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Speeches

NESTOR MENDEZ, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
AT THE 10 MOST INFLUENTIAL HISPANIC CANADIANS

December 15, 2016 - Toromto, Canada


*Check against delivery*

Latin Americans in Canada are a growing and vibrant community that cares about what goes on in the region. The world needs more Canada – and you have the power to ensure the region remains prominent in terms of Canada’s development programs and foreign policy to defend democracy and human rights in the region.

Dear friends,

I want to thank Mauricio Ospina of the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance, the Canadian Hispanic Congress, and the sponsors of tonight’s ceremony, for the kind invitation to be here with you tonight.

Canada, a nation of immigrants, opened its doors in the 1970s to Latin Americans fleeing political persecution in Chile and Ecuador, and then again, in the 1980s and early 90s to Central Americans fleeing the civil wars that ravaged the Isthmus.

Between 1996 and 2001, the number of Latin Americans in Canada increased by 32 percent, while the overall Canadian population grew by only 4 percent during that time.

By 2006, more than half a million Latin Americans lived in Canada. Today, it is estimated that close to 1 million live here.

After a half-century of immigration, the Latin American-Canadian community is reaching a level of maturity and organization with social and political visibility that is unprecedented in the history of this country.

This community cares about what is happening in Latin America. Not only were many members of this community born there, but they preserve close family ties, and maintain important bonds to their countries of birth, or their parents’ country of origin.

The good news is that Latin America today is radically different from what it was only a few decades ago when initial waves of immigrants came to Canada.

Despite all of its flaws, democracy is the most common form of government practiced in the region.

We have built a Hemisphere on a foundation of a common vision of the shared values we believe in- a vision of inclusiveness, democracy, universal freedoms and human rights.

The OAS

Today, the OAS brings together all independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political forum in the Hemisphere.

The principles of the OAS are clearly articulated in its founding documents - the OAS Charter, the American Charter of Human Rights, the Inter-American Conventions, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

They outline these fundamental beliefs and ideals what we have all agreed upon and recognize a series of rights as well as obligations that ensure a basic well-being for our citizens.

The promise and opportunity of the Hemisphere lie in the shared values of the OAS, where stronger democracies, clearer rule of law, more opportunity, and a more consistent and reliable business environment are the keys to success.
I was elected to this position on a campaign of “More Rights for More People”, and this is now the centerpiece of our engagement. The Hemisphere remains one of the most unequal, and its citizens are tired of the exclusion; we are weary of racism, of persecution, of prejudice, and of sterile conflicts.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that the rights recognized in all those international agreements are actually made available to the citizens of the Hemisphere. We need to ensure there is more democracy, more rights, more security and more prosperity for all.

In the hemisphere, there are certainly countries with different systems, different levels of political maturity, and different levels of democratic and institutional consolidation.

But overall, today we have stronger democratic governance, better social protection policies and more integrated economies.

However, we cannot become complacent about the gains in democratic governance and economic progress. There are real and present risks in many countries across the region.

We are witness to democratic governance under severe strain in a handful of countries, and completely absent in one, in particular.

Some of the principal threats and challenges are a result of weak institutions and poor social services, combined with increasing demands from the citizenry.

Weak rule of law and growing insecurity, inequality and social exclusion; political polarization, corruption, the erosion of political and human rights, weak political parties, and the closure of civic space are some of the main issues undermining democratic consolidation in the region.

It threatens the stability, prosperity, and security of family, friends, and fellow citizens of the Americas.

Canadian Latin-Americans need to be concerned about these developments. You need to make your voices heard by policymakers in Canada.

Canada & Latin America

We are at an interesting juncture in modern history. There is a trend in some of the most developed economies, most recently in the United States, of a growing appetite for populist politics.

Canada has the opportunity to place a distinct role in this conversation. At a time where there is an increasing trend towards isolationism, Canada has reinforced its commitment to pluralism, openness and inclusivity-- a view, I will point out, that is much welcomed in Latin America.

