Media Center



June 4, 2013 - La Antigua, Guatemala

We are grateful, Mr. President, to be welcomed again to your great country, with the warmth and care you always extend to us. We are thankful for your personal contributions, those of the foreign minister, Fernando Carrera, and those of your entire Government to the outstanding preparations to make this forty-third regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States a complete success.

This commitment to our Organization goes beyond the interests of any given moment. It is a testimony to your genuine support for multilateralism and for the hemispheric body to which we all belong and which we wish to strengthen in our deliberations over the coming days.

It is also a joy, Mr. President, to be able to hold our General Assembly session in Antigua, this world heritage site.

I first saw the “Very Noble and Honorable City of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala” in 1968, when I first came to this country. It was an impressive place, full of colonial buildings struggling against abundant vegetation that tried to overrun them but could not conceal their past grandeur. 30 years later after attending the inaugural session of the twenty-ninth regular session of the OAS General Assembly, I saw Antigua revived, restored thanks to the impressive efforts of Guatemalans to give all of the Americas, this priceless legacy of our colonial period.

A legacy that is even more meaningful alongside the imposing expressions of Mayan civilization, which also speaks in this country with force and splendor. Guatemala is the Americas; it is Antigua, Tikal, Atitlan, Chichicastenango; it is Miguel Angel Asturias and Rigoberta Menchu; its people, its handicrafts, its dress, its looms, its flavors, products of an inimitably beautiful mestizo culture; it is the combination of very different expressions that were denied, left behind, or buried for centuries.

Building on that great heritage, this dignified, proud nation was able to overcome violence and division decades ago to forge a nation in peace, always moving toward greater democracy, justice, prosperity, and national unity. A dream that all of us in the Americas share and cherish with all the Guatemalan people.

A few weeks ago, I delivered to the Permanent Council an account of the Organization's activities over the past year. It would be impossible to cite all of them here but, as the OAS is the work of so many, I would like to begin by recalling some of the most important ones and convey our salutations and thanks.

To the observers who participated in our electoral missions to eight countries of the Americas, during national, local, and primary elections, selflessly performing one of the tasks entrusted to us by our Democratic Charter;
To the hundreds of justice facilitators, community leaders who work in Central and South America facilitating the understanding of their fellow citizens;
To the women who have given new vigor to the work of the Inter-American Commission of Women, not only to prevent gender-based violence, but to demand equality in economic and political affairs;

To the youths of the Young Americas Business Trust, who only yesterday completed a round of their TIC Americas competition, with the participation of 1,700 projects and over 3,000 young entrepreneurs from the region;
To the 100 monitors deployed throughout Colombia in our mission to support the peace plan;

To those also carrying out a peace mission in the adjacency zone between Belize and Guatemala;
To the 200 experts who contributed to our Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas;

To the experts following up on the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, who conducted a record number of on-site visits last year;

To those working to support the truce among gangs in El Salvador who have caused over 2,000 deaths in that country, with the hope that the truce will now extend to Honduras as well;

To those who have made the right to identity a reality in Haiti and other countries of the Americas through our civil registry program;

To the experts working in mine clearance and weapons destruction in the countries hardest hit by violence in recent times;

To those who travel around the region with our programs for the tracing, marking destruction of firearms
To those who strengthen our fellowships program day by day, reaching agreements with more universities to broaden our coverage and the options we offer in various countries.
To those who follow up on our Social Protection Network, on energy cooperation, and on the initiatives adopted by the Summits of the Americas.

These and other activities show that the OAS, the oldest political organization in the world, truly has no equal in our Hemisphere.

However, the OAS also stands out, above all, as the leading forum for frank, open policy dialogue in the Hemisphere. Here we discuss all the topics and issues the member countries wish to raise and everyone's ideas are equally respected. Along those lines, the past year has seen numerous events, among which I will highlight only three.

The OAS member states did not agree on the characterization of the events in Paraguay last June, which culminated in the removal of President Fernando Lugo by the Congress. I did not agree with the characterization as a “coup d'état” that some members ascribed to those events because it had never been applied to similar instances in which a country’s parliament had used its powers to oust a president.

However, since I believed, as did most of the Permanent Council, that what took place was a serious conflict of powers in the State of Paraguay, conducted in the framework of its Constitution, we chose to focus our attention on the full restoration of constitutional dialogue in that country. So the General Secretariat organized a large electoral mission, led by former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, whose task was to foster a climate of normalcy that would permit the democratic election of new officials.

