Media Center



March 3, 2010 - Washington, DC

President, just as you say, in abiding with the resolution of this Permanent Council, I am addressing you today to ask you to support my re-election as Secretary General of the Organization of American States for the 2010 – 2015 term.

In this presentation, to start by answering the question on the relationship between the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General, I will not make a long allusion to any of the matters that he has already developed. They are matters in which he is completely competent, as he showed, but in any case if there are any questions on Haiti, on the national offices, and on all the tasks that the Assistant Secretary General moves forward, I could of course answer them as well.

I have had the honor and privilege to head this institution, the leading political forum in the Americas, whose primary tasks are to keep the peace, strengthen and support democracy, promote justice and open up new opportunities for prosperity and equality in all the countries of this Hemisphere. I have traveled many times throughout this Hemisphere and have worked tirelessly, together with this Council, the Assistant Secretary General, the autonomous agencies, and the admirable group of women and men who comprise the Secretariat in pursuit of those goals.

When I request your support, therefore, I must do it with a vision of the future, but also to reflect on what the OAS has achieved during my first term.

In these past five years we have faced numerous and complex challenges. These have not been tranquil years because our Hemisphere lives an intense period of transformation, induced by –starting in the nineties- a powerful surge of democracy that has made the citizens of the Americas ever more conscious of their rights; and empowered them to demand from the democracies of the region, greater justice, greater equality, sustainable development, and a real improvement in their standard of living.

The inevitable clash between these demands for democracy and equality, and the still precarious development of our economies and the weakness of our states, has triggered internal and external imbalances that we have had to address.

All those conflicts have passed through this institution. Unlike at some other periods of our history, this time the OAS has been present in all the significant events in the region. Not even those who critique us today genuinely doubt the relevance of our Organization in these past years. We have seen how OAS involvement, which many condemned and rejected a couple of decades ago, can play a constructive role in the settlement of disputes and carry out programs that are useful for the people of our countries. With a relatively small number of professionals and a modest budget, we have taken on some of the most daunting multilateral challenges facing our Hemisphere in transition.

We have witnessed national crises, premature changes of government, a surge in crime and drug trafficking, economic crises, as well as progress, growth, and hope. The underlying truth of the Americas is that, in this democratic region, many citizens are still wondering when they will see the fruits of democracy in terms of decent work, education, health, personal security, and a real improvement in the performance of their governments and institutions. The people of the Americas love democracy. Those who live in North America and the Caribbean inherited it, while for those who live in Latin America it is a recent conquest but now, the people of the Americas are no longer content just to elect their governments. They want them to govern democratically, broaden freedom, guarantee security, protect the environment, promote justice, and improve the distribution of the benefits of growth. As I said when I took on this job five years ago-and it is repeated now by many so some forget that I said it first- it is no longer enough to be elected democratically; you have to govern democratically. That is the essence of our Inter-American Democratic Charter, the instrument that today best expresses the ideals our peoples share.

How has the OAS addressed these realities during my term of office?

I would like to reflect on what has been achieved and then offer you my vision of the next five years.

The OAS plays a unique role as the leading forum for political dialogue in this Hemisphere. I want to emphasize, as our Charter establishes, all the independent countries of the Americas, on an equal footing. That can sometimes make dialogue difficult because, often, as we well know, our governments do not think alike on fundamental issues. Nevertheless, as a matter of principle, the OAS neither excludes nor persecutes any country. It only requires that all members follow the same rules -- The rules that we have freely agreed upon in our Organization.

Through our Summits of the Americas and our General Assembly; our biannual meetings of Ministers of Social Development, Labor, Education, Justice, Defense, Culture, and the Advancement of Women; our Permanent Council and our Council for Integral Development; and numerous specialized meetings, we have gradually established an agenda which, expressed in standards, conventions, and programs, guides the work of the General Secretariat toward the attainment of our goals which are clear.

The OAS strives to extend democracy and freedom, by having all our citizens participate in the democratic process, by protecting human rights, peace, and security, by advancing the rule of law, and by enabling each citizen to have access to impartial and independent justice, as well as to the fruits of just and sustainable development.

Over the past five years, we have had numerous opportunities to demonstrate our resolve to deal with crises and controversies among and within our countries. In an OAS that has actively engaged in dialogue there are situations posing a threat to democracy or peace or creating divisions among us.

