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June 4, 2006 - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

On behalf of the Organization of American States and of all its members, I want to express appreciation for the hospitality extended to us by the Dominican Government and people in holding this thirty-sixth regular session of the General Assembly. I am certain that, in the excellent environment you have provided us, our work will be highly successful.

The central topic chosen for this Assembly session is Good Governance and Development in the Knowledge-based Society. This title underscores the connection between two of the larger issues we have identified as major challenges to the achievement of full democracy in our Hemisphere: economic growth with equity and implementation of good practices in government administration; and technological development as one of the major needs of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Today it is clear that our countries have lagged behind in investments in science and technology. With a single figure we can chart our distance from other regions of the world in developing this crucial area: the Republic of Korea annually invests 12 billion dollars in scientific and technological research. The 32 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean belonging to the OAS invest 11 billion–one billion less than a single nation in the Asian Pacific. This is the time to face this reality and find ways to overcome it.

At the same time, new technologies can and should be employed to improve the quality of public administration, specifically development policies, and thus contribute to improving the lives of citizens in our nations and to strengthening democracy. In the coming days we can expect to reach agreements that will move us forward in this important task.

This session of the Assembly also coincides with the conclusion of my first year as Secretary General of the Organization. Therefore, as the Assembly's work begins, I would like to offer some reflections on the changes that have occurred in the region and at the OAS during that period, in three core areas of the work of the Organization–democracy and human rights, integral development, and multidimensional security–and to add just a few comments about internal organizational and financial matters, since that issue will be covered in depth in a later address.

1. The Political Year

Our overall evaluation of the political year is highly positive. When we gathered in Fort Lauderdale a year ago, we faced crises that were already fully under way, or were looming, in several countries of the region. A few days before my election, the Permanent Council had to take a position on the conflict among the branches of government in Ecuador that had led to the replacement of the President then in office. During that session of the Assembly, the resignation of the President of Bolivia was announced, and the OAS Secretary General was asked to take urgent action to defuse a conflict in Nicaragua that could also have culminated in a disruption of institutional order. At the same time, the electoral process in Haiti was facing serious delays, one of the main causes of which was the voter registration process, which was a direct responsibility of the OAS.

A look at the situation as we gather for this session of the Assembly shows clear progress. The crises in the four countries mentioned above were dealt with democratically, and no similar cases of instability have arisen in the region.

We cooperated with the authorities in Ecuador in the appointment of a new Supreme Court of Justice, which is fully operational, along with another group of authorities whose situation depended on that appointment. We have thus decisively helped to normalize a process that must, before year's end, lead to a presidential election under the terms laid out in the Constitution.

In Haiti, we cooperated with the Government, the Provisional Electoral Council, and the United Nations in an election unrivalled in the country's history in terms of turnout and transparency. We helped to build a registry of over 3.5 million registered voters, among the most modern in the Americas, designed also with the hope of using it as the basis for an identification registry for the entire Haitian population.

We have made a long-term commitment to Haiti, in addition to the commitments undertaken directly by numerous member states, through participation in the MINUSTAH or other forms of cooperation. In the coming weeks, we hope to complete the preparation of a new work plan for the OAS in Haiti, coordinated with the Government, regional organizations, and international organizations, especially the United Nations. Our experience in Haiti shows that international organizations should and can work in concert for better results. Under a joint plan of action, we hope to continue working with all parties and to assume the responsibilities that fall to us. This should be the approach in all critical situations where various organizations are present.

We were present with an electoral observation mission in Bolivia to monitor a completely normal process that led to the election of a president by an absolute majority, something that has not occurred in recent times in that sister nation. We have developed a work plan with the new government that includes our electoral observation of the Constituent Assembly elections and our technical assistance in that process.

For several months, we maintained a high-level mission in Nicaragua, which persevered in seeking a seemingly impossible agreement. Finally, the stability and continuity of the democratic process were made possible by the positive attitude of all concerned, and Nicaragua is moving toward a decisive election at the end of this year. We hope that all the representative forces of the country will be able to participate fully in those elections, in a framework of tranquility and mutual trust.

None of these achievements is complete and, in each case, there are new challenges to overcome. But today we come to this session of this Assembly with no ongoing crises and with an encouraging assessment of the part played by the OAS in each of the countries where they occurred. This is good to see and it fills us with optimism for the future.

