Media Center



April 30, 2008 - Washington, DC

Thank you for that introduction, for welcoming us here to the Organization of American States and for the outstanding leadership you offer this most critical institution.

Secretary General Insulza, members of the diplomatic corps, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen – it is an honor to celebrate with all of you this special anniversary, and to do so at this pivotal moment in our hemispheric history.

Today, we reflect upon the six decades since General George Marshall opened the Ninth International Conference of American States in Bogota – six decades of promoting democratic values and protecting human rights, of peacefully settling disputes and promoting sustainable development in the Americas. And in so doing, we have an opportunity to not merely examine history, but look forward to the challenges that await our partnership in the 21st century with both
an optimism and wisdom earned through our common geography.

In so doing, we can consider the opportunities before us to facilitate lasting change in the region.

This organization has done just that in its sixty years. Today, I am fortunate and honored to be speaking before a body that created the first international declaration of rights societies all around our globe today cherish and swear to uphold – our most basic human rights.

Indeed, the vision espoused by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man—the vision that emerged from the Ninth International Conference of American States—offered a blueprint that would be adopted by no less than the United Nations when it approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights six months later in Paris.

The very first country visited to inspect human rights conditions was the Dominican Republic in 1961 – only two years after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was created and a mere five years before a young man vested with a sense of purpose, answering President Kennedy’s call to serve, lived there as a Peace Corps volunteer, building roads, schools…and

This is the noble legacy the Organization of the American States has sought to foster for our hemisphere – a legacy that extends far beyond the shores of any one of our 35 Member-States.

Today, our hemisphere is in a moment of great transition. Countries in the Americas stand on the precipice of a new era – of autonomy and hope, of individual rights and freedoms by which all societies can abide.

Today our Member-States are closer than ever to completing the transition to stable, democratic civil societies with social contracts that respond to the demands of their people.

They are tackling crime and violence, promising to reduce poverty and inequality, and working to end impunity by extending the rule of law to its citizens.

All but one nation in the Western Hemisphere has a democratically elected government.

These fundamental tenets of democracy are developments we all welcome and all seek to encourage.

At a moment when we find the region more self-sufficient, more capable of handling its own economic interests and own security, the need for strong multilateral institutions like the OAS could not be clearer.

That is because as I saw for myself in the Peace Corps, in every challenge we face, lies an opportunity for cooperation.

No one doubts that the obstacles we face are enormous.

But at this moment, we can either be trapped by our common history or liberated by what we have learned from it.

Should we choose the latter path and work in partnership and in a spirit of mutual respect to help our neighbors fully manage and complete this transition, I believe we can advance all of our interests.

Fourteen years ago, that was the very goal of the Summit of the Americas. The blueprint that took shape in Miami offered a powerful vision and opportunity for partnership.

That we have not fully realized this vision is not a matter for debate – rather the issue is why.

And to be sure, the United States must shoulder its share of the responsibility – falling short of embracing the more holistic approach the region requires.

My country’s inability to see Latin America in the broadest sense—to fully understand how the region has changed and how we can all pursue our collective interests—has prevented us from the kind of engagement and investment necessary to create an even stronger, more vibrant Americas.

In so doing, we have not fully appreciated the role strong multilateral institutions can and must play in the execution, development and implementation of blueprints such as the Summit of the Americas – the broadest sense of multilateral intervention in political affairs, poverty reduction,
economic development and integration.

All of this is to say, first we must believe that this kind of partnership is possible – and then we must build the institutions and tools which will enable us to make that partnership a reality for our hemisphere.

Some may say this is naïve. I respond, as I am sure you would as well, that it would be naïve to think we could accomplish any of this in the absence of multilateral institutions such as the OAS.
That is exactly what I know the Secretary General is trying to do – but it is time all Member-States do more to support this mission.

With the groundwork laid in Lima in 2001, I believe the foundation had emerged for renewed mutual respect and a new opportunity for partnership.

Indeed, the Inter-American Democratic charter signaled a historic step forward on the part of the OAS toward ensuring that burgeoning democracies in our hemisphere do not simply hold free and fair elections – but make good on their promise, by delivering key investments and by supporting critical institutions that promote the rule of law.

It was of course a terrible irony that the very same day the OAS was taking this historic step forward—as Colin Powell was signing the Inter-American Democratic charter.

