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June 2, 2009 - San Pedro Sula, Honduras

As I welcome the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Americas, I also wish to thank the President of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega, and the President of Nicaragua, Fernando Lugo, for gracing this inauguration with their presence.

In particular, on behalf of all those present, I would like to thank President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and his administration, the people of Honduras, and, in particular, the authorities and citizens of San Pedro Sula for their warm welcome and for the care and efficiency they have shown in organizing this thirty-ninth regular session of the General Assembly.

In addition, Mr. President, allow me to express our deep condolences for the tragic events that occurred in the early morning of May 28, which plunged your cherished country and, with it, all of the Americas into mourning. The impressive welcome you and your people have given us here in the midst of these difficult circumstances increases our debt of gratitude.

I have submitted an exhaustive written report on this year’s activities as well as a more concise document that summarizes those matters I consider to be most important. At this time, allow me to add just a few comments on the major topics of concern to us since the recent Summit in Trinidad and Tobago.


One year ago, at the outset of the thirty-eighth session of this General Assembly in Medellín, I expressed moderate optimism regarding the current situation in our region. We were in the midst of the sixth consecutive year of growth in Latin America and the Caribbean and, as a result of that growth and of sound public policies in most of our countries, in the previous five years the number of people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean had fallen by 27 million, and 16 million fewer people were suffering extreme poverty.

The present situation, as we all know, is unfortunately very different.

The region today is the victim of a global economic crisis. As a result of that crisis, to a greater or lesser extent the economies of all our countries have contracted. Although some countries, thanks to more robust economic growth prior to the crisis or to prior implementation of anti-cyclical preventive measures, may be in a better position than others, all our countries will in the end be affected; and it is incumbent on us to foresee the impacts of this situation and to act accordingly.

We are concerned about the social and political effects of this crisis and the danger of losing what we have won in our battle against poverty in recent years and about the fact that 12 million people risk falling prey to poverty over the next two years. As poverty levels and job insecurity rise, there will be threats to the sustainable use of energy, the environment, and development in general.

We want to prevent the crisis, which affects all social sectors, from triggering distributive conflicts that will have an impact on the weakest among them and on domestic political and social relations in the countries of the region.

In a paper I submitted for the consideration of the Heads of State and Government at the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, I mentioned the possibility that the crisis would lead to a tense political and social climate that could threaten to undo some of our achievements with respect to the consolidation of democracy in some of our countries.

A properly functioning democratic system can serve to channel debate and settle the differences and conflicts that the crisis will prompt. Regular, open, transparent, and competitive elections in all our countries help provide a means for channeling disagreements and resolving them democratically.

However, something additional will be necessary. What is also needed is a system of broad political and social covenants that can strengthen governance and ensure the political viability of the measures that it will be necessary to adopt. The conclusion of broad national agreements, with the consensus of a majority of social and political actors, can mitigate the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable segments of our societies while, at the same time, preventing dangerous strife that can result from blaming one another for what we have not caused.

However, it is not just a matter of domestic pacts within each country. We also need to achieve regional consensus to enable us to develop a coordinated, comprehensive, and effective response to the crisis, with the backing of the entire international community.

I believe that our Heads of State and Government moved decisively in that direction when they met in Trinidad and Tobago. The atmosphere that prevailed at the Summit among our leaders, without exception, was that of a friendly quest for points of consensus. Even the most complex issues were addressed frankly and in depth and, most important of all, agreement was reached on major resolutions and very clear mandates for the future.

Since the G20 agreements, in which five OAS member countries participated, our Heads of State and Government focused on discussing means to mitigate the effects of the crisis and reached major agreements to prevent protectionism, promote competition, protect our most vulnerable populations, and address the drop in capital inflows into the region.

It is paradoxical that, while ECLAC announced record high direct foreign investments in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2008–more than 128 billion dollars or 13 percent more than in 2007–the region should have to deal with a sharp reduction in capital flows. And it is not that we have changed policies or are now less trustworthy. It is simply a matter of the overall contraction characteristic of this crisis, which our countries cannot avoid.

