Media Center



May 26, 2005 - Washington, DC

Allow me to begin my remarks by once again expressing my gratitude to the member countries of this Permanent Council that elected me to the office of Secretary General of this Organization almost one month ago. Like you, I, too, am profoundly grateful to the Acting Secretary General, Ambassador Luigi Einaudi, for the outstanding job he did in piloting this institution through these difficult times.

I also thank Ambassador Cristián Barros for his work in directing the transition team, which enabled me to take up this post of Secretary General just two days after completing my term as Minister of the Interior of Chile.

Today, I would also like to extend a special salute to all the staff of the OAS, as they are the supporting structure of this Organization. I will always be interested in hearing their views and place a special premium on the kind of professional participation that recognizes that experience and merit can only help the OAS function better.

This Permanent Council represents the constituents of this Organization, which are the sovereign States of the Americas. You and the governments you represent are the ones that must engage in dialogue and settle upon realistic and effective ways to deal with our pressing needs. This Secretariat will always stand ready to encourage and support that dialogue and hopes and expects to be working on a daily basis with the Council, in a quest to build the consensuses that will carry us forward.

This is a complex juncture at which to assume the office of Secretary General. A number of challenges lie ahead for the Hemisphere’s integration and overall future, and progress is needed on a variety of fronts: consolidating our democracies and strengthening democratic governance; protecting human rights; advancing the consensus that integral development is more than just economic growth and must also take into account the principles of inclusion and equity as the true basis of prosperity; and carving out a policy of multidimensional security that effectively addresses the main security problems affecting the people of the Hemisphere.

The OAS has already made important contributions toward recognizing, reaffirming, and implementing these principles and values. But shared values, by themselves, will not suffice. This is a policy-making organization. Policy is not only a matter of values; positive results also count, achieved through public policies that put the principles of our hemispheric community into action.

A renewed political resolve is needed from the member states to make the OAS a more effective institution, with a targeted agenda whose priorities are decided by consensus arrived at through a more participatory process that welcomes input from civil society and the private sector.

This is the road that has to be traveled to make this Organization more relevant and to increase its capacity to mobilize collective interests.

I invite you to seize this opportunity to strengthen this Organization and give it its proper place as the principal hemispheric forum.

Democracy and Democratic Governance

The Inter-American Democratic Charter is one of the crowning achievements of the peoples of the Americas and a fundamental obligation incumbent upon all those who govern. It establishes the bases of the present and future identity of the Americas; it is everyone’s mission and establishes the pillars of legitimacy and friendly relations in the Hemisphere.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter was signed so that it would be fulfilled. It is not just another declaration. All the nations of the Hemisphere that signed it undertook a solemn commitment to see to it that each and every one of its principles materializes.

Democracy requires free and fair elections and respect for the classic rights and freedoms. But democracy also demands an unwavering devotion to promoting absolute citizenship in which the people enjoy the fullest civil, social, and cultural rights. Indeed, the first article of the Inter-American Democratic Charter states that the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy. Our duty is to guarantee that right, respecting the democratic rights of all citizens and safeguarding at all times the effective exercise of the rule of law.

Effective application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is indispensable for the future of our democracies. The Organization needs instruments to enable it to anticipate possible crises and to take preventive action with governments, using dialogue to avert escalation of a crisis. Objective and practical mechanisms are required that enable us to evaluate how democracy is functioning in the member states. While respecting the autonomy that every sovereign democratic state enjoys, such mechanisms will also serve to enhance the workings of democracy, thereby improving the enabling environment for domestic peace and stability.

Correspondingly, we must be able to react and go to the defense of democracy whenever its principles and values collapse, swiftly putting into practice the political and diplomatic instruments that enable us to surmount crisis and work together to restore democracy.

It is up to the member countries to agree upon the mechanisms by which to fulfill the obligations that the Charter creates. The Secretariat will always be ready to make its suggestions in that direction.

I have pointed out that many of the difficulties besetting our democracies have to do with the workings of state institutions and the frustration citizens feel when their concrete problems are not solved. To enhance governance in our democracies, it is necessary to accord priority to programs that boost the development of sound institutions that serve to make citizens more secure, foster an appropriate climate for the economy and growth, provide justice for all citizens, defend human rights, and guarantee transparency in everything the government does.

Human Rights

The history of our region has paralleled the advancement of human rights. Many of our countries have experienced traumatic periods in their histories during which human rights were violated or suppressed. In those very same countries, the people waged their own battles to reinstate the value and dignity of life as their core concern. This is why the inter-American system of human rights is such an enormous accomplishment. The promotion and defense of human rights has by now become part of our identity.

We have a human rights system that functions, albeit one that is sometimes under-funded. It has brought prestige to the OAS and has guaranteed the rights of many citizens at trying moments in our institutional life.

The system that we have crafted for ourselves is premised upon a harmonious relationship with the member states, in which cooperation must play a pivotal role.

We must strive to ensure that the States view the actions and decisions of the human rights organs as complementing their own national policies to promote and protect human rights.

From the standpoint of cooperation, we should endeavor to encourage the dialogue that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have with the judicial branches of government in the member states.

The signing of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is certainly a priority, inasmuch as it will promote respect for the dignity of our native peoples and their active participation in a tolerant and pluralistic world that recognizes their unique and specific rights. Civic responsibility entails embracing the cultural diversity of citizens and extending that right to be different into the realm of political rights and citizen representation.

If our goal is to have a human rights system that works, then the resources needed to achieve these noble objectives have to be guaranteed.

Integral Development

The ongoing challenge of strengthening governance requires collective action that goes beyond the work of governments alone. We must be capable of opening our institutions to the mobilization of society’s concerns, to the issues that matter to people, by generating sound and transparent mechanisms for participation, as the basis for forging the collective will of the people. However, progress in this sphere is unsustainable without objective dissemination of social rights, of high-quality education and health, in short, the social and material conditions our citizens need to achieve their aspirations.

