Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


April 19, 2017 - Miami, Florida

Constructing a more perfect democracy is a long term proposition – but the essential elements and principles of democracy are the immovable foundation on which we build just, democratic, prosperous and sustainable societies.

Dear friends,
Thank you to Nicholas and the International Economic Forum for having me here with you today. And thank you Frank for that generous introduction.

We have gathered here for the next couple of days to discuss the idea of “Mastering Change and Reigniting Growth.” There is one thing that is guaranteed. Change is constant and inevitable.

In these past decades, change has been a positive force in the Americas. The hemisphere we know today is radically different from that of a few decades ago where authoritarian or military regimes were the norm.

Today, we see a hemisphere of hard earned political democracies with positive inroads in the economic and social areas.

This is in part what has made our hemisphere so unique. We have built a foundation, a common vision, grounded in the shared principles of equality and democracy.

We have clearly articulated these principles in the founding documents of the Inter-American system – the OAS Charter, the American Charter of Human Rights, the Inter-American Conventions, and the Democratic Charter.

These are all agreements that every country in the hemisphere chose to negotiate and sign onto, defining who we are and what we believe. Our governments signed all of these agreements “in the name of their peoples.”

These are our rights, and at the same time they are our obligations.

Today’s democracies are stronger. They offer better social protections and we have more integrated economies. However, despite this progress, our hemisphere remains one of most unequal regions in the world.

The unequal distribution of income, access to basic goods or services, and justice are a constant factor that directly affect the full enjoyment of the political, economic, social and cultural rights of our citizens: rights that have been ascribed to or are inherent to human dignity.

Opportunities for progress are still depending on your social background, where you have been raised, your gender, race or your sexual orientation. This is why “more rights for more people” is the raison d’être of my time at the OAS.

Their promotion and protection are the essential elements of a democratic society and essential to shared prosperity in our hemisphere.

Change does not always flow in one direction and there is no single event, action, or decision that can create a new, permanent reality.

While in the Americas we have been moving towards a more democratic future, elsewhere the tides have been shifting.

After decades of leading the world towards greater integration and cooperation, some of the world’s most developed societies appear to have a resentment for this openness.

This shift towards isolationism, where individuals and communities retreat into what and who they know, is something we must resist. In fact, we must do the exact opposite.

We must renew our commitment to pluralism, openness and inclusivity, reaffirming our commitment to end exclusion.

Equality, opportunity, a prosperous economy, social development, human rights protection, citizen security– these are all elements of a truly developed society.

They can only thrive after strong democratic institutions have been built. They flow from a vibrant democracy and without democracy a society will be unable to achieve all of these things.

This is why democracy cannot be tied to a single action, or event. It is not defined by a protest or an election. Nor can it be measured in the short term.

A democratic society is something that develops over time. It is many elections and all of the decisions that are made in between.
It is the execution of rule of law- freedom of expression, association, and assembly. It is strong and accountable government institutions - an empowered citizen – it is a democratic culture with a strong civil society - a vocal and engaged opposition - a vibrant and independent media.

It is the tolerance of dissent and the freedom of ideas.

No matter how advanced a society, it cannot become complacent. There are too many real and present risks across the region.

Today, we find ourselves trying to help Venezuela out of its crisis. Venezuela stands out as the only democracy to have deteriorated into a full-scale dictatorship.

There is no rule of law, no balance of power, citizens lack even the most basic guarantees of their rights, the economy is in free fall, there is no food, no access to medicine or healthcare, even the most basic elements of security has been lost.

The government, only concerned with maintaining their power and wealth, acts with total impunity- it has become the very thing that threatens the survival of its citizens.

Therefore, the OAS Permanent Council decided to move forward with the democratic charter and find ways to restore democracy.

Change is the only constant. This is why democracy is a process and not an end. Democracy can be eroded, and as we have seen in Venezuela, it can fail.

A resilient and vibrant democracy must grow from within. There is no single solution that will work for everyone.

Across the hemisphere, each country has developed a unique set of democratic systems, each at different stages of political maturity and consolidation.

As our societies develop, we are faced with growing demands from citizens. The principal threats and challenges come from weak government institutions and poor social services.

If democratic institutions are not build on a solid foundation- 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 will inevitably roll back democratic gains.

This is why these principles we have chosen, must be the foundation of our institutions. Circumstances, politicians, and the environment around us can all change. It is our principles on which they are founded that remain.

Democracy must come first.

Venezuela, what should be one of the most prosperous countries in the hemisphere, shows us the cost of a failed democracy. It shows us the price of exclusion, of polarization, of failed government. It should be a warning for us all.

Inequality is the greatest weakness to both our economy and our democracy. Both power and wealth are strengthened when they are diversified.

In a democracy, this is illustrated by the importance of the separation powers between the branches of government. The Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary each have a vital role to play and a different set of interests to represent.

A democratic government is designed with these institutions providing checks and balances to one another, so they cannot supersede each other’s power. The more that power is shared, the more people will benefit.

A regular transition of power is a sign of a healthy democracy – the importance of peaceful and periodic changes of government cannot be emphasized enough.
Likewise, our economies equally benefit from this diversification. Too many countries in this hemisphere have felt first hand the negative impact of over reliance on natural resources.

Perhaps if Venezuela had been committed to developing its agricultural and manufacturing capacity, in addition to oil, they would not be where they are today.

What has also proven to be one of the greatest challenges to stability and sustainable growth, and one of the biggest impediments to consolidating our democratic gains is corruption.

Corruption not only affects citizens economically but undermines the public’s trust in the governments elected to serve them, fostering instability and insecurity.

Embedded institutional corruption results in the gradual atrophy of democratic norms and institutions. Just because a shift is gradual, it doesn’t take away its significance.

Across the Americas, political corruption has mobilized citizens to take to the streets to demand transparency and accountability, and end this impunity.

Political campaigns are being fought, and won to push out corrupt leaders and challenge entrenched elites that undermine democracy and growth because they committed to the status quo and blocking any meaningful changes or reforms.

A vibrant economy requires innovation and social mobility. It requires an entrepreneurial environment- transparency, access to information, the ability to free speak your mind and a willingness to take risks.

Censorship, control, corruption and fear do no allow for free thinking and creativity. You cannot limit the sharing of ideas and, curtail knowledge and debate and expect a new generation of ideas to develop.

There is one thing for which I am certain. The people of Venezuela will work through this crisis and once again, we will see Venezuela return to the path towards democracy and prosperity.

In diplomacy, the agreements we create are our tools. However, it is more than language. Words create politics and translate into action.

We build solutions, mount pressure, creating the necessary conditions, all grounded in our principles. When diplomacy is done seriously, it is some of the hardest work in the world.

It is audacity and prudence. It is timing and feeling.

It is through our cooperation, our collective action that we create legitimacy. Governments are more inclined to participate when there is an institutional framework or collective interest and all of our efforts have been rooted in our commitment to regional solidarity.

The OAS is what makes collective effort in the hemisphere, in Venezuela, feasible.

We are only as strong as our strongest member and are as weak as our weakest link. Each Member States plays an essential role in our future.

If States choose to isolate themselves, and focus on unilateral interests, foregoing cooperating, they will do so.

However, if we want to continue building a hemisphere grounded in the principles of equality and democracy with strong relationships between States, we will do so.

One this is clear, as long as we remain committed to our shared principles - our beliefs in human rights, equality and democracy- our societies will remain rooted in the strong foundation we have built, no matter what changes happen around us.