Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


August 9, 2017 - Jerusalem, Israel

Israel has had a longstanding relationship with the Western Hemisphere. As friends we had our ups and downs but today, we stand as good friends. We share many essential values around democracy and human rights and there is much we can learn from one another


Friends, it is an honor to be here speaking with you today.

This is not my first visit to Israel, but it is my first one as the Secretary General of the Organization of Americans States.

In 1947, in addition to Canada and the United States, Latin American countries were key supporters of UN Resolution 181, creating the state of Israel. Proudly, my home country of Uruguay was among them.

Today, there are more than half a million Jews living in Latin America and many young Israelis travel through the region.

The Jewish communities of Latin America are vibrant, entrepreneurial and occupy an indispensable space in our nations. Culture, the arts, business, the professions, and politics, Jews in Latin America are part of the democratic forces of the region.

The Jewish millenary tradition of openness, tolerance and permanent conversation fits well in our continent, as we are a continent committed to live in democracy and with respect to human rights.

Israel presents an incredible example of a people, overcoming extraordinary hardship – moving past uncertainty, fear, and resentment to build a prosperous and vibrant society rooted in the principles of freedom and democracy.

A so-called “Start-up Nation”, the entrepreneurial accomplishments of this country are model for economies in this global age. At a moment where people and countries around the world are looking inward, rejecting globalization, in Israel, even small, local companies start out thinking about the world market.

According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children starting school this year will end up in jobs that do not even exist today. This is an important reminder that in this information age, it is imperative that we look beyond our natural resources and commodities to build knowledge based economies that ensure that our communities will prosper long into the future.

Israel’s expertise in agriculture, food security, and water technology, including irrigation and water management is already having a very positive impact on developing economies in our hemisphere. This should be expanded.

Israel’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is not only welcomed, it is invited. Invited to build bonds between peoples and to construct a mutually prosperous future.

I stand here as a guest of Israel, proud to call the Israeli people friends of the Americas.

The opportunity for growth and collaboration is by no means limited to the economy. The real opportunity lies in our shared values. In particular, and closest to my heart is our shared commitment to democracy and human rights.

We are societies that recognize that individual freedoms must be paramount. Freedom of religion, gender equality, the rights of LGBT communities, these values must not only be protected but must be championed.

In this region, Israel is stands outs as a full-fledged democracy, fully committed to democratic principles, constitutional order and the rule of law.

There is a clear understanding that democracy is not limited to the votes cast in a ballot box on Election Day, it is also the key institutions and processes that happen between elections; the democratic oversight of the security apparatus; an open and pluralistic parliament; inclusive political parties that reach across the Arab-Israeli divide; a commitment to the separation of powers in the branches of government; a truly independent judiciary; and a vibrant and independent media.

These are values that are also at the core of the OAS, and at the heart of the Americas.
It is the preeminence of these values that brought me to the OAS, the foremost political forum of the Americas. The OAS is the space where diplomacy, democracy and human rights, come together.

Our institution is unique in its commitment to democracy. We not only enshrined these values in our founding documents, but we created the legal and juridical tools to protect democracy and human rights throughout our hemisphere because we recognize their essential role in peace and prosperity.

It is important to note that these documents were signed “in the name of their peoples”. These principles do not exist to protect states and the people in power. These values protect the people of the Americas.

As is found in the preamble of our founding charter, our community of States came together in agreement that living together in a secure and prosperous societies requires that they be grounded in democracy.

Democracy is the vital foundation upon which human rights, stability and economic prosperity thrive. This is the commitment made by member states of the OAS to ensure the basic well being of our citizens.

Let us be clear, these values are not finite, or too precious so that they can only be experienced by a limited few. These are strengthened when they are shared; they grow stronger and more abundant.

Likewise, when they are threatened, they are not just threatened for a few. They are threatened for us all.

Therefore, making democracy sustainable is an everyday fight.

September 11, 2001, OAS member states were gathered in Lima, Peru to discuss the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a veritable constitution for the Americas.

The optimism of that meeting in Peru was quickly overshadowed by the tragedy that befell the United States that fateful morning. At a moment where the Western Hemisphere was working together to enshrine its commitment to freedom and democracy, these terror attacks underlined the very real threat against, and importance of protecting these values.

Informed of what took place, OAS member states continued their work and signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We chose freedom over fear.

Terrorism, in its many forms, is one of the most complex and serious threats. It is a clear and constant threat to human rights and fundamental freedoms. It undermines democracy and its institutions by targeting public confidence.

