Media Center



September 23, 2004 - Washington, DC


His Excellency Abel Pacheco de la Espriella, President of the Republic of Costa Rica,
His Excellency Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan, President of the Republic of Suriname
His Excellency Oscar Berger, President of the Republic of Guatemala
His Excellency Ricardo Maduro, President of the Republic of Honduras
His Excellenty Jorge Batlle Ibáñez, President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay
His Excellency Elías Antonio Saca, President of the Republic of El Salvador
His Excellency Boniface Alexandre, Interim President of the Republic of Haiti
His Excellency Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
His Excellency Enrique Bolaños, President of the Republic of Nicaragua
His Excellency Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
His Excellency Alejandro Toledo, President of the Republic of Peru
His Excellency Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica
His Excellency Francisco Santos, Vice President of Colombia
His Excellency Samuel Lewis Navarro, Vice President of Panama
Ministers of Foreign Affairs and members of official delegations,
Ambassador Carmen Marina Gutiérrez, Chair of the Permanent Council,
Mr. Assistant Secretary General,
Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives,
Dignitaries that honor us with your presence,
Distinguished First Ladies,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

The long journey of men and women in search of freedom led them to the promised land of the Americas. Here the ideals of thinkers and poets, the worries of farmers and artisans, the hopes of young and old caused nations to flourish, gave rise to constitutions and the proclamation of rights, and forged progress. Independence came with the smell, color, and shape of freedom. Battles were waged against a system that allowed slavery and control over land and Indians, against segregation and male chauvinism, exclusion and privilege. The seeds of freedom, justice, and solidarity were sown, irrigated with blood and fertilized with intelligence and the tenacity of women and men, farmers and professionals, youth and adults of all races and origins.

We have learned along the way that freedom is forged and dignity exercised through concrete works. And step by step, through trial and error, and by taking up where we left off, we have gradually built our democracies.

We have come so far that we feel encouraged to continue our journey. The fact that so much remains to be achieved morally obliges us to do our utmost.

In this twenty-first century, inspired by the values we share, imbued with the ideals of our forefathers, and outraged by the pain of poverty, inequity, and exclusion, we women and men of the Americas must redouble our efforts to expedite the achievement and full exercise of human freedom and dignity.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Day after day we see the world changing at an amazing pace. Our Hemisphere, now as never before, is part of the dizzying and unsuspected challenges emerging from the globalization that has come to stay, with all the hopes it harbors for freedom and now no longer isolated development opportunities, as well as with its enormous challenges and difficulties.

Since inertia is not a fitting response, we must have the courage to take up, with creativity and responsibility based on our common values and the abundance of cultural diversity that is the hallmark of the Americas, the challenge of transforming globalization into a great leveler of the inequalities among peoples.

The leveling needed must be economic and social so as to distribute the benefits of development more equally among and within countries. It must also be political, in order to deepen democracy. To bring about transparent governments and enterprises. To punish the corrupt. To respect indigenous cultures. To ensure gender equality. To guarantee unqualified respect for human rights.

As the ultimate expression of our freedom and dignity, human rights must not only be recognized and declared. They need to be effectively protected. For that, it is essential to respect the rule of law at the national level and to strengthen that guarantee which transcends national borders, namely the inter-American human rights system. Its success and the favorable impact it has had on behalf of citizens are eloquently manifested in the demand it has generated among the women and men of the Americas. We urgently need to expand its capacity to meet that demand and to promote its autonomy; to find ways to finance it as a full-time instrument, to achieve its universal acceptance, better coordination among its organs, and resolute political support for compliance with the decisions those organs take in their respective spheres of competence.

The political organization of freedom is democracy. Through intelligent debate and free and tolerant participation, it enables us make public decisions based on a majority view and to freely elect our governors, with checks and balances to protect the rights of all. In that manner, in peace and with the humility that comes from acknowledging our ignorance, democracy allows us to feel our way, correct mistakes, and continue making headway, combining our efforts to find the compromises that bring us closer to more just conditions.

Democracy is always fragile, because it does not rely on the strength of the powerful. It is based on legitimacy, which comes from respecting the rules of the game, and on the opportunity for change to come about peacefully, because democracy allows today’s political minorities to become majorities tomorrow. Because we wish to live in freedom, our Inter-American Democratic Charter has made living in a democracy a human right for all women and men in the Americas. Our challenge is to achieve the equilibrium needed for the OAS to guarantee this right without prejudice to the right of peoples to self-determination and nonintervention. National sovereignty, a value we proudly share, rests upon those foundations, which, in today’s world, require the existence of full democracies.

