Media Center



September 27, 2006 - Washington, DC

H.E. Henry Illes, Chairman of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Suriname to the Organization of American States

H.E. José Miguel Insulza, Secretary-General

H.E. Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary-General

Distinguished Permanent Representatives to the Organization of American States and other Ambassadors

Permanent Observers to the OAS
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed a pleasure to stand in these hallowed halls of the seat of the Americas today, to address this distinguished gathering of representatives from countries with which Trinidad and Tobago has traditionally had warm, fraternal ties, and others with which it is our intention to strengthen bonds of friendship and cooperation. Our objective, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, can only be one which I am certain is shared by us all - that of the continued development of the citizens of our hemisphere, in particular, those most vulnerable. In this regard, the Organization of American States provides a unique forum for our nations to foster closer collaboration on a plethora of areas, such as democracy, human rights, hemispheric security, sustainable development, education, health, information and communication technologies, gender issues, labour and local government. This hemispheric body must be commended for continuing to provide support for enhancing the institutional capacity of member states in these areas through its various programmes and projects.

The focus of our efforts at development must be the welfare and productivity of our peoples. To ensure the optimum conditions for our societies to flourish, we must approach the development process in a comprehensive manner and continue to pursue an agenda which devotes sufficient attention to the multi-sectoral development of our member states. This Organization must be commended for adopting such an approach in its efforts with other regional entities engaged in the broad spectrum of development activities. These include the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), currently in session in Washington, DC, as well as the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Inter-American Development Bank, not to mention a long list of entities involved in trade, labour, culture, the environment, and disaster relief activities, to name only a few.

It also cannot be overemphasized that at the core of our hemispheric development programme is the education of our citizenry. It is imperative that we encourage the strengthening of early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions and the training of teachers to develop key competencies and skills. It is only in this way that our populations will acquire and maintain the required competitiveness and be imbued with those democratic and ethical values which promote good governance and secure a peaceful way of life.

In furtherance of this noble goal, Trinidad and Tobago is unyielding in its support for the expansion of trade flows, cognizant of the significant contribution which economic integration and trade liberalization can make to fighting poverty and helping to promote democracy. This hemispheric body must continue to take stock of the differences in the size and levels of development of our respective countries, and in particular address the issue of special and differential treatment for small, vulnerable economies.

Our Member States have made great strides in advancing our collective interests. We must not cease to celebrate our respective achievements, highlighting our best practices and sharing our expertise in all areas related to the economic, social and cultural development of our citizens. It is towards such ends, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, that our countries have worked since the inception of the OAS. And it is towards similar ends that all Heads of State and Government have toiled since the First Summit of the Americas in 1994, until last November’s successful meeting in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

In taking up the mantle from last year’s host of the Summit process, Trinidad and Tobago considers it an honour and a privilege to work in the vein of, and together with, those illustrious countries which preceded us in this significant undertaking. We look forward to collaborating with all member states as well as with regional institutions, civil society organizations, and other partners and stakeholders to ensure implementation of the Summit decisions. The continued, invaluable support of Secretary-General Insulza and his dedicated, hardworking staff throughout the Secretariat remains, of course, pivotal to this process.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this juncture in our history, it is evident that there is need for closer collaboration and deeper cooperation among nations. Our classification as industrialized, developing or small, micro states assumes a measure of irrelevance in the face of the borderless movement of narcotics, small arms, and light weapons, and the destructive and pervasive ideas that breed increased gang violence and transnational organized crime. The spread of HIV/AIDS and external elements such as natural disasters and the threat of Avian Flu which impact on the well-being of all or sections of our citizenry make exceptions for none of our countries based on our political or economic standing. In the face of these non-discriminating threats we must, however, be aware of the parallel structural challenges to the collective security of the Americas.

Our mixture of diverse societies and economies, ranging from those predominantly closed to those persistently open has been both helpful and disadvantageous to the security of our hemisphere. Whereas closed models secure domestic interests, they often ignore the plight of neighbouring societies. On the other hand, whereas open models contribute to the welfare of neighbouring societies, this can sometimes be at the expense of domestic interests. To secure our hemisphere we must all be our brother’s keeper.

Arising from this, and in an effort to reconcile the structural differences of member states for the security and prosperity of the Americas, hemispheric initiatives such as the following emerged: the Summit of the Americas (1994); the Inter-American Democratic Charter (2001); the Bridgetown Declaration on the Multi-dimensional Approach to Hemispheric Security (2002); the Special Conference on Security in Mexico City and the Declaration on Security in the Americas (2003). As a consequence, declarations have been adopted, agreed to, and continue to be implemented. For member states, our best assurance for collective progress lies, as it must, in the commitment of a hemispheric body such as this to the ongoing process.