As we may recall, in this regard:
(1) our mediation in the political and institutional crisis in Nicaragua in 2005;

(2) our participation, from 2006 to 2009, in the process of change and democratic transformation in Bolivia. We were present in that process from start to finish, so much so that I was the only high-ranking international official to attend the promulgation of the new Constitution of Bolivia;

(3) our Special Mission to support the process of democratization in Haiti, where we helped to build, from scratch, a registered electorate of 3.55 million people with impeccable credentials. Due to our extensive registration drive, Haiti was able to hold the most transparent election in its history. The OAS has built on this experience and worked assiduously to help modernize Haiti’s civil registry. Since that time the OAS’ Civil Registry Project had provided national identity cards to 90 percent of Haitians (4.5 million) aged 18 and over;

(4) our support for the reinstatement of the Supreme Court of Justice of Ecuador in 2005 and for the constitutional reform process of 2007-2008;

(5) our mediation in the territorial differendum between Belize and Guatemala, which has helped maintain peace in the area. This process took a major step forward when both countries agreed to take the legal dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a decision that now requires legislative approval in both countries;

(6) our immediate response and good offices to address the situation triggered between Colombia and Ecuador on March 1, 2008, which gave rise to -- my heading a Mission of members of the OAS Permanent Council to visit the crisis area, the convocation of a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and the establishment of a good offices mission, all of which finally bore fruit with the recent dialogue between the parties, the appointment of Chargés d’Affaires, and the reactivation of the Bi-national Border Commission;

(7) our Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OEA), which was established in February 2004 to verify cease fire initiatives, the end of hostilities, demobilization, disarmament and the process of reinserting former combatants into society. This process has already led to the disarming of more than 30,000 members of the “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia” (AUC). The MAPP/ OEA has a large team on the ground that is still very active in helping to forge peace in Colombia;

(8) the successful, consensus-based negotiation, during the June 2009 OAS General Assembly, to lift the 1962 resolution excluding the Government of Cuba from the inter-American system. This decision put an end to an anachronistic relic of the Cold War within the Organization and sent a signal to the Government of Cuba that, should it wish to rejoin the OAS, it could do so through a process of dialogue, taking into consideration the practices, objectives, and principles of the Organization;

(9) our immediate response to the political crisis in Guatemala in May, 2009, when the Permanent Council supported the invocation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter on behalf of the President Alvaro Colom and appointed the Secretary General to lead a mission of good occupations to Guatemala with which I will conclude this phase because the President was, not long ago, present among us to talk about this.

(10) Thus, the political crisis in Honduras was not the first, but the tenth, critical situation we had to face in these past few years. The truth is that we did everything possible to restore democracy in Honduras, including supporting the proposal put forward by President Oscar Arias, initiating a process of internal dialogue, sponsoring the signing of a Political Accord of National Reconciliation, and dispatching the Verification Commission. These decisions were supported by the entire international community. Not a single country in the world recognized the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti and all international organizations and bilateral cooperation agencies suspended relations with Honduras.

Nevertheless, the fundamental objective of restoring the Constitutional Government of that country, even with limitations, was not achieved. And as a result, Honduras remains excluded from the Organization. Therefore, rather than indulging in recriminations, we need to draw appropriate conclusions from the Honduran case for solving these kinds of crises, which, despite the democratic advances of recent years, could afflict our region once again.

The multilateralism of today has its limitations. The OAS, like all international organizations, is composed of sovereign states and respect for that sovereignty establishes clear restrictions. A country can be suspended from the Organization, internationally isolated, and subjected, to a certain extent, to economic sanctions. In Honduras, the de facto powers responsible for the coup d’état knew that they only had to hold out for a short time and that they had powerful external supporters to help them resist.

Our legal instruments are, generally speaking, the most powerful available today in the region. However, in this instance, they were not invoked on time. We depend on the requirement that the executive branch of government must approach the OAS. Ecuador invoked the provisions of the OAS Charter on territorial inviolability as of March 1. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked by Nicaragua in 2005, by Bolivia on several occasions between 2006 and 2009 and by Guatemala in 2009. However, by the time Honduras invoked the Democratic Charter, the disruption of democracy had already become inevitable.

