Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


September 19, 2016 - Georgetown University, Washington DC

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The Democratic Framework

This Hemisphere is unique.  In the Americas, we have built a foundation with a common vision of what believe in. One that we have chosen.

The Organization of American States is the foremost political forum of the Hemisphere.  This is the space where diplomacy, democracy and human rights to come together.

These principles are clearly articulated in the founding documents of this organization, including the OAS Charter, the American Charter of Human Rights, the Inter-American Conventions, and General Assembly Resolution 1080 on Representative Democracy.  We drafted the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a true constitution of the Americas.

These documents outline our fundamental beliefs, the values and ideals that we agreed upon, and all share.

These agreements highlight our commitments based on democratic principles, recognizing a series of rights and obligations that ensure a basic well being for our citizens.

These documents were not imposed on us. As member states, each and every country chose to negotiate and sign onto these principles defining who we are, what we believe in and how we interact with one another.

Each country chose to sign onto these conventions, and each country has the responsibility to comply with and enforce them.

It is these agreements that make us unique. There is no other institution with the same commitment to human rights and democracyNo institution has created the same juridical and legal tools to protect democracy and human rights.  This commitment is unique in our hemisphere.

Multilateral institutions, such as the OAS, exist to serve our member states.  The OAS Charter, signed in 1948, is the agreement between the Member States and it was signed “in the name of their people.”
The “people” are the fundamental element of the Organization’s founding document. People are at the very heart of these institutions.

Our entire purpose is to fulfill these commitments to the people of the Americas.

In diplomacy, these agreements are our tools.  However, diplomacy is more than language.  The words we use create politics, they translate into action. It is not a game where the first movement is the last. It is about building solutions, mounting pressure, creating conditions, working principles and values.

When diplomacy is done seriously, is the hardest work in the world.  You have to mix audacity with prudence. It is timing and feeling.

When we activate the Democratic Charter or when Mercosur suspends Venezuela from its presidency pro tempore, we are using diplomacy. We are putting the mechanisms to defend democracy and human rights in action.

This is not an easy task. While everyone applauds these agreements on paper, when it comes time to act, to protect democracy, human rights, development or security, people often grow uncomfortable.

Democracy & Human Rights in the Inter-American system

Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy do not only exist when it is convenientOr 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 these long legal texts 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 our 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.

I am government but I must also represent the opposition. I must be the voice of those without a voice; the most discriminated against. I must be the 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 repeat, “More rights for more people.” It is the raison d’etre of my term here at the OAS.

Even today, our hemisphere remains one of the world’s most unequal regions. 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.

Democracy & Citizenship

Article 1 of the Democratic Charter states that “The people of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”  This Charter establishes democracy as a right for the people, and what is democracy, if not a government of the people.  Those who govern us have to defend our rights and liberties and if they don’t do it they shouldn’t be our leaders.

The charter was signed unanimously.

This hemisphere has faced more than enough exclusion. It is weary of inequality, racism, persecution, of prejudice, and of sterile conflict.  It is our responsibility to refocus on the beliefs we have chosen.

As I said in my inaugural speech, the OAS must be a voice that does not compromise, or remain silent in the face of violations of these human rights.  It must represent the strength and power of all individuals in the Hemisphere.

It is this voice that guarantees the right of individuals to participate in the decision-making processes that affect them, without discrimination and without repression.  This is why the protection and promotion of democracy is so vital to our way of life.

We need better citizens. We need to build them and to give them a strong political character. It is the “citizen” that holds the most important position in democracy. And should also be the most respected position in a political system.

Democratic governments have a responsibility to their citizens, a responsibility to provide security, access to basic necessities, and protect their human rights.

Article 16 of the IDC states: “Education is key to strengthening democratic institutions, promoting the development of human potential, and alleviating poverty and fostering greater understanding among our peoples.

“To achieve these ends, it is essential that a quality education be available to all, including girls and women, rural inhabitants, and minorities.”

However, citizenship comes with responsibilities. Every single citizen is responsible for the defense of democracy. Each one shall assume the Sartrian principle that “l’homme est condamne a etre libre”. Every citizen shall defend that for himself and for everybody.

As citizens, we have the most important role in denouncing corruption, human rights violations, environmental issues.  Technology has given each and every one of us the tools to reach the world: everyone in our local community and our international community. This new power brings us greater freedom but it also means greater responsibility.

Robert Francis Kennedy said that “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

As I have said before; the people’s mandate, expressed in a pluralist society, the very essence of the democratic system, is not just a moral requirement; it is a political and civic necessity for peace and for the development of our societies. As Seregni would say: “The goal is to transform that ethical principle into a life choice or way of life.”

Government & Democracy

Government is a service to the public, a vocation for serving the common good. It is not where individuals seek profit, or power. It requires consistency between our words and our actions. To be able to honor leadership, without abusing the power that comes along with it.

Those who are elected to represent the people, are there as an instrument to channel the voice of the citizens into the decision-making process of the State. A government’s legitimacy is bestowed by its citizens.

A true democracy is about much more than the pieces of paper in a ballot box. It is about what happens after Election Day.  It is freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
It is an empowered citizen, a strong civil society, a vibrant media, an independent judiciary, a security apparatus that is trusted by and accountable to the people, and most importantly a tolerance of dissent.

