Media Center



September 13, 2009 - Ottawa, Canada

Thank you for the opportunity to address this very important conference. Today the Americas face a full host of exciting opportunities and challenges. I am certain that the deliberations of this prestigious forum will help us work together towards strengthening the community of the Americas for the benefit of all of our people.

Democratic progress in Latin American and the Caribbean has been significant, especially when we compare it to the situation in the region of a couple of decades ago. Military dictatorships were all too frequent as were the violations of human and civil rights.

Today, however, the situation has changed. As I said in April, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, every OAS member state represented there had elected their leaders and authorities through competitive democratic processes, under the rule of law, and in most cases with a team of OAS observers present to attest to the transparency of the electoral process. Some of these free and fair elections had close and contested results, but in all cases the outcomes were accepted by all parties.

Nonetheless, as our Hemisphere grows in the right direction, many of our States continue to struggle and are imperfect in the exercise of their democracies. This is why it is fundamental for you in the legislatures of the region, whether you come from the government or the opposition, to meet the challenges of deepening and strengthening democratic processes, policies and institutions. You can do this through legislative debate, and relevant policy formulation and ratification, as well as appropriation of adequate financial resources aligned with national priorities, through the formulation and ratification of national budgets.

Legislators also have a key role to play in shaping long-range visions and strategies for sustainable democratic governance and development. They must effectively tackle the challenges addressed in the Hemispheric Agenda outlined by our leaders at the 5th Summit. Inequity, energy security, productivity, public security, democratic governance, and establishing and restoring trust in the political processes are those challenges.

Without stable democracies it is difficult to encourage the necessary investment in our people. And our economies will fail to be competitive in this interconnected world. As we slowly come out of what most observers have called the worst recession since the great depression there are some warning signs that we need to draw from this. We still live in a Hemisphere with serious inequities in terms of income distribution, productivity and innovation. As a recent ECLAC study shows, the social effects of a recession take twice as long to fix as they do for the economic ones. If governments are not able to take measures to narrow these gaps we risk what some call the “calentamiento social.”

That is why our leaders from the Americas gather at our periodic Summits to deliver tangible results to the people of the Hemisphere that will help reduce inequity for a more democratic, stable, and prosperous continent. These important Summits allow us to share experiences, discuss policies, harmonize efforts and set common goals that will ultimately help all the citizens in our family of nations.

But in between those Summits we continue to face troublesome threats which must constantly be addressed effectively to prevent backsliding to chaotic and uncertain societies.

Recent events have undoubtedly demonstrated the need for a strong and vibrant Organization of American States and of the inter-American system. Both have critical roles to play in ensuring appropriate follow-up to the commitments made at Summits, Ministerial meetings as well as the OAS General Assembly. The OAS has played an important role in helping to find peaceful resolutions to crisis in Bolivia and Nicaragua as well as in implementing significant confidence building measures in the conflict between Colombia and Ecuador. All of these successful endeavors merit to be addressed separately to fully understand and appreciate the individual complexity of each case; however, for the sake of time and in order to address the most pressing issue at hand, I would like to focus on the situation in Honduras, the lessons learned, and what needs to be done in the future to avoid other similar crisis.

The overthrow of governments by force is a setback not only for the country that suffers it and has to watch armed forces do away with democratic rule; it is also a setback for a whole region, which cannot be allowed to happen. When an elected president, without formally being charged with a crime and without the opportunity to face his accusers, is taken away by military forces and exiled to another country, it is hard to argue that anything other than a coup has taken place. Many of us still recall the tanks in the streets, the shootings, and presidents thrown into exile, the violation of human rights, and above all, the sensation of loss and impotence that follow the imposition of force over reason.

The political progress and regional stability that many member states have worked diligently to secure during the last few decades can not be allowed to be thwarted by politicians and generals who unilaterally and unconstitutionally act to unlawfully depose elected leaders. Such actions are simply unacceptable in a century marked by democratic civility and the rule of law. When a coup occurs, the first thing you have to do is to denounce it as a very serious crime. That is exactly what we did, first in the Permanent Council on the same day of the coup, and later in our Special General Assembly, which started on June 30th and reconvened on the 4th of July. We condemned the coup without any qualifications and with the agreement of all OAS member states. We moved swiftly to make sure that nobody would recognize the presumptive government of Roberto Micheletti and we were completely successful in that. The result of this swift action was that no government or institution in the global community has recognized the de facto undemocratic government of Micheletti. By the way, we were not the first to do this; the European Union condemned the coup and called for the restoration of democracy in Honduras before we did.