Our leaders are hopeful that the commitments to flexibility in the terms of the global institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, will be felt in the economies that need them. They emphasize in particular capital increases in our own development banks: the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Andean Development Corporation (CAF), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). We hope, as underscored in a resolution being submitted to this Assembly, that the decision to increase IDB capital will be made in time to make that institution’s activities in the Hemisphere more effective.

It is also essential to avoid, as in earlier crises, the adoption of artificial measures by our countries to export their unemployment, to the detriment of other countries. Protectionism, the persecution of immigrants, wrangling over scarce economic resources, and other measures, are contrary to the spirit of cooperation and solidarity with which we have to tackle the crisis.


Mr. President, Honorable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thanks to the dialogue of our Presidents and the agreements reached at the Summit, we now have a common agenda that we must be able to implement.

This agenda cannot simply be a list of items. While it is already important for us to agree on this list, what also matters is agreement on its substance and especially on common measures that demonstrate that the multilateralism we are engaging in can help solve problems.

The first item is the economic crisis, which I have already alluded to. Closely linked to overcoming that crisis is the second item, which was discussed in Port of Spain, Human Prosperity. During recent years of economic growth, our countries endeavored to reduce poverty through innovative programs on conditional transfers and direct support to families living in extreme poverty. Our Ministers of Social Development therefore decided to establish the Inter-American Cooperation Network for Social Protection, which we hope will be launched by the end of the year. This network is intended to provide a means of sharing experiences and best practices on programs for conditional transfers and microcredit throughout the Hemisphere.

The integral development of our societies remains a central concern for us, which is why we are continuing to work on designing and implementing, together with our member countries, policies, programs, and projects aimed at developing human capacity, institutional strengthening, and generating effective public policies, particularly in the areas of education, decent jobs, social development, culture, trade, science and technology, sustainable development, and the environment. All of these matters have been discussed at earlier Summits, their mandates are still in effect, and we must continue to work on them.

The third item is energy, based on a twofold premise: that our Hemisphere has rich and varied energy resources but that we do not yet have adequate cooperation and coordination networks, and, on the other hand, that our energy use is still highly inefficient. In Port of Spain, our leaders agreed on the need to establish a cooperation network, with a flexible structure, that could coordinate countries in the production of renewable and nonrenewable energies and in the transmission and efficient use thereof.

We are expecting to receive the first proposals concerning this initiative in the next few weeks. However, although we share the view that this should be a flexible and voluntary framework for cooperation, we think that this coordination requires some type of institutional structure. The OAS is of course prepared to assume this responsibility if deemed necessary and sufficient minimum funds are allocated to put it into practice.

Linked to the previous item is the problem of climate change, the fourth item on the common agenda. While the two topics have often been considered jointly, it is important to recall that, in our region, the role played by land use in climate change is as important as that played by gas emissions; likewise, air and water pollution are closely linked to poverty and the absence or degradation of sanitary infrastructure. Some specific consideration of this item is therefore essential.

The fifth item is migration, which has been the subject of considerable debate, with inappropriate alarmist tendencies, in recent years. The flow of migrants between the countries of the Americas and toward other regions is clearly a matter of hemispheric concern that we must address jointly, as it affects many of our citizens, our families, our societies, and given the remittances involved, the development of our economies. If we truly want to establish a hemispheric policy among us all and not simply dictate policies to one another, this is an area in which we must do so.

Paradoxically the crisis, which has had a negative impact on immigration numbers, will make it possible to address the matter in a less pressured way.

The rights of migrants are also a focus of our attention. Through the Inter-American Program for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants, we concluded an agreement for technical cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to implement the Continuous Labor Migration Reporting System for Latin America and the Caribbean, which will generate information on migration flows and trends for the member countries of our Organization.