My country was attacked by terrorists on September 11th, 2001—creating many victims, including our nation’s foreign policy in Latin America.

But with all that has changed since that terrible day more than six years ago, with the promise of new leadership here in the United States, I believe the moment is right for change – for finishing the work that was begun in Lima.

Instead of viewing political development in the narrowest sense of Elections, let us commit to seeing it in the broad sense of civil society and institutions, of social contracts and the rule of law.

Instead of viewing Free Trade as a panacea to Latin America’s social and economic woes, let us embrace holistic development, which includes trade, institution-building, infrastructure, education, foreign aid and direct investment.

And instead of continuing failed Anti-Drug policies at home and abroad, let us help strengthen our neighbors’ civilian law enforcement and justice institutions and replace black market economies with legitimate economic investment to bolster smarter, more effective anti-drug programs.

Will we continue to support elections, trade, and more effective anti-drug policies? Of course.

But I suggest to you today that, alone, they have never been sufficient for bringing about the lasting change that the hemisphere needs, that our people demand and that our interests require.

And they never will be.

The truth is, democracy isn’t easy – authoritarian rule does not have to take into account the demands and aspirations of its citizens.

Democratic governments do not have that “luxury.” They must face realities such as the axiom that legitimate demands for progress over the long-term often outpace the human and monetary resources to meet them in the short-term.

Some can only be met through regional cooperation as the hemisphere becomes more and more integrated as part of the ongoing globalization driven by advancing technology.

But as a consequence, I believe what the OAS has to offer is nothing less than the difference between each of us continuing our individual efforts to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our people – or finally reaching that potential as a hemisphere.

Between working as independent entities to create opportunities for our people, or investing in a hemispheric architecture through which we can foster lasting change in the region.

I believe the moment has arrived to start fresh – to forge a new “strategic partnership in the Americas,” based on mutual respect and a commitment to three key principles:

Public security and the rule of law.

The reduction in poverty and inequality.

And energy integration and innovation.

Achieving this is within our reach. But it will only be possible with strong multilateral institutions such as the OAS.

No one can deny our public security depends on physical security from crime, political violence, and narco-trafficking.

But our long-term security is immutably linked to the Rule of Law. Safeguarding civil society requires reliable and effective civilian institutions that can serve as critical stabilizing forces,
such as well-trained and equipped police and civilian authorities in a robust judicial system to enforce and uphold the rule of law. Only then can free people govern themselves and ensure that their rights are protected not by force or favor.

Today, the OAS is uniquely situated in this regard. Under Secretary General Insulza’s leadership, the OAS has restructured itself so that the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security can lead the way in addressing these very challenges.

And I believe it should lead the way – as it has on election monitoring, protecting human rights and protecting the rights of women and indigenous people.

With the adoption of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption in 1996, the OAS took an important first step toward putting in place measures to prevent corruption – from registering the income, assets and liabilities of public officials, to transparency in government hiring and procurement, to deterring bribery by publicly held companies.

But it is clear we need to build upon that effort and ensure the OAS can take a leading role in robustly cracking down on corruption. That means building political support, increased resources and greater tools for demanding accountability.

Without question, the OAS has had a history of success in restoring intraregional border disputes.

The episode along the Colombia-Ecuador border demonstrated just months ago that public security requires that Latin American nations and key regional organizations engage in robust diplomacy with one another to effectively handle and contain regional security challenges.

I believe when such situations are resolved by regional leadership, unclouded by foreign intervention or presumed ulterior motives, all of our interests are actually advanced.

In this instance, we all were pleased that in the end, an apology was issued and cooler heads prevailed.

This did not happen on its own – it happened because Latin American diplomats—including the OAS—were able to defuse tensions that could have boiled over into a serious regional conflict.

With the right support, the OAS’s Secretariat for Political Affairs and the Permanent Council should be able to quickly and effectively respond to quell the outbreak of any regional disputes.
And it should be second-nature in all of our governments to look to the OAS as the first and most effective line of response in an emergency.

Strengthening regional institutions does not just increase our public security – it is also an essential element in tackling poverty and inequality, which continue to be among the most destructive forces in the region, including the United States.

But as we all know, in Latin America, the problem is acute. Forty percent of Latin Americans live in poverty, with approximately 100 million of Latin Americans living on less than $2 a day.