The soundness of democratic development in the region is being put to the test this year in a succession of electoral processes unprecedented in our recent history. In the last six months, seven presidential elections have taken place (two with a second round), two general elections in countries with parliamentary systems of government and a large number of congressional and municipal elections. Between January 2005 and January 2006, a total of 13 presidential elections took place, more than ever before in a single year in the region.

The normalcy of these elections is a testament to how well-rooted good electoral practices have become in our Hemisphere. In a few short years, we have managed to consolidate systems in which political debate is broad, options are genuine, the process is peaceful, voter turnout massive, the count clean, and the results respected. This is no small thing in a region that, until a couple of decades ago, was still beset by several dictatorships and unrepresentative elections.

During this period, we have been invited to observe numerous electoral processes in member countries. This is a task that the Organization performs with ever greater efficiency and credibility. The OAS seal of approval on an election is valued and we are proud of that.

In Colombia, we also face a challenge whose magnitude calls for hemispheric solidarity. We have sought to support the Government of Colombia in its efforts to fight that violence and at the same time seek to move forward in the peace process with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (the paramilitary AUC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Achieving that peace means no more and no less than putting an end to the oldest armed conflict in the Americas, one which has dragged on for nearly 50 years. We are gratified at the progress attained with the first two of those organizations; we hope that these processes can be extended during President Álvaro Uribe’s second term.

Our Organization is involved in part of that peace program, with the double task of verifying the disarmament and demobilization of the AUC and monitoring compliance with national and international human rights standards. Once the demobilization has been accomplished, we must also support efforts to reintegrate former combatants into society.

This is not an easy task; delays, difficulties, and imperfections always arise, and the objective of the full exercise of justice seems to conflict with the desire for swift peacemaking. But the progress is undeniable: violence has diminished and demobilization has been accomplished, despite the persistence of certain armed criminal groups.

In the first quarter of this year, the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS) took on 34 new national and international observers; there are now 80 people working for the mission. We have improved the verification of the pre-demobilization, demobilization, and post-demobilization phases with respect to the illegal armed groups participating in the peace process. Our increased presence has been made possible by new support from the Governments of The Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Holland, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States. In addition, the Governments of Chile, Guatemala, Norway, Spain, and Thailand have announced that they will soon be joining the effort. I should also note that contributions have been obtained for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, so it may strengthen the work entrusted to it by this Assembly last year.

2. The Inter-American Democratic Charter

In accordance with the mandates of the last session of the General Assembly, the political activities of the General Secretariat are being organized around the Inter-American Democratic Charter. At our last Assembly session, follow-up on the commitments adopted in the Democratic Charter gave rise to intense discussions, which culminated in a mandate to the Secretary General to “[c]oordinate the activities and programs of the various offices of the General Secretariat relating to the promotion of democracy, in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

There are two ways to perform that evaluation. The first would be through reports that a specialized unit could prepare on an annual basis on the progress of democracy in each country. The topic was discussed last year by the Assembly and examined a few months ago by the Council, where I gave a presentation in response to a mandate issued by the Assembly in Fort Lauderdale. I doubt if we could design general mechanisms for evaluating the status of each democracy without creating the sort of mistrust we need to avoid in our Organization.

Nevertheless, at those Council meetings, we also concurred that the Inter-American Democratic Charter comes to our aid in this respect. The Charter, as I have often said, does not contain a definition of democracy but, rather, a taxonomy–a description of its fundamental characteristics. The democratic exercise of power includes respect for human rights, rejection of all forms of discrimination, full observance of the rule of law, freedom of expression, political pluralism, the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government, probity, and transparency in government activities.

For many of these topics, the Organization already prepares annual reports on the status of each of the countries, or at least some of them. This is true of human rights, freedom of expression, and transparency, each of which can be more fully developed each time. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Committee of Experts of the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Inter-American Convention against Corruption are made up of experienced persons who are capable of conducting such evaluations, as we will see in the reports to be presented in the coming days to the Commission. Without much additional effort, annual reports could be presented on other topics addressed in the Charter, such as the functioning of electoral systems, the status of justice in the Americas, and the status of women. The Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA), established to support the reform processes underway in the Hemisphere, can be of help in conducting technical assessments of justice in the various countries, as an essential requirement of the Democratic Charter. We could also use the capacity afforded by the PIA (Inter-American Program on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality) to improve the evaluation and implementation of government policies in this area.

On the matter of discrimination, the evaluation will depend upon implementation of three instruments pending within our system. The first is the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We can no longer continue to delay the conclusion of the negotiations on this Declaration, which will be an essential guide for those countries of the Americas that do not yet have modern legislation upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and governing the means to preserve their culture.

