Media Center



April 30, 2008 - Washington, DC

Secretary General, Dr. José Miguel Insulza
Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Albert Ramdin
Chairman of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Michael King
Permanent Representatives
Permanent Observers
Specially invited guests - Dr. Enrique Iglesias
- Senator Christopher Dodd
Ladies and gentlemen

It is indeed an honour and a pleasure to have been invited by Secretary General Insulza to join you today in celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the OAS Charter which was signed on this day in 1948 at Bogotá, Colombia.

Having accepted the invitation to participate in this event, my first instinct was to reflect on the political status of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1948. At that time, the majority of our small states were struggling to provide an improved quality of life for our citizens in a post World War II environment that saw the Caribbean people having to confront the scourge of poverty and limited social, economic and political rights.

I am proud to state that, 21 years later, the CARICOM countries had proceeded to independence from Britain without bloodshed and were within the membership of the Organisation of American States.

The decision by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to join the OAS in 1967, five years after its independence, was preceded by many years of introspection among Caribbean leaders about the usefulness of joining this august body. There was scepticism about the dominant role of the largest member state, the unfamiliarity with the Latin American countries and their language and the lurking presence of Cold War politics. In other words, there was a feeling of isolation and exclusion from the Hemisphere.

The decision by our leaders to join this Organisation was correct and opened many opportunities for cooperation and for building a thriving partnership of which the Liberator Simon Bolivar and the Caribbean visionaries would have been justly proud.

Many questions were raised about the ability of those small states to bring anything of substance to the Inter-American System. History will record that the willingness of the Caribbean governments to participate in hemispheric affairs, as equal partners and not as appendages, brought a set of democratic values to the OAS that have greatly assisted the citizens of the Americas in their quest for improved social, economic and political rights.

Our well-established and internationally respected traditions in democracy, respect for the rule of law, good governance, human rights were well imbued in the minds of our citizens by the time we joined the OAS. Stable democratic institutions in our region were the norm. Indeed the Parliament of Barbados, in which I was privileged to serve for 31 years, was established in 1639. Of course, for the majority of our citizens, as in the case of every member state of the OAS, true democracy took a long time to evolve. Yet the traditions of our democratic institutions laid the firm foundation that allowed us to bring value to this and other international organizations.

I well recall the words of the former Prime Minister of Belize, the Right Honourable Said Musa, when he addressed the Second European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit in Madrid in May 2002. He observed that:

“The first thing that needs to be said from the point of view of the countries of CARICIOM is that we constitute, and have done so, for a long time, a region that has lived by democratic values and the rule of law and the steady enlargement of human rights. The strengthening of civil and political rights in the CARICOM countries of the Caribbean has been the basic story of our evolution… as it has been of the countries of Europe.”

He also went on to say:

“For us the future of our democracies lies in the strengthening of our economies; in a more favourable trading environment for our products; in more effective and rapid debt relief; in the protection of legitimate areas of globalisation and the precepts of liberalisation to the needs of small economies.”

In spite of the many challenges confronting the CARICOM member states, the servicing of the primary Inter-American institutions has remained a priority. For example, our region has provided leadership within the OAS at the level of Assistant Secretary General for 23 of the past 28 years. The contributions of three distinguished Caribbean nationals, the late Ambassador Val McComie of Barbados, Ambassador Christopher Thomas of Trinidad and Tobago, and the current Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Albert Ramdin of Suriname, are well documented and appreciated.

The modest diplomatic presence in the capitals of Latin America should not be viewed by other member states as a lack of interest in engaging our non-English speaking partners. It has to do with our small Foreign Services and our limited resources restrict most CARICOM governments from expanding further in the Hemisphere.

Nevertheless, through the commitment to serving the OAS from a base in this capital, CARICOM has remained a highly organized and disciplined regional grouping within the OAS. The initiatives which emanated from our region are numerous, and may I add, often overlooked or forgotten. But a few come to mind and I shall share these with you:

 the removal of Article 8 from the old Charter which excluded Guyana from membership for 25 years and Belize for 10 years.

 the strengthening of the Inter-American Human Rights System.

 insistence at the 31st General Assembly in Costa Rica that the Inter-American Democratic Charter should not be adopted without further analysis by ALL member states;

 the promotion of the concept of a multi-dimensional approach to hemispheric security.

 support for Haiti

 issues related the development of small economies

 climate change.

