Media Center

Press Release


  September 18, 2007

Arguing the case for ongoing capacity-building in the Organization of American States (OAS) member countries, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza declared at a meeting in Washington today that “resilience building is not possible if it is not rooted in the human resource of the country.” The Secretary General also declared that good governance is critical to resilience building, as it can help to reduce, if not eliminate, vulnerability caused by weak government policies and practices, which he described as “self-inflicted vulnerability.”

Insulza made the remarks as he opened a joint OAS-Commonwealth Secretariat seminar on “Economic Resilience of Small States.” The seminar brings together a variety of experts, government officials and other stakeholders, to consider central issues involved in economic resilience of small states. Experts also shared the results of research into the development prospects and challenges faced by small states.

Besides Insulza’s, opening remarks were also delivered by OAS Executive Secretary for Integral Development Alfonso Quiñónez; Dr. Indraijit Coomaraswammy, Director of the Economic Affairs Secretariat of the Commonwealth Secretariat, who represented Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General Ransford Smith; and Cletus Springer, Chief of the Caribbean Division of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, who chaired the seminar and welcomed the participants.

“For small states, resilience building is not optional. It is an absolute imperative,” Secretary General Insulza asserted, observing further that small states have not always taken full account of the reality of their vulnerability. He also identified an element of promise, reflected in the aspiration of many small states to build their resilience to external and internal shocks using the lessons of their vulnerability as a platform. Among underlying factors, he cited as “inherent vulnerabilities” those related to small size and geography; thin internal markets; a high degree of economic openness and export concentration; and over-dependence on strategic imports such as energy. “These vulnerabilities have affected the terms of trade of small states, as well as their ability to increase their production, productivity and international competitiveness,” the OAS Secretary General stated.

Insulza also observed that by moving “too slowly to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel,” many small states in Latin America and the Caribbean have worsened their vulnerability to energy price shocks. “These states have not sufficiently explored the renewable energy options available to them, such as the use of solar and wind energy, both of which are abundant in our region.”

He noted that small states still have a lot of work to do to build their resilience to natural hazards, and pointed to many low-cost technologies and measures that could significantly reduce loss of life and property from natural disasters that are not being employed. He also used his remarks to renew the call on development partners to acknowledge and address the inherent vulnerabilities facing small states, especially the new threats from rampant crime and violence in the Americas. He urged the development partners to provide the financial assistance necessary to tackle those challenges.

Insulza said the complex of factors that cause vulnerability is why the OAS is devoting considerable attention and resources to programs that can help to modernize the state and create the conditions for sound decision-making about the economy, the society and the physical environment, at all levels in member states. “We are also placing considerable emphasis on assisting social development in our Member States, as we see this as a critical requirement for building social cohesion, which is a precondition for economic resilience.”

Quiñónez accentuated how the special development prospects and challenges of small states have engaged the attention of various organs of the OAS almost from its inception. The OAS Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI) “has long been of the view that sustainable development—whether in large or small states—is not possible unless the integrated approach is adopted in designing and implementing development policies, strategies and programs,” Quiñónez told the experts.

For his part, Coomaraswammy stressed that the Commonwealth Secretariat is very committed to moving the small states agenda forward. “We intend to progress beyond mere acceptance of these development obstacles to assisting our small Member States to identify concrete policy interventions and best practices to support their development efforts, whilst actively engaging the international community on these issues,” he said, noting new challenges to small states, including HIV/AIDS, the faster than anticipated erosion of trade preferences, an increased debt burden, and crime and security.

Barbados’ Ambassador to the OAS, Michael King, chaired the first session, an “Overview of Social, Economic and Development Issues,” while St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ambassador, Ellsworth John, chaired the second session, on “Economic Resilience Index—Design and Methodological Issues.”

During the meeting, the OAS Secretary General joined Quiñónez as well as Springer — a former Saint Lucian official — in observing a moment of silence in honor of the “venerable” Sir John Compton, the late Saint Lucia Prime Minister. The Secretary General conveyed condolences to Compton’s family and to the Government and people of St. Lucia. “Sir John Compton gave outstanding support to this organization in many areas, most recently he contributed to our work on reforms in Haiti,” said Insulza. “I hope that the people of St. Lucia will find solace in the imposing legacy that Sir John has left behind.”

Reference: E-227/07