Media Center



November 24, 2009 - Port of Spain

It is my great honor and a privilege to be with you here in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. I join my distinguished colleagues in thanking the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago for the organization of this conference and once more for the organization of the 5th Summit of the Americas. I bring you greetings from the Organization of American States (OAS), founded in 1948 as a successor to the Pan American Union, a political organization of more than one hundred years formed by the 35 independent countries of this Hemisphere.

My comments today will focus precisely on the important links between the Americas and the Commonwealth and on ways in which we can improve our collaboration on matters of trade, investment, development and democratic governance, as we seek to advance the sustainable development of our countries and our regions.

As I said before, the OAS and the Pan American Union involved, from the beginning, all the countries of the Americas. Major changes in the OAS began in the 1960s when, first Trinidad and Tobago in 1967, followed by the other eleven Commonwealth Caribbean independent states and Canada, joined the Organization. Their advent altered the culture of the OAS in a decisive and positive way. These new members brought the Commonwealth’s entrenched traditions of parliamentary democracy, strong rule of law, respect for civil and human rights, and confidence in their institutions, which have bolstered the OAS and have reinforced its pillars of democracy, human rights, integral development and multidimensional security. Moreover, with the addition of the Caribbean States, Suriname, and Canada, the OAS has become truly a fully representative body of the diverse peoples and cultures of the Americas.

Through our dialogue and peace-making initiatives, we have for many decades, managed to maintain a Hemisphere largely free of war and violent conflicts between or among our member states. As for internal conflict, we have very few remnants of armed conflict in the region and they have been weakened in recent years and survive primarily through their involvement in drug trafficking.

We are now experiencing a process of democratic consolidation in the Americas. The holding of elections where all sides accept the results is becoming standard practice in this Hemisphere. This achievement contrasts sharply with the many decades of undemocratic rule in Latin America, which was marked by military coups and brutal dictatorships. A seminal moment in our hemisphere was the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter on September 11, 2001, which continues to guide the OAS’s work on political affairs and peace-building in the Americas.

We are in a new phase in the practice of democracy in the Americas today and this explains our concerns with the regrettable developments in our dear Republic of Honduras. I believe it critical that we further consolidate the democratic gains that we have made by improving the quality of governance in many of our countries. This requires adopting good governance practices such as fighting corruption, improving public security, promoting transparency and accountability in government, providing social safety-nets for the vulnerable, eliminating poverty, reducing inequality and respecting and promoting human rights and, in general, improving the delivery of public services to citizens.

On the economic front, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have made great strides in improving the management and diversity of their economies. As a result, the years prior to the global financial crisis were marked by sustained economic growth in our region. While there is no question that the economic recession has hit the Americas hard, many of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have proven to be more resilient than the experts had expected.

Still, poverty and inequality continue to be unacceptably high in the Americas and the economic recession threatens to wipe out the gains that we had made in earlier years, with millions of people now returning to poverty. In a recent release, the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that an additional 9 million people have sunk into poverty in 2009, representing almost one quarter of the people who had managed to emerge from poverty between 2002 and 2008.

Against this background, the private sector in the Americas has become an even more vital partner in our efforts to advance democracy and development. Through a series of private–public partnerships, the business sector has contributed greatly to providing training and technology to marginalized groups, including the youth, women, indigenous people and Afro-Latinos. The OAS has been very active in this area. Through the efforts of several of our affiliated organizations such as the Trust for the Americas, the Young Americas Business Trust and the Pan-American Development Foundation, we have successfully mobilized private sector support for development. There are numerous similar organizations across the Americas that are using the training and technology resources of the private sector to build capacity in our countries.

Firms in the Americas and the Commonwealth are already doing trade with each other. I hope that, as their entrepreneurial activities thrive, they will work together and with their respective governments and civil society groups to contribute to the development of their respective countries and regions. In this respect, we have a strong program together with other regional institutions on corporate social responsibility and we have been pursuing this in the Caribbean, especially in recent years.

At the recent 5th Summit of the Americas, held right here in Port of Spain, the Heads of State and Government outlined a clear and concise agenda for the Americas, which calls for action in several areas, including: taking steps to speed up economic recovery, providing social protection networks for vulnerable groups, cooperating on energy, improving public security and strengthening democratic governance. The members of the OAS are all striving to advance these mandates in our various Ministerial and Inter-American fora by exchanging information and sharing best practices through hemispheric networks and programs.

The governments and people of the Commonwealth are faced with similar challenges and so we must use this opportunity of holding the Commonwealth meetings in Trinidad and Tobago, to explore ways of deepening our cooperation to address shared challenges.

In fact, our shared Caribbean constituency is engaged in a serious struggle for survival and development in this increasingly globalized world. The effects of climate change and natural disasters threaten their physical and economic health; as does their extreme vulnerability to economic shocks. This CHOGM, occurring on the eve of the Copenhagen climate change summit, is therefore an ideal opportunity for the countries of the Commonwealth, big and small, industrialized and developing, rich and poor, to take forward a common position in the interests of the group’s most vulnerable members.

The current economic crisis has laid bare some of the alarming realities facing our smaller states. For example, those countries that have highly indebted economies, but have graduated from access to concessionary finance from the international financial institutions, are now caught in a vicious circle of borrowing to service their debt, which in turn negatively affects their credit rating. As we all know, a reduced credit rating further limits their ability to access much needed financing in times of economic contraction. I believe that the international financial institutions and other development institutions should revisit their policies regarding micro and small states, who through great effort have improved their human and economic development indicators, but whose small size, geographic location and open economies leave them exposed to the ravages of natural and economic upheavals. Given that the Caribbean’s special situation is shared by other micro and small states in the Commonwealth, the countries gathered here in Port of Spain have an obligation and an opportunity to bolster the resilience of these small states to external shocks.

Greater unity between the countries of the Americas and the Commonwealth is vital in the current global economic climate, for ours is a vital nexus in the context of global geo-political and economic relations. We must explore genuine South-South cooperation in areas of mutual interest including, trade, investment, energy, environmental conservation and development.

The OAS and the Commonwealth have leading members in the powerful groupings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the G20 group five members of the OAS are members of the G20. We should work together to pursue a common agenda on issues of mutual interest to our member countries. In so doing, we would truly be advancing the theme of this Commonwealth Business Forum and Heads of Government Meeting: “Partnering for a More Equitable and Sustainable Future”.

In closing, ladies and gentlemen, it is my sincere hope that we can build on the historical, political, cultural and economic linkages that have existed between the countries of the Americas and the Commonwealth to advance consensus on our common issues, challenges and opportunities and pursue joint advocacy of global issues of mutual interest.

Thank you very much.