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March 16, 2006 - Washington, DC

I would like to thank my colleagues, Permanent Representatives and Ambassadors, for naming me to serve as President of the thirty-second Special General Assembly, the supreme organ of our Organization.

I have accepted this position for two main reasons: first, because it is an honor to my country, Chile; and, second, because it is an expression of recognition to the diplomats and personnel of the General Secretariat who were members of the Working Group which, between September 6, 2005 and February 10, 2006, devoted 15 exhausting sessions to shaping the Statutes of the Inter-American Defense Board, to be adopted by this General Assembly in the course of this session.

I am sure that I am not exaggerating if I say that as the days went by, the impression mounted that the step that we were taking in making the IADB an entity of the OAS was of major significance, still difficult to assess in all of its ramifications.

When the Statutes were approved by the Permanent Council on March 1, I myself could only manage to make a few general comments, to the effect that the true importance of this act would only “be proven by time.”

Today I think that I can go a little further, not only because as President of the General Assembly, it is my duty to welcome the Board, which from now on will make its home here, but also because I have learned many things about the history of the inter-American system that were unknown to me before.

This is what I would like to share with you this afternoon.

The inspiration came when I happened to read a comment written by Don Andrés Bello in 1844. In referring to a report presented to the University of Chile on the Chacabuco y Maipú meetings, which gave the country its independence, he stated as follows:

“only spontaneity can create the liveliness, freshness, and dramatic movement without which historical works are no more than abstract generalizations or colorless notes, and more than everything that has been written by the persons actually participating in the events they narrate.”

Following the advice of this wise Venezuelan-Chilean, and with the priceless assistance of my friend, the Ambassador of Colombia, Álvaro Tirado Mejía, who gave me valuable material, I began studying the writings of Dr. Alberto Lleras Camargo, our first Secretary General, and subsequently President of Colombia, who, over many decades, never stopped thinking about the OAS, which he held in great affection. Immersed in this reading, together with my experience of almost six years as Ambassador of Chile to the OAS, I have proceeded to write these notes, which I hope will be “colorful.”

This year is the centennial of the birth of Alberto Lleras Camargo. I dedicate these thoughts to his illustrious memory.

In describing the origins of the Inter-American Defense Board, I will attempt to avoid “abstract generalizations,” and I will shed light on the difficulties involved in bringing it into the OAS, during a process of negotiations that began in 1948, with the birth of our Organization.


On March 30, 1942, 64 years ago, the inaugural session of the Inter-American Defense Board was held in this same Hall of the Americas.

Its creation stemmed from a mandate of the Third Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Republics of the Americas, which met in January of that year in Rio de Janeiro.

The agreement of the Ministers was clear and specific: it recommended “in response to the spirit of frank cooperation shown by the nations of the Western Hemisphere, that a meeting of a committee composed of military or naval experts appointed by each of the governments be held immediately in Washington to study and suggest the necessary measures for the defense of this Hemisphere.”

In a special meeting held on February 25, the Executive Board of the Pan-American Union approved the report submitted by the special committee and set March 30 as the date for the inaugural session of the Board.

Sixty-four years ago, on a day like today, the situation in the world was dramatic. The German Army, following the Nazi doctrine that proclaimed the right of Germany to take over a “vital space” in the heart of Europe, reaped one military victory after another, after invading Poland on September 1, 1939.

Three months later, Japan, an ally of Germany, mounted a surprise bombing attack on the United States fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor, which led to the entry into the war of the United States.

All the continents, with the sole exception of the Americas, were scenarios of a conflagration unprecedented in human history in its scope and intensity.

For the United States, the goal of keeping the Americas free of enemy troops became a matter of the highest priority and strategic importance.

The inaugural session heard statements by the Interim President of the Council, Dr. Diógenes Escalante Ambassador of Venezuela to the United States; General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army; United States War Secretary, Henry L. Stimson; and Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox.

Some passages of these statements are worth citing. Ambassador Escalante said:

“The American Republics have sheltered the hope of remaining far from the conflict, and to this end, they adopted important agreements to preserve their neutrality. But subsequent events showed that it was impossible to follow this line of conduct. And now that war has knocked on the doors of the Americas, the nations belonging to this Hemisphere have rushed to take decisive steps to defend their institutions and the integrity of their territory.

