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November 22, 2010 - Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

I would like to first, Mr. President, Mr. Minister, reiterate our congratulations to your Government for the excellent organization of this conference and, personally, give our thanks for the generous and fraternal hospitality we have experienced, first in La Paz and then in this beautiful city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It is my hope that we are able to show our gratitude for this attention by working to make this meeting as successful as is deserved by Bolivia.

The countries of the Americas have been united for more than one hundred years, and it is this tradition of unity that explains how, for more than a century, our hemisphere has enjoyed peace and stability—practically unique—in the international stage. That tradition also explains how the Organization of American States has not only remained, in the last hundred years, as the main and oldest political forum in the hemisphere, but also how it has grown from having twenty-one states who have signed the Charter of 1948 to the thirty-five it has now. Currently, all of the sovereign states of the region are members of the Organization of American States.

At the OAS, there are countries of great wing-span amongst those much smaller nations, rich and poor nations, nations of hundreds of millions of people amongst some that are sometimes less than one hundred thousand, members of the Security Council of United Nations amongst countries that do not even have formal armies. And all those Member States are needed if we are to continue to represent the Americas.

The search for agreements through dialogue is the only guarantee for the maintenance of internal cohesion, which would rupture if the smaller nations imposed their numerical criteria on the larger countries on matters that they are not willing to accept, and also if the larger nations imposed their own determinations for the exclusive rule of their power.

A deeper guarantee of unity, coexistence, and peaceful resolution of differences between us is that of international law. Inter-American law and the institutions of the inter-American system remain the most important legal foundations and institutional framework of reference for the creation of lasting agreements and conventions between countries in the Americas.

It is true that after the signing of the Charter of Bogota, in 1948, for more than three decades and in the context of the Cold War, the OAS pulled away from some of these essential references, going as far as to accept, justify, or support regimes created upon the overthrow of governments of a democratic origin. Today, we are all aware, however, that these policies only served to delay for years the restoration of democracy and freedoms to which they were intended to serve. Thus, the OAS has left behind the policy of intervention and has replaced it with a policy of modern multilateralism and international cooperation.

We have accepted principles and established standards regarding sovereignty and the principle of nonintervention, the protection of human rights, defense of democracy, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the legal equality of States, transparency in governance, the protection of the rights of women, non-discrimination against minorities and the disabled, and many others that were developed between us even before they were recognized in other regions of the planet.

In this context, for almost two decades, our Organization has been in a new stage of its existence that had its inaugural moment with the adoption, in June 1991, of Order 1080, and a new and more powerful demonstration the following year, when in December 1992 it signed the Washington Protocol, amending the OAS Charter and declaring the democratic regime as an obligation of the Member States and made it a requisite for its membership and permanence in the inter-American system.

The greatest expression of this new era of the OAS is the Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted in September 2001, wherein it places an emphasis on the definition of the instruments of the organization that can be used to defend and strengthen democracy, and a much broader definition is given that not only demands fair, participatory, and pluralistic elections, but it also emphasizes the exercise of democracy as a practice.

The practice of democracy—pursuant to the Democratic Charter—is, among other things, the rule of law, respect for the institutions, and the subordination of all to democratically elected civil authority, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the link established between political democracy and economic and social progress, the participation of the citizenry, respect for labor rights, and legal equality of women.

The principle is simple: in an organization of sovereign nations, we must only facilitate understanding, so that solutions are reached by the protagonists themselves, without undue external interference. We will continue to seek ways to solve the problems that lie ahead and avoid breakdowns of democracy or conflicts between our members. Latin America and the Caribbean are regions of peace and should remain so. In the OAS, Member Countries will be provided a space on the basis of willingness to dialogue and peaceful resolution of differences.

As part of their own political goals, many governments in our hemisphere have proposed, with dissimilar results, to carry out deep political transformations. However, what we hope to emphasize today is that all these processes are performed in the context of respect for the Constitution and the laws, and that when the results are adverse to their desires, the governments accept this without exception.

The rich experience we experience, shows that this hemisphere, which has a huge diversity of peoples, languages, cultures, geography, size, and wealth, is willing to collectively overcome the difficulties it faces, a common democratic vocation and the decision to live as brothers and resolve differences through political dialogue, building of consensus, maintaining peace and uniform actions of all the countries of the Americas, without exception.

In this context, contemporary Armed Forces are called to be a direct object of the activity of States in the field of international relations.

The Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas has played an important and necessary role since its first meeting, more than fifteen years ago, in Williamsburg, Virginia. The defense ministers could and should have contributed to the consolidation of the best possible relations between the countries of our hemisphere, and they have been actively doing so since.

This option was favored, in my opinion, because the Defense actors were also active participants in producing harmony and good relations between our nations within a framework of democracy and stability, allowing for an advancement from an ideal that emphasized territorial security to one that made the human being the direct object of the security.

We left behind an ideal that entailed security as associated with the possibility of armed conflict between us. The new ideal, which we called Multidimensional Security, stems from a point of view of cooperation when confronted with many different situations, from natural disasters and pandemics to transnational crime and terrorism, but also threats to national, regional, and international security.

All this requires us to reconcile all the possible scenarios of today with a clear willingness of subordination by military to civilian commands, avoiding any temptation to extend their roles unto tasks that are not compatible with their nature.