The second challenge is to move forward toward the adoption of an Inter-American Convention against Discrimination, intended as a general instrument encompassing all forms of discrimination in the Americas, including ethnic, religious, racial, sexual and other forms of discrimination.

In third place, in the Plan of Action of the Fourth Summit of the Americas, in Mar del Plata, the Heads of State and Government instructed the OAS “[t]o consider at the next OAS period of regular sessions of the General Assembly to be held in the Dominican Republic, a Declaration on the Decade of the Americas for Persons with Disabilities (2006-2016), together with a program of action.” A fundamental element of this initiative is the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, which we must put into effect. We hope that at this regular session, the General Assembly will adopt a resolution in that regard and that we will at last be able to implement the provisions of this important Convention.

With these three documents fully in force, our follow-up of discrimination issues will be much more precise and objective.

In addition to these areas of work are our programs on political parties and parliaments, which have been expanded now to include Central America and the Andean region; activities in the area of decentralization, which received a boost from the Third RIAD Conference in Brazil; and the strengthening of our action with civil society, which goes beyond the dialogue that takes place at our summits and assemblies to include outreach intended to establish a more direct relationship with civil society so as to engage it in the General Secretariat’s activities.

My proposal, then, is to conduct an evaluation of the functioning of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, based on annual reports of its content, and to commence next year with the situation of human rights, transparency, gender relations, discrimination, and the state of justice in the Americas. In the years that follow, we can add another four reports on discrimination, separation and balance of powers, political pluralism (the party system), and civil society participation, as we go about honing the proper tools to produce a good evaluation.

Proper functioning of the mechanisms suggested for carrying out the mandate contained in resolution AG/RES. 2154 presupposes the presence of a political will based on cooperation in evaluation, not on a rationale of oversight, criticism, or sanctions. CICAD’s Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism and, more recently, the Evaluation Mechanism for the Convention against Corruption, are invaluable experiences that we can draw upon for this cooperative approach. The idea is to take a positive attitude toward the possibility of cooperating to consolidate democracy and contribute effectively to generating better conditions for good governance.

With the Council and the Assembly constantly scrutinizing these reports, we will be covering the areas that, in our opinion, are the most sensitive for purposes of evaluating democracy. Whatever the case, expanding their scope and depth presupposes that the countries will be willing to make the necessary information available and, at the same time, have their own evaluations of the issues under review. Ultimately, any system for evaluating the development of democracy is highly sensitive to the amount of information and degree of interest that member countries are prepared to attach to it. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each and every general feature of our democracy will help us to strengthen one another and to define the Organization’s programs more clearly.

3. Some Problems

Despite our positive assessment of political developments in the region, I should also touch upon a number of problems that have recently arisen within the region and that, in my view, do nothing to contribute to the unity so essential within our Hemisphere.

I must be clear from the outset that I am not referring here to the issue of the moment in the international press, Latin America’s so-called “leftward shift.” The OAS is not an organization of right-wing, left-wing, or centrist governments, but of democratic States. The OAS member states practice democracy within the framework of our founding Charter and of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The economic and public-policy decisions that the States adopt are within the purview of their governments, and the decisions of peoples regarding whom they elect as their leaders are fully respected in this Organization. All that is required here is that, where democracy is concerned, we abide by the common principles on which we have agreed.

That said, there is no question that a number of recent controversies have affected our unity. As I have said on several occasions, fiery rhetoric, interference (albeit only verbal) in the affairs of other countries, and a moral condemnation of the policy decisions of other members, do nothing to contribute to the climate of harmony that ought to exist among our countries.

Serious differences have existed among some of our governments over human rights matters, environmental issues, territorial problems, and economic options. Naturally that does not make relations among us any easier. Still, we have to learn to discuss our differences in a dignified manner and avoid ideological rhetoric and condemnation in our discussions.

This approach is all the more imperative at a time when Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing a period of solid economic growth, assisted by the excellent prices that our commodities are able to command on the international market. This is the time to arrive at agreements and craft policies that enable us to consolidate our gains and attract the investment needed to sustain our growth through periods when the international economy is having difficulties.

We must be able to overcome our differences in the area of trade and continue to move forward with our integration processes, with each of us maintaining its own vision and discussing our differences in a spirit of mutual respect and hemispheric unity.

My hope is that this Assembly will disprove the stories in the international press that speak of division in Latin America and that, here in Santo Domingo, we will reassert our democratic convictions and our total allegiance to the principles of nonintervention and mutual respect that must guide our relations.