Nourishing, stimulating, and protecting democracy poses numerous demands. We need strong and transparent political parties that allow different interest groups to join together in building national positions and that engage in open dialogue with individuals, other parties, and institutions of civil society. Means of communication free to investigate, inform, and debate. Honest, accountable governments, with as few discretionary powers as possible, bound by the Constitution and the law, and subject to review by the courts. Governments which respect the separation of powers, the assignment of spheres of competence, and the existence of local political authorities and organized social groups. We need citizens who actively participate in public life. Politicians who regard public office as an opportunity to serve, not as a pretext for perks.

The Organization and the member states have made considerable headway toward consolidating fundamental democratic values, as we have seen in recent months. While respecting self-determination and sovereignty and engaging in constructive multilateral dialogue, we will continue acting to ensure that the lights of liberty and democracy shine throughout the Hemisphere. The Organization’s activities in this key area need to be institutionalized in order for it to coordinate, preserve, and further enrich the experience it has acquired, which is why we have already proceeded to create the Department of Democratic and Political Affairs and the Office of Political Affairs, Ethics, and Transparency.

We take heart at the consensus now emerging about democracy. Parties differ today not about democracy or autocracy, liberty or communism. In almost all America that debate has been superseded. Today’s political debate focuses on other issues. How best to provide public services. The most appropriate economic and social policies. Where best to raise and spend public funds. This new emphasis in political discourse, focusing on the quality of a family’s evening meal, education and health, peace in communities, the decency of work and of wages, and the opportunities for savings, investment, and enterprise – in short, the everyday ingredients of citizens’ lives – represents an enormously important change that must be reflected in a strengthening of the democratic system.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

With the emphasis now squarely placed on citizens’ well-being, with democratic freedom and with responsible ongoing action, today the foremost challenge for the peoples of the Americas is to rid ourselves of the shackles of poverty, inequity, and exclusion.

Em cada nação estamos chamados à criação de riqueza e bem-estar. A Organização interamericana não pode ser indiferente ante a pobreza e o subdesenvolvimento.

History teaches us that freedom is the best tool for construction and progress. Free exchanges, incentives to create wealth, property rights respected by all, freedom to enter into contracts and partnerships, and the enforcement of contractual agreements are essential for creativity, competitiveness, and increases in output.

We know that, to generate the wealth needed to overcome poverty, we require institutions and prudent fiscal, monetary, credit, exchange-rate, and foreign-trade policies that promote macroeconomic stability, productivity, competition, and the liberalization of our economies. We also need to improve infrastructure, promote access to science and technology, and protect the environment.

For this free creativity to succeed in bringing benefits for all, for economic growth to be shared, we need free markets; we need to prevent, by means of the rule of law, the misuse of power and privilege; and we need governments that guarantee competition, promote competitiveness, and provide training and support for the most vulnerable so that they can avail themselves of opportunities. Thus we need strong and efficient governments, collecting, by fair means, sufficient taxes to finance their tasks and establishing an economic and social order that eliminates poverty, inequity, and exclusion.

Irrespective of its theological or philosophical underpinnings for individuals or countries, in America we have chosen to make solidarity an essential value of our life in society – but it urgently needs to materialize. For the sake of that solidarity, it is important to promote the training of human capital through efficient social policies, with no place for corruption or patronage. This is where policies of a universal nature, such as health and the priority that must be given to education as the principal instrument for individual advancement, social equity, and civilized coexistence, combine with policies of a specific nature, targeting families needing special attention to help them take advantage of opportunities.

Hemispheric cooperation must include designing economic and social policies that promote integral development. Trade and integration, cooperation and partnership among peoples, and the sharing of best practices in government policies and services are tasks that the Summits of the Americas have brought to the OAS, and for which we need to strengthen coordination among all the international agencies working in these fields in the Hemisphere. I am deeply grateful to the heads of the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, and the Pan American Health Organization, as well as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the United Nations Development Programme, for the profound conviction and commitment they have shown with respect to this proposal. As a result, we have already met on two occasions to join forces in this task, which we hope in the future to extend to other international entities whose presence here testifies to their commitment to the well-being of the women and men of the Americas.

