Media Center



June 26, 2019 - Medellin, Colombia

Seventy one years ago, our countries took an innovative step when they decided to work together to protect freedom, democracy, and human rights in the Hemisphere.

In fact, they gave new instruments to old republican principles dating back to the Pan American Union; and even before that, they gave new instruments to our independence constitutions and to the Congress of Angostura. We were pioneers in deciding to preserve our principles and values, based on hemispheric solidarity.

It’s not for nothing that the OAS is recognized as the world’s oldest regional organization; not in vain does it have the central role in dealing with the Hemisphere’s policy agenda.

Your Excellency, the President of the Republic; Distinguished First Lady, Marta Lucía; Carlos; Luis; Federico; Nestor; Distinguished Ministers; Heads of Delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends all:

Jointly protecting the value of life and the value of peace among nations and as the highest expression of that recognition of the work of the Organization of American States, we were innovators in these lands from the beginning – our national identities were forged with war; we carry in our DNA the gene of the fight for liberty.

Peace in our Hemisphere was built by fighting for freedom.
No oppression, no dictatorship, no torture, no assassination was ever able to stop us. Peace can only be had by having our rights recognized.

By simply cooperating among ourselves, we can all create a system that brings us the necessary guarantees to live in peace and to preserve fundamental freedoms. Together we can all ensure justice for our people – justice that has to do with living with dignity and has to do with everyone’s wellbeing, but justice that gets rid of impunity as well.

That is the essence of what has brought us together here today –– for the forty-ninth time –– to continue looking for answers and solutions together: to seek to make people’s rights a reality. “More rights for more people” also involves more peace, more sovereignty, more justice.
That’s the essence of multilateralism and that’s the raison d'être of this organization.

It is good for us to go through this long-term memory exercise, to feel the weight of history and the weight of our commitment to people, who must be more alive today than ever before. The risk of the day-to-day, bureaucratic exercise of multilateralism that often gets entangled in pipe dreams and lengthy discussions that instead of bringing us together take us further away from that commitment.

In that sense, innovation today is of immeasurable value. Defend the age-old principles, the crucial fundamental freedoms, with new instruments and modern tools.

People today want to be heard and can be heard. They need to be heard. The huge benefits of technological innovation to keep cutting down on distances and getting closer to people’s needs. This is the best chance we have to strengthen that human connection. Hence, our understanding that the theme chosen by Colombia is the right theme; it is a discussion that we owe ourselves in order for the OAS to quit moving from the twentieth century to the twenty-first century.

This is the best chance we have to strengthen that human connection. From coding, to Internet access, to smart phones, to new, inclusive financial technologies.

Technology allows us to listen and to solve problems; and to bring rights closer to the people, to place at their disposal more efficient institutions and the necessary services to address their complaints. People today cannot understand and should not understand that multilateral organizations can be blind, deaf, and mute. They insist that we assume our responsibility, they demand that we feel what they feel, they demand that we talk about their complaints. People today need new efficiency standards to guarantee them their rights in real time; to attack corruption in real time; to attack drug trafficking in real time; and to attack organized crime in real time.

It is our duty to nurture that connection as the best way to guarantee human rights – now more than ever, we need to protect and promote freedom of expression.
Unfortunately we have to witness how the worst tyrants seek to muzzle citizens, break them, and keep them in misery so they can’t find even the strength to claim what is rightfully theirs.

Silencing people is the strongest way to break a people’s sovereignty.

We cannot stand by and feel comfortable witnessing this reality, while at the same seeing dictators use new technologies to more effectively repress and censor and to hide the aberrations they carry out on a daily basis.

As the voice of the oppressed, the voice of those discriminated that suffer discrimination, the voice of the voiceless, the OAS General Secretariat, and the entire OAS, has been listening to the oppressed.

We have denounced human rights violations, extra-judicial executions, summary trials of civilians in military courts, sexual violence, race-, ethnic-, and gender-based persecution, abuses against indigenous peoples, persistent discrimination over the centuries, to cite just a few.