The Hemisphere’s achievements in the area of democracy will be apparent only if efforts to consolidate political citizenship are matched by determined efforts to create social and cultural citizenship as well.

Ours is a Hemisphere of contrasts, in which prosperity co-exists with dire poverty. One of the distinctive features of the social situation in Latin America is the highly skewed income distribution in most countries of the region. Indeed, Latin America has the highest inequity index in the world, even by comparison to regions with less social development and higher rates of poverty. While it is true that our region boasts educational institutions, health services, and housing on a par with those in the most developed countries in the world, it is also true that great numbers of our citizens still struggle in poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, malnutrition, and poor sanitary conditions.
We have examined this striking contrast time and time again. The OAS faces the political challenge of expanding its role in the social sphere. Now what is needed are effective public policies that foster equality of opportunity and engage all sectors, so as to make the citizenry’s most pressing needs matters of general interest. It is vital that society’s interests and views be taken into account in developing and managing public policy, thereby opening up social and political institutions to more inclusive and mature forms of social integration. Social rights are inextricably linked to political rights and the right of association.

The OAS must be prepared to promote partnership for integral development, combat poverty in the Hemisphere, and help design and implement national development strategies. In this endeavor, the OAS must tighten coordination with the specialized regional and global agencies, the private sector, and the international community, thereby making for more rational and effective use of resources. Cooperation strategies must pay particular attention to the smaller and relatively less developed economies and be tailored to their specific needs and sensibilities.

The negotiation of a Social Charter of the Americas offers us the opportunity to move beyond our differences and to agree upon institutional proposals that tackle these problems effectively. We must set ourselves to the task of drafting the Social Charter without delay.

Just as I said in the case of the Democratic Charter, declarations alone will not suffice for the Social Charter. Adequate mechanisms will have to be established, as will a concrete Plan of Action to ensure that we remain firmly fixed on the objectives that the Social Charter will propose.

How very relevant is the theme that our Heads of State and of Government will be discussing at the upcoming Fourth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, next November: “Creating Jobs to Confront Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance.” That theme continues to be a moral and political imperative for the Hemisphere.

Multidimensional Security

The risks and threats in today’s world have become global in nature and no country is immune to them. All the same, these risks and threats obviously strike some regions harder than others. Some sectors are highly vulnerable because they do not have the means to deal with global threats, natural disasters, transnational organized crime, terrorism, AIDS and the pandemics. Hence, the OAS’ work ethic in this realm is to generate preventive initiatives and instruments for the Hemisphere as a whole, with special attention to the most vulnerable countries.

The Declaration on Security in the Americas is a great step forward in acknowledging the multidimensional nature of the challenges that the Hemisphere faces in this field. It is an effort to take on the threats to security while also addressing their causes.

We ought to continue to strengthen the existing regional mechanisms, such as the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE), and the groups of experts on cyber crime, money laundering, and corruption.

Steps should also be taken to revitalize the Inter-American Emergency Assistance Fund. This Fund must function properly if it is to continue to provide the States with assistance in mapping preventive and reactive strategies, especially the smaller countries most vulnerable to these phenomena. The OAS must mount an ongoing effort to prevent disasters and mitigate their impact.

Relationship between the Global System and the Regional System

Responsive and effective intergovernmental institutions capable of mobilizing and orchestrating collective action are needed at both the regional and global levels. If the goal is efficient and integrated multilateralism, then more has to be done to improve coordination with the United Nations system and other political and financial international organizations, and to complement the work being done there. This is a topic I will address at the upcoming session of the OAS General Assembly. With such coordination, the power of multilateral action can be increased and duplication avoided.

The Organization’s knowledge and experience in the region can and should be used to craft global strategies for guaranteeing peace and security.

With that in mind, I plan to keep up a fluid dialogue with the United Nations’ Secretary-General and to follow closely the reforms at the United Nations as they pertain to the regional organizations.

We should aspire to be an Organization adept at anticipating and dealing with crises that affect the region’s stability and thus do our part to shape a world that is a safer place to live in. This is the reason for the OAS’ presence in Haiti. I shall continue to encourage the Organization’s active involvement, through the Special Mission, in the political, economic and social reconstruction being headed by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

The instruments, institutions and mandates of the inter-American system have served to keep the Organization current, have helped it to fulfill its principles and objectives and to grapple with the major issues. We now need to inject renewed vigor into those instruments, institutions and mandates, enrich them and partner them with new strategies and mechanisms so that they are able to rise to the challenges in the region today.

To that end, the budgetary deficit has to be addressed and member countries need to be encouraged to make their contributions to the Organization’s regular budget. Convocation of a special session of the General Assembly would surely be a means to address this very sensitive topic.


I am convinced that the member states want the OAS to be a forum of cooperation and partnership, a place for political dialogue where countries of differing levels of power and development and diverse identities can come together. This ought to be regarded as a positive force and not as a cause of alienation and contention.

Having a common vision built upon the principles and values that inspire us, is essential in order for the OAS to have meaning in the Americas, for our peoples to believe that the Organization can make a difference in their lives, in their aspirations and in their destinies, and for the OAS to be able to participate collectively in the governance of a global world.

Today we embark upon a new phase in our common hemispheric aspiration. As with any human endeavor, it will require conviction, a sense of responsibility, dedication, sacrifice, and dreams. I am asking the member States to lend me their support so that I might better serve their interests. I invite them to join me in this, our common hemispheric mission.

Let us dream together so that we might endow the Organization with the political relevance that we all want for it and that the peoples of the Americas so richly deserve.

Thank you.