During this time of crisis, the functions assigned to your Board are of the utmost importance. Military defense measures must take precedence over others, since we all know unquestionably that this problem is not only one of defending sovereignties individually, but it involves the defense of the collective sovereignty of all our nations. If the history of the past two and a half years has taught us anything, it is that each one of our countries is directly affected by any threat to the rest. It is for that well justified reason that the Inter-American Defense Board has been established, so that it can study collectively the problems involved in defense of the Western Hemisphere.”

The three high United States officials made statements that, read today, reflect the drama of the moment. I will cite just one passage from the address by War Secretary Stimson:

“At this time we are facing a total war, a war that affects all nations of the world to one degree or another. It is a war of irreconcilable principles, and it is not just a war of men, ships, and arms. This war will decide if what we call our Christian civilization will survive and whether we will continue the progress of the centuries toward a system of reason and humanism, or whether will have to go back to the anarchy of a regime ruled by force and hate. The repercussions of this struggle are already being felt everywhere. It is as impossible for us to avoid it as it would be to leave this planet.”

Lieutenant General S. D. Embick was then elected as Chairman of the IADB. He made the following remarks on taking office:

“To those who doubt the urgent need for the Board to achieve its objective without delay, I would suggest that the most notable characteristic of this war is not its universal scope. It is found instead in the fact that the enemy forces cannot do anything without the products of our motorized age, our age of modern industry as opposed to manual industry, an age which has only reached its maturity in the past few years, and which is now devoting all its energy to military purposes.

The adequate provisioning of the forces of each of the principal combatants requires not only the support of a gigantic mechanical industry, but also dominion over reserves of raw materials whose variety and extension are continental in scope.”

I am quoting these last remarks because they clearly express the idea that it is not just a matter of planning the defense of the continent, but also of guaranteeing adequate supplies of raw materials which at that time, more than today, accounted for virtually the entire trade of Latin America and the United States with the rest of the world.

These were the circumstances of the birth of the Inter-American Defense Board: with a firm expression of support by the 20 countries that were then members of the Pan-American Union for the twenty-first member, the United States, which had just recently entered the war and was requesting support.


I have perhaps spent an unusually long time remarking on the Inaugural Session of the IADB celebrated 64 years ago in this same place, because I believe that it is legitimate to ask what it was that prevented it from becoming part of the OAS for all those years.

It was Alberto Lleras who wisely said: “that once the terms of a disagreement are made clear, an understanding naturally begins to take shape.”

When I became Chairman of the Working Group in September of last year, I immediately noticed that there was an enormous amount of distrust among delegates with regard to the material we were expected to analyze, namely, the legal and institutional relationship between the OAS and the IADB, on the basis of which we were expected to draw up new Statutes for the Board. I was struck, for instance, by the negative response by the countries belonging to the ALADI Group (South America and Mexico) to the use of the term “security” in the text in either a direct or indirect way.

As a Chilean, I immediately understood the objection, because in the southern part of our continent, the word “security” is associated with the Armed Forces, and triggers sinister memories of a not so distant past, when our countries used their intelligence and resources to combat an “internal enemy,” who spoke their language, was born in their land, and perhaps prayed to the same God, but had committed the unpardonable offense of not having the same political ideas as the military or civilian government that was guiding the destiny of the country at the time.

I also understood why, throughout the 58 years of the life of the OAS, there had never been a consensus on the issue of bringing the IADB into the OAS, despite the fact that the item was on the agenda from the very outset.

Never before today could the IADB and the OAS share the same institutional roof, because the Cold War, which began immediately after the Second World War, led them on separate and frequently divergent paths.

To understand the reason for the split in these paths, a key premise must be accepted, and that is that the United States of America and the rest of the countries of this Hemisphere sometimes need the inter-American system for different specific purposes, even though they may agree on the reasons for certain immediate or remote steps taken.

Because of its large population, the size of the country and its geographical location between two oceans, its highly developed economy and the influence it exerts throughout the world, the United States is required to conceive of its national policy in terms of a global policy.

Nothing less than a policy of world content and international motivations and development could defend and promote the national interest of the United States.

It is in the light of this inescapable reality that the rest of the Hemisphere takes on its full meaning to the United States. This was made clear every time that international politics became threatening to the United States: in 1822, when the Holy Alliance threatened our recently gained independence and the Monroe Doctrine was proclaimed; in 1988, when Nazism and Fascism expanded in Europe and the “Good Neighbor” policy emerged; and, in 1960, at the time of the socialist Cuban Revolution and establishment of the “Alliance for Progress.”

On the contrary, none of the other OAS member states can reasonably view the service of their national interest as a function of a predominantly worldwide policy.

