like this and in others, to find a path to lasting success, this organization must embrace also the legitimate contributions of civil society.

We must act on our Charter to support democracy where it is threatened. Wherever a free society is in retreat, a fear society is on the offensive. And the weapon of choice for every authoritarian regime is the organized cruelty of the police state.

We must act on our Charter to secure democracy with the rule of law. For our part, the United States is working with El Salvador to create in its country an International Law Enforcement Academy. This institute will train police officers from the entire hemisphere to better protect and serve their fellow citizens. We welcome the opportunity to work with Peru to expand the reach of that Academy into South America.

We must also act on our Charter to advance democracy where it is absent. Thirty-four nations have earned their rightful place in this great democratic organization. But there remains one open seat at the table -- a seat that will one day be filled by the representatives of a free and democratic Cuba. (Applause.)

Here in Florida, we can glimpse the future potential of a free Cuba. As recently as 1999, the 2 million Cubans in the United States earned a combined income of $14 billion. Now compare that with Castro’s Cuba, a country of 11 million citizens and a GDP only slightly larger than $1 billion. The lesson is clear: When governments champion equality of opportunity, all people can prosper in freedom.

Of course, our hemisphere will not deliver the benefits of democracy overnight. Indeed, it was only in my own lifetime that the United States guaranteed the right to vote for all its citizens. So I personally understand the deep impatience with the pace of democratic reform that many people in this hemisphere express.

This sense of impatience is also a powerful engine for hope. After all, it was impatient patriots who led the democratic transformation of Latin America and the Caribbean. It was impatient patriots who created more economic growth last year in our hemisphere than at any other time in the past three decades. And it will be these same impatient patriots who ensure that every citizen of the Americas one day shares in the full blessings of democracy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, impatience can be a magnificent virtue. And we, the members of the OAS, must ourselves be impatient. We must replace excessive talk with focused action. We must build on old achievements with new goals. And we must never, never accept that democracy is merely an ideal to be admired instead of a purpose to be realized. (Applause.)

We in the OAS cannot rest, we must not rest, we cannot tire, we must not tire, and we can never declare victory until freedom and prosperity and security enrich the lives of all of our people. This is the great calling of our democratic nations. And it is the legacy that we must fulfill and leave to posterity.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)