I think those risks have been overcome by the successive agreements reached in this matter by the States that make up the inter-American system. In particular, those which stemmed from the Thirty-Second General Assembly of the OAS, held in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 2002 and, especially, those that were achieved in the Special Conference on Security held in Mexico City in 2003, wherein a definition was set for Multidimensional Security that overcomes, in my opinion, the apparent contradiction between amplitude and coherence, by means of identifying sets of situations that a security policy will confront.

This need for joint action by institutions and social actors has been in the spirit and letter of our major declarations on the matter, since the Declaration of Santiago in 1991. It is present in the “Williamsburg Principles,” reached at the First Conference of Ministers of Defense in 1995. In a particular manner, it is present in the “spirit of Williamsburg” that was behind these agreements and that called for the consolidation of democracy as the only option to preserve the security of the hemisphere, to improve political leadership of Defense so as to create a real subordination of political power, and to resume the preparation and training of civilians for political leadership, in order for the political institutions of Defense to be able to actually exercise their right and be transparent in relation to these matters.

The democratic spirit and subordination of military activity to that of political authority, as well as the inclusive vision of all the problems and situations that threaten security in our hemisphere, promote and facilitate joint action by institutions and stakeholders to address these threats.

A multidimensional threat to security requires joint and coordinated response from institutions such as the Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Security or of the Interior. This becomes increasingly essential to the collaboration of civil society organizations, as support to and complement of the institutional action.

As I have stated on other occasions, the Special Conference on Security held in Mexico City in 2003, specifically noted that “the basis and rationale for security is the protection of the human person.”

In this context, we have identified a wide range of situations that threaten the safety of the citizens of our region, wherein the elimination of such threats requires the concerted action of many actors, among which the Armed Forces play an important role. This has meant that, without neglecting its mandate, which is related to defense against external threats, the Armed Forces have developed other important skills and today act as a complement to the action of the other state agencies in the development of physical infrastructures, in the integration of remote regions, in the provision of assistance in disaster situations, in health and literacy campaigns, and in making significant contributions to scientific and technological development.

This year began with some difficult situations on the matter, and I take this opportunity to acknowledge the presence of troops in many countries of our region in Haiti and the cooperation provided in order to deal with such a terrible tragedy, which cost almost 250 thousand lives. I also acknowledge the role played by the Armed Forces of Chile in the disaster that took place in that country this year, and the cooperation they have received from the Armed Forces of other countries in rescue operations and aid to victims.

Other countries have recently been harmed by similar occurrences, but we can be sure that their Armed Forces, supported by the rest of the region, have been willing to put all of their skills, technology, and tenacity, which is characteristic of the military profession, in order to mitigate the suffering caused by these tragedies, the provision of safety and security, and collaboration in reconstruction tasks.

These commitments are probably the best way to illustrate, in the present, the concept of Multidimensional Security that guides our footsteps. The notion is that a secure hemisphere is a hemisphere where human beings are free from want, but also free from fear. Based on this concept, we can say that, for the OAS, the primary safety concern is the people.

I cannot but recall that in some countries the Armed Forces have had to assume important roles in domestic plans given the escalating armed threat of drug trafficking and criminal gangs. This is an issue in which, as we too-well know, our countries do not have a common doctrine, and therefore, we must respect that the needs of each country will determine what exact role the Armed Forces play, without allowing for a pattern to develop.

It was following these new approaches that the OAS General Secretariat in 2005 created the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security as one of its principle areas of management. Following this paradigm, it also amended the Statute of the Inter-American Defense Board, now an organic part of the Organization of American States.

In the same context, and in the context provided by its Statute, the Inter-American Defense Board has been very effective in the tasks with which it has been entrusted. It has collaborated with States in the development of the “White Books of National Defense,” –which has brought with it transparency to the information and justification for the acquisition of armaments,—has participated in campaigns and actions that have developed due to natural disasters, and –in a special manner, I would like to highlight—the important action in humanitarian demining in many countries of our region, and that will lead us, this year, to declare Central America as a zone free of antipersonnel mines. The Inter-American Defense Board has also collaborated with the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security in the analysis of the notifications from Member States on the implementation of the Measures to Promote Confidence and Security. A few days ago, on November 15 and 16, the Fourth Forum on Measures of Confidence and Security was held in Lima, Peru.

For that reason, two years ago in Banff, I offered to make the General Secretariat of the OAS and its key technical agency, the Inter-American Defense Board, as the seat of the institutional memory of this Conference. I am pleased to see that they have placed said responsibility in the hands of the Inter-American Defense Board. Today, I reiterate to you our desire for this Board, a technical advising agency of the highest level of the OAS General Secretariat, fulfill duties as Executive Secretary of this Meeting of the Ministers of Defense.

We are the leading political organization in the hemisphere, the only one that brings together all of the States represented at this Conference. Our mission is to guard the important ideals of the inter-American system and to act as a repository for the important legal instruments, which thereby allow for the peaceful resolution of disputes. We act as Secretariat of the Inter-American Ministerial meeting on Education, Energy, Environment, Transportation, Labor, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Public Safety. Being the OAS, of course, the home of the American States, it follows that it house and facilitate the meetings and the coordination of the main institutions of those States.

In the coming months we will initiate a major work of adaptation of our Inter-American Board, so as to better integrate it within the OAS and to place it in a position where it may comply with the tasks incumbent upon it as a specialized agency within our organization. Clear guidance from the Defense Ministers meeting here today will be very useful in this area.

No I can only wish them luck and much success in their deliberations.

Thank you very much.