This objective was fully achieved thanks to the efforts of the government of President Federico Franco and all Paraguayans, who consistently demonstrated their unequivocal wish for a peaceful transition. The election of this past April 21 proceeded in completely normal fashion, and today we send greetings to President-elect Horacio Cartes, who will take office on August 15, and the new Congress of Paraguay.

It is not my intention to reopen a debate that is now moot. What I want to highlight is the willingness that all governments of the OAS member states showed in the course of these events to discuss the issue, coherently and energetically defending their positions but never attempting to impose them by majority or turn them into reasons for division. The OAS is an Organization in which one can disagree, and disagreements are dealt with constructively, through dialogue.

That willingness for dialogue was also demonstrated at the Twenty-seventh Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, convened at the request of Ecuador following the events surrounding the Julian Assange asylum case. It was characterized above all by a positive spirit that allowed us to adopt a resolution that, along with fully reaffirming the inviolability of diplomatic facilities as provided by international law, took a constructive approach, always striving for entente and discouraging confrontation.

A more wide-ranging debate took place in connection with the decisions of the General Assembly in Cochabamba on strengthening the inter-American human rights system, culminating with our successful special session of the General Assembly this past March 22. Despite negative forecasts by some of the region's editorialists, it was very clear, in the debates and the final resolution, that for the large majority of members the purpose was, in effect, to strengthen the system, both in the Commission and in the Court. I believe the agreements reached and the reforms carried out autonomously by the IACHR resolved most of the issues, thus meeting the intended objective, which was simply to have a stronger, more autonomous, participatory and inclusive human rights system. The interest in the election of new members that we will hold at this General Assembly session and the caliber of the candidates put forward for to that end confirm that aim.

Democracy has been strengthened as never before in our Hemisphere over the past three decades. This shows in the transparency of electoral processes in most of our countries, in which voting is universal, secret, free, and informed, and in which outcomes are recognized. During my time in office, we have observed almost 70 such processes and, in every case, offering criticisms and recommendations where appropriate, we have recognized the validity of the final result.

Similarly, democratic governance in the region has grown visibly. In the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005, 18 governments exited office prematurely, through coups d'état, resignation, or removal. Over the past eight years, there were only two such cases.

Nonetheless, the process of democratization, like the ones undertaken by our countries, includes a host of other dimensions and takes longer to mature fully. We still have serious problems with the quality of governance and the inadequacy of the state to carry out the tasks the citizens assign to it in a democracy. We are facing enormous unmet challenges with regard to poverty, inequality, and public security.

Our institutions are fragile and we fall short in our recognition of the rights of minorities, and we often forget that the political opposition is also an integral part of the democratic institutional system. With weak institutions, there is always the danger that, as has happened so often in our past, a democracy with laws and institutions will be replaced by one with dominant personalities.

In a strategic vision document I presented to the Permanent Council early this year, I defined the “OAS in the 21st century” as “an inclusive organization, made up of sovereign, diverse countries legitimized by democracy, working on an equal footing to advance the same hemispheric agenda.”

It is not always easy in practice to reconcile the principle of inclusion embodied in Article 4 of the OAS Charter and those of self-determination and nonintervention embodied in the same text with the democratic obligation freely assumed in Article 1 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. For that reason we need a clear definition of what we collectively understand by the term “interruption of the democratic order” so that when we act, we do so on common ground.

In any event, I would like to reiterate two principles: first, the OAS is a multilateral and not a supranational organization, dependent at all times on the will of its member states to take any collective action; both cases of collective action and the norms and limits for carrying it out are defined; second, intervention ceased to be a practice of this Organization a long time ago. We will always be willing to offer our opinion on matters that concern our Democratic Charter, but we will do so in a way that respects the sovereignty of states and the collective will of all members.

We have come together in this General Assembly to discuss a topic related to our democratic development—one of the topics of greatest concern to people across the Americas.

The topic selected by Guatemala, “For a Comprehensive Policy against the World Drug Problem in the Americas,” was approved by the Permanent Council a few months ago. My thanks to you, Mr. President, and to your Government for the impetus you have given this topic, and to all the presidents of the region who have agreed on the need for a serious debate on one of the most critical problems facing our democracies.