If that is the case, there is no doubt that, in order to strengthen our democracies, we need to devise ways of applying the inter-American Democratic Charter before, and not after, crises erupt. Unlike the aforementioned cases, the Government of Honduras did not deem it necessary to resort to the OAS, that is to say, to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, despite numerous promptings to that effect, until the disruption of democracy was practically unavoidable. Our Council approved an urgent mission to Honduras on the same day it was requested, but the coup was perpetrated less than 48 hours later.

I believe that if, as was the case in Nicaragua in 2005 and probably in Guatemala and Bolivia, an OAS mission had been dispatched in time, with clear mandates based on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the disruption of democracy in Honduras could have been avoided. All the more reason, therefore, to examine swifter and more flexible procedures for acting prior to crises, drawing on the lessons learned from this one, which is still an open wound and has harmed us all.

Although the media focuses more on the crises, most of the political work carried out by the OAS addresses other matters that also are part and parcel of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Orderly, participatory, free and fair elections, as is enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, continue to be a core objective of the OAS. During my mandate, the OAS has observed 47 electoral processes, including both elections and referendums. Included in that figure are not only national processes, but also primaries and local elections, because countries have increased their requests for our presence. We can say that OAS observation has become a stamp of approval, a guarantee, desired by more and more member states. We can also say that elections are becoming cleaner and more competitive. I am proud that along the way, we have put together a team committed to excellence which, today, provides technical assistance to electoral reform and the refining of pre-electoral and electoral processes in numerous member states.

Our Inter-American Democratic Charter explicitly reflects the idea that democracy is more than elections. It also includes as fundamental elements, respect for human rights and freedom of expression, the separation and independence of the various branches of government, respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, the transparency and accountability of government; and at the same time linking democracy, development and equality.

Therefore, we have supported without question the work of our human rights system, maintaining at the same time full respect for the autonomy of the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which are the organs of the Organization that the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights have authorized to pronounce on cases and general situations that affect human rights in different countries.

In the area of democratic governance we have developed programs, like that of Civil Registries, judicial facilitators, judicial cooperation between our member states, electronic government, development of local government and follow up of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter links democracy and development in an inseparable way. We have received, from the various Summits of the Americas, a broad agenda for tackling these challenges and have begun to fulfill these mandates, with actions such as the creation of the Inter-American Social Protection Network. This network shares best practices for supporting the most vulnerable in our societies by providing expertise on systems of micro-credit and ways to improve health, education and housing standards and services.

In the area of education, we have successfully reformed our scholarship program, which during my tenure has supported approximately 4,363 undergraduate, graduate and vocational students.

The area of multi-dimensional security did not exist in this form when I took over the OAS in 2005. Relying on the concepts outlined in the Special Conference on Security, held in Mexico 2003, we linked the traditional concepts of security with the work being done by the Inter-American Committee for the Control of Drug Abuse (CICAD), the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) and the very important de-mining program, to create the current Secretariat.

Within this new Secretariat, we promoted a new form of combating crime in our region which focuses on improving public security, including working in areas such as trafficking in persons and arms, youth gangs and petty crime. I convoked the first meeting of Ministers of Public Security of the Americas in Mexico in 2008, which was the first meeting of such authorities in our hemisphere. The Second Meeting of Ministers of Public Security was held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 2009. All of this allows us to state categorically, that today the OAS has the expertise to deal with this issue of security, which is of primary importance of the citizens of our countries. We tackle these challenges through international training programs, judicial reform and the strengthening of databases on crime.

Now, all this has had –as mentioned here- a substantive effort to improve the financing, transparency and rendition of accounts in the OAS. Here, I say that when I took on this function, the institution was in a financial crisis, but there is no way better to say it than to read a phrase pronounced by Ambassador Luigi Einaudi when he handed me the OAS in 2005. I am going to read it in the language in which he pronounced it –there is a translation- he referred it to the structural reform that my predecessor, President Angel Rodriguez, was able to achieve, reform that works until today, and it says; “Unfortunately, though our structure is renewed, our finances are still in disrepair. It is as though our great ship had no maintenance for its engines and nothing more for sails than patchwork rags fit for an aging catamaran. Even with the savings achieved by the restructuring process, and even if existing quotas are paid in full and on time, income does not meet minimal operating requirements.” The Secretary General in transition of the OAS, with eight months in charge, and a long service as Assistant Secretary General, thought that even with all these reforms that were done and charging all the quotes the minimum requirements were still not received. In a more realistic manner, our new director, our Secretary of Finance, Ambassador Almaguer, notified a few days later that with the income that we had there would probably be no salary to pay the organization for the month of October.