This Secretariat has participated in negotiations to settle differences between and among our countries peacefully. Particular mention should be made of the recent signing of definitive border agreements between Honduras and El Salvador, and the Agreement on a Framework for Negotiations and Confidence-Building Measures between the Governments of Belize and Guatemala, in which the two countries agree on a new round of negotiations.

It is often said that issues between countries are not within the OAS’ jurisdiction, which simply means that such issues cannot be brought to the Organization unilaterally. Without calling this principle into question, I would submit that the General Secretariat could serve as an appropriate vehicle for bringing parties together and facilitating the resolution of their problems. The General Secretariat is fully prepared to take on this task if called upon to do so. I emphasize that this is a strictly voluntary matter. However, I would ask that our members give this option due consideration, especially if the dispute concerned can be resolved through good-faith mediation or facilitation.

4. Integral Development

Integral development is one of the fundamental pillars of the Organization. The Organization’s success is not measured merely by the amount of money obtained for certain projects, but also by its capacity to steer the efforts of the Americas toward attaining sustainable development, improving the quality of life of its peoples, and eradicating poverty.

The Mar del Plata Summit, held on November 4, 2005, marks a watershed in that direction. The Declaration of Mar del Plata sets out the 34 governments’ vision of how to confront the principal challenges in job creation and strengthening of democracy. The initiatives set forth in the Declaration refer to the issues of growth with employment; jobs to fight poverty; training the labor force; small- and medium-sized enterprises as an engine of job growth; strengthening democratic governance; and how to build a framework for creating decent work.

The six summits held since 1994 have addressed in depth the issues of development, environment, education, poverty, employment, and good governance. At all these summits, the goal has been to coordinate policies, create networks of horizontal cooperation, and craft better development strategies. These efforts should form the backbone of the multilateral work to move toward fulfillment of the millennium goals set by the United Nations, in coordination with the other agencies of the inter-American system (the IDB, PAHO, IICA, and ECLAC) and with the partners in the Joint Summit Working Group.

The Social Charter currently under discussion will be the counterpart of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the extent that it fits into this already quite comprehensive set of mandates from our Summits, ministerial meetings, and the Millennium Development Goals; properly reflects them, and is matched by a Plan of Action that also takes all our current programs into consideration. The Social Charter ought to be the active synthesis of all the groundwork that has been laid in the last decade; we ought not to satisfy ourselves with just one more proclamation of the principles we have asserted time and time again.

This process is not advancing as quickly as we would like and it would be extremely beneficial for you to reiterate its urgency. While our countries have been growing for the past three years, doubts still persist about our capacity to create stable policies that can attract investment and ensure the continuation of that growth when the economic cycle is less favorable. Furthermore, millions of people are excluded from the benefits of that development and there is a tendency toward a concentration of income.

We have to avoid getting bogged down again in meaningless ideological discussions, when so much of the content of our social policies has already been established in the mandates from the Summits and from the ministerial meetings held in the past decade.

The work of the departments within the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI) needs to be substantially reinforced and their activities and scope better publicized.

We have, for example, a Department of Sustainable Development, which enjoys considerable prestige in all specialized forums, on issues such as integrated water resource management; natural disasters and climate change; renewable energy; biodiversity; and environmental law, policy, and economics. Those who say, for example, that the OAS could do more on energy matters, are losing sight of our broad program in that area; and when we are called upon to discuss a resolution at this session of the Assembly on the problem of water, perhaps we should turn more to our experts on the matter, who are considered first among their peers.

A core component of the activities of SEDI that we want to strengthen, are the technical assistance projects to further development, particularly in the island and smaller states. In this area we are in the process of a fairly comprehensive re-engineering effort that should yield dividends. In order to continue to obtain sufficient resources, in competition with many other institutions, we must substantially improve the quality of our projects and their management, focusing on the issues of institution-building and training of human resources. We have to overcome the problems that have arisen this year in our scholarship and loan system, in order to be in a position to increase resources and coverage and thus reach a larger number of young people in our region.

Natural disasters must be one of our prime concerns. The 2005 hurricane season was equivalent to two full hurricane seasons in one. Of 27 tropical storms, 15 were hurricanes and seven major hurricanes. We have still not even finished estimating the human and economic cost, much less their impact on development in the countries affected. Never again do I want to experience the impotence of the Organization as it stood by unable to help and coordinate efforts against these disasters.

