OAS peace-building forum opens in Washington


October 20, 1998


Organization of American States (OAS) Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, this morning opened a forum on peace-building, stressing that while the hemisphere’s countries had made progress in establishing democratic rule, "the threats to peace and democracy remain.

"Drug traffickers wreak havoc on the political and economic development of our countries," Ambassador Thomas maintained, in his presentation to the delegates and participants gathered for the one-day forum that examines the organization’s peace-building experiences-- especially in Haiti, Nicaragua and Suriname. The forum is entitled "OAS Peace-Building Experiences: Lessons Learned, Progress Achieved and Future Possibilities."

Corruption posed another serious element of threat to the legitimacy of governments, the assistant secretary general added, noting as well that "common criminality and an urban arms race in our streets threaten security."

After mentioning areas in which the organization had successfully helped bring about peace in the countries, he restated the OAS commitment to safeguarding peace and democracy in the hemisphere. He said it was hoped, however, that the large-scale OAS missions traditionally involved in demobilization and disarmament would no longer be necessary.

During the opening session, visiting senior fellow at Inter-American Dialogue, Ambassador Luigi Einaudi, shared some insights. Remarking that "the OAS clearly must have a role," he made a case for subregional institutions to be involved, and called for more attention to involving CARICOM and other subregional entities in defining the work to be done.

In her remarks, Elizabeth Spehar, executive coordinator of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), observed that a country’s peace process involved more than signing agreements to demobilize; former fighters turning in their weapons; or simply re-installing a democratically elected leader who was overthrown by force. Rather, she explained, the process included other elements such as strengthening local organizations to handle the transition phase from conflict to consolidating the rule of law.

Individuals that have headed up special OAS missions in Suriname, Nicaragua and Haiti

contributed to the panel discussions that ensued. They included Trinidad and Tobago diplomat Ambassador Colin Granderson, head of the OAS/UN Civilian Mission in Haiti; Edgardo Reis, head of the OAS Mision in Suriname; and Santiago Murray, former head of the mission in Nicaragua.

Canada’s ambassador to the OAS, Dr. Peter M. Boehm, and Suriname’s former OAS ambassador, Willem A. Udenhaut, were among the presenters at the forum that was organized by the UPD.