Media Center



September 10, 2009 - Washington, DC

My friends, this is an annual conference; hence, it is appropriate to refer to what has happened over the last twelve months and to draw conclusions from it that can guide our efforts. I believe that many events have taken place this past year that open up avenues to strengthen our inter-American relations, but we can also see the difficulties involved. Consequently, I am going to reflect on the most fundamental events that took place during the year, regarding which we should extract conclusions for the future.

First, evidently, is the global crisis and its impact in Latin America. I am not going to draw conclusions from this; excellent economists have held panel discussions on the issue and I do not pretend to be one; I will therefore limit myself to repeating what was said the first day: we should be careful not to draw conclusions to rapidly, because the worst may not be over, and we could get nasty surprises in the future. In addition, we must consider the fact that we will continue to experience the consequences of the crisis for a long time.

From the political perspective, which is the one from which I want to speak, I consider that there have been some events that have set the course. The first of them is the Summit of the Americas, and we will refer to it in the corresponding tense: the future tense. There is no doubt that the Summit exceeded our expectations; in all aspects. First, it was a Summit of good will, it marked a new beginning. I believe it showed a different willingness to understand by President Barack Obama. And I think about the significance of his phrase of not doing politics for you (the countries of the region), but doing policies together with you; a message that was picked up on and discussed. Furthermore, there was a very interesting constructive climate in which the Presidents were willing to solve problems that had existed during the preparations for the event. It should not be forgotten that we had arrived at the Summit with a serious difficulty concerning the document to be approved during it and, nonetheless, the Heads of State and government, including President Obama, worked to resolve it and were able to do so.

And the result of the Summit was not only a declaration – because declarations often sit on a shelf – but an inter-American agenda that includes the issues that are truly common to all, including the fundamental issue. Perhaps we were more optimistic when we drew up the original agenda for the meeting based on the topic “Human Prosperity” but, ultimately, the theme of the Summit was the global economic crisis, with emphasis on social problems. And advances have been made in this area. The fears that we had are still there; fears of protectionism, erosion of assets; but progress has been made and we hope to continue advancing.

Regarding the issues of social responsibility and social protection, we are inaugurating our Social Protection Network during the United Nations General Assembly in New York within the next 10 days. We have launched our efforts in the energy sector during a first meeting in Lima, developing the idea of “partnership”, which is already in sight; and we can continue to develop a series of initiatives in this field. Regarding narcotics and drugs, I believe we are already having an important discussion. In the area of crime, the most important aspect is that it is the first time that this issue has been brought up in a Summit as the central issue. A question that is fundamental on our agenda. And not only the question of drugs, but also that of related crimes: money-laundering, kidnapping and people trafficking are part of our reality on a continent that has high crime figures. And to respond to this we will hold the Second Meeting of Ministers of Public Security of the Americas in the Dominican Republic at the beginning of November. On the issue of the environment, the most important aspect is that, following Trinidad and Tobago we are all on the same page, contrary to the situation a few months before the meeting. The issue of trade is also important. I hope that some of the things said yesterday can be implemented to obtain the approval of the United States trade agreement with Colombia and Panama, and to approve the preferential treatment for the countries that need it. And all the foregoing was discussed within a central policy framework: that of governance.

I will now turn to the issues that this auditorium considers most important. The fact that the question of Cuba was not dealt with probably helped the Summit of Americas a great deal. Some Presidents mentioned it in their inaugural speeches, demanding the presence of Cuba, but this was all, either to discuss the presence of Cuba or to discuss in detail the problems with Cuba. President Obama had made several very important announcements in the days leading up to the Summit that were fundamental in dissolving tensions. But, unfailingly, when the OAS General Assembly was held 40 days later, the question had to be dealt with and it was. And I believe that it was dealt with successfully.

We abandoned, as I said then, the debris inherited from the Cold War; a resolution that no longer had any reason to exist. But, at the same time, we made it clear that, to belong to and to act in the OAS, it is necessary to respect certain principles and that Cuba may ask to participate in the OAS again to the extent that it is willing to enter into a dialogue with the Permanent Council on the principles that guide the organization. These are included in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other instruments. Then debate continued on the aspect that always leads to discussions: the possibilities of dialogue between Cuba and the United States. Nevertheless, I believe it interesting to mention that this problem that seemed so complicated, appears to have been overcome.

Unfortunately, only a month after the OAS General Assembly, a coup d’état occurred in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. And I would like to refer to this issue because I believe it has been the cause of a much discussion.

The first thing that must be said is that, before discussing what will happen with Honduras or how we can resolve the problem with this country, we must talk about what could have been prevented. Senator Richard Lugar brought up the issue this morning when he indicated that we do not have sufficient instruments to be able to act to avoid the occurrence of this type of event.

