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June 3, 2007 - Panama

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary General,

Distinguished Heads of State and Government, and Foreign Ministers,


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to be here. I greatly appreciate the invitation of the Government of Panama and Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza to attend the 37th session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

I think it is appropriate that my first meeting with you should be here in Panama. As we gather here, we can recall that almost 200 years ago __ in 1826 __ Simón Bolívar, the great continental visionary, convened the congress of Panama and spoke of creating an association of states in the hemisphere.

Fifty years later, Bolívar's strategic vision took on a practical reality, as an epidemic of yellow fever spread across South America. Through maritime contacts, it reached the United States. It caused 15,000 deaths in Buenos Aires alone, and 20,000 deaths up and down the Mississippi river. A conference was convened in Washington in 1881 to discuss how to handle this new global threat. At that conference, the delegate for Spain, representing Cuba and Puerto Rico, Carlos J. Finlay, announced a major scientific theory: that a mosquito was the vector of transmission of yellow fever.

The yellow fever epidemic was high on the agenda of the First International Conference of American States that was convened, also in Washington, in 1890. From that Conference emerged the Pan American Union, which became, of course, the Organization of American States. The conference also decided to create an International Sanitary Bureau, which eventually became the Pan American Health Organization – to this day the oldest continuously functioning intergovernmental health agency in the world.

Many decades and global threats later, I pay tribute to the wise men and women of this region in the 19th century, who long ago saw that there were problems that could not be solved by any national Government acting alone; and who had the courage to put aside other rivalries and differences to work together on issues of mutual interest. There is a moral in this story, somewhere, about a tiny insect that could not be defeated by any single country, and that could only be conquered through international cooperation.

Since then, your region has come to play an invaluable role in multilateralism __ in areas ranging from development to security and human rights.

Individually, many of your countries are making a crucial contribution to strengthening and renewing the United Nations __ from membership in the recently created Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council to participating in our peacekeeping operations around the world, including a leading role in Haiti, one of the most challenging situations in the Americas.

Your region has been a pioneer in forging regional multilateral agreements on many fronts, from free trade and migration to nuclear disarmament.

And you have broken new ground in the study of democracy. Over the past half century, significant chapters of the study of democracy and democratization have been conducted in the languages of this region, based on experiences here. In 2001, you boldly signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter holding all Members to a single, .high standard in democratic governance. The world has much to learn from your example, and we are watching as you strive to live up to the Charter's objectives.

Just in the last year and a half, there have been 12 presidential elections in the region. Yet in some parts of the Americas, democracy also raises misgivings __ from the perception that it has still not responded to the aspirations of the region's poor, to concerns about organized crime and corruption. This backlash against democracy brings home to us the need to make the fight against poverty and extreme social inequality a regional priority. Some of these problems would benefit from regional and international cooperation; others can be resolved through more effective performance by institutional structures already in place. Together, we must demonstrate that democratically elected Governments can meet the needs of those who elect them.

The United Nations stands ready to assist you in any way we can in strengthening institutions of Government and promoting the rule of law. Already, we are working in partnership with several of your countries to improve electoral systems and governance. In this, we try to share lessons that we have learnt in other regions, while recognizing the unique characteristics of your countries. And we are working with regional partners to ease social tensions, address the symptoms and effects of unemployment, and promote civic education, justice, human rights and democratic citizenship.

Overall, the OAS is an indispensable partner of the United Nations. Since the birth of our partnership six decades ago, we have grown to appreciate the need to collaborate with each other in a structured and efficient way. We are building channels to share information, expertise and resources more effectively __ including through the OAS's vibrant partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.


If I may recall briefly the tale of the mosquito and the 1890 conference of American States, there is another moral to the story. It is that science and politics must work as allies, not adversaries __ because by working together, science and politics can save peoples lives and livelihoods.

That is the partnership that must be brought to bear on one of the most serious global threats we have to grapple with today __ climate change. This threat is something that will eventually affect everyone on the planet. In your region, it is already an imminent threat to many. This includes those living on small islands, which are threatened by an increasing intensity of tropical storms; and those in mountainous areas relying on water resources from melting glaciers.

According to the most recent assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the planet's warming is unequivocal, its impact is clearly noticeable, and it is beyond doubt that human activities have been contributing considerably to it.

Adverse effects are already felt in many areas, including agriculture and food security; oceans and coastal areas; biodiversity and ecosystems; water resources; human health; human settlements; energy, transport and industry; and extreme weather events.

Projected changes in the earth's climate are thus not only an environmental concern. They can also have serious social and economic implications.

I do believe that today, all countries recognize that climate change requires a long-term global response, in line with the latest scientific findings, and compatible with economic and social development.

This is a subject closely connected to the commendable theme you have chosen for your General Assembly, “Energy for Sustainable Development”.

In this area, your region faces considerable challenges. They need to be addressed with dynamism, innovation and honesty. I believe you are already on the right track.

The region is starting to move in the direction of renewable energy sources. Your region has become a world leader on biofuels, which is an area, if treated carefully, has significant potential. You are successfully implementing national energy efficiency programmes to promote a better use of resources, greater environmental sustainability, and economic growth.

And you have been supportive of the efforts of the United Nations to address climate change. This year, we must step up our collective efforts, so that by the time Parties to the UN climate change convention gather in Bali in December, we have the basis for an agreement to advancing rapidly on the negotiations for a strong post-2012 regime covering all the essential aspects of this planetary problem.

Such progress is crucial if the world is to make headway in preventing and adapting to climate change. And it is equally vital if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goals, our shared blueprint for a better world, by the target date of 2015. This year will have to see real movement towards the Goals: midway towards the target date, we have arrived at a tipping point. Global warming could seriously impair our ability to reach the Goals, and even reverse achievements in human development.


The issues your region faces are complex __ and that is all the more reason to confront them at the regional level. If conducted with vision and courage, your deliberations can lead, as they did more than a century ago, to agreements on how best to use the resources of the region to build better lives for generations to come. That is surely the real meaning of the phase “sustainable development”. And such deliberations are surely the only way to reach a sustainable solution to any problem that respects no borders __ whether the problem is as small as a mosquito or as big as the planet itself.

I thank you again for your hospitality, and wish you a most successful session.