Media Center



June 5, 2011 - San Salvador, El Salvador

I would like to begin by thanking you, Mr. President, and the Government and people of El Salvador, for the magnificent welcome you have extended to the forty-first regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. The effort you have put into it clearly reflects the commitment of Salvadorans to address hemispheric concerns: a commitment that is also evident in your readiness to host and organize our meetings of the Ministers of Tourism and Ministers of Labor of the Hemisphere, both of which will also be held this year. For all of that, we are deeply grateful.

We are delighted, moreover, to find ourselves in your country at such a key moment in its history, when your government is striving to strengthen its democracy and to bring about the changes needed to achieve a higher level of development and a more just society. We also commend your readiness to participate in the Central American integration process.

This General Assembly is meeting at a time that bodes well for our Organization. In recent weeks, two thorny issues of concern to us have successfully been resolved: the election and formation of a new Government in Haiti and the return of Honduras to the full exercise of its rights as a member of the Organization of American States.

The two crises that caused us most concern over the past year thus came to an end. The tranquility with which our electoral processes are taking place–one election is drawing to a close in Peru, and our Observation Mission is there right now–shows us a Hemisphere in which the transparent and democratic choice of our authorities has now become a habit and we should strive to ensure that it stays that way.

That is why we appreciate the decisions taken by the Ibero-American Summit and by UNASUR, and the debate under way in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, regarding the adoption of democratic clauses that ensure the collective defense of democratic governments. Democracy comprises more than just fair elections and stable governments; there is a lot more to it than that.

Nevertheless, the importance of having, as we now do, democratic elections, and of defending their institutions, as we did in the case of Honduras and, a few months back, of Ecuador, must not be underestimated.

On Haiti, it strikes me as important to stress that our Joint Electoral Mission with CARICOM played a fundamental part in the successful conclusion to a difficult electoral process, and that undoubtedly constitutes a source of satisfaction.

Those achievements establish an appropriate setting in which to celebrate, this coming September, the 10th Anniversary of our Inter-American Democratic Charter. That Charter constitutes a comprehensive proposal and it is precisely through the core legitimate origin of government achieved by fair, participatory elections, that we must redouble our efforts to implement all its precepts, which address such crucial issues as human rights and freedom of expression, the separation and independence of the branches of government, transparency and accountability in government affairs, observance of the rule of law and respect for institutions, effective citizen participation, respect for the rights of women, workers, and minorities, and full recognition of political pluralism in society.

We do not have to be in absolute agreement regarding the best set of institutions for effectively establishing these principles. We take care to respect the various options for political and social organization that our peoples adopt and, in that sense, our collective policy must always respect the principle of non-intervention. However, at the same time, we have a mandate, freely accepted by all signatories to the Democratic Charter, to see that the aforementioned principles are implemented.

The debate currently under way does not seek to alter the basic tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, but rather to achieve the goal, stated at the previous General Assembly, of rendering the Democratic Charter more effective. To that end, I have submitted a number of proposals to the Permanent Council, complementing the reports already presented in 2007 and 2010. As the decisions adopted make clear, those seek to make the Democratic Charter more effective, by better defining the acts that constitute grave violations of the institutional order, putting forward mechanisms for preventing crises before they erupt, and allowing for non-invasive alternative ways of gauging progress in each of the areas the Charter refers to. We also appreciate, Mr. President, the statements that you have made on this matter.

I hope that those proposals, and others that the member states may put forward, are sympathetically assessed. I am convinced that, in the context of our recent achievements, we can conduct a constructive dialogue regarding ways to strengthen our democracy, always mindful of each country’s particular political circumstances. A Hemisphere at peace and in compliance with democratic rules is the essential condition that will provide it with its economic and social development.

The outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean in those areas is also promising. The international economic crisis, the most severe since the Great Depression, and one that may not yet be over, had a very different impact on the region than previous crises. In general, inflation was kept under control and fiscal discipline remained strong. The opening up of our economies allowed us to benefit, more than before, from the growth in demand in other parts of the world. Although there were differences from one sub-region to another, due to differences in their export mixes and greater or less proximity to the centers hardest-hit by the crisis, it is fair to say that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean were not affected as severely as on other occasions. The efforts of the previous decade to stabilize their economies paid off, showing us that we were on the right path. We are emerging from this crisis stronger, with improved risk indicators, higher credit ratings, and a lower risk premium to pay.

If current conditions continue, we can set out on the path to sustained progress. Conditions are ripe for us to delve deeper into the global economy and take advantage of the increased demand for our products. However, we have to know how to make the best of this opportunity. Currently, the International Monetary Fund is cautioning against a possible over-heating and, indeed, there are incipient outbreaks of inflation and domestic saving is still scant. In economies such as ours, where there is a regrettable tradition of overspending at times of abundance and where inflation has often been chronic, these variables must not be neglected.