The sixth item is public security, which was also on the agenda of our leaders in Port of Spain. One year ago, I expressed my deep concern to this Assembly about the increase in organized crime and drug trafficking in the region and of its importance not only for the material well-being of our citizens and the exercise of their fundamental rights, but also for the very stability of our institutions. At that time, I announced that a Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas would be held. That meeting was successfully held in Mexico City in October last year, thanks to the generous cooperation of the Government of Mexico. It was the first broad-based political discussion of the issue, at the highest level, in our region. The coordination we sought was achieved and the ministers were convened for a second meeting, to be held this year in the Dominican Republic, preceded by a meeting of experts in Uruguay.

A few weeks ago, the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) held its annual meeting. That meeting decided that it was necessary, without setting aside the interdiction policies carried out by our countries at a high human and material cost, as they were confronting increasingly well armed and coordinated gangs, to give preference as well to demand reduction. Our interdiction efforts may be able to improve public security in our countries, but drugs will continue to flow unless we are able to reduce demand, especially in affluent high-consumption areas.

We can be sure, therefore, that a process has been launched to join forces and wills in order to be more effective in tackling the crime and violence threatening all our countries equally. We are especially encouraged by the commitment of a large majority of countries of the region to the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms (CIFTA), which has already been ratified by 30 member countries and whose submission to Congress President Obama announced at the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

The rejection of violence as a way for human beings to relate to one another, and particularly as a way to settle their differences, is an especially important aspiration for our Hemisphere.

That is why, President Zelaya, the region’s governments have unanimously embraced the proposal to develop a culture of peace and non-violence to express values, attitudes, and behaviors, based on respect for life and human dignity—a culture of peace and non-violence that gives pride of place to human rights and adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, solidarity, tolerance, and respect for the diversity of our peoples, and that should be promoted through education, dialogue, and cooperation.

Thanks to your successful initiative, during this thirty-ninth session of the General Assembly the foreign ministers of the Americas will affirm their commitment to promote a culture of peace and non-violence in our region, within framework of the rule of law. That commitment includes recognition of the need for all sectors of society to be involved in fostering these forms of conduct, and in the decision to take the necessary steps to prevent, deter, and punish violence, segregation, exploitation, and discrimination against vulnerable groups and individuals.

I have every confidence, Mr. President, that this commitment will mean one more decisive step forward for hemispheric efforts to combat the various forms of violence that have so severely hurt us, through the establishment of conditions that will ensure full respect for and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in our region.

Every task stemming from this agenda involves the development of efficient public policies, for which many of our states are not prepared, after years of dismantling of their capacities.

The seventh item on our common agenda, therefore, has to do with democratic governance.

Democratic policy is facing important challenges today. The critical test of our democracies no longer lies in their ability to hold free elections or in maintaining stable governments. Rather it lies in demonstrating that democratic governments are able to solve the problems of poverty, exclusion, environmental quality, and public security that beset the majority of people. The test of democracies resides in showing that they are able to improve the standard of living of their citizens, that democracy is also good because it governs best.

We have therefore endeavored to implement a series of governance programs, intended to tackle problems of transparency and corruption, enhance access to justice, modernize public services, support decentralization, increase competitiveness, promote corporate social responsibility and public-private partnerships, and expand gender equality and the defense of minorities. New challenges are expected in such important social areas as youth-related policies, problems of the elderly, and consumer protection.

Another area of our activities we may be proud of is the Program for Universal Civil Registry in the Americas. The lack of a registered identity is synonymous with social vulnerability and is a state of affairs that lends itself to exploitation and the violation of the rights of all human beings in that condition. Through the Program for Universal Civil Registry in the Americas, our Organization has made resolving this issue a priority and actively assists states striving to reduce levels of underregistration. So far the Program has been able to establish technical assistance in nine countries of the region and hope to extend it to three more countries this year. Special reference should be made to the program in Haiti, which has provided identification cards to most of the adult population, beginning with the major voter registration effort between 2005 and 2006.

