Media Center



March 15, 2010 - Washington, DC

Thank you very much. With all due respect, I won’t call that an introduction -- just another intervention in the panel.

I will just try to center on the issues that have become important here. I must admit that I have more or less the same impression of President Torrijos at the beginning. It was basically to discuss the social agenda inside the organization, and I was very much ready for that.

Somebody will say that with 10 days left for the next election of the OAS, and being the only candidate, that probably I shouldn’t come to panels and just stay home and not risk to make any comment that might take any votes from me. But I will go into the matters that have been discussed here.

I think that there are two ways. The first thing I would like to say, I attended the Cancun meeting of the heads of states and governments of Latin America and the Caribbean, as I had attended the previous one, the one and many meetings of the Rio Group and the CALC in Bahia, and I never saw there one danger for the OAS, really. I don’t see how that process, which by the way has a lot of previous rehearsals, can threaten an organization that is … (inaudible)

Those in Cancun were 550 million, and those not in Cancun were 330 million -- I don’t think that you can really compare therefore the OAS to the CALC of the Rio. By the way, the CALC, or what was, I never read in the declaration, I don’t know if somebody read in the statement of the presidents and heads of states in Cancun, any time the word “organization”.

It was never called an organization. It was called a referendum. It was called a discussion and a commonwealth. The issue was discussed, and most of the countries said that they didn’t want to call it an organization and when it was proposed to call it a union, they said that they didn’t want to call it a union either, and that’s why they called it a community, which is not secondary because that means that there’s no attempt to create a parallel institution. That, with all due respect for the freedom of the press, is an invention of some of the press media.

I admit, and here I go into the issue, that one of the things discussed and not agreed on, was that some of the members of that meeting may want an OAS without the United States. As some others, some others that were not present in this but in another one, want an OAS without all those guys who are saying an OAS without the United States. On both sides, there is a concept that’s completely contrary to the whole idea of the Organization of American States.

Article IV of the charter of the OAS says that any independent country that is willing to sign the charter is a member of the Organization of American States. It doesn’t say it has to be rich or poor, small or large. It doesn’t say it has to be socialist or capitalist. It doesn’t have to be one system or the other. It says that any independent state that wants to be a member of the Organization of American States can sign the charter, and that’s a fact.

The OAS was conceived as a multilateral institution, and I make the difference, and I’ll certainly go into the matters of the democratic charter because I think that’s perfectly compatible with the democratic charter. It’s a multilateral institution, not as a separate national institution. As you say, no Security Council, no group of the largest. By the way, if there was a group of the largest, let me tell you that seven or eight countries pay more than 95 percent of the budget of the OAS. So that wouldn’t really serve any purpose. But it was created on the concept that this was a multilateral institution not a supranational institution.

Of course, multilateralism today does not mean the same it meant. By the way, it wasn’t created because the United Nations was not enough. If it were for that, it would be more important to have an OAS today than in 1948 because in 1948 the only Latin American members of the U.N. were one-third of the U.N. Today, all the members of the OAS are one-sixth of the U.N.

But anyway, as I said, if it were only a multilateral institution of the past, then certainly the OAS would be, I would say, like a problem-solver. Problems between Ecuador and Colombia, we try to solve. Problems between Guatemala and Belize, we try to solve. Problems between common countries and that’s what multilateralism was until 1948.

But in the Second World War -- well, after the Second World War, a new form of multilateralism was known. Not in every institution -- not in every institution -- but in some institutions like the European Union, that is very reasonable. Countries not only agree on ways of solving problems between them; they also agree on ways of promoting common values, common purposes and common interests. And that’s what creates a modern multilateral institution.

I think that we’re on the way, on the road to create a modern multilateral institution, and that is why we have a long story, a long history on this. That is what the Inter-American Charter on Human Rights is because human rights are certainly; I mean it can be theoretically, a universal problem. Rights are violated in each country. It’s a common and shared value that falls inside a modern multilateral organization as the Organization of American States. Then that’s what the Inter-American Democratic Charter is. It’s not an imposition. It’s an agreement among sovereign countries. Only nobody said, to join this organization you have to be democratic. I tell the members, I say we are always to be democratic, and we agree on the following notions of democracy -some of them, you were mentioning by the way- not only elections, but several other things. That’s it. I mean we’re not going to also say, we’re going to be democratic in the way we do our elections, when the rest is another matter.

