Media Center



September 6, 2006 - Washington, DC

Merci, M. Le président; je voudrais vous remercier - et le secrétaire général - pour ces commentaires si gentils et généreux. Mes remarques aujourd'hui seront brèves - comme d'habitude - et, j'espère, pertinentes.

Let me also thank my friends, Ambassadors Javier Sancho, Pedro Oyarce, John Maisto and Izben Williams. They have been generous and thoughtful in their remarks and excellent colleagues. I have spent considerable time in each of their countries - in several cases as my country's ambassador - and they have been rewarding, fulfilling periods in my life.

After five years in this post, and after having bid farewell to so many colleagues, I was beginning to think that this day - for me - would never arrive. But it does arrive, eventually, for all of us B unless, of course, you are Ambassador Denis Antoine, Michael King or the few, select others who obviously have much more stamina than the rest of us.

When I came to Washington in August 2001, the circumstances in our hemisphere were quite different. It was four months after the Quebec Summit, and just a few weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. Those two events, and especially the way our governments rallied around the United States after September 11, marked a high-water mark in hemispheric relations.

I think we would all acknowledge that times have changed. That sense of solidarity is no longer there, our Hemispheric vision has been diminished.
But I tend to be an optimist, so I don't believe that the current state of affairs is a permanent feature of the Hemispheric landscape.

And that's where the importance of this institution - this Organization of American States - comes in. Because it is the glue - no matter how thin it might seem at times - the glue that keeps this Hemisphere together.

Proof of this is the fact that we have, over the past five difficult years, accomplished a lot. Let me mention just a few examples, starting with:

The Inter-American Democratic Charter - this is a landmark document for any region; signed, significantly, on September 11, 2001, a stark contrast to the mindless terrorism of that same day. The Charter defines our governments as democratic - it is a condition of membership. While seldom invoked, it is frequently evoked - a permanent reminder to member states of their commitment and their democratic obligations.
We also completed the Declaration on Security in the Americas - a document that acknowledges the complexity and the diversity of our security concerns, but overcomes them by creating a comprehensive security framework.
And somehow, we managed to agree on the modernization of the Inter-American Defence Board - something that had eluded us for decades. The Board is now in a position to make a real contribution to defence and security issues, and I find it especially promising that its first elected leader is from Brazil, backed up by a Trinidadian.
We approved OAS Involvement in the Colombian Peace Process - this required a leap of faith on our part B but we made the right decision, despite objections and criticism from some quarters. The OAS presence in Colombia is a positive and constructive element in the search for a lasting peace.

We can also look with pride to the involvement of our Organization in the numerous crises and political difficulties that members have experienced - acting as 'interlocuteur valable', offering even-handed assistance to beleaguered democratic governments in
their time of need.

In this respect, I think of Haiti, where our Organization did invaluable work in the recent elections - especially on the electoral registry. And we stayed in Haiti during its most difficult hours - when other multilaterals abandoned the field, the OAS stayed on.

We really can't over-state how important it is that the OAS has focussed on strengthening democracy, including an impressive level of engagement in electoral observation, but also looking at democratic support above and beyond elections.

Mr. Chairman, these are significant, concrete achievements, and we can all take pride in them. But they are just the highlights - they don't reflect the ongoing work of this Organization - on everything from culture to corruption; from indigenous issues to racism to natural disasters, and yes, even the Social Charter.

As this work proceeds and agreements among us are reached, the OAS is slowly knitting together a body of instruments and understandings that mean something - they define a common regional undertaking. Without it, one could argue, there wouldn't be a 'Hemisphere' - just fragmented groupings of countries pursuing their own interests.

And this is why, Mr. Chairman, it is important for the OAS to 'stay in the game - to 'hold the ring' - until the hemispheric mood improves - as it inevitably will. In this forum, we can address issues that unite us, but also those issues that divide us. The important thing is that we address them, and avoid isolation and alienation.

We are fortunate, after suffering a leadership crisis two years ago, to have a Secretary General of the stature and the ability of Jose Miguel Insulza. He has shown, in just over a year on the job, that he has outstanding diplomatic and political skills, and that he is willing to exercise them, for the benefit of all member countries.
We had the double good fortune to acquire, at the same time, an Assistant Secretary General like Albert Ramdin, who has taken on the ASG duties with such energy and spirit. He has shown that he has the courage to tackle some of the OAS's most intractable problems, like the way we conduct our business and organize our General Assemblies; I wish him luck.

I'd also like to recognize the staff of the Secretariat - a most impressive group of professionals, who don't receive the credit they deserve. The Secretariat is changing, and strengthening - these are the people who make this Organization work, and it is our responsibility to guide and support them.

And they will need our help - we all know that there are challenges ahead - democracy is being tested in a number of our countries; and the social fabric is under strain in others.

One of those challenges will be Cuba, and it is time for us consider the role of the OAS in supporting a peaceful transition to a democratic Cuba, able to take its rightful place in the Hemispheric community of nations. This forum has been silent for too long on that subject, and Cuba is too important for us to ignore.

Mr. Chairman, I have had the honour of serving my country for five years in this venerable institution, the pre-eminent political forum of our Hemisphere. It has been a privilege to serve with such impressive people - colleagues and friends - from every country in the Americas.

Senhor Presidente, tenho a grande fortuna de estar localizado nesta vizinhanca con usmeus amigos do Brazil e do Chile - does otimos representantes diplomaticos.

Cuando llege hace cinco años, hable - en mi primera intervencion, aqui en esta sala - de la gran admiracion y el gran cariño que siento por nuestra region, las Americas, donde he tenido el privilegio de pasar años muy agradables en varios paises, y donde nacieron mis hijos.

Hoy, considero que esas palabras son mas ciertas que nunca, y mis sentimientos mucho mas profundos. Y por eso les tengo que agradecer a todos Uds. - por su apoyo, pero mas que todo por su amistad. Ha sido, Para mi, una experiencia unica e inolvidable.
Asi que me despido con tristeza, pero con la esperanza de verlos en un futuro cercano.

A final note of thanks to my friends and colleagues in the Canadian Mission - those here today and those who served in the past - I've never worked with a more dedicated, more agreeable group of people. They say that behind every successful ambassador there is a very surprised Mission - if so, they always hid it well.

Now, before this gets too serious, Mr. Chairman, there's one thing I have to confess; and that is that my mission here, in at least one respect, has been a failure - un fracaso total. For five years, I have been trying - without success - to arrive late for an OAS meeting. No me ha sido posible dominar el concepto de 'la hora OEA'.

On that somewhat lighter note, my friends, I'll say .... au revoir.