We have documented these abuses in detail and made them available to everyone, so that we can make the appropriate decisions. We have many times given visibility to the attacks; we were able to stop them. But we ought to bear in mind that our worst threat is polarization, fragmentation, and vulnerability.

The OAS must avoid internal polarization; it must avoid the pitfalls that dictatorships and authoritarianism have brought us in the past and now bring us to confront one another, all of us here, to confront one another as democratic states. We have to avoid polarization of any kind; we have to be more and more mindful of the principles and values that united us more than a century ago, because by drowning ourselves in short-term political positions, we make ourselves weak and vulnerable. Corruption and abuse feed on institutional weakness that is produced by attacks on democracy and on the basic principles of democracy, such as the separation of powers.

This is our best opportunity to work based on moral consensus that leads us to make the inter-American system a source of protection and development for our citizens.

We cannot afford to forget why we are here today. We cannot afford to cut down our memory; but must always recognize those whose bodies have suffered – in a detention camp, in a dungeon, or in being forced to uproot and go into exile. Those who have been tortured and those who have been arrested; relatives of the victims.

What bilateral compromise can be worth more than the lives of millions of people? What personal circumstance may be more urgent than the desperation of an oppressed people? What kind of business can justify turning our backs on those who are in extremely vulnerable situations?

This is the day-to-day agenda. This is the agenda from which multilateralism should sometimes never hide. As an organization, our responsibility is to find justice for those who suffer discrimination and are oppressed. We must also remember that no one at this table, no one in this room, is above the law.

We must remember that impunity and state terrorism outrage us as much today as they did 40 years ago; that people will never forget our mistakes and omissions; and that the only way for us to advance as democratic societies is with memory, truth, and justice; We must remember that human suffering has no ideology, political stripe, or corporate affiliation; that NEVER AGAIN is not a campaign slogan. It means NEVER AGAIN. But we must fight on, day to day, for NEVER AGAIN to take hold.

It is also important to remember, thanks to innovation and the technologies available to us, neither a co-opted press nor censorship is worth it, because communication is in the hands of people who can shake all corrupt structures down to the ground.

We are equal to our commitment to the people, let us live up to that commitment through hemispheric multilateralism with new tools, new instruments we must use more and more efficiently to mark this entry into the 21st Century.

We are honored to be received here in Colombia, a country that has taken crucial steps to absorb the elements of Venezuelan migration, to solve security issues such as those identified by Mayor Federico, to fight drug trafficking. We commend Colombia today because it is now, for the first time in eight years, reducing the number of hectares under cultivation. Thanks to that enduring commitment to eradicating violence, crop substitution is working because marijuana and cocaine seizures are working; because the destruction of labs and organized crime structures is working, and there is ongoing action to deliver security to the people.

We must applaud the 32 per cent reduction in crimes against community leaders and human rights defenders, and we also praise the government’s commitment. But as long as crime exists, we still have a long way to go. That some 96 per cent of the country has seen a drop in these crimes, which are concentrated in four percent of the country – that’s really great progress!

They have attacked structural issues on which this murderous crime is still based.

Illegal mining, armed groups carrying out terrorist activities, illegal crops; we must continue to lend support, because efforts that can deliver security and peace for all Colombians are definitely needed.

Colombia must stay the course to development; take that leap to development, which is drawing nearer and nearer; and about which it is more and more hopeful of success.

And, regarding that commitment to the inter-American system through the MAPP-OAS, I must commend the Chief of Mission and the entire team for their efforts over the last 15 years supporting this peace process – an unrelenting peace process in which the government has assumed commitments that we commend.

We would like to thank the City of Medellin for hosting us. This city is now a hub for technological innovation and has been restoring security, creating opportunity for everyone, and offering its people prospects for a better life and well-being.

I’m greatly honored to be back here – honored to be in Colombia. It is an honor to have this General Assembly held in a country that is so deeply committed to multilateralism.