Canada’s priorities are in line with those of the majority of the hemisphere; inclusive growth, increasing economic integration, clean energy and multilateral cooperation.
Canada’s approach to the region has been unique. You have maintained a historically open relationship with Cuba, even when it was unpopular. The recent move to lift the visa requirement for Mexican visitors is seen as a public declaration of its openness to Latin America.

With close to 1.5 million people with Latin American and Caribbean roots living in Canada, this is an occasion to strengthen the already vibrant people-to-people ties. It is also an opportunity to forge new relationships with friends and allies throughout the Hemisphere.

Canada has been an important donor and contributor to the OAS and its activities, and must be thanked for its integral contributions and financial support.

However, I would argue that Canada plays a much more important role.

Canada is our partner at the OAS. It has been a strong advocate in modernizing the institution and is a leader in our discussions at the Permanent Council. A strong advocate for universal freedoms, democracy and human rights, it was at the 2001 Summit of the Americas, hosted in Quebec City that the idea of an Inter-American Democratic Charter- which is a true constitution for the Americas- was born.

This is a powerful message. In response, Latin America welcomes more Canada, and this moment offers a real opportunity for Canada to engage.

The OAS as a Forum for Dialogue

One of the most important roles the OAS plays in the Hemisphere is in facilitating dialogue for the prevention, management and resolution of crisis & conflict.

Every major Special Mission the OAS has conducted – from the longstanding Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia to the Mission in Haiti to the recently initiated Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras- Canada has been a leader, and strategic partner for the OAS, all of its Member States and the people of the Americas.

The message is clear, in a world increasingly resistant to “intrusion into domestic affairs”; Canada has a strong voice, and a distinct position that regional solidarity cannot come at the cost of human rights abuses, undermining democratic institutions and exclusionary policies.

Case and point:

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela remains devastating. What should be one of the wealthiest countries in the region is instead one where all aspects of life in the country — humanitarian, social, economic, and political—continue to deteriorate even further.

In June, I presented a report on the humanitarian and political crisis in the country. That was six months ago.

Six months ago I was convinced that democracy in Venezuela was already severly under threat. The International community urgently needed to respond to defend the rights and welfare of the Venezuelan people.

Yes, dialogue it necessary.

However, dialogue is more than words. In order to make dialgoue effective, it must be accompanied by action, with results that come in a reasonable time frame.

Dialogue cannot exist when voices are not hear, or when voices have been silenced. Dialogue cannot exist when its advocates have been jailed for their ideas.

It is the lack of dialogue that is the first sign of failure in a political system.

In Venezuela, the process of dialogue has simply become a smoke screen to perpetuate the power of the Executive by subverting democracy.

In Nicaragua the OAS has been able to enter into a structured dialogue with the Government with the expectation that some specific results can be achieved to strengthen the democratic space in that country, giving voice to the people.

Our goal is to build the confidence needed for a successful dialogue.

The OAS has also proudly been able to support historic step forward with the signing of the peace deal in Colombia. Even after the setback of the referendum, all parties were committed to achieving a sustainable outcome.

The OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process will continue to monitor the situation on the ground in the post-conflict period.

The peace and success achieved is a result of precisely the constructive dialogue that would benefit its neighbors.

In Haiti, it is this type of meaningful dialogue that will be necessary to resolve the political impasse we’ve seen keep the country at a standstill.

The preliminary results place of the long-awaited presidential rerun places Mr. Jovenel Mois comfortably in the lead. However, the political landscape ahead is characterized by:

Another urgent humanitarian disaster from hurricane Matthew;

A deeply divided political class and dysfunctional democratic institutions;

The widespread rejection of status quo; and

The fatigue of the international community leading to a more cautious approach to development cooperation financing.