Democracy requires dialogue, and again, in order to make this dialogue effective, it must be accompanied by action.  A lack of dialogue comes when voices are not heard, or when some voices have been silenced. In the political equation, 50 percent plus 1 equals 100, and 50 percent minus 1 equals 0.

It is a lack of dialogue that is the first sign of failure in a political system. Coexistence and dialogue are the essence of democracy.

This is the only possible path for a democracy, one that safeguards the rights of all citizens. The unfortunate situation in Venezuela, where these rights are in jeopardy, the OAS has denounced the situation.  The risk of not doing so would have betrayed the principles and obligations enshrined in the Inter-American instruments.

It would have betrayed the very notion of citizen-centered institution.  Venezuela’s rejection of these, has only led to the further erosion of democracy and human rights in this member state.
Effective and inclusive governance requires an informed and active citizenry who understand how to voice their interests, how to act collectively and how to hold public officials to account.

Public power may separate leaders from their people. And the longer you are in power, removed from the people, the more you lose touch with those to whom you are accountable. Losing confidence in their elected representatives, citizens will find a way to make their voices heard.

A Government cannot judge itself, it must be judged by its own people. This is the vital role that the citizens and civil society must play. Accountability comes from outside.

The decisions of the people to elect or to recall must be indestructible, if that political system is to be considered democratic. Those rights cannot be eroded or taken away. That’s why these rights are considered fundamental.

The most stable, developed countries around the world are the ones where all segments of society are free to participate and influence political outcomes without bias or reprisal.

When people are engaged within the system, they are much less likely to seek alternative and destructive ways to force change.  Channeling the public voice into the decision-making process is how to avoid or prevent violence.

Unfortunately, looking in our hemisphere, we fall short too often. Peaceful protests are met with a closed fist, instead of an open hand.  Constitutions are treated as if they are drafted in pencil – amended or ignored to appease the individual pursuit of power.

An election is not legitimate when the opposition has been removed.  Authority is not legitimate when political ambitions supersede the constitution. The rule of law no longer exists when courts and criminal prosecutions become weapons of political persecution and there is impunity for those in power.

As an international community, we must also hold each other accountable. Article 20 of the Charter states that “In the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, any member state or the Secretary General may request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation and to take such decisions as it deems appropriate.”

Every single state is responsible for democracy in the continent.

Articles 17, 18 and 19 of the IDC put this responsibility in the hands of the Permanent Council. Our charters and conventions were not written to gather dust in the archives; they were drafted to defend our rights, rights that belong to the people.

This is why the defense of democracy is at the core of the OAS mandate, and fundamental to the foundation of international relations in the Americas.

The June invocation of the Charter to address the situation in Venezuela has one goal, to use every political and diplomatic means available to return the normal democratic institutional order.

The Charter states that “in the Declaration of Managua for the Promotion of Democracy and Development, the member states expressed their conviction that the Organization’s mission is not limited to the defense of democracy wherever its fundamental values and principles have collapsed,

But also calls for ongoing and creative work to consolidate democracy as well as a continuing effort to prevent and anticipate the very causes of the problems that affect the democratic system of government.”

Democracy imposes tolerance, respect, the capacity to work together, dialogue, recognition of the rights of each individual, and a community spirit.  People elect leaders with a commitment to ideas and a commitment to the common good. In turn, this is the work we must do.

Probity, ethics and republican decorum are not merely ideology; they are essential democratic values whose implementation brings hope to new generations. It is how we push back against the collusion of politics and money in the public arena simply drives them away from political activity and from participation in the decision-making that shapes their future.

When democracy works, the rest of the system works.  When it does not, it hurts us all.

This is why institutions such as the OAS, cannot be neutral. It must reflect the commitment to the greatest possible respect for each of these fundamental tools and instruments at its disposal.

The Organization does not side with a particular government, an official party, or opposition force. It sides with the principles it embodies- freedom, democracy, and above all respect for human rights of the citizens from the 34 Member States.

We need to build in an environment where people have a voice in their government and in turn, the government meets its responsibilities to its people.

This must prompt us to act.

We are bound by these shared values.  Democracy and human rights are integral to who we are and what we believe in. We cannot wait for everyone else to catch up.  It will be too late.  We must act on what is in sight before us.

To have a better hemisphere, we need countries that stand for principles to be more active and to be engaged in promoting and defending them. We have seen, too many times, the consequences of when things work the other way around.

To our democracies we can apply the phrase of Emiliano Zapata when he said: “I want to die as a slave to principles, not to men.” For democracy to succeed, principles must be the center, not rulers.

Democracy must be seen as necessary, as essential, as a fundamental element of international relations in the hemisphere. And this is why democracy is essential for the OAS.

In our defense of democracy we must use all mechanisms available to us, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter, in all cases where the essential elements of representative democracy and the fundamental components of the exercise of democracy are deteriorating.

We cannot tolerate double standards.  Action is what makes the international protection of democracy effective.

The IDC clearly defines the essential elements of representative democracy as,

“Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,

“Access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law,

‘The holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people,

“The pluralistic system of political parties and organizations,

“And the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.

Everybody knows what these principles are and how they should always be applied. It is black and white. If we allow for grey, we introduce the seeds that erode, deteriorate and destroy our democracies.

Yes, evaluating the quality of democracy in a country, questioning a system for protecting human rights can make it very difficult to start a dialogue.

However, this is exactly what the OAS was created to do. When we are able to succeed – this makes us all better, as countries, as communities and as citizens.