If we examine the problems and debates that have taken place in the region over the last five years – the time that I have been in the Organization – the truth is that most of them have been resolved based on the Charter or could have been if the Charter had had some instruments that it does not have. Two of the problems that we have been able to channel based on the Inter-American Democratic Charter are the problem of Nicaragua, in mid-2005, and matters relating to Bolivia throughout these four years. In the former country, we were able to avoid something that could have occurred, a kind of parliamentary coup; in other words the decision taken by Parliament to remove the President for strictly political reasons, and thus shorten his mandate. The Government of Nicaragua, aware that it did not have a majority in Parliament, decided to resort to the Organization of American States. Under Article 18 – I believe – of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Government of President Bolaños of Nicaragua requested a special mission of the OAS to examine the matter. The mission took several months; the crisis was about to occur at any time because we do not have many instrument to avoid such crises happening, but finally we were successful; the government concluded its mandate and elections were held in Nicaragua, observed by the OAS.

Something similar happened in Bolivia, where there has nearly been a confrontation on several occasions in a country that has obviously faced economic, social and political difficulties owing to the profound change that has taken place there. But the Government has had the good sense to have recourse to the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Few people know this, but the OAS missions that have gone to Bolivia have done so at the Government’s request. And, in turn, the Government has acted within the framework of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which establishes that, if a Government considers that democracy is at risk, it can request a special OAS mission. Based on this, we went to observe the discussion with the prefectos, and this led to the approval of the constitutional text.

Now, in Bolivia, we are on the eve of an election, and we trust it will yield a conclusive result with regard to the new authorities who will govern the country under the new Constitution which, at least in part, was the product of a political discussion and not merely imposed by a majority.

Nevertheless, the same has not occurred in Ecuador – I am not referring to today’s Ecuador, but the country before I arrived at the OAS – when President Gutiérrez decided to dissolve the Supreme Court of Justice and appoint another to replace it. This led in the end to the fall of the Government and to the participation of the OAS in the appointment of a new Court of Justice. Why did the OAS not intervene in this case before the events occurred? Because the only way in which it is possible to access the Council of the Organization of American States to request the adoption of a preventive action is at the request of the Government. In brief, the Supreme Court of Ecuador could not have protested saying: “we are being dissolved.” It was simply not empowered to resort to the OAS.

I am going to make a confession; on the first day that I arrived at the OAS, I was asked whether I could receive a delegation of the Nicaraguan Parliament, which had come to speak to me about some serious events that were happening in that country. At the time, I was advised that I should not receive it, because the Government would not like this – and I am talking about 2005. Since then, as you all know, I have received people from other countries; from Venezuela recently, and before that the Bolivian prefectos, but the governments were always aware of these meetings.

A second important aspect of the limitations to the preventive action of the OAS is that it is unclear when or under what conditions a serious interruption of the democratic order occurs or may occur.

I brought up this issue in a report to the OAS Permanent Council, if my memory does not fail me, in March 2007. I recall that it was a report that I had to present on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in September 2006, but that was finally delivered at the beginning of 2007. This is a problem that has an impact on something that affects inter-American relations very profoundly, as Senator Lugar mentioned this morning: how to use the Organization to promote democratic principles and, at the same time, uphold the principle of non-intervention. Naturally, both aspects are very valid, but making them compatible is extremely complicated.

I would like to tell you that, before Honduras, numerous countries indicated that any intervention of the OAS in this type of matter violated the principle of non-interference established in the OAS founding Charter. Consequently, the sudden enthusiasm produced by the Inter-American Democratic Charter should help us revise it.

This revision would not be carried out with the aim that some have of creating a supra-national system to control democracy, such as the one we have in relation to human rights with the Commission and the Court; some kind of grand OAS Commission or Council that decides which countries are democratic and which countries are not. My proposal in this regards is the same as in 2007, which, I understand, will soon be discussed again by the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs: complement the Charter with two elements, with three if possible, because expanding the power of the Secretary General to send missions would be perfect. But the other two aspects are: that all the powers of government (government, in the strictest definition of the term, is all the powers of the State: the Executive, and Legislative and the Judicial) can have recourse to the Inter-American Democratic Charter; in other words, the possibility that other powers of the State can also have recourse to the Democratic Charter before the Organization. And the second aspect is to define more clearly what a “serious interruption” of the democratic order consists of.

I am going to refer to the second aspect in particular. In the debate on what democracy is and what it is not, the Inter-American Democratic Charter adopts the broadest view; it not only defines as democracy the government generated by the people, it not only refers therefore to the generation of government, but also refers to the citizenry and to the development of republican institutions. Nevertheless, if we examine the articles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter that refer to the possibility of the Council taking action, they only indicate this option in relation to the interruption of the constitutional order; in other words, serious matters relating to the interruption of the constitutional order, and this has always been understood as coup d’états or attempted coups.