For the United States, the immediate scope of its national interest is the world, while for the other states, the immediate, natural scope of their national interest is not the world but the continent or Hemisphere, and its own concerns involving economic development, social promotion, political stability, and institutional and democratic strengthening.

But do not misunderstand us. We are not saying that the other 33 states are not interested in the world or not affected by ideological, political, or other events that alter the balance and change the conditions for national and international co-existence in other parts of the world, outside the Americas. They are certainly part of mankind and either benefit from or are harmed by events affecting the world order in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Despite the fact that it coped with critical situations that placed it in grave jeopardy, the OAS was not an instrument of the Cold War.

A little before leaving office as Secretary General, after seven years in the post, Alberto Lleras wrote the following:

“With its present imperfections, the OAS is nonetheless the best example of international co-existence since the beginning of time. It was the OAS that initially opened a space for universal systems of partnerships of nations, and the OAS was also the place where those who proposed to the world a new form of international life, similar to utopian concepts of ancient philosophies, were educated.

We owe to the Organization the fact that imperialism did not prosper in the Americas, and it is certain that its patient work of persuasion and vigilance with respect to all the dangers of violence over a period of more than 50 years has done more for the independence of our young nations than the tumultuous anti-imperialist outcries.”

The IADB was, however, an instrument of the Cold War. In my opinion, this is the reason for this long period of distancing, which we are bringing to an end this afternoon.


The immediate background of the IADB Statutes is resolution AG/RES. 1848, adopted by this General Assembly in 2002, which instructed the Permanent council “to examine the relationship between the OAS and the IADB and make recommendations to the General Assembly and the IADB for modifying the IADB’s structure and basic instruments to the extent necessary to clarify and obtain consensus on its status with respect to the OAS, including the principles of civilian oversight and the democratic formation of its authorities.”

I should point out that this was an initiative of Canada, which was promoted by our friend, Ambassador Paul Durand, with his proverbial talent, intelligence, and persuasion, in the Working Group on Restructuring and Modernizing the OAS, which we both co-chaired that year.

I will not go into the details of the new structure and the specific articles, because you have this information in your files, but I would like to indicate that they fully meet the two requirements of civilian oversight and democratic formation of the authorities of both the Inter-American Defense Board and College. You should note that all the management posts in both the Board and the College will be filled by election of the respective officers, even though in the case of the Director of the College, there is implicit recognition of the greater right of the host country to fill this post (Article 23.1).

This is an important event, since beginning today, both the Board and the College will be in a position to become useful tools of OAS action in fields as necessary and little explored as civilian-military relations, confidence building measures, and rendering of technical and consultative services in activities of humanitarian aid and assistance in cases of disasters, among others.

I am convinced that as of today, the OAS will see its capacity for action in the Hemisphere strengthened for at least two key reasons:

The first is that there are 22 countries that are already members of the IADB with delegations in this capital. This human contingent of renowned quality will expand the pool of resources available to the OAS to fulfill its mandates and the provisions of its Charter, in accordance with the terms of Chapter I of the Statutes.

The second reason is that an ongoing, regular contact will be generated, at the highest possible level, between the political world, represented by the OAS organs, and the world of the military, represented by the organs of the IADB, “in accordance with such requirements as established by the OAS General Assembly and the OAS Permanent Council (Article 29.1 of the IADB Statutes).

This “fabric of highly subtle relations and reactions that makes up the OAS,” in the words of Dr Alberto Lleras, cannot help but be enriched by this.


In the case of history and institutions, only what serves lasts.

Members of the IADB: It is my pleasure to welcome you to the oldest of international organizations, to a well-built house, a solid one that has withstood the vicissitudes of time, and that has been renovated, an institution that its members expect, in a word, to serve.

As of today, you, and your specific area of work, namely, military and defense matters, are part of the duties performed by our Organization, and consequently you are inhabitants of this house.

Our Organization, established in 1890, well before any other one in the world, is not the product of passive elements, such as nature or our common past, but instead it is essentially a deliberate and conscious political creation, which, like any freely formed association, asserts its independence in interdependence.

Once the Cold War was over, the OAS embarked on a new stage, undoubtedly the most interesting and productive of its long history. It has involved putting itself at the service of representative democracy, which since that time has been adopted as a form of government by all its founding countries, with the sole exception of Cuba.

This circumstance allowed the countries with a long democratic tradition, such as Canada and the English-speaking Caribbean nations, to join our Organization over time. This process was completed in 1990, when the Organization grew from its 21 initial members to the current 35.