It is only meaningful and inclusive dialogue that will ensure progress is rooted in concrete results and sustainable reform. The interests of the Haitian people must supersede partisan interests.

Democracy & Human Rights in the Inter-American System

Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy do not only exist when it is convenient. Or solely when they reinforce what we want. They must exist always. You have to care as much as about your opponent’s rights to express their views, as you do about your own.

The ethical and moral values that we define in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the OAS Charter or the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, for instance, mean nothing, if we do not make them a daily reality for the people of the Americas. Values must come before political interests. When we lose these values, we all lose; society loses.

When there are violations, we have an obligation to address them. Words are not enough; we must be prepared to act- Especially when it is difficult to do so.

As Desmond Tutu famously once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” There is no small country when you are defending big principles. All countries can demonstrate their commitment to these ideals.

This Organization, this community of states, is vital to ensuring the fullest possible observance of human rights in the Hemisphere, and an essential instrument for safeguarding democracy.

As the Secretary General of the OAS, it is my responsibility to champion and protect these values at the core of this institution, and at the very heart of the Americas.

As Secretary General, I must represent governments but I must also represent the opposition. I must be a voice of those without a voice; those most discriminated against. I must be a voice of those who suffer inequality; who suffer from the lack of protection of their rights; and I must be the staunchest defender of those rights.

Jose Antonio Marina says that the reason our societies fail is because we develop unjust societies. Democracy means nothing if we don’t commit to work for democratization every single day. If we don’t provide equal access to rights, if we keep our societies in the Americas among the most unequal in the world, we will never be able to achieve the right functioning of Democracy.

This is reason I took on this post. To meet this commitment to ensure that in the Americas, we can achieve more rights for more people.

I come back to my raison d’etre of “More rights for more people.” The unequal distribution of income, access to basic goods or services, and justice are a constant factor that directly affect the full enjoyment of our citizens political, economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights are at the very core of equality.

Reaffirming that the promotion and protection of human rights is a prerequisite for the existence of a democratic society, and recognizing the importance of the continuous development and strengthening of the inter-American human rights system for the consolidation of democracy,
It is incumbent on all of us as politicians, as leaders, as diplomats, as civil society, as citizens of the Americas to achieve greater equality for people.

Greater equality will deliver better citizens. The elimination of discrimination will deliver better citizens.

Corruption

Another challenge is central to the region’s stability and growth; that is: corruption.

Besides undermining trust in the government, corruption directly affects the citizens economically. Fighting corruption is a key aspect of the democratic exercise power enshrined in the OAS, and is a priority for all Member States. This has also been a focus of my term here at the OAS, from the outset.

Across the Americas, corruption among politicians has mobilized citizens to take to the streets demanding transparency and the end of corruption and impunity.

In Honduras the people protested in indignation over government corruption. This is why the bold and ambitious Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, or the MACCIH, was created.

The follow up mechanism to implement the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, MESICIC, is another example of a key OAS tool to support strengthening accountability and openness among Members States. The fact that is includes almost all member states voluntarily participating in the process, stands on its own.

Last Friday was the International Day for Anti-Corruption. Your foreign minister, Mr. Stéphane Dion stated that “Corruption is a major obstacle to sustainable development and is destructive in all its forms.”

I couldn't agree more. Our moral principles mean nothing if we do not fight every day against corruption, and if we do not address the enormous inequalities our citizens face in access to rights.

Conclusion

Dear friends:

Latin America today is indeed radically different place from what it was thirty years ago.

The common values and shared commitment to openness, democracy and cooperation defines us a Hemisphere.

Whether the issue is the defense of human rights, combating corruption, or working toward peace and reconciliation, these are issues on which we share a common vision in the Americas.

This is the role of the Organization of American States: a forum for meaningful dialogue, that pushes us forward towards the fulfillment of the vision for our Americas that we all share, we have all expressed, and to which we have all committed ourselves.

You as the representatives of the Latin American diaspora in Canada can help.