For that reason draft amendments to the Statutes of the Inter-American Emergency Aid Fund (FONDEM) have been prepared for adoption at this session of the Assembly, as has a draft resolution to continue to accord the highest priority to the topic of natural disasters, their management, and assistance. Furthermore, we will increase technical cooperation to provide training to persons responsible for dealing with disasters in each country.

On this point, I have to say that the issue of natural disasters is symptomatic of the coordination problems faced by international agencies. I believe that, together, we could develop a viable and well-financed prevention and mitigation policy. Nonetheless, if each agency, however important it may be, believes that it can develop a policy on its own, we will probably not be up to future challenges. This constitutes a new call for us to work together in this area. Frankly, what matters is not to take the initiative or any credit for it, but simply to do our part in an essential undertaking for our countries.

There are issues that our Assembly, Council, and forums almost never address, despite their inclusion in and increasing prominence on the hemispheric agenda. Such is the case of immigration, whose importance on this year's agenda is undeniable and yet which fails to receive the importance it deserves in our deliberations and the work of the Secretariat.

This is truly a topic of hemispheric interest, one that is present in a large number of countries--north and south--and affects economies, cultures, and lifestyles throughout our region. It will not diminish over the coming years but, rather, tend to increase so long as the structural factors that cause it persist in our countries.

The member states of the Organization have different outlooks on the issue of immigration. However, they are compelled to seek common solutions for it. We can do that in different ways: either by strengthening the program for the protection of migrant workers that we approved at the Third Summit of the Americas, or by creating a new political organ on a level with the Council and the Secretariat. I am not making any proposals in this area but simply requesting that, quite obviously, we should include the issue on our agenda of concerns. I hope, therefore, that you will adopt some of the resolutions proposed in recent days in this area.

5. Security

Implementation of the policy on multidimensional security adopted in Mexico in 2003 has been slow, mainly due to a lack of new resources to accompany the important mandates received. This is not to say, however, that considerable progress has not been made in this area, in particular thanks to the work of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, and the Demining Program.

There is no denying the significance and quality of the work in these three areas. CICAD is now 20 years old and is responsible for one of the most prestigious areas of activity of the Organization of American States. Its importance has increased visibly since the creation of the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), now in its 10th year, the implementation of which has made it possible not only to increase awareness of the activities of countries against drug trafficking and abuse, but also to establish a climate of greater trust, in which the countries are prepared to share information and accept recommendations and cooperation for their activities.

CICAD has also made strides in coordinating efforts against money laundering, by helping countries to develop modern laws in this area and by evaluating progress. It has made progress as well in furthering horizontal cooperation through which the countries share their experiences in the war on drugs. However, the success of CICAD means that requests for cooperation and assistance are always far in excess of available resources. Therefore, we urge the countries to consider our proposal to allocate to CICAD a small percentage of seized assets, in keeping with their domestic laws, in order to help maintain and broaden our programs.

The CICTE program has made considerable advances in the area of port, airport, customs, and border security, and, in general, in efforts to prevent terrorism in the region. In coordination with CICAD, progress has also been made with regard to the investigation of terrorist financing.

Also under way is our technical assistance and specialized training program. Among its specific activities, next year this program will offer training and cooperation for security measures adopted by the Caribbean countries on the occasion of the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

The humanitarian demining program has also made a valuable contribution to the widespread problem of antipersonnel mines, a legacy of times that should never again darken our region. In the period covered by this report, assistance in this area was provided to six countries in our region. As with many other OAS programs that are financed exclusively with specific funds, this program has to restrict its activities according to the availability of such funds.

In the area of security and defense, the biggest news this year, without doubt, was the full incorporation into the OAS of the Inter-American Defense Board. This achievement is in keeping with the times; as in our countries, the OAS has enshrined the principle of civilian command over military matters under its jurisdiction in the Hemisphere. It remains now to transform this historic decision into a concrete work plan, which we expect to do over the coming months.

To make the resolutions that our countries have adopted on security a reality, I have created a Department of Public Security to carry out programs to combat organized crime and gangs; the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; and trafficking in persons. In the future I hope that we will have sufficient advisory capacity to provide cooperation on public security matters to the member states, in particular to medium-sized and small countries.

In the mid-term, our objective should be to draw up with all of these elements a regional security agenda that takes into account all the dimensions examined by our conference in Mexico and that also addresses problems in the region that could cause security problems among our states. It is necessary to ensure that the peace prevailing in our region in recent decades is maintained and strengthened by consolidating peace at the domestic level and by fighting crime.