Inequality also plagues our hemisphere. Income and wealth disparities in Latin America are the worst in the world. Social and economic exclusion are rampant, fostering conditions in which political radicalism thrives and crime rates soar to six times greater than the rest of the world.

As a result of these debilitating conditions, millions of Latin Americans have emigrated from the region in search of better opportunities—nearly 100 million have left since World War Two.

In 2005, 22 million Latin Americans worked in the developed world, returning $54 billion in remittances – more than all the foreign direct investment and foreign aid for the entire region. While this money helps many families survive, it cannot replace economic growth through sustainable development.

In this regard, the OAS can play a critical role. Already, you are working toward a Social Charter of the Americas – an important first step toward elaborating hemispheric goals and strategy.

But the OAS must become more engaged in directly combating poverty and inequality, particularly in countries such as Haiti, where an already-dire economic situation has been compounded by the increase in global food prices.

The soaring cost of food is an issue of enormous regional concern – it affects countries large and small, rich and poor. When it comes to feeding our hemisphere, the OAS should provide a forum in which the region can debate, discuss and resolve matters relating to trade, tariffs,
imports and export bans.

No country can solve this crisis on its own – each of our country’s actions affects the other. What better role for the OAS to play than that of an intraregional facilitator?

It is also clear that Latin America has not yet made adequate investments in technology, necessary to compete in the 21st century. In fact, a mere 1 percent of the world’s investment in research and development goes to Latin America – South Korea alone spends more on R&D than does all of Latin America.

While its economic growth has been a brisk 5 percent over the last half decade, in large part due to soaring commodity prices, it still lags behind Africa, putting Latin America dead last in terms of economic growth measured against the rest of the developing world.

Here, the Inter-American Development Bank has an important role in helping to foster sustainable growth and improving infrastructure. And the OAS must be much more closely partnered with the IDB – to bolster projects, increase visibility and more effectively direct investment and development.

And lastly, in the area of energy integration, the OAS can play a strong role helping powers in the region who have developed technological innovations to utilize their alternative energy resources for the betterment of the region at-large.

In addition to freeing countries from the shackles of oil dependence, these innovations are creating thousands of new jobs.

Through the Renewable Energy in the Americas initiative and its own efforts, the OAS already provides some technical assistance to governments on matters of renewable energy, assists with private sector and state energy partnerships and facilitates the financing of some projects.

But I believe the OAS can have a much more expansive and comprehensive role in helping the region meet its energy needs while at the same time working toward a sustainable and renewable
energy future.

Friends, little of this will be easy.

But the OAS has been a moral force throughout its history – a force for progressive values, for democratic leadership, and for social justice.

And there is no better example of these values than your Secretary-General, who lives them every day.

If the United States truly stands behind these values – so, too, must we stand behind the OAS.

What my country can accomplish to directly foster political and economic development in the Americas, the OAS can support.

But what the OAS can accomplish, the United States must support.

And the challenge before us today is for all of us—all 35 Member-States, all 29 observer states—is empower this organization to achieve all that we say and know it must.

I believe we can.

I know this because I know what a young Peace Corps volunteer of 22 learned in the Dominican village of Monción – a young man who didn’t speak a word of Spanish when he arrived but left understanding what was possible when we work in a spirit of mutual trust and respect.

And as we gather on this sixtieth anniversary – we note that it was sixty years prior that, that the historic ideals behind the OAS were first chartered in the Bureau of American Republics, making it what we can all recognize today is the world’s oldest regional organization.

Allow me to close with the words of one if the Bureau’s first directors. On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1896, Clinton Furbish told The New York Times the following. He said:

“This responsibility cannot be discharged by a mere perfunctory performance of the special duties named by the conference. The officials of the international union have accepted responsibility beyond that of citizens and officials of a single republic. They are representatives of a political entity, unique in its nature and based upon the highest of ideals:

“That of extending friendly relations between peoples animated by a common desire for the development of the principles of self government and of individual liberty on this continent.

He continued:

“If the administration of this trust is to be measured by the power and opportunities possessed by the people represented, I may be excused for pressing the suggestion that frequent consultation by officials of every republic composing the union is most desirable.”

I would suggest to you that for all our progress, the challenge we face today is the very same our forebears faced more than a century ago. May we commit today to not simply facing that challenge in this new century, but meeting it.
Thank you.