In spite of our limited resources, successive CARICOM governments have ensured that there is active participation on several hemispheric committees. Our legal and administrative experiences have benefitted from the interaction and have no doubt also enhanced the governance of the Latin-American System.

As we confront the challenges of the 21st Century, we all have the collective responsibility to make this body more relevant in our efforts to improve the lives of the citizens of the Hemisphere. Governments and members of civil society must continue to discover new ways to strengthen the existing partnership.

The lessons learnt by the OAS over the past 60 years must be properly distilled for the benefit of the stakeholders. The focus should not be given exclusively to the political agenda; we have seen for ourselves that the development agenda needs to be strengthened to ensure that participatory democracy really works.

Democracy, human rights, security, good governance and respect for the rule of law will never disappear from the agenda of the Caribbean people. Therefore, there should not be any concern about the Caribbean withdrawing interest in these key issues on the OAS agenda. Indeed, I am of the view that the Inter-American Democratic Charter should be revisited periodically to ensure that its provisions remain driven by political realities.

The role of the OAS in strengthening the capacity of CARICOM countries to engage in trade negotiations I must be emphasise. The post-graduate programme developed by the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados and the OAS is a perfect example of the kind of partnership that builds institutional capacity and enhances human capital. You may wish to be aware that as a result of that cooperation, our region can now call upon the resources of 70 graduates who obtained Master of Arts Degrees in Trade Policy and Negotiations. This is a timely development as we become engaged in critical negotiations with other countries and institutions.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the sustainable development of the Caribbean will continue to be driven by our ability to establish and maintain sound partnerships with governments and institutions in this Hemisphere and it includes Cuba, which has been suspended from this body for the past 46 years, and which remains actively engaged in the important work of the Pan American Health Organisation and the Caribbean Regional Agencies of the United Nations.

It is most important that the work on the proposed OAS Social Charter continues, especially in light of the severe impact of poverty in the Hemisphere. The current food crisis has become a global phenomenon and a threat to the security of several countries. Too few of our leaders and policymakers were able to predict the on-coming crisis which must be tackled through cooperative action and sound partnerships.

In the Caribbean, our situation requires stronger alliances with the countries and institutions of the Hemisphere, and as a public citizen now, I am pleased to see that efforts are on stream to address the problem by encouraging more food imports from the Latin American region.

The OAS and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) must therefore work together to improve the food security of the Caribbean and address the rising cost of living. I recall clearly the words of the Director General of IICA when he addressed the Conference on the Caribbean last June here in this very Hall, last year. He said, inter alia:

 “The CARICOM Caribbean has a food import bill of about $3.5 billion and the bill is increasing every year. As the world grain prices increase due to the use of corn for ethanol in the United States, the price of imported food in the Caribbean will increase. There are therefore excellent opportunities for local food production of feed for poultry and livestock from local materials.”

 “The Caribbean is the most food insecure region of the Hemisphere. Our small size does limit our capacity to produce all of our food needs.”

 “The agricultural sector contributes more than 25% of the region’s GDP, more than 40% of its exports; and provides jobs and employment for thousands of rural families.”

The time is ripe for this Organisation to build more lasting partnerships with the Caribbean and we must remain committed to strengthening them to promote peace, equality and prosperity. The development cooperation programme of the OAS must be geared to fill in the missing gaps that exist on our regional agenda. There is no doubt that sufficient resources have not been allocated to allow successive Secretaries General to fulfil the mandates of grappling with all of the social issues which this Organisation should address. In our region much work has already been done in building human capital and strengthening national institutions which have the remit to deliver quality services to our citizens.

As we move forward, we must call upon the creative minds of the Hemisphere, especially our youth, to cross borders and barriers and share knowledge that could enhance the quality of life of our most needy citizens. I am speaking as one retired from elective politics, but let me assure you that the CARICIOM governments, in their wisdom, moved to create the Caribbean Single Market and Single Economy, with a view to ensuring that our region is better prepared to engage the countries of the Hemisphere, Europe and the rest of the world with a strong single voice.

The next 60 years must produce a stronger partnership between the OAS and the people of the Hemisphere. We can all assist by encouraging our governments and people to invest generously in the work of this Organisation.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are not expected to complete the task but, I say to you, neither are we at liberty to abstain from it.

I thank you.