Trinidad and Tobago therefore recognizes the necessity for all member countries, large or small, to participate fully in the efforts being made through the OAS to “strengthen the peace and security of the continent” in keeping with the Organization’s Charter. This lies at the root of our growing and focused involvement in the work of this Organization.

Between 2001 and 2006, Trinidad and Tobago has contributed a steadily increasing amount of human and financial resources to the work of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE), over which our country presided from February 2005 to March 2006. During our tenure as the Chair of this Committee, Trinidad and Tobago was pleased that consensus was achieved for inclusion of tourism security on the CICTE Work Plan. For several of us, improving the security of our tourism infrastructure is intimately linked to future economic well-being.

Our commitment to the hemispheric security agenda is similarly demonstrated through an increased involvement in the work of the newest entity of the Organization of American States - the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB). We welcome the adoption of the new Statutes for this body, which incorporate democratic principles regarding the structure and operations of the Board, the principles of civilian oversight and the subordination of military institutions to civilian authority.

I take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, to thank all member states for their support for Trinidad and Tobago’s candidature to fill the newly established position of the Director General of the Inter-American Defense Board.

Ladies and gentlemen, a dominant feature of the hemispheric security landscape is the transnational nature of organized crime. Trinidad and Tobago is fully committed to the work of entities of the Organization such as the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and other Related Material (CIFTA), and the work of the Special Committee on Transnational Organized Crime. Additionally, we participated in the First Meeting of National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons and we have already designated our Principal and Alternate Points of Contact in respect of matters related to Transnational Criminal Youth Gangs. We continue to participate actively in the Working Group of Experts on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and Extradition and in the Follow-Up Mechanism for the Implementation of the inter-American Convention Against Corruption (MESICIC). Another of these entities that confront the transnational nature of our security challenges is the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), which Trinidad and Tobago chaired in 2000-2001. CICAD continues to be the channel through which the Organization confronts the scourge of narco-trafficking.

Narco-trafficking can be likened to a pestilence. It is pervasive in its reach, ubiquitous - its tentacles spreading out to every member state of this hemisphere. On this specific issue, the CARICOM Member States have particular concerns. In this regard, and in my capacity as the CARICOM Prime Minister with responsibility for matters relating to Crime and Security, I wish to quote from the 2002 Report of the CARICOM Regional Task Force on Crime and Security:

“for the Caribbean today, guaranteeing public safety cannot be confined to military and police action. The dimensions of criminal activity are increasingly associated with the trafficking of illicit drugs, the increasing use of illegal firearms, the continuous flow of deportees, money laundering, corruption and other forms of organized crime and terrorism. Such criminal activities combine to disrupt trade and pervert governance and changes (sic) the dynamic of security, as it impacts negatively on the security and quality of life of CARICOM citizens……….” (End of quote).

The many criminal activities I have mentioned find their roots in the illegal drug trade. There is a large body of evidence to support the view that drug trafficking, trafficking in small arms and ammunition and now, increasingly, terrorist financing, are connected.

In recent years, the reallocation of resources from fighting drugs to other areas of concern has afforded the traffickers an unprecedented opportunity to thrive. Our hemisphere is regrettably caught in this web, with supply originating in a number of Latin American countries, transshipment occurring through the Caribbean and Central America with final destinations being the main markets in North America and Western Europe. The challenge, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is therefore a hemispheric one which needs to be addressed on a co-operative basis by all the countries of the hemisphere joining together to tackle the myriad problems. In this regard, I commend the initiative taken by my CARICOM colleague, His Excellency Ronald Venetiaan, the very distinguished President of Suriname, in convening in late 2007 an international conference on the elimination of the trafficking in drugs and small arms.

Mr. Chairman, a report out of BBC Caribbean, dated September 20, 2006, quoted experts at an Interpol Convention in Brazil as positing that drug traffickers are now increasingly aiming at markets and routes in a number of Latin America countries. The analysis seems to be based on the premise that more effective policing in the Caribbean is forcing the traffickers to reduce their use of the Region as a key transshipment point for drugs from Latin America headed for the US and Europe. No figures have been produced to indicate the reported level of the shift away from the Caribbean. Our own information suggests that while trafficking patterns are showing some variation, this is certainly not significant enough to suggest a noticeable reduction in impact on the level of criminality associated with the trade in our Region.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the point being made here is that the traffickers are creative and versatile and given to finding ways to achieve their objectives. They will attempt to penetrate any perceived opening to facilitate their trade. Therefore, all the countries in the hemisphere have to be eternally vigilant, and be similarly creative and versatile to stem the flow.