If we are going to become more competitive and simultaneously raise the standard of living of our population, we must provide opportunities for decent, productive work. We must also continue striving to incorporate many more women into the workforce. All that also requires major improvements to our educational system so that when our people–and our population is younger than that of other regions of the world–do find a job, they are equipped with the tools and skills they are expected to have in today’s more capital intensive technology-conscious world.

Our countries are still blatantly unjust. This latest crisis, unlike earlier crises, did not represent a massive setback in our fight against poverty, but we have not yet achieved a significant impact on inequality.

Taking a leap forward in development, raising the living standards of our people, and constructing a region of greater justice will only be possible with greater efforts and solidarity. The tax burden in Latin America remains very low compared to other regions, with a heavy reliance on indirect taxation. We will be unable to meet future challenges without modifying that tax burden and, in addition, without reducing tax evasion. To illustrate that, compare pre-tax income distribution in our region with that of the developed OECD nations: while in the latter group of countries income distribution improves significantly once the tax burden is imposed, in our region there is practically no change in equality after taxation.

Thus, the question is not whether this new decade will be the “decade of Latin America,” but rather: “What must we do to make it the decade of Latin America?” Grounds for reasonable optimism exist. The focus of global growth is shifting to the emerging countries, with different consumption patterns from those of the rich countries. These new consumers need infrastructure, food, and other items that will raise the value and price of raw materials. And this region is better placed than any other to supply them not only with raw materials but also with other consumer goods, a still incipient trend that will, however, grow. If we invest these resources mainly in improving our social protection systems, in education, in health, in infrastructure, in eradicating extreme poverty and narrowing the divide between the few and the vast majority in our societies, if we enhance the quality of our public administration and forge genuine national pacts for our own advancement, without wasting time on useless diatribes, our response to shifting global trends may prove a blessing.

Our Organization will continue to call for the pursuit of those development objectives through our cooperation programs, which seek to strengthen the institutions of the state and of society that are necessary in securing development; to increase the effectiveness of government action, strengthening its structures for decision-making and for implementing public policies; to train our human resources in the most modern techniques of public administration, and to train the region’s most outstanding young people. We also seek to support the most excluded sectors of civil society and to encourage corporate social responsibility to build partnerships between the public sector and private enterprise, to increase the effectiveness of our common efforts in pursuit of integral development.

But democratic governance, economic growth, and improving living standards are not possible if one basic obstacle is not overcome. That is the issue that you, Mr. President, singled out as the leitmotiv of this General Assembly session.

In 2003, at the Special Conference on Security, held in Mexico City, the OAS member states adopted the “Declaration on Security in the Americas,” which established it as a multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing both new and traditional threats. Among these, the natural disasters that regularly affect many of our countries and the man-made disasters that increasingly endanger our region’s environment were, for the first time ever, identified as a direct threat to our peoples' security. We respond to this growing challenge by seeking to coordinate mitigation and reconstruction efforts with the other international organizations, providing help directly or channeling it through the Pan American Development Foundation and promoting voluntary action through the White Helmets program headed by the Argentine Republic.

Likewise, the Mexico Conference recalled the threat posed by the persistence of such factors as poverty, extreme poverty, inequality, social exclusion, economic instability, and unemployment, which are breeding grounds and propagators of criminal acts. We have all endlessly repeated that, in our region, one in every four youths neither studies nor works. That makes tens of millions of our youths are prey to crime, either because they are easily recruited by organized bands or because they are victims of their criminal acts.

Yet the Conference in Mexico also placed special emphasis on the threat posed by crime, which eight years later looms even larger. Recognizing the origins of crime does not, however, exempt us from tackling the problem head on.

Crime, drug trafficking, and violence pose a threat to stability, the strengthening of democracy, the rule of law, and economic development in the Americas. We can no longer ignore the crucial impact that the increase in violence and transnational organized crime, in particular, will have on our future.

We are confronted by criminal organizations acting from outside and from within our national borders and responsible for drug trafficking, money laundering, the smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons and weapons, extortion, intellectual piracy, and kidnapping.

However, violence affects certain segments of the population disproportionately. Its principal victims are young children and adolescents. Youths from the poorest social strata, especially males, are ringleaders in gangs but they are also the chief victims of violence. The regional death rate from wounds–14.94 per 100,000 inhabitants–is the leading cause of death among youths between 15 and 29 years of age, for whom the death rate is 83.2 per 100,000; and even higher than that–over 100 per 100,000–among youths in the middle and lower strata.

