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Mr. President
Secretary General
Assistant Secretary General
Colleague Ministers of Foreign Affairs
Heads of delegations
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am indeed honoured to address the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States for the first time, in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of Dominica. My delegation wishes to take this opportunity to offer congratulations to His Excellency Jose Miguel Insulza, on his election as Secretary General of the OAS. I convey the best wishes of the Government and people of the Commonwealth of Dominica to His Excellency as he seeks to strengthen the Organisation and reinforce its role in fostering the democratic values that are so important to hemispheric integration and prosperity.

The theme proposed by our host, the United States of America, for this Thirty Fifth General Assembly, “delivering the benefits of democracy” is of particular significance and seems a natural follow up to the Quito General Assembly theme of “social development, democracy and the impact of corruption”.

Mr. President,
There is wide consensus that democracy as a political system is the best option to ensure respect for human rights and the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms by all of our people as well as ensuring long term stability and development.

Our deliberations in this Organisation must therefore focus on defining in a concrete manner the means by which, we, as representatives of democratically elected governments, can ensure that the benefits of this democracy that we so strongly advocate are delivered to the peoples of the hemisphere, at all levels.

In so doing there are two major questions that we must seek to address. The first is what are the major challenges to democracy that we face as Member States of the OAS?

At the opening session of the Thirty Fourth OAS General Assembly the distinguished former Secretary General César Gavira remarked and I quote “In the 1990’s the threat posed by military coups waned and authoritarian leaders emerged as the principal risk to democracies”.
He went on to identify poverty, inequality and social exclusion as the most serious threats to democracy in the hemisphere, stemming by and large from the weaknesses of government institutions and the poor quality of our policies.

These observations regarding threats to democracy in the hemisphere continue to be relevant today and have been referred to in one form or another by all the principle speakers at our official opening ceremony on Sunday and by the President of the United States in his address to us yesterday. For us in the Caribbean natural disasters and globalization, with its accompanying adverse terms of trade for Small Island Developing States must also be included as serious threats to our continuing democratic evolution.

We therefore cannot address the strengthening of democracy without simultaneously addressing issues of development; these two are inextricably linked and must be promoted together in order to guarantee peace, security and the fundamental rights and freedom of our people. Article 11 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter confirms that democracy and social and economic development are interdependent and are mutually reinforcing. The Charter reaffirms that the fight against poverty and especially the elimination of extreme poverty is essential to the promotion and consolidation of democracy and constitutes a common and shared responsibility of the Americas.

Secondly, what are the elements of democracy that we have been able to deliver effectively and to what extent has this democracy delivered a better quality of life for our people?

Mr. President,
We can pride ourselves on the holding of free and fair elections based on universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; we can pride ourselves on the pluralistic system of political parties, the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government. We can pride ourselves on universal access to primary health care and to universal secondary education. These are some of the benefits of democracy but we must go much further. Elections have recently been held in the true spirit of democracy in three CARICOM countries including the Commonwealth of Dominica. This is one way of ensuring that our people enjoy full participation in the democratic process, and exercise the right not only to freedom of expression but to the actual selection of their government and system of governance.

Generally peace and stability remain one of the important hallmarks of the region. Sadly however the situation in Haiti has cast a shadow over any claim that we may wish to make as champions of democracy. The interruption of the democratic order in Haiti even before February 29, 2004 affects us all as Member States of the OAS and even more so as members of the CARICOM sub-region. The situation in Haiti therefore remains an issue of great concern to the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica and we in the OAS and the wider international community must remain engaged and do all that is within our power until Haiti is fully democratic and peaceful and able to address the historic challenges with which Haiti has been faced.

Mr. President,
Most of us are States Parties to a number of regional and International Treaties and Conventions aimed at eliminating inequality and social exclusion. Article 9 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter addresses the issue of elimination of all forms of discrimination especially gender, ethnic and race discrimination, as well as diverse forms of intolerance. The Charter further calls for concrete action such as, the promotion and protection of human rights of indigenous peoples and migrants and respect for ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in the Americas, so as to contribute to strengthening democracy and citizen participation.

In keeping with the letter and spirit of these international instruments, we the Governments of Member States of the OAS, must continue to take the necessary action at all levels, to give full effect to the many provisions of these instruments signed and ratified by us.

While delivering the benefits of democracy requires the political will of democratically elected governments, it also requires the involvement of other sectors in society including the private sector, civil society, the wider public and the support of the international community. As members of democratic societies our people expect at the very least, respect for their fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as their economic, social, political and cultural development. This can only be achieved through a collective effort and shared responsibility. There is still much work to be done but the challenges are not insurmountable.

The Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica remains committed to the ideals of the Organisation of American States, particularly with regard to the promotion and consolidation of representative democracy in the Americas. The Commonwealth of Dominica also stands firmly committed to delivering the benefits of democracy to the people on whose behalf my delegation has made this contribution.

Finally Mr. President, I would like to join the other delegations in expressing our appreciation to our host the United States of America, the State of Florida and the city of Fort Lauderdale for the hospitality and the excellent arrangement which have been made for all delegations attending the Thirty-Fifth Regular Session of the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States.

I thank you, Mr. President.