Today, we have a financed budget, with almost all member States making their quota payments in a timely fashion, as well as a transparent and accountable organization, which has received the stamp of approval of the Board of External Auditors and the independent auditors who evaluate the execution of our programs and projects. The OAS has been able to get back on sound financial footing with the great effort made by member countries to update their accounts and to pay their quotas on time. In addition, we have linked all the specific funds to programs with clear and explicit objectives, with a strong system of accountability, open to whom ever would like to review it.

How do we maintain the positive momentum that we have developed over the past few years?

First, we must strengthen our multilateralism: broad, modern and inclusive.

There are those, who confronted with any kind of conflict or discrepancy, seek almost automatically to impose sanctions, to exclude and to divide, a course that has harmed us greatly in the past. I do not want an OAS defined by Cold War multilateralism, which characterized by confrontation, neither do I want a supra-national OAS, which seeks to impose solutions or lecture member States. This style, which is nostalgic of the Cold War era, is buried in the past and no longer has a place in this Organization. What I do want, on the other hand, is an OAS that is genuinely multilateral, in which all of us build together on the basis of common principles. As President Obama has suggested, you don’t impose democracy from outside. Rather you need to build it from the inside. It is built mainly by the very citizens and social organizations of the member countries.

I believe in an OAS that is represented in all of the countries of the region, capable of transmitting our message and helping to deliver our programs. I believe in cooperating closely with the United Nations, with the institutions of the inter-American system, and with the sub-regional groupings and organs that our members may create in the future. I don’t share the concerns and apprehensions that have recently arisen due to the creation of new forums for dialogue. None of these new groupings will compete with the OAS as long as they remain truly multilateral. All of them could benefit from the internal and judicial capacity that our Organization has been developing in these past years.

The Summit of the Americas should be held every three years. And it should be an event clearly aligned with the work and strategy of our Organization. I hope that I can take the necessary steps to develop these links in a more coherent way than we have done in the past.

Second, under this rubric of modern multilateralism -- like it is practiced in the European Union and should be practiced in the Organization of American States -- where nations use their political institutions to debate and to reach consensus on a common agenda. This agenda includes traditional topics like the prevention of conflict among nations, but goes beyond inter-state relations. In modern multilateralism, we don’t just commit our countries to common standards in the areas of democracy, human rights, security and development, but we also forge in consensus, the networks and the mechanisms that support or implement the agreed upon commitments. In other words, our countries do not build democracy from outside. Rather, they commit to it in a voluntary manner and seek to perfect it through mechanisms of consensus.

We already have mechanisms of this kind in some areas of the OAS, including the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism on drugs, those that follow up on the Inter-American Convention on Corruption and the Convention of Belem do Para; and especially, the oldest and most advanced mechanism in the area of human rights.

Our Inter-American Democratic Charter combines the detailed description of the distinct components of democracy, with specific courses to take when it is being threatened. However, it still has weaknesses in the mechanisms available to prevent breaks in democracy and the promotion of its contents.

I hope that in my second term, we will be able to strengthen our capacity to identify potential problems and to better anticipate critical situations that could threaten democracy in one of our member States. I’m convinced that if we anticipate conflicts and act in consensus we can be useful and constructive to avoid new ruptures of democracy. We need to be more flexible in our interpretation of the situations where, in reliance on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the General Secretariat could respond to potential instability in some member States. This approach could be useful in the politics of prevention. The same could be said with respect to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which still has to be invited by a member Government to review the internal situation.

We also need to intensify support for democratic governance and align all of the various efforts [being by the OAS] to improve the institutions of our society. This will show that democracy really can improve the lives of our citizens. Respect for the Rule of Law and its institutions, the existence of an independent and efficient system of justice, expansive freedom of expression of all of our citizens, the transparency and accountability of government, the full participation of the citizens in work of the government, are some of the priorities that we must continue targeting in our work to improve democratic governance.