Women, too, are preferred victims of violence. A diagnostic assessment carried out by the Inter-American Development Bank shows 50 percent of all women in Latin America are victims of sexual aggression and domestic violence. And we are all aware of the recent alarming trend in the statistics for killings of women in our countries.

The lack of security directly affects people’s bodily integrity, tranquility, and possessions, and it poses a threat to stability, to efforts to strengthen democracy, to the rule of law, and to development in all of the countries of the Americas. IDB studies show that Latin America’s GDP would be 12 percent higher than it is, were it not for criminal violence. Expenditure on private security, totaling nearly US$7 billion in Latin America, far exceeds government expenditure on security and the justice system combined in the majority of the countries in our region.

Overcoming the blight of inequality, extreme poverty, the dearth of utilities, and lack of decent work is a process that will require years of unremitting effort, which is no answer to society’s pressing demand for security. The most recent Latinobarómetro survey shows greater adherence to democracy, but it also shows, in all our countries, a significant increase in concern about crime, even in countries with relatively low crime rates.

In addition to the objective fact that crime and organized crime have increased, we now have to contend with the subjective factor of fear and citizens’ demands. Thus crime poses a political challenge to our democracy. It demands a clear response on our part. That response must come from the whole of society, from social and political organizations and from active citizens. There also have to be clear public policies, along with the political and budgetary decisions needed to implement them.

Indeed, crime interacts with economic and social development policies, and it entails getting rid of frustration and discrimination, giving all young people the opportunity to work and/or study, and correcting the enormous inequalities in our society. It must be compatible with a democratic society and with the defense of the human rights and freedoms for which we have fought so hard. But it also has to do with the capabilities of our police forces, their capacity for surveillance, to provide protection, and to investigate crime; the existence of prosecutors and judges capable of enforcing the law justly and severely; the existence of prison systems that promote re-education of inmates, especially of the young, and isolate the most dangerous criminals and heads of criminal bands who occupy prisons as if they were offices for directing their criminal operations; and also the development of community action and participation mechanisms to prevent crime.

There is no substitute for State intervention in developing such resources, in interaction with a well organized community. However, some of our countries face greater challenges than others; and some lack sufficient resources to construct modern and democratic security systems. The offers of support reaching the weakest countries, on a bilateral or multilateral basis, must not be restricted to purely supplementary or peripheral actions: they need to be actively committed to supporting public policies for the construction of security systems in the areas we have pointed to.

Crime has an obvious transnational connotation: drug trafficking takes drugs across borders; arms smuggling from North to South serves increasingly to fuel the arsenals of drug cartels and renders government efforts to combat them useless; human trafficking crosses borders; money laundering uses the advantages of global financial systems; and criminal gangs operate in a variety of scenarios, shifting effortlessly from one country to another. All these facts make crime an international activity par excellence, one that can only be combated collectively and which requires far more cooperation than we have so far mustered.

That is why, ever since I joined the OAS General Secretariat in 2005, I have repeatedly insisted that, in accordance with the demands coming from the citizens of the Americas, we have to accord top priority, in this area, to public security.

Already in 1986, we had created the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, which is the political forum of the Hemisphere for all matters relating to the global drug problem; and in 1999 we established the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism. However, those two Committees worked without a comprehensive concept of public security and other severe threats were not addressed by the Organization.

In 2005, in an institutional response to the Mexico Declaration of 2003, we created the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security, to which the aforementioned Commission and Committee were integrated, as well as a Department of Public Security, which focuses on those new threats to security that are not managed by the other bodies, including organized crime and the criminal gangs phenomenon, illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, comprehensive action against anti-personnel landmines, and trafficking in human beings.

The meetings of the region’s ministers of justice have increasingly emphasized aspects related to the coordination of criminal justice, in full awareness that our intervention and interdiction capabilities are enhanced when we work together.

Particularly noteworthy were two meetings of ministers responsible for public security, one held in Mexico in 2007 and the other in the Dominican Republic in 2009, the latter being preceded, also in 2009, by a major meeting of experts in Montevideo. The Third Meeting, scheduled to be held in November of this year, in Trinidad and Tobago, offers specific mechanisms and indicators that may enable our countries to implement the outcomes of this General Assembly and raise the quality of our international endeavors.

These standing committees and bodies for discussion and for reaching agreements allow the highest-level authorities responsible for law enforcement and public security management to grasp the roots underlying the phenomenon of crime and violence in the Hemisphere and to generate consensus and coordinated actions to confront it.