Terror does not discriminate based on race, religion, or social status. It does not respect borders. It is hate for hate’s sake disguised by a hollow cause far removed from any meaningful outcome because in the end, violence only begets violence.

For those of you in this room, you will remember the attacks against the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA Jewish community centre, in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994. The attacks of September eleventh permanently altered the world, as we know it today. In 2014, Canada’s Parliament, the very symbol of a vibrant democracy, was attacked by a terrorist extremist. Trinidad and Tobago struggles with radicalized youth going to fight in Syria. The tri-border area of South America has long been known as a source for Hezbollah financing.

In these and other examples, we have been forced to confront this hate, and these attacks on our soil that have left us with many painful memories. In the Americas, we have been fortunate, in that we have gratefully been spared the devastation of major attacks in recent years and our citizens do not have to live with the fear of this threat as part of their daily lives.

However, we cannot ignore the globalization of terror. Links between terrorist groups and organized crime are a reality. The flow of illicit funds, the trafficking in drugs, arms and persons are all used to fund this global threat. We must be conscious and aware of the growing influence of those individuals and States that purport to support the global terrorist threat.

One of the most dangerous elements of the threat of terrorism is that it is indiscriminate; it is unpredictable. And worse, we can never be sure that we have done enough. You cannot measure the events and incidents that have been prevented. You cannot count the lives that were saved by the prevention of attacks. The reality is that taking meaningful action in the absence of a clear and visible threat is incredibly difficult, especially with limited resources.

Today, we now see, all around the world and all too often, places that were once seemingly safe havens, supposedly far removed from hot spots and conflict zones are no longer immune. In fact, it is these ‘safe spaces’ that are more often becoming targets.

Every country, every crisis, every situation is unique and no one country or region has all of the answers to improving the security and stability of our citizens against those who seek to take advantage of the freedoms and exploit the rules of modern society because we are talking about challenges that transcend borders.

Fighting terrorism means fighting impunity. It means creating accountability, strengthening the rule of law and our democracies.

What we should always remember is that despite that tragedies that we experience, we have made progress and many attacks have been thwarted against a terrorist threat because of international cooperation and the solidarity of states committed to freedom, democracy and prosperity. We must continue to work together, sharing knowledge and expertise because it increases the common good.

Meaningful, lasting security is not simply about better equipment or more guns. There are always people, institutions, nations that will be able to buy or build a better army. Security must start at home. We must look to the living conditions and the way of life.

This is why I came to the OAS with one motto, the theme of “more rights for more people”.

In the Americas, we have seen more than enough exclusion and we are tired of racism, persecution, of prejudice and conflict. I expect that most of you in this room, share this sentiment. It is time that we must rededicate ourselves to building a hemisphere that is characterized by the beliefs that we have chosen.

What we need is to build countries and partnerships committed to an environment where people have a voice in their government and governments meets their responsibilities to all citizens.

The unequal distribution of income, access to basic goods or services, justice are a constant factor that directly affect the full enjoyment of the political, economic, social and cultural rights of citizens: rights that are inherent to human dignity. The worse inequality is that suffered in the exercise of rights.

In ensuring every social and economic right, we ensure civil and political rights. An equality policy can only be a policy that promotes the exercise of rights.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen, around the world, a shift towards isolationism, with individuals and communities retreating into what they know. For many states, it is easier to foster resentment than tackle the underlying challenges of inequality. Those in power choose to limit the rights and protections of their citizens rather than ensure these same rights and freedoms that they want for themselves. There is no greater mistake of leadership.

The thing with the fundamental values that we share is that they are not for some people and not others. These rights, these protections, they are for all people.

We must renew our commitment to pluralism, openness and inclusivity. These liberties, these freedoms they are what provide strength to a society. They are what spark creativity, opportunity and prosperity.

When you fix these conditions, you don’t need to rely only on your security forces for stability at home. The path to peace comes from understanding and cooperation, not violence.

This is why democracy is so vital. Democracy entails the exercise of rights. It requires a culture of dialogue because it ensures that your opponents’ opinion is as vital as yours. It imposes tolerance, respect and the capacity to work together.

In the Americas, this is why the OAS is an institution vital to ensuring the fullest possible observance of human rights, and is our essential tool for safeguarding democracy.

Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy – these are not values that solely exist when it is convenient or politically expedient. The ethical and moral values that we subscribe mean nothing if we do not make them a daily reality for all people.

These values must come always first, because when we lose these values, we all lose; society loses.