We have institutions that we ourselves have created to deliver on our mandates. The inter-American system of human rights must be provided the capacities and financial resources to fulfill their responsibilities. We must also ensure that their decisions are recognized and accepted by everyone. We will make a concerted effort to open sources of external financing to support our human rights institutions, in order to give them better stability in their work. Simultaneously, we will continue to promote the ratification, by all member States, of the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights and respect for decisions based on the Convention. We will intensify our work in the fight against discrimination on the basis of racial, social or sexual orientation. We will also work in the promotion of the rights of persons of African descent and indigenous peoples.

Third, I will work to ensure greater balance in the work of the Organization in the areas of political affairs and integral development. We have said that democracy and integral development are inextricably linked and we must demonstrate this reality on a daily basis. It is true that a statement such as this could be seen as too broad, given the large scope of the concept of integral development in our Organization.

We develop a coherent agenda if we take let our work be guided by the precise mandates handed down by the Summits of the Americas, in areas such as poverty alleviation, decent work, energy, environmental preservation, climate change, science and technology and education; and especially if we adequately coordinate with the other institutions of the inter-American system.

I imagine an OAS that deals in a competitive manner with specific subjects of importance to our member States, such as tourism, trade promotion, early childhood education, youth employment and those subjects related to energy, especially renewable energy. On the other, we must also need to ensure that our actions are focused on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable or our members in the areas of institutional strengthening and capacity building and human development. In this sense, I declare once again, my full support for the Scholarship Programs of the OAS, which has provided and will continue to provide invaluable training of the human resources in our countries.

I must make a special mention of something that has been highlighted by the recent tragedies in some of our countries: the coordination of our efforts in the prevention and response to natural disasters. Our hemisphere, like almost no other, has had to confront in this recent period, the very worst that nature has to offer. Obviously we don’t have, nor do we pretend to have, the resources to face this immense challenge by ourselves. But we need to focus our efforts on the coordination and political guidance that only a modern multilateral organization can deliver.

Fourth, in the area of multidimensional security, we will maintain the emphasis – as we have done up to now – in the areas of public security, drug trafficking, money laundering, organized crime and trafficking persons and arms. In all of these areas, we have developed through the Meetings of Ministers of Justice (REMJA), CICAD, CICTE and our programs of Public Security, important responsibilities, which we must now strengthen.

On the other hand, we must also comply with the mandates of our Organization to improve transparency of military spending and confidence building measures between our member States. The fact that our decade has been peaceful over the last few decades is not a reason to ignore the imbalances that may exist between our countries, and the ongoing conflicts or the importation of extra-continental conflicts into our borders.

Fifth, I propose to give greater attention to the area of gender in the OAS. I’m convinced that this Organization can greatly expand its actions in this area, taking into account its cross-cutting nature. We must move beyond our focus on issues of violence against women and explore other areas where gender plays a role, such as equal employment opportunities, access to high level positions in government and the private sector, women’s right to health and education and other areas where the OAS should play a key role.

It is obvious that in order to achieve these goals, we are going to need more resources. Soon, I hope to be able to present our proposal to deal with the 2011 Annual Budget. And like always –as the Member States would say- they can secure what they estimate convenient, but they must understand that without an adjustment, at least to cover the statutory cost of living adjustment, the Organization will see itself even more limited in what it can accomplish. We can not have expenditures that adjust automatically and incomes that do not adjust automatically.
I will do everything in my power to go beyond the collection of existing quotas and the existing levels of specific funds and to use innovative and creative means to increase the financing of our primary programs through the expansion and diversification of the sources of financing. In this sense, I commit myself to strengthen our strategic alliances with our traditional and new partners, including permanent observers, civil society organizations, international agencies, private sector, and academia among others.

I will continue the process of reforming the internal operations of the General Secretariat, to give focus on those projects that are the priority of our member States; avoid the duplication of efforts and achieve the best strategic alignment possible between the staff, mandates and objectives of the Organization. In this sense, it is an effort that the Permanent Council is doing and it will be of great importance.

Ambassadors, President, the OAS has a long tradition and history of coming together to achieve common objectives and exercising the political will to make them a reality. I ask for your support to build on this tradition and to be your partner in the use of this modern multilateralism to achieve this ambitious agenda to benefit the peoples of the Americas.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.