We say we’re going to be democratic and that means elections, and rule of law. It means separation of powers. It means human rights. It means freedom of the press. It means transparency, several other things.

What we are now on the way of creating, and we’re going to create, is the appropriate instruments to make a reality those common values, and we have some of them. The Commission on Human Rights is an instrument to make those values active, and it gets into a lot of trouble for that, of course. There’s always a lot of resistance to that.

Of course, we would all love to have a similar system, a similar universal adherence to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is mandatory and for all the countries to do things. Unfortunately, only the Latin Americans and half the Caribbean, or a little more than half the Caribbean, have signed and ratified the convention on human rights and therefore are members of the court. Some of the countries are not members of the court of human rights.

We have a similar procedure in the Inter-American Convention for Violence against Women. We have a formal verification of countries, that way countries are fulfilling that. We have the same thing on drugs. We have something similar on corruption. We’re moving in that direction, but any movement in that direction necessarily has to understand that this is a multilateral institution.

The old sentence that “fleets sail at the speed of the slower boat, and not the faster boat,” is essential in multilateral institutions. We can do, and here President Camargo once again said the OAS is what its member countries want it to be. It doesn’t have a king a king, it doesn’t have a President.

The other day, I gave an interview to a Colombian magazine, and the title was exactly what I had wanted it to be: I am not the President of the region. I am the Secretary General of the regional organization, and therefore I do exactly what countries want to me to do.

So the answer to why do you go to Venezuela? I mean why do you go to Honduras and not to Venezuela -- that's what the countries decided and the answer to several other things, but that doesn't mean that the organization is not effective, but it has its limits.

Let me show you something about the effectiveness. Honduras was the tenth controversial issue we had to deal with in these five years. The first one was Nicaragua. When I joined the OAS I was immediately called to Nicaragua because the congress was about to vote the president out. We stayed there for about 4 months. It wasn't an easy task precisely because someone in the government, a minister at that time, had proclaimed that the OAS was coming to put things in order. Nobody wanted to talk to us. We had to wait for about 2 days to have the congress receive us because everybody felt that that was not the role of the OAS. But we managed, we kept Dante Caputo there for about 4 months and finally the government finished its term and there was an election and all that.

Then we had Ecuador. There had been the removal of the president because the president had removed the Supreme Court and they didn't have a supreme court, and we went there as observers and finally one was appointed and we followed the Ecuador process all the way. Bolivia was certainly a difficult issue. Now we have to talk about the process of who is the president and we are talking about this is the poorest country in the region in South America and the worst distribution of income in the region. The poorest 20 percent of Bolivians took home less than two percent of national income so that some changes were needed there, not only democratic changes, some other changes were needed there so that the issue wasn't easy, but we stayed on in Bolivia. We had several breakdowns, but we finally managed. Let me say one thing about myself. I was the only international representative of an international organization standing there by the president when he signed the new constitution of Bolivia. And that you would have never dreamed of from the OAS before.

Then we should talk about Guatemala. The president came to say thank you the other day for everything we had done to avoid any kind of breakdown, and several others, of course Colombia and Ecuador. But when we finished the Assembly of the Organization of American States in San Pedro Sula and we had solved the issue of Cuba, I never heard anybody speak any time again about Cuba and the OAS since then. We got rid of an old resolution that was completely cold war. It was a cold war resolution. It spoke about the Sino-Soviet axis, about Marxist-Leninist regimes and about Cuba being a threat to the security of the Americas. It was a cold war resolution. But it was done in a way that Cuba didn't return immediately to the OAS because if they want to come back to the OAS they have to see what they do with the democratic charter and with the Commission on Human Rights. So nobody ever spoke again about Cuba.

When I was leaving the Assembly, somebody said “after this, this is a complete success. Your reelection is assured.” And of course, we had the coup in Honduras a month later and everybody felt that it was a failure after nine cases in which the actions of the OAS had been completely successful.