We can continue to be proud of our democracy. All the leaders who attended the Fifth Summit of the Americas were elected democratically, at times in contests against opponents whose political parties were in power at that time. In addition, in recent years, although some of our governments have had to face severe political tensions, the region has remained stable, without disruptions of democracy.

I do not mean to imply that this new stability has been of our making. But I am proud to say that, during this historic period, the OAS has played an active role in consolidating our democracy.

At the outset of the 21st century, our Hemisphere and Europe constitute the world’s two democratic regions. Even amidst differences over nuances and beyond disagreements between our governments, there is now basic agreement in all our countries around certain issues that now convey the basic principles of democracy and governance in the region embodied in our Inter-American Democratic Charter.

In the year since the last regular session of our General Assembly, we have deployed electoral observation missions to Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, and Panama, with the participation of approximately 500 observers and experts on electoral issues. We have worked tirelessly to shore up the electoral systems of countries that have so requested.

At the same time, we have maintained our special missions in Haiti and Colombia. In the case of Haiti, we will be presenting a special report under the pertinent item of this Assembly, in fulfillment of the mandate from the Fifth Summit of Heads of State and Government. In the case of Colombia, the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Plan has been continuing its verification activities in the areas of disarmament, reintegration, truth and justice, and support for displaced persons, the various areas agreed upon, and we continue to be available to cooperate in the peace process when it is extended to other irregular forces.

Since the beginning of 2008, the Organization has been actively involved as an observer in the political process in Bolivia. We have given constant support to its national unity, its political dialogue, its efforts to adopt a new Constitution, and all its electoral processes. That is why I was very proud to attend the signing ceremony of the Constitution in early February. And that is also why we are now supporting the development of a new voter registration list, a commitment that launched the final step in the institutional process, namely, the general elections to be held at the end of this year.

As for relations between Colombia and Ecuador, we have conducted multiple missions to both countries to look for formulas and paths conducive to normalization and the development of relations between them. Unfortunately, our efforts have not yet met with success, as relations are still broken off and no agreement has been reached on the basic points the parties insist on for normalization. A few weeks ago, we submitted the report of our committee of experts that visited the border area of the two countries, which we will release once we receive comments from the governments.

After many years of mediating in and monitoring the negotiation process during the long territorial differendum between Belize and Guatemala, an agreement was signed at the headquarters of our Organization. It establishes that both parties will submit to a simultaneous referendum in the two countries on the decision to let their differendum be decided by the International Court of Justice. We shall continue helping these two countries prepare for the next phases and will keep our mission in the Adjacency Zone, which is especially important to prevent incidents that could disrupt the process we have undertaken.

Lastly, we are hopeful that this Assembly will give us a clear mandate for special support to Guatemala, which is facing serious challenges in its justice and public security systems–challenges that could undermine its democratic system–and whose government is requesting our participation under Article 17 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Mr. President, Honorable Ministers,

As is customary, the agenda of this Assembly contains items of great importance for the progress of our system: mounting violence in the region, the mandates of the recent Summit of the Americas, changes in our common endeavors in Haiti, recent criticisms of the action of the human rights bodies, and the matter of Cuba, all of which are especially important for our future work.

These matters also demonstrate the ongoing validity of our Organization and of the inter-American system. As I have said before, there is vast space in the Hemisphere for an inter-American agenda. There are issues that affect the entire Hemisphere and not only a part of it, and these are the ones taken up by the OAS. This is understood by civil society organizations and by youth, private sector, and labor organizations, which are becoming more and more involved in our activities, as well as by the media, which are increasingly covering our activities and our deliberations.

During these four years as OAS Secretary General, I have sought to ensure that relevant issues are discussed and that all member countries of the Americas participate and sense that they are in charge of the Organization. There are no longer any questions that cannot be considered or any members who are more important than others.

This is not easy to achieve, because we are different and the region has gone through years of steady and rapid change. But we share values that we have managed to uphold at great sacrifice and difficulty, which obliges us at all times to seek consensus so that we may move forward together.

