Media Center



October 8, 2012 - Punta del Este, Uruguay

It is an honor to greet you on behalf of the Organization of American States, the hemispheric political organization of which all of the countries gathered here at the X Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas are members. I would like to commend the Government of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay on its excellent preparation of the Conference and also thank it for its generous hospitality.

This Conference is the main coordinating body of the defense objectives and policies of the democracies of the Americas. I say this because this body is a product and part of the process of democratic renewal that our region has experienced for more than two decades. Previously, during the Cold War, in national security dictatorships and during internal wars, only armies and armed forces would meet and coordinate with each other. The First Conference of Ministers, held in Williamsburg in 1995, introduced to the Hemisphere the fundamental concept that in a democracy the Armed Forces answer and owe obedience to the democratically elected civilian power. That concept was later enshrined in our hemispheric law by our Inter-American Democratic Charter, at Article 4, and I quote:
“The constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority and respect for the rule of law on the part of all institutions and sectors of society are equally essential to democracy.”
That is the precept that we have been strengthening—each in their own way and according to their own reality—in our countries. That is why these meetings of Ministers of Defense are increasingly a sign of our times. Because even though some of our democracies still experience dark periods and the pains of injustice when dialogue gives way to the gun, those times are becoming a thing of the past. Moreover, peace is finding a way in places where conflicts once persisted: if in Williamsburg - 17 years ago - we were glad of the newly attained peace in Central America, here, in Punta del Este, nine conferences later, we can express satisfaction for the dialogue with the FARC that is about to begin, based on a consistent policy of democratic security, and we hope that it bears fruit for our Colombian brothers and sisters. We believe that we made a contribution to the process of dismantling the paramilitary forces during the last decade and we are willing and able to support the results of this new dialogue.

A few months from now we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Security in the Americas adopted at the Special Conference on Security in Mexico City in 2003. In that Declaration, our leaders defined a new concept of security for the Hemisphere, one that is multidimensional in scope and includes both traditional and new threats. They also affirmed their cooperation through recognition of the sovereignty of each state, and acknowledged the solidarity of the American states expressed through that cooperation in all its forms: economic, technical, political, legal, environmental, social, and security and defense, all of which contribute to the stability and security of the states and the Hemisphere as a whole.

Defining the role that our armed forces should play in confronting these new threats is no easy task. But the road traveled in recent years is littered with accomplishments. We remain, above all, a region at peace and we will continue working to cement that peace in different ways, be it through the transparency afforded by our Defense White Papers; the demining of our countries’ borders and interiors, where war sowed a hidden terror (Central America has already been declared an antipersonnel land-mine-free territory and we are proud of our contribution to that effort); the improvement of our security-building measures (here I should mention the significant strides made in this area by the South American Defense Council); strengthening our response capabilities in the face of natural disasters; or joint participation in international peace-keeping missions, which also already includes joint preparation for such missions (we are particularly proud of the role that the Armed Forces of several of our countries have played in the United Nations Mission in Haiti).

However, there are aspects for which there is still no common response and it is doubtful if one will be forthcoming in the immediate future. Times change with uncommon speed and on occasion our nations are caught up in unforeseen events of great magnitude. Sometimes, invoking history is not sufficient justification for protecting valid concepts that may have been acceptable in the past but have been overtaken by the present

A case in point are our efforts against organized crime. In some countries, especially in Mesoamerica, the armed menace of organized crime has surpassed the capacities of the police, forcing governments to turn to the Armed Forces to deal with this scourge. In other cases, that use has been more sporadic and the Armed Forces have been relied on when the need has arisen to recover an area or community under the control of drug traffickers or organized crime conglomerates. In other instances, finally, the Armed Forces help to police maritime, air or land borders, without directly tackling crime within their countries

In my opinion, all of these uses are legitimate and it is up to each country to determine their need. However, it should always be the aim, in the medium term, to have police forces with the capability to tackle crime and leave the Armed Forces to their natural roles. The current situation is an emergency, however long it may last. A good example of this is Mexico, where the federal government has had to call up the Armed Forces to fight organized crime directly. Having said that, it remains a fundamental priority to train a national police force, which is growing rapidly in terms of size and capabilities.

Mr. President, I would like to seize on remarks made earlier by the ministers and heads of delegation to refer to two points which I believe to be of particular concern. I fully agree with the assertion made this morning by the Minister of Defense of Brazil regarding the need for the nuclear powers to help strengthen our Treaty of Tlatelolco by withdrawing their reservations to the Treaty, so as to give it full force and effect in Latin America and the Caribbean as nuclear weapons-free zones. At the same time, I would like to draw attention to and recall the reiterated resolutions of our General Assembly with respect to the need for dialogue on the question of sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, and I adhere fully to the request that no military tests or exercises of any type be conducted in that zone by extra-regional powers

Finally, it would be remiss of me, Ministers, not to refer here to a discussion on the best institutional framework for the defense coordination bodies of our Hemisphere. A resolution recently adopted by the OAS General Assembly in Cochabamba, which decided to initiate a dialogue on the “inter-American defense system,” tells us that the time for that has come. I sincerely offer the good offices of my Organization to that end and would like to share a number of thoughts with you.

In reality, as has been noted, no such “system,” per se, exists. The four institutions that would comprise this “inter-American defense system” each have a distinct origin and reality and were created at different times with no thought given to their being part of any “system.”

The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) was established 70 years ago, in 1942, during wartime, to address the common defense needs of a hemisphere that perceived itself to be under threat. Recently, in 2006, it was classified as a decentralized agency of the OAS but remains under the direction of the delegates of the countries that belong to it.

The Inter-American Defense College, whose main task is to impart the advanced course on hemispheric security and defense (from which 51 classes have now graduated) but which also carries out other very important academic activities, reports to the Board; however, in practice it is independent from it.

The 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance makes repeated mention of the United Nations and the Pan American Union (the forerunner of the OAS, which would be established the following year) as the depositary of that Treaty. However the Treaty does not mention the IADB and, furthermore, for all practical purposes it is defunct, particularly given its complete failure in relation to the war in the South Atlantic.

The fourth institution is this Conference of Defense Ministers. As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, this meeting of a civilian nature created by democratic governments is geared toward cooperation in peacetime. It is the best setting for deciding on any new “inter-American system,” bearing in mind that it has to exist and that the institutions of the past, which in any case need to be renewed, should be incorporated in it (or not).

The topic has only recently come under discussion at the OAS, where in the coming weeks a report from the IADB is to be presented to the Permanent Council, which was entrusted with the discussion of this matter. I would ask, Ministers, that you provide timely and adequate instructions to your delegates, so that we can reach clear decisions on the role of each institution and the tasks that it will perform, as well as on how best to follow up on these Conferences of Defense Ministers. In all of this the assistance of our Organization, offered at several previous meetings, will always be available.

Ministers, Delegates,

There is much to be hoped for from joint action on the part of our Armed Forces to advance peace and democracy. We know that we are living in rapidly changing times at the dawn of a globalized world, that increasingly there are matters that transcend our borders, and that cooperation is the best and only tool for joining efforts for the sake of achieving common imperatives.

I thank you for the opportunity to let me speak, to share the concerns and interests that unite all our countries around the aim of establishing effective cooperation and multilateral assistance mechanisms, respecting the sovereignty of all, harnessing our individual capacities, and, thus, creating greater synergies by which to achieve our cherished common goals of peace and development..

Thank you