6. Legal Matters

The Inter-American Juridical Committee, the leading advisory body in the area of international law for our Organization and its members, is a hundred years old this year. It goes without saying that this session of the General Assembly should mark the centennial and recall the many contributions that the Juridical Committee has made to the enrichment of international law, such as our American Convention on Human Rights and our Convention against Corruption, which are pioneering instruments of their kind in the world. The Juridical Committee has played a central role in the development of inter-American institutions and law, which we cannot fail to recognize. Its working agenda includes a host of topics that I have already addressed in this presentation, such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the conventions on discrimination.

7. Administration and Finance

When I took the helm of the General Secretariat a year ago, I decided not to alter the organizational structure of the OAS any more than necessary, so as not to disrupt still further the lives of the people working at the OAS, who had been going through a period of extreme uncertainty for almost a year before I took office. On this point, I concurred fully with the Assistant Secretary General, with whom we have formed a single team and a single administration.

Accordingly, although the Assembly authorized us to make changes, those changes have essentially been restricted to three aspects. We have called the main working areas secretariats, to clearly indicate not only their responsibilities but also their inclusion in the General Secretariat. We have created a new Department of Control and Evaluation, so that the General Secretariat may have the necessary data to direct the way in which the Organization obtains and spends its resources. And we have reorganized the Office of Scholarships, to ensure independent and transparent operations, without detriment to the absolute right of the policy-making bodies to set substantive criteria for action.

The third change was due to unfortunate circumstances that had to be addressed. As for the first two, I cannot conceive that, in a centrally run institution, each unit would obtain and manage its resources autonomously without management’s knowing about it.

We must steer the Organization toward the objectives and priorities decided upon by the policy-making bodies and the General Secretariat. Strengthening this concept is essential to establishing what is appropriate for everyone, coordinating actions, and ensuring that work proceeds only in accordance with the mandates issued by legitimate bodies. Next year, when I present this report, I shall focus on the progress made and/or the shortcomings regarding the substantive topics entrusted to us. Reports will cease to be mere accounts of what has taken place, and the Organization will no longer be addressing any topics not linked to legitimate mandates.

For this to be possible, adequate financing is essential. In this regard, at the request of the CARICOM countries, which placed the topic of the ongoing financing of the OAS on the agenda for this session of the Assembly, I shall present a detailed report.

I am also concerned, from an organizational point of view, about finding a more appropriate place for those countries that are currently observers and participate more closely with the OAS. At present, the Organization has more than 60 permanent observers, which demonstrates a confidence and an interest that we are grateful for. But we have to recognize that they demonstrate varying levels of interest and support.

Other institutions close to our own, like the IDB, have intermediate categories between full members and observers. I believe that we too, acting carefully and on the basis of consensus, could create such categories. Full membership should be restricted to the countries of the Americas, but it seems fair that friendly countries that cooperate with us in a systematic and significant manner should be given proper recognition.

I realize that this was discussed a few years ago and consequently I did not think it wise to introduce it again as a topic for the Assembly, but I hope we will be able to reconsider it during the course of the year.

This presentation must necessarily be brief, and for that reason the documents that each unit has submitted on its activities have been appended to it. In conclusion, I should simply like to mention the efforts we have made to reach out, beyond the member states, to establish appropriate links between the OAS and international, regional, subregional, and global organizations; the significant development of communications as a fundamental means of transmitting our thoughts and our activities; and the recognition given recently to the Lecture Series of the Americas, which by extending invitations to statesmen, people in the arts, intellectuals, and figures of international renown, generates high-quality dialogue on the present and future of our region.

Ministers and Delegates:

I am optimistic about the future of our region. Despite catastrophic predictions of deterioration, splits, and conflict, we can single out this year as one free of crisis and, rather, full of democratic, electoral processes that strengthen our region, with economic growth statistics that in some countries are spectacular and, throughout the region, at the very least encouraging.

Clearly, we still have issues and discussions pending, but we want to solve them through dialogue and cooperation. We are all bent on resolving the same dilemma: how to continue sustainable growth, while at the same time delivering the benefits of that growth to all the citizens of an increasingly democratic and integrated America.

I believe that over the past year we have taken important steps toward achieving a stronger, more efficient, more participatory, and more single-minded OAS. I believe in reason and consensus as the only ways to progress toward the achievement of our objectives. I am certain that this Assembly will manifest the desire for unity and cooperation that must inspire our Hemisphere.

Thank you very much.