Furthermore, from the OAS General Secretariat, we coordinated or acted as the Executive Secretariat of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption; the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention on violence against women; of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials; of the Hemispheric Plan against Transnational Organized Crime; of the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission; of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism; of the Working Group to Prepare a Regional Strategy to Promote Inter-American Cooperation in Dealing with Criminal Gangs; of the Technical Group on Transnational Organized Crime; of the Meeting of National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons; of the Meeting of Authorities responsible for penitentiary and prison policies; of the Meeting of Forensic Specialists; and of the Groups of Experts on Drug Demand Reduction, Money Laundering, Maritime Trafficking, and Chemical Precursors.

We can make use of these to better address this task, but decision-making demands the existence of a clear plan of action for carrying out our policies.

Here, I should not omit to mention the recent meeting of our Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) in Suriname, which gave its final approval to the new 2011 – 2015 Anti-Drug Strategy, drafted by a High-Level Working Group headed by Mexico. That Plan identifies objectives and specific policies in five areas: institution-building, demand reduction, supply reduction, control measures, and international cooperation; and it specifies concrete measures for each area. For the first time, that Strategy strikes a balance between the various different components of the anti-drug effort, and includes very clear proposals for controlling supply, combating money laundering, and curbing arms trafficking to drug traffickers.

I underscore this new Strategy for two reasons: First, because this new Strategy shows to what extent we grasp the real shortcomings of current policy. When we talk about the current war on drugs, we cannot say that it is a failure because we are not seizing drugs or because we are not arresting people involved in trafficking. In 2010, more than 500 tons of cocaine were seized, which is estimated to be almost half of what is produced; and of the three and a half million people incarcerated in our Hemisphere, one third is in prison for crimes related to drug trafficking. Of course, we can become even more effective in that regard, but until demand declines, until trafficking ceases to be profitable, and until the flow of money dries up, there will always be ways to finance the business, and so long as an abundance of weapons travels from North to South, the war will continue and we will combat it on increasingly unequal terms.

It is not by chance that the new Strategy, which was adopted unanimously, refers to the need to reduce demand, fight money laundering more effectively, and curb arms trafficking.

Second, the adoption of the new drugs Strategy shows that we are capable of formulating a Plan of Action arrived at through consensus-building and with concrete measures on such a vital topic as drug trafficking. I see no reason why we cannot achieve as much, in the not too distant future, with respect to a more comprehensive Plan of Action. That is also the aspiration of the Police Community of the Americas, which is meeting now only a few kilometers from here. Yesterday we signed a cooperation agreement with that association, which is made up by the police officers of all our countries, and they are waiting for clear instructions to take action in the directions we indicate.

Many of the ingredients in this Strategy were put forward by El Salvador in the debates prior to this Assembly. I hope that here we will take those and other concrete actions into consideration in our cooperation in fighting for citizen security and that we adopt the decisions needed to convert them into a Plan of Action.

Mr. President: Thanks to your Government’s initiative and inspired by the draft presented by your Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministers of foreign affairs of the Americas will have the opportunity, in this regular session, to adopt measures relating to the strengthening of international cooperation against crime. Among the matters to be addressed at this Assembly is the obligation of the State to provide security for its citizens within the framework of a democratic order, the rule of law, and observance of human rights: an obligation that needs to be expressed in long-term, comprehensive public security policies imbued with a gender perspective. Interaction between the different levels of the State with organized civil society, the community, the media, the private sector, and academia as a tool for responding in a participatory, coordinated, and comprehensive manner to the complex threats to security in our countries, must also feature prominently in the deliberations and conclusions of this General Assembly.

The Organization of American States has directed its security policies in such a way that they serve those purposes. As I have shown here, we have programs under way and the institutional resources to play a useful part in this important task and we place them at the disposal of all our member states. In the short term, we will gladly be present at the next meeting on security in Guatemala on June 22 to take on the tasks they assign us.

Mr. President; distinguished ministers:

Our Hemisphere is living times of change. Economic conditions exist today that point to the clear possibility of a boom. Favorable political conditions also exist, with consolidated electoral processes and significant progress in the consolidation of all the countries’ institutions. But those positive changes could again be weakened by threats that have in no way abated. There are no wars in our region, but there are two common, interrelated, and equally violent enemies: organized crime and inequality.

Within the OAS we are ready to meet those challenges. All we are waiting for are clear decisions, which I am sure you will adopt at this Assembly and in the months to follow. If we do take those decisions, I believe we will act without hesitation and then we will be able to say with certainty that, yes, the decade we have embarked on will be the decade of Latin America and the Caribbean, in the context of a Hemisphere that is experiencing progress, security, and peace.

Thank you very much.