A broader definition, more adapted to modern doctrine, of what constitutes serious violations of the constitutionals order was proposed by President Carter in the Chair of the Americas – during our first Chair of the Americas, which has now completed almost 40 sessions – in keeping with the definition provided by Robert Dahl in Poliarquía. At that time, he indicated what would be, in his opinion, serious interruptions of the constitutional order that would authorize the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which, I repeat, in its Articles 17 to 21 only refers to risks to or interruptions of the constitutional order. I believe sincerely that an application of these criteria would have allowed a solution of the Honduran before the conflict reached the extremes that it finally attained.

It would be very easy for me to say: “we were going to go to Honduras on Monday morning but the coup d’état happened on Sunday.” It is true; but we were going because the Government of President Zelaya had asked us to go. To the contrary, we had no instrument allowing us to go. Moreover, you must be aware that there was an ongoing discussion on just how serious the situation was, and whether it really threatened the country’s constitutional order. Thus, Honduras has shown us that our instruments of prevention are insufficient. And it is not that we do not know what is happening, but – more serious than that – we cannot act.

What happened in Honduras is clearly a good paradigm, because no country in the world has recognized the de facto regime in Honduras; none – and many people have forgotten this. There is a debate on Honduras; to a certain extent it is academic debate and among people from the world of politics. There can be no doubt that here in the United States, Honduras has become a very emblematic issue. Some eminent individuals who already form part of history have reappeared to talk about the issue, but the reality is that no country in the world, and no international organization, has been willing to recognize the Micheletti regime.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that we are dealing with a coup d’état. It would be difficult to find a better example of a coup d’état than an event in which the President is removed from his house in pajamas at six in the morning by armed soldiers with their faces covered. How do coup d’états happen? Well, just like that. This is called a coup d’état; there is no other name for it, and the reaction of the countries of Latin America was so strong because we recognized this pattern of behavior, and we do not want these situation to happen ever again.

Today many look at what is happening and ask: “why don’t we hold elections and, thus, solve the problem?” The answer is that, in Honduras, the problem is not the elections; the elections had already been announced. The problem is the destitution or the forced exit of a democratically-elected President. And this cannot be rectified based on an election, because, in that case, it would be very easy to oust a President when one does not agree with his government, throw him out of the country and then say: “don’t worry; we’re going to hold elections.”

There are, of course, other problems in the region. I believe that, in some countries, there is a kind of “caesarism”; a sort of personalization of power based on institutions. We must also deal with that problem. But, in Honduras, the problem was the old one: it was a coup d’état and we cannot tolerate another coup d’état in the region. We have instruments to prevent it.

There are some who also ask if we could not have proceeded more gradually, less drastically. But we have no other method. If you examine the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the only tool that exists is suspension and the option is clear: to suspend or not to suspend.

The ¨President Zelaya has not done all he could to improve his situation but, at the same time, he is the legitimate President of Honduras; and how we resolve this matter is what we are trying to decide. Some people referred today to elections organized by an international organization; I have my doubts. Elections organized, for example, by the OAS and supported by the United Nations, would not solve the basic problem: the illegal removal of the constitutional President. This is what we have to resolve and this is what we are trying to do.

Following our trip to Honduras with a group of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, I thought that there was going to be an opening. At least some interesting options were proposed during the mission; some may have been inacceptable, but they were interesting to discuss. Some days ago, however, the discussion ceased and now we are trying to re-open it. Why are we doing this? The answer is, I repeat, because the OAS has no other instrument. Yesterday, we were asked directly why the issue of Honduras continued in discussion. The reason is because economic sanctions do not work; they merely hurt the people that endure them directly and Honduras is already experiencing a difficult economic situation. Consequently, I have rejected a solution that would only hurt the Honduran people as well as the subregional trading system. The other alternative is shotgun diplomacy: we go in and we throw them out. This has also been tried in many countries and has never worked. I want to clarify emphatically: we will never be in favor of intervening in any country, under any circumstance, unless there is a situation that truly endangers the life of a majority or an important part of the population.

Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that an ideological atmosphere characteristic of the Cold War has begun to resurface. A few days ago, I heard Mr. Micheletti speak about how Honduras constituted a barrier against Marxism on the continent and I shuddered to think of my country 35 years ago. Evidently, this introduces an additional problem.

In view of all the foregoing, it is important to raise the question of when a real interruption of the democratic constitutional order occurs; what does an interruption of democracy mean in explicit terms. This will allow us to give ourselves explicit guarantees. In politics also, it is possible to give explicit guarantees. We could say: “We who form the inter-American system undertake not to do such and such things.” Or else: “These are the things that we guarantee for democracy.” We could say all this in more detail and more precisely than in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Set it out in such a way that it can be understood that the democratic order has been interrupted if, for example, there has been a massive electoral fraud or not everyone has been allowed to vote; or if there are signs of massive human rights violations that have affected important groups in the population; or if there has been generalized fraud in the administration of the State. It would be a giant step forward and we should try to attain it in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, defining interruptions much more explicitly, taking charge of them, and expanding access to the multilateral recourses of the OAS to all the powers of the State that consider that the Constitution of their country is being violated.

Thank you very much