A few days ago, I presented to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, thanking him for his initiative on this critical issue, the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, mandated by the Heads of State and Government at that Summit in Cartagena de Indias, and did likewise to the representatives of the member states at the Permanent Council and the meeting of CICAD..

The historic nature of this General Assembly lies in the fact that it is opening a debate that was not previously possible. The interest generated by the OAS Report on the Drug Problem is that it is ending a decades-long taboo that placed certain topics off-limits for discussion at the highest level as a matter of public policy in the political organs of the inter-American system.

Today, we are bringing legitimacy to that debate, in a transparent manner, convinced that it can pave the way for action to reduce the levels of crime and violence that plague many of our countries and help reduce the serious ravages to health caused by drug addiction, particularly among our youth.

However, the drug problem is a challenge to our public health policies, which are inadequate to address the tragedy of drug addiction. This means that individuals suffering from this addiction are still treated as criminals rather than as sick people who need specialized care. Drugs destroy lives and families and pose serious dangers to our social cohesion. This must be taken into account by caring for those who suffer from addiction. Illicit drug trafficking by criminal organizations is one of the main sources of the violence and fear that concern everyone in the Americas.

Therefore, it is also the key security issue for the Hemisphere that we need to tackle more efficiently and to greater effect in terms of achieving results. A public-health approach and violence reduction should be the main guidelines in our endeavors.

As the General Secretariat, we assumed the mandate issued by our Heads of State and Government in the two dimensions in which it was issued: on the one hand, we were asked to conduct an objective review of the drug problem, to provide all necessary information for a policy discussion and, on the other hand, to examine the various scenarios toward which the problem could evolve depending on different actions or policies.

The Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas achieves both those things:

It is an Analytical Report, which describes the drug issue in its entirety: cultivation, production, transit, sales, and consumption, including moreover three crosscutting topics of critical importance: the effects of drugs on human health, the problem of violence associated with drugs and the drug economy, and the value chain that unifies the entire process along each of its stages, including money laundering.

And it is a Scenarios Report; four scenarios on what the future of drugs might hold in store, which are based on four distinct perceptions of the problem. We shall say, once again, that none of these scenarios is advocated or prophesied by the OAS: they are not what will necessarily occur, or what we might want to occur; they are possible, credible, and relevant scenarios, which our authorities can use as they wish in their discussions.

The drug problem affects all countries, all of which have shared responsibilities. But the study of its different phases clearly concludes that this common problem has very diverse effects on the reality of the different countries and regions.

What is needed to tackle it appropriately is a highly flexible, multifaceted approach that takes different realities into account, and above all the conviction that, to be successful, we must maintain unity in diversity.

When our presidents entrusted the General Secretariat with preparing the Report, they did so with the express conviction that there could be no hasty changes or unilateral decisions on this issue. For that reason, at this General Assembly session we must devise a reasonable roadmap that reflects, both that the appetite exists to make the necessary reforms, and that the process will be undertaken with the prudence that it deserves. Opening an orderly, productive debate with a fresh mindset and new benchmarks is the outcome that we hope for from this Assembly.

Mr. President, Ministers of Foreign Affairs:

In closing the General Assembly last year in Cochabamba, I established three priorities for the work of the General Secretariat: to successfully conclude the process of strengthening the inter-American human rights system; to fulfill the mandate of the Cartagena Summit by delivering a report on drugs that met the expectations of our Heads of State and Government; and to hold discussions on our strategic vision, consensualizing what our member countries want from the OAS.

I firmly believe that we have successfully completed the first two tasks; I cannot conclude these remarks without referring to the third, on which we have made no headway. The OAS will not be able to continue its work with the resources available unless we reorganize our activities around our main hemispheric objectives of peace, democracy and human rights, public security, and development.

At present, we cover too many tasks that, though important, are not consistent with those priorities, and in carrying them out we make no real difference but divert resources away from our main objectives. As our Board of External Auditors has repeatedly stated, this is no longer an administrative issue, but one of too many mandates for the resources that we have. It is, as I have often said, a policy-decision matter, which is why I addressed it in two strategy papers submitted in the last 18 months, which continue to await your consideration and discussion.

I reiterate that this is a discussion that cannot be put off any longer and I ask for your support so that it can be held. At the same time, I pledge to devote my efforts over the rest of my time in office to contributing to this dialogue, which must allow us, as soon as possible, to complete the task of building an OAS for the 21st century.

Thank you.