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June 6, 2005 - Fort Lauderdale, FL

“Delivering the Benefits of Democracy”

Sr. Presidente: I wish to thank the government of the United States of America and the State of Florida for their warm hospitality in hosting this General Asembly.

Foreign Ministers, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary general, Fellow Delegates:

I will begin, most uncharacteristically, by quoting from the Christian Bible, The Epistle of James, Chapter 2 verses 14 to 18:

“What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? ... If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? “

Mr. Chairman:

We believe that democracy without social and economic development is like faith without good works.

The theme of this General Assembly is “Delivering the Benefits of Democracy.”

We all proclaim our belief, our faith, in democracy. We may differ in our interpretations of what it means, but we are united in the conviction that democracy is the form of government that should deliver a better quality of life to our citizens.

And that flows inevitably from what I think we all accept as the common denominator of democracy: that the will of the people is reflected in the system by which their lives are governed, that in some real sense the people participate in decision-making.

Clearly nobody wills or decides to be poor or destitute, to be hungry, to be illiterate and powerless, to be unable to provide their children with a good education, with essential health services, with decent housing and dignified employment. When this is in fact what prevails, can we say that democracy is a reality?

Any discussion on delivering the benefits, the profits, of democracy must of necessity focus on how to improve our people’s lives.

We are all aware of the differing views of our various State members about how to achieve this. Just as citizens in a democratic community have a right to self-determination, so do nations in a community of States. Prescribing democracy for individuals, from the poorest to the richest, in countries but not demanding democracy for States, from the least to the most powerful, in multilateral organizations, is hypocrisy.

We must accept that a country has the sovereign right to define what will work best for its people. No country, no matter how powerful, has the right to define democracy for the world.

At the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Member States agreed that “each country has primary responsibility for its own economic and social development through sound policies, good governance and the rule of law.” Those policies must include a sustained commitment to eradicate poverty, stimulate economic growth with equity, and safeguard human security in all its multi-dimensional aspects.

But we cannot make States responsible for equitable and sustained development and at the same time strip them of the means to accomplish these goals. Global trading regimes have had the effect of severely limiting the capacity of governments to deliver the benefits of democracy.

Yes, it may be that ‘free market reforms’, to use a popular euphemism, have produced economic growth, but the benefits are far from democratically shared. And when billions of dollars in subsidies are paid in rich countries, this leads directly to more millions living on less than a dollar a day.

The challenge, as our distinguished Chair has emphasised, is indeed inclusion - how to ensure that everyone, in every corner of the globe, enjoys the benefits of democracy.

It is far from enough to say democracy is a reality because people have a right to vote for candidates of dozens of political parties, even though such elections may be decided by which party has the most money to spend on television ads or on buying votes with groceries or money.

Such money invariably comes from the few in the society, and the quid pro quo is inevitably that the victorious party enacts policies that will favour its supporters. No one can deny that the result has been to widen the gap between rich and poor. The numbers that the distinguished representative of Jamaica reminded us of are tragic testimony to this fact.

Inclusion cannot mean that people be included in the queue at the polling station but not in the line at the bank.

If people have a right to elect a government, it cannot be just to say that they live in a democracy. It must mean that the government they elected will work to ensure that they enjoy the social and economic benefits of democracy, and that they will have a real say in the policies of State that will make this possible.

We in the OAS have taken an important positive step by creating the Democratic Charter, but as a previous General Assembly has recognised, this is not enough. We must create a Social Charter that will help us to deliver the benefits of democracy to our people.

The OAS must not sit in judgment, but must assist nations to achieve these goals. As other Ministers have said, its role is multilateral cooperation, not intervention; to support, not to substitute governments elected by the people.

And when we ask, “Is democracy a reality?” What benchmarks do we use? If we are to use a yardstick that means something to the vast majority of people in this hemisphere, we will then need to ask, “Do the people have equitable access to health, education, housing and jobs? Are they free from hunger and poverty, from street children that have to resort to prostitution and crime to survive?”

And if there are States where these conditions prevail, we are witnessing the delivery of the benefits of democracy.

When we do not see that, we ask, “What is the government of that State doing about it, and how can we, as the OAS, help?”

We must set about this task together. We all have a role to play.

The OAS can fulfil its responsibility by moving expeditiously to elaborate and agree to the Social Charter and a concrete plan of action, and by putting a new and more practical focus on the eradication of poverty in our hemisphere.

As our Assistant Secretary General has brilliantly urged, we must establish a system of solidarity, a means whereby we share our resources, where those who have, help those who don't, in serious and substantial ways; and where we all work together to help one another to deliver the benefits of democracy to all our peoples.

Governments can do their part by investing in their people through the provision of quality education, adequate health care and housing; establishing a fair entrepreneurial environment; ensuring sustainable development of natural resources and safeguarding the environment; and committing to transparency and good governance.

Civil society organizations, with their ability to focus on issues and obtain social participation and representation for diverse groups, have the responsibility to contribute constructively to the economic and social development agenda.

The private sector must not only practise good corporate citizenship and abide by national laws but it must also provide jobs that allow for a decent living wage.

Individual citizens have a civic responsibility to participate in the political process in an informed manner for the benefit of all, particularly the weak and the vulnerable.

Democracy without benefits is like faith without works. By fulfilling our respective roles we will have shown our democratic faith by our works.

In the words of British parliamentarian Tony Benn, “ A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world.”

Is democracy our faith or our doctrine??

Let us not forget that while democracy is our chosen path, it is not the ultimate objective. The ultimate objective is improving the lives of our people.

We will be judged by whether we accomplish this or not.