On the matter of Cuba, I do not think any additional comments are in order at this time, since my position is well known and the Foreign Ministers will express an opinion in the next few hours. This matter involves the principal values that underlie our system: the inclusiveness proclaimed in our founding Charter and the democracy we have enshrined in our Inter-American Democratic Charter. Therefore we should not shy away from discussing the topic. However, with an eye in particular on that past, let us focus on the desire to forge a consensus. We want to move forward and to leave behind a past that for many is not positive, but not at the cost of falling once again into divisiveness. In recent years, we have always been able to function best and most harmoniously by following that rule.

Last year, our Organization celebrated its 60th anniversary, as did our human rights system. The inter-American system will celebrate its 120th anniversary next year (and in April our building in Washington will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its inauguration). We are the oldest international political organization in the world, a living symbol of the desire of the people of the Americas to move forward together at all times. We are not always proud of our history, but we have sought to transform ourselves and I believe that, especially in the past two decades, with the return of democracy to the heart of our Hemisphere, we have managed to do so.

We still have many weaknesses, but at the same time our strengths are enormous.

No one enjoys greater respect in the area of electoral observation and cooperation than the OAS: over these last four years we have observed nearly 50 voting processes. And, with the Hemisphere going through profound political and institutional change, we have visited some countries as many as six times.

No other hemispheric human rights system has the kind of autonomy and credibility that our Commission on Human Rights and our Court of Human Rights enjoy: this is understood very well by thousands of Latin Americans who, during the era of dictatorships, turned to them as a last resort for the protection of their rights. Those who seek recourse to them year after year also understand this.

I do understand how countries may often be concerned about the actions of our Commission and Court. I also believe we can improve many of our procedures. But there is no substitute for a system such as ours, with the degree of autonomy that is vital to its role. I hope we can all work together to strengthen that system and make it work for everyone.

When conflicts exist between them, the member countries turn to the OAS, especially when the conflicts involve substantive matters of inter-American law, which falls within the Organization’s purview. One year and three months ago, an unfortunate dispute arose between two member countries. A meeting of the Presidents of the Río Group paved the way toward a solution. Interestingly, all the legal points put forward in the Rio Group’s resolution were taken from the Charter of the Organization of American States, and a subsequent OAS Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs gave them the necessary legal basis. Other regional organizations and groups do not compete with the OAS; rather, we complement one another when each one performs its functions.

I could cite other areas, such as coordination of efforts against drug trafficking; follow-up to the conventions against corruption or violence against women; the activities of the Children’s Institute, the CIM, or our scholarships program; or the Secretariat for the convention on persons with disabilities, which we recently installed in Panama.

But the point is clear: when I hear voices calling for an end to the OAS, I wonder how many decades would be needed to build something similar and who would do the work we are doing. When reference is made to an “imperial bureaucracy,” I cannot help but think of our staff members, especially those who have worked selflessly as part of the Colombian peace mission, in Haiti, or in the Belize-Guatemala Adjacency Zone, or the large numbers of them who go to remote areas of our countries on electoral missions, or of the distinguished jurists who sacrifice time and income working for our Commission, our Court, or our Juridical Committee.

Lastly, I am concerned that these voices arise when reference is made to the possibility of strengthening our inter-American system, which we have not done for some time. The Summit of the Americas introduced a new climate of dialogue in the region. We have democratic leaders in all the countries of the Americas. The United States has a president who enjoys an almost unprecedented popularity and credibility throughout the Hemisphere. Now, as never before, we have a common agenda. We should allow all of this to flourish and not be too quick to become estranged from one another because of different views or prejudices.

The OAS has changed tremendously in recent years, but it can make further changes and become even better. Alberto Lleras Camargo said that the OAS would be no more than what its member states wanted it to be. There is no OAS apart from the Council and the Assembly. You are the OAS.

Thank you very much.