Let's talk about Honduras. This organization which was only local, that never had anything to do with the U.N. or with the European Union or with anybody, managed to have every country in the world reject the coup in Honduras. I think that was a success by itself and it wouldn't have been achieved by any other organization. I think it is still important that as we move forward to restore Honduras into the organization, something I'm very much in favor of and of doing it as fast as possible, the measure of the situation in Honduras has been normalized. It's precisely that. The OAS after all seems to matter, and I think that when I come to the crux of this matter, we are not threatened by the real group or by the new commonwealth of the Caribbean and Latin American nations, but by somebody who wants to have an OAS without the U.S. or by somebody who wants to have a lot of people out of the OAS and wants to have an OAS with a sword going around the continent creating all kinds of threats and pressures to the countries. We are threatened by our own belief that we can't do it all together. We are threatened by the fact that somebody that wants … (inaudible) … is exactly what was not there when we had the Summit of the Americas at Trinidad and Tobago. At Trinidad and Tobago we had the Summit of the Americas in which the president of the United States came and said very simply that “we want to do policy with you and not for you” and it really felt very well. We all liked that. We want to do that. But if you want to do policy with Latin America you have to accept Latin America as it is. You can't have it your way. This is a region that has changed. The president said that it has changed very much. It has grown economically. It's grown politically. It's much more democratic. And let me say also it's more self-assured and believes more in itself.

We have a lot of problems, yes, but after all it's true as President Toledo said very well, of course there are threats to the movements that come from populism, but as he said, populism finds fertile ground in which to sow. After all, who better than President Hugo Chavez to say as he said when he was inaugurated in 1999, “Gentlemen, I am not the cause, I am the consequence.” So we have a lot of problems to overcome of course and we'll have a lot of setbacks, but it's a continent that is moving. If you want to move with it you have to accept the fact that we have a lot of diversity, that the time to put all of the region by ruling it has not come. By the way, yesterday there was a piece by Álvaro Vargas Llosa in the newspaper in one country about the possibilities of the new Chilean president to back politically in the region and he has a beautiful sentence in the end. He says that “the new president will have a new chance to lead in this continent of sheep without a shepherd.” I don't think that any country in the Americas today feels like a sheep that should be shepherd and unless that is understood, it's very hard to make good policy in Latin America. Yes, we are in for rough times. I think times are not easy because the struggle is on the agenda which is as you said the hemispheric agenda. The hemispheric agenda includes poverty. Poverty is, I would say, in the origin of most of the threats to Latin America today, even if you take environmental matters you will find that the main source of problems in Latin America and the Caribbean is still the lack of sewage, the lack of clean water, the dirty skies, the polluted air, the eroded land, et cetera. Those are big threats. Crime is a big threat. Trade is a big opportunity and a big problem of course and few people understand that most Latin American countries buy more from the U.S. than most of the main partners. I think Brazil must buy as much as China today from the U.S., certainly Argentina or Chile buy more than Russia and Central America buys more than Eastern Europe U.S. products. So trade is also an issue.

Of course, as you know, four out of every five migrants in this region have doubled the migrants than any region that they have in the world. The average of migrants in this region is twice as much as the world's migrants. Most of them come to the U.S. We have a common problem then and it's very difficult to understand why with such a really large common hemispheric problem about which everybody talks in this country, crime, drug traffic, poverty, climate change and natural catastrophes, migration, Latin America and the Caribbean seem to matter so little. I meant to begin initially my comments the same way you began saying after all with Afghanistan and Iraq and all these things, we understand that there is little time to deal with Latin America and the Caribbean, but frankly from my point of view, the problems or the issues that we have to deal with in Latin America and the Caribbean are as large as those, not to mention also the recent possibility of bringing to the region conflicts which are not ours and therefore creating a problem. Fortunately we don't have nuclear proliferation in this region because we have a treaty on nuclear proliferation, but that might be a problem too.

So, what do we have to do I would say? I would say we have to trust the most relevant organization in the region. Of course, there is the possibility of the creation of something new without the U.S. But why not strengthen that organization which is the largest, the oldest, and the strongest one and to which the U.S. belongs? Everybody has been talking about the OAS in the last 2 or 3 months. Unfortunately, the prediction is that after March 24 discussion about the OAS will finish again for a few years. I very much agree with most of the suggestions that have been made. We are trying to implement them and we take note of them, and as you say, some of them are going to appear in our centennial review. The building of the OAS is going to be 100 years by the way on April 28. By the way, President Lleras Camargo was not only president and was not only the first secretary general of the OAS, but he was also the last director general of the Pan-American Union. This is an organization that has a tradition of 100 years. You don't erase that in a few days or in a few years unless those who have to believe most in it cease to believe in it and that is about all I have to say.

Thank you very much