In the Caribbean, we have arrayed a substantial portion of our resources to address this scourge. Recent decisions in CARICOM have given the question of regional security a higher profile, and are intended to foster greater functional cooperation in our region. Our efforts may well be showing signs of bearing fruit as, in particular, the security services across our region have heightened their level of co-operation, through greater sharing of intelligence and information in the co-ordination of drug interdiction operations. But our crop is as yet very small because overall the resources are few, as generally the many demands on these resources have their genesis in a wide range of other development issues and challenges.

Nevertheless, Trinidad and Tobago has taken a number of initiatives, including the installation of a state of the art coastal surveillance radar system and the acquisition of the other assets required to provide the desired response to the information obtained from this radar system. But this can have dire consequences for our neighbours in the Eastern Caribbean, and ultimately Trinidad and Tobago, as drug-related activity can survive through return and circular migration. We have, therefore, offered to extend this system to Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia to our immediate north. However, there is a limit to what our resources can provide to our sister nations in CARICOM without placing our own urgent needs on the back burner.

There are other aspects to our regional security challenge. All our countries are mindful, for example, of the need to address issues related to energy security, not least of which is the need to ensure that there is unrestricted passage of energy supplies to and from our shores.

Trinidad and Tobago is, as an energy producer, very aware of our own security needs, given, in addition, the pivotal role our energy sector plays in the development of our region and even further afield. Geographically, we are a very small country and in the global energy scenario, appear, somewhat deceptively, to be of no consequence if a broad-brush assessment is made simply by looking at the statistics:

• Venezuela: gas reserves, 2.5% of global reserves; oil, 6.17% of global reserves;
• Qatar: 14.9% of global gas reserves; 1.18% of global oil reserves;
• Malaysia: 1.2% of global gas reserves; 0.23% of global oil reserves;
• Russia: 27.5% of global of gas reserves; 4.64% of global oil reserves;
• Trinidad and Tobago, less than 0.5% of global gas reserves, and less than 0.1% of global oil reserves.

Trinidad and Tobago is, however, the number one exporter of primary gas-based petro-chemicals, that is to say - methanol and ammonia. We are the world’s number one producer of methanol at this time, and the number one exporter of Liquified Natural Gas in the Western Hemisphere. We are in fact responsible for approximately 73% of LNG imports into the United States. Our country is the home of ten world scale plants for ammonia, and seven world scale plants for methanol, the latest of which is also the largest such plant of its kind in the world. Trinidad and Tobago is also the sixth largest producer of directly reduced iron in the world. Given our complex geology, Trinidad and Tobago is sanguine in the view that we are possessed of additional reserves of oil and gas and is pursuing an aggressive exploration campaign.

Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I share these thoughts with you only to underscore Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to bolstering the security of the Americas, and to explain something of the basis of that commitment and, of course, the implications for our region and even areas further afield, if our countries were to ignore the multifaceted security question. For the Caribbean, the security of the Americas is one of the cornerstones which must be strengthened to ensure that the foundation for the collective prosperity of our hemisphere remains solid. To all in our region, it is patently clear that the security challenge continues to threaten our development initiatives. There are many dimensions to this challenge, but the most critical aspect is that of narco-trafficking and the trade in illegal arms.

For some countries in our region, the number of lives destroyed socially is beginning to be approached by those lost entirely, through murder and gang-related violence, as the perpetrators of the drug trade battle, as they do worldwide, for empires and turfs. The financial spin offs attendant to this nefarious and deleterious industry remain alluring in the developed world. It is no less so among small developing states, and, by virtue of their lack of certain kinds of resources, constitutes an even more intractable instrument of social decadence. We must redouble our efforts to slay this hydra-headed monster, so that the citizens of our hemisphere could pursue more meaningful and productive lives.

The way forward is clear. Essentially, the blueprint for our actions is encompassed in the OAS Charter. But the battle is ongoing and has to be won. This always makes for greater pragmatism, dynamism and flexibility.

We are in fact called upon to always refine our framework and strategy, to work out the details and focus more of our attention and resources on destroying this enemy of our progress. We must do no less. If we collaborate closely enough in this effort, we may well be able to eradicate this scourge and free our future generations to proceed unhindered, along their charted course of development.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.