A Hemisphere united in the quest for shared growth that will enable us to be rid of poverty, inequity, and exclusion, a Hemisphere that aspires to transform globalization into a politically, economically, and socially equalizing factor, cannot leave behind zones, regions, or countries. We must therefore evaluate the implementation of mechanisms of solidarity that enable us to foster greater cohesion and integral, shared development.

Only thus, bound together in our shared determination, will we be able to meet our moral obligation to tackle poverty. Two hundred years ago, one of our fellow nations rose up as a pioneer for liberty and against inequality, poverty, and discrimination. Today, the people that inspired Toussaint Louverture poses a gigantic challenge to the moral conscience of the Americas. In Haiti the pain of poverty is manifest in all its unmitigated cruelty. The OAS must be the conscience that reminds us all of the vast and prolonged effort Haiti requires. Cette nation qui nous est chère a besoin de la solidarité des Amériques. Et un Continent américain solidaire avec Haïti avancera vers une croissance dans la solidarité.
Ladies and Gentlemen:

The full exercise of freedom is curtailed by threats to security and personal, family, and collective peace. The multifaceted nature of human life means that threats lurk in numerous areas. That is why we in the Americas have opted for a multidimensional concept of security that the Caribbean states have promoted.

This is the defense of life, security, and peace, not only, as in the past, vis-à-vis the eventuality of a conflict between states, but also in the face of terrorism, drug smuggling, international crime, epidemics, and natural disasters that jeopardize the very existence of small states, such as the hurricanes whose painful toll in human and material loss is now faced – with a courage, dignity, and efficiency we admire – by Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Barbados, The Bahamas, and Haiti, with the solidarity and support of CARICOM, and by the Dominican Republic and Florida and several southern states in the United States of America. To those peoples and their governments, we extend our solidarity.

A vision of the Americas as a land free from terrorism, violence, and crime, from epidemics and the preventable effects of natural disasters, is a dream that unites us in this twenty-first century. It is a dream that requires us to develop national and inter-American policies that are effective and mindful of human rights. A vision that demands that we share knowledge and that our nations cooperate with one another in matters related to intelligence gathering, improvements in our police forces, and judicial, financial, health, and civil-defense systems. Current and future generations demand that we move resolutely ahead to make this dream a reality, and we have therefore immediately proceeded to adapt our organizational structure in line with that task. The part the OAS has played in these endeavors for over a century must be consolidated in the structure of its General Secretariat. To that end, we have created the Department of Multidimensional Security and the Office on Threats to Civil Society, in order to achieve an appropriate grasp and institutional memory of those activities.

Our vocation is to create an America at peace. Peace among the nations that comprise it, peace for its people, and peace with the environment.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

To ensure that it lives up to the most noble cause it serves of democracy, human rights, security, and integral and shared development, this General Secretariat needs to be streamlined in its organization and procedures. For that it needs to focus on those priorities, to have a clear vision of where it wants to go, efficient management by objectives, accountability, team spirit, and teamwork. It also means that the helmsman must pursue the course charted by the member states, which in turn requires that the General Secretariat provide timely and efficient support to facilitate, in the Permanent Council and General Assembly, the development of a far-sighted hemispheric approach. These tasks are made easier by the considerable progress achieved by the OAS over the past ten years under the apt guidance of its Secretary General, former President of Colombia César Gaviria.

From the bottom of my heart, as a student and patriot of the Americas, I thank Their Excellencies, the Heads of State and Government, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, First Ladies, Former Presidents, Ministers, and Members of the Legislature and Judiciary, and High Officials who are with us here today for the extraordinary support they lend to the OAS by generously honoring us with their presence.

I realize that the burden is heavy and the challenge enormous. I shall devote myself to this task, asking God’s guidance, to the utmost of my ability and conviction, as a token of gratitude to the peoples and governments that have honored me with their trust. Yet I place my trust in the goodness of Providence, the values that guide the governments of America, the abilities of my colleagues in the Organization, and the courage and dedication of the women and men of the Americas.

With our common values and tireless effort, together we will be equal to the challenge. Able to move from disillusionment to enjoyment of democracy. From frustration to hope for human development. From magical realism to idealistic pragmatism, in policies and specific programs. From the pursuit of freedom to the use of it as a tool for forging happiness, progress, and solidarity.

Building that vision, helping it to materialize, converting it into reality is the great task that, with all humility, I invite the OAS to accomplish. With the solidarity of us all, we will be able to build THE AMERICA OF FREEDOM: the freedom and creativity that provide grounds for rational optimism, realistic hope, and a dream that can come true.