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Remarks by the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, at the inaugural session of the forty-fifth regular session of the OAS General Assembly

  June 15, 2015

Thank you all. As you know, 20 days ago I took on a mission in which you have accompanied me: to design a work plan, a management plan, and a plan for strengthening opportunities for the Organization's presence in the Hemisphere.

We want the OAS to be recognized as the Hemisphere’s political forum, in which all the countries play an equal part in addressing our responsibilities as a partnership of nations, based on the foundations and principles that we defend: democracy, human rights, security, development.

The duties of public office also include the need to attack inequality and poverty in this region, problems that we must confront if we are to deal with the main concerns that afflict our peoples. We must do so with greater insight and greater skill. We must do so on the basis of an austere OAS in the full, republican sense of the term. We must build policies that do not overlook these core values lest we fall prey in the medium and long term to a deficit of ethics, which would ultimately erode the legitimacy of our endeavors. We must use our positions to break from the logic of talking in abstract terms about this Organization; we must tackle real problems. If not, we will also be dodging the real problems that affect people, the real problems of protection of human rights, promotion of democracy, protecting our peoples’ vote throughout the region. We must also tackle global issues, such as climate change. Our Hemisphere must be part of the solution and contribute in that direction.

From the point of view of development, there are more than a billion of us in the Hemisphere: one in every seven people in the world calls the Americas home. The Americas generate more than a quarter of the planet’s output. We have untold resources and enormous potential.

At the same time, we live in a world of ever-more interconnected networks, whose use is not neutral. We can pursue noble goals such as those sought by the OAS and multilateral agencies, or we can use them for destruction and barbarism, but we cannot turn our backs on them. We need to realize that this dimension represents the world of today and of the future.

This is also an uncertain world, where power is expressed in hugely varied and increasingly nontraditional ways, in which we have to pursue a positive agenda to ensure that the OAS is equal to circumstances as they arise and to prevent the Hemisphere sliding back into cold-war practices that we must do everything in our power to avoid. To do so, we must strengthen our capacities for negotiation, mediation, and forging consensus in this Organization that brings together all the countries of the Hemisphere.

We want an OAS that operates efficiently on two levels of action and for all member countries and their citizens to benefit directly from that.

The OAS’ first dimension involves its services to countries at the national level; in other words, the OAS as an institution which provides services that benefit the peoples of which it is composed.

It is a task that the OAS performs–usually out of sight of public opinion–in the public policy arena, be it in the areas of justice, drugs and narcotics, cybersecurity, institutional transparency, quality regulations, or electoral standards. These are contributions that the countries need and value.

From electoral observation missions to contributions to the peace process in Colombia, or the facilitation of justice in different parts of Central America, the OAS can boost such services by drawing on its technical strengths, without the need for unnecessary mandates that it lacks the technical, material, and financial wherewithal to meet.

The second dimension is the OAS as a hemispheric political forum. I believe that the conditions are now in place to pursue a constructive hemispheric dialogue in areas of common interest and where there are disagreements, to look for the best ways to open doors that remain closed.

As Secretary General, my commitment to you and to the citizens you represent is to find the best path for the OAS to become that hemispheric platform for political dialogue that, because of its configuration, no other regional mechanism can reproduce.

For that, it is essential that the necessary legitimacy that this institution must expand derive from an unwavering defense of democracy and human rights, without ambiguity or double standards.

Democracy and human rights are values that come before political allegiances because when those values are lost, we all lose—society as a whole loses. I care as much about my right to say my piece as I do about my opponents’ right to say theirs.

As OAS Secretary General I am both government and opposition; I must be the most diehard defender of rights; I must be the poorest in financial terms, the man at the bottom who suffers inequality, the one denied a voice or who is ignored. I must be the victim of discrimination, the one who suffers anti-Semitism, who suffers exclusion because of being indigenous or a person of African descent. I must be the one who has no say. I must be the one who suffers from a lack of protection of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The structure of the OAS General Secretariat cannot be without essential tools when the time comes to stand up for equality and equity.

We stand for a broad agenda based on the overwhelming need for us all to have the same opportunities, regardless of our social origin, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disabilities.
An OAS committed to ensuring all freedoms. We must attack the root causes of impunity in all its forms, be it for corruption, discrimination, or crimes against humanity.

For that reason we have insisted that MORE RIGHTS FOR MORE PEOPLE is the way forward to expand opportunities for all in the Americas.

This Assembly could see the adoption of a convention on the rights of older persons, and that is a prime example of the direction that we want to take.

The OAS could, then, become a powerhouse generating hemispheric public goods centered around its four pillars of action. That is why we believe that the initiatives we have proposed will help to focus the Organization’s efforts in the hemispheric dimension. Let us tackle issues of substance, such as:

• Citizen security, one of the two or three leading concerns of the peoples of the Hemisphere.
• School of Government, to build the capacity of public officials and civil society in transparency, accountability, and consensus-building for reform.
• Prevention of social conflicts. Facilitating dialogue among investors inside and outside the region, states, and local communities on key productive sectors that generate both wealth and conflict.
• Pan American Education System: An initiative that will enable us to build on our achievements in access to education and boost impact in terms of results in higher education.
• Prevention and management of natural disasters in the Caribbean and Central America.
• Interconnectivity in the Caribbean. Development for all our countries.
• We must seek to advance inter-faith dialogue in the Americas as an essential tool for regional peace and stability. We must cooperate more vigorously in the hemispheric dimension in order to avoid terrorist attacks of the sort that our region has withstood in the past.

These initiatives, which are at the initial design stage, have the support of other agencies and have been supported by you in the talks that we have had.

Friends, I invite you to seize this opportunity that we have to chart the common future of the OAS, to draw up a road map for modernizing the Organization that will put it at the forefront of other organizations around the world.

Thank you very much.

Reference: S-022/15