To describe what the OAS does, it is necessary to generalize, because in a relatively invisible but real way, the representatives of the 34 countries meet here day by day to work on numerous fronts.

Today, our Organization defends and promotes the values that have made the Americas the region in which those dispossessed and persecuted in the rest of the world have sought refuge. These values are democracy and human rights.

Values are not defended abstractly, but through concrete action, which benefits the majorities and is valued by them, generating what has been called “the virtuous circle of good governance.”

Having achieved democracy on the unprecedented scale we have referred to, the challenge today is to ensure that this democracy works and leads to a better standard of living for all inhabitants, and especially the poor.

The environment of globalization does not allow nations to face challenges in isolation. On the contrary, it requires them to join forces both externally and internally. On an external level, by using international organizations to defend their interests and act in concert to have an impact on the many factors that could represent threats or opportunities in a globalized world, depending on how prepared nations are to cope with them. On an internal level, to enhance a nation’s ability to respond to the challenges posed by a globalized environment.

The time is over when the armed forces of our countries would prepare for a possible conflict with a neighbor, and now they have a critical role to play in ensuring the virtuous circle in each country that we mentioned earlier. They have know-how and working methods which they can make available to civilian authorities and thereby contribute enormously to improving a nation’s response capacity in the face of external challenges facing all of us as result of globalization.

Since 1990, many important steps have been taken in the inter-American system, including the following ones: the 1991 Santiago Commitment to Democracy and the Renewal of the Inter-American System; the Summits Process of Heads of State and Government, proposed by President George H. Bush, through the Initiative of the Americas, first established in Miami in 1994 and followed by five more Summits, which have given us an extensive hemispheric agenda; adoption by that organ of the Inter-American Democratic Charter on September 11, 2001, the same day as the terrorist attack against the United States, which, with undeniable symbolism, shows how far the Americas have gone, at a time when a terrorist act from other parts of the world erupts brutally; approval of the Declaration on Security in the Americas in October 2003 in Mexico City, which offers us a new conceptual framework for strengthening hemispheric security and which, in its Article 49, referred specifically to the need to clarify the legal and institutional relationship between the IADB and the OAS, a mandate that is completely fulfilled today.

Without these precedents, it would have been difficult to have taken the step we are taking today.

To the Secretary General of our Organization, the Assistant Secretary General, and the entire staff of the OAS,

To my colleagues, Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives, and Alternate Delegates,

To General Keith M. Huber, Chairman of the IADB and Director of the Inter-American Defense College, and his military and civilian colleagues,

I would say the following:

I began by citing what was said in this Hall 64 years ago. I would invite you to reflect on how much the world has changed since then, how it has changed for the good.

Germany, Italy, and Japan, the feared powers of the past, are now industrial, democratic, nonmilitarist countries that are making major contributions to the progress of mankind.

The Cold War, that chilly and terrifying chasm that opened no sooner had Japan signed the armistice, splitting the world into two enemy camps, endowed with those “absolute weapons” that will destroy the adversary and cause their own destruction, against which the only solution was to accumulate more means of destruction until ultimately everyone was protected by a “nuclear umbrella”—this too is a matter of the past.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 16 years ago, the balm of democracy has slowly extended over the planet, qualitatively transforming the operation of power structures and improving the quality of life of mankind.

The possibility of the frightful panorama that was contemplated at the first meeting of the Inter-American Defense Board was exorcised by the countries and persons who met here 64 years ago. The division of the world into irreconcilable blocks no longer exists. Of course there are problems, but none with the somber prospects of that earlier time.

We live in a definitively better world. Our predecessors fulfilled their obligations to us by removing from our path such oppressive threats.

I would like to conclude by expressing gratitude to this anonymous multitude of diplomats and military officers who performed so well the task that they were entrusted with here 64 years ago.

I would also like to express my gratitude to you, whose presence today fills this Hall, inscribed in its four corners with the word “peace.” You have crowned an effort that has taken many decades, and with great professionalism. Because of that effort, and the effort made by our predecessors, we have the opportunity to gather in this historic General Assembly today.

This afternoon the oldest international organization in the world is strengthened, with the presence of the Inter-American Defense Board. And, it is enriched spiritually, with the addition of the Inter-American Defense College.

Alberto Lleras said: “There are no vain words in Pan-Americanism.”

The appropriate words with which to end these reflections are “thank you.”