Thanks to this global condemnation and pressure, the opposing sides of the current crisis in Honduras have been pushed to negotiate—albeit somewhat reluctantly—and are now analyzing the “San José proposal” resulting from the dedicated multilateral efforts of the international community. This proposal offers a path to reconciliation absent of violent conflict and provides opportunities to strengthen democracy in the Central American nation.

I have often said that challenging times call for a greater reliance on fundamental principles. The coup d’état in Honduras presented the international community with an extraordinary challenge. Either the member states of the OAS turn a blind eye to the military ousting of a democratically elected head of state, or the region coalesce to deliver an unequivocal statement in defense of democracy. Without hesitation, and in full consensus, the democratic states of the Americas –without exception or abstentions- came together to condemn the coup, invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and suspend Honduras from the hemispheric body until a democratic resolution is implemented.

The response of the entire Hemisphere underscores the renewed, robust, and unwavering spirit of multilateral cooperation and dialogue that has characterized the region in addressing this crisis. The “San José proposal” was made possible on the basis and principle of multilateralism, one of the leading tools available to the international community to help nations substantiate and strengthen democracy.

The Organization led the way in responding to the coup, debated the issue, discussed the options, developed a consensus position, and applied the duly required actions in a consistent, reasoned, irrevocable and unanimous position.

It was an immediate multilateral reaction, which was widely supported by the broader international community including the United Nations and the European Union. Ultimately no country in the world has recognized the interim regime, and all have supported the efforts to return the democratically elected president Zelaya to office.

While a number of hurdles remain to a final reconciliation, it is clear that there is only one path for Honduras to return to our community of nations. Collectively, the region’s nations will continue to apply pressure on both sides towards this objective. The foundation of democracy must continue to be consolidated and strengthened.

To support this effort, it is crucial that all states, in and out of the Americas, continue to support, with the same unity, the ongoing process. Despite the united position of the region, the de facto regime remains resolute in holding onto power and proceeding with the scheduled elections in November. However, under the current situation the results of those elections will not be accepted by the international community.

For all of us who continue collaborating in the effort towards the objective of returning Honduras to the path of democracy, this process presents both an enormous challenge and a unprecedented opportunity. We are committed to continue pressing ahead with the same determination and responsibility demonstrated to date, as well as a renewed strength in knowing that our principles and values have proven time and again to be the most reasonable and effective during the most trying of circumstances.

The political crisis that brings us to this juncture also offers an important opportunity to launch a debate focused on the need to strengthen and preserve all democratic institutions in the region and to avoid constitutional crises. Essential elements of representative democracy include the separation of powers among branches of government; the constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority; the recognition of the frameworks established by the rule of law; and the consequential contributing role that all institutions and sectors of society play in the sustainability of democracy.

The current crisis underscores the imperfections in the tools we have available to properly respond when democracy is under threat. The Inter-American Democratic Charter defines the essential elements of democracy, and provides the governments of the Western Hemisphere a framework to guide their collective action when democracy faces threats. However, it is vague in defining with clarity what constitutes a rupture of democratic order. It also lacks the necessary mechanisms for all powers of the State, not only the governing Executive Branch, to be able to request the Permanent Council to invoke its application. I raised these and other issues in a report to the Permanent Council back in 2007, and I believe it is due time that they be debated and the Democratic Charter amended accordingly.

It is clear today that democracy is not just the holding of free, fair, and transparent elections, and the observance of human rights. It is independence of the powers of state, complete with checks and balances, it is transparency and ethics in the handling of state affairs, it is good governance, consolidation of political parties, access to information, and freedom of the press and of expression.

We have to make sure that our political institutions represent the people and that the people participate in our political systems and we must ensure that our governments are capable of fulfilling their principal social responsibilities and functions. All of us should find our hemispheric institutions to be relevant for our lives and regard them as performing a useful and important function in confronting collective challenges and problems.

When we reach this point, our societies will more accurately reflect our common values; and reflect who we want to be as an American community. We will know better how to extend a helping hand to the most vulnerable among us. We will be able to create better opportunities for economic prosperity. We will be more prepared to nurture future generations. And we will be able, as both individuals and states, to better exercise our political freedoms and rights in democratic societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future is in your hands. I urge you to continue working to achieve these goals. We must not lose site of our mutual vision of a better Hemisphere of opportunity and freedom for all.

Thank you very much.