Media Center



January 12, 2007 - Santiago, Chile

We inaugurate this seminar at a very specific time fore Latin America.

Let me begin by recalling that 2006 was a particularly good year for the region. From an economic point of view, for the fourth consecutive year, Latin America saw strong growth, although probably not as much as we had hoped for; this depends on whom we compare ourselves to. If we compare ourselves with Asia, we will probably feel a little reduced, but if we compare with ourselves, it has been 25 years since we had a similar period, which is very important and important to highlight. A fifth consecutive year of growth will be announced for Latin America, that which is accompanied by something unexpected but very valuable, the latest figures from ECLAC of poverty reduction in the region. Many are poor, it is true: 208 million, and about 80 million indigents, as said by Don José Luis Machinea. But, it is important that at some point those figures decrease and do not increase. It is good that there are different programs in various governments and in various countries aimed at addressing this serious problem.

From a political standpoint, on Monday, a cycle will close with the inauguration of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa. It will be the seventeenth ceremony of this kind taking place in the region in just over a year, which includes thirteen presidential elections, three parliamentary elections, and a change of government in the case of Jamaica, not by choice but given the mechanics of the parliamentary regime.

Seventeen is half of the members of the Organization of American States, and never before has there been so many democratic electoral events as what has occurred in the past year. This amount of presidential elections, plus the two referendum and parliamentary elections, tell us of something that is unparalleled in the history of the region, more so when we can say it ourselves because we have been observers in the vast majority of these processes.

In general, elections were clean, calm, competitive, with clear but very narrow results; some did not like the results, because the more narrow the results, the less the loser likes the results; one suffers more when the results are close.

We have put our certificate of observation in these processes, using highly technical capabilities in the field, in the sense that these elections constitute a great progress. Ten years ago, we had not had the electoral processes that we know today, and there are probably many things that will change in the future, but in electoral matters there is no doubt that Latin America has had enormous progress, fully expressed in 2006.

This year we are preparing to face a period where there will certainly be some difficulties. There are not many elections; we only have two presidential elections scheduled. As we know, in parliamentary regimes, the elections can occur at shorter intervals, but by the end of the year there will be electoral processes in Argentina and Guatemala. The question is: will their government's resist the big problems they must confront?

This will be a year where political governance and stability will gain greater importance.

I have often said that one of the great things that has occurred since I came to the OAS is that of the four crises than had taken place when I arrived, none remain today. These crises were extinguished and no new crises have emerged. However, perhaps the deduction drawn by Marta Lagos in the last Latin barometer survey is true—which, to me, is a very important and relevant instrument for work—and, which states that in countries where there have been elections their tendency to support democracy increases. One could understand, therefore, that democracy is an escape valve, or that democratic elections are a valve through which tensions are channeled, and citizens have a general feeling that they are participating in a democracy. This year the factors and variables are different, so we must pay much more attention to governance issues and outstanding problems in Latin America. José Antonio (Viera-Gallo) and Alejandro (Foxley) have very aptly mentioned this.

We live in a region where economic development issues, poverty, and inequality, including problems of violence and organized crime are very pressing; if you ask people what their main problems are, they probably will not say fair elections, but rather they mention crime, poverty, and unemployment, going beyond all the fireworks and lights that accompany the electoral process and democracy. The question then for all governments, whether right wing, left wing, or center is the following: Will they be able to address these problems? Will they be able, over the coming months, to positively respond to the question that was once asked of President Clinton? According to him, the only valid measure for a democratic government, or to assess a democratic government, was to ask oneself, “Is your country better off the day you leave office compared to the day you arrived?” That is the test for all democracies. Democracies are essentially incremental, and as Alejandra Lagos stated—they allow for a measure of continuity that is essential to shape stable development and progress in a country. Therefore, and considering that this measure is incremental, has this country improved? Is this country better off? That is what we have to assess: if our Latin American and the Caribbean regions are able to meet that test in the coming period. We, at least, are still working on that.

At the Organization of American States, we have important mandates on deepening democracy, stability, and governance. These mandates are known by all: they include human rights, special issues such as violence against women, prison problems, discrimination and freedom of expression, enhancing democratic governance, transparency issues, and other relevant issues such as drugs, organized crime, and the environment.

But, the core mandate of the OAS is a political mandate. It is important to understand, along with the abovementioned, what is not our mandate as an organization. It is not stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter that the OAS has something to do with the economic or social organization that countries assume. We can have an opinion, and certainly we do have one, but it is not part of our mandate. What is part of our mandate are the issues I have mentioned: human rights, freedom of opinion, transparency of government and its quality, separation of powers, the strengthening and separation of powers in a democratic State. For said reason, the Inter-American Democratic Charter was written and signed on such a dramatic day, September 11, 2001. It is our duty to permanently promote this dimension of American politics, and that has, of course, difficulties that must be recognized.

The truth is that I am calmer now, and I get a little happier when I read the newspapers and notice they're talking about the OAS; that is important. What is fundamental is that political organizations be relevant in the dimension where they should be taking action, and that when they speak, they are heard and are able to fulfill their roles.

This year we have faced many crises, yet the truth is that this has been the case since I took office, when the day after the opening of the OAS General Assembly, Bolivia requested urgent assistance from us. Since then, we have confronted crises and we have done it well, with energy and enthusiasm, attempting to make a difference. This seminar is for that; discussing issues that are related to stability and governance are not easy in regimes in which, as noted by Arturo Valenzuela in his address, presidential democracies often overlook the necessary balances, and often there are governments with enormous power that lose their majority and become weak and ineffective governments. We have to see identify how to confront these problems, how we perfect our democracy; but, we have to identify, specifically, how to make a difference as the Organization of American States.

I want to thank you all for making this seminar possible. I acknowledge the presence of several ambassadors of the Organization of American States, and particularly acknowledge the President of our Permanent Council, the Ambassador of Uruguay. I also am very thankful for the support of the Chilean Foreign Ministry and the government of Canada, represented by its Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States.

I think that on this path we are headed in the right direction. Let us keep working, and I hope we have a very good seminar.

Thank you very much,