Media Center



August 26, 2020 - Washington, DC


Allow me to begin by congratulating the first ladies and gentlemen of the Americas for convening this summit. This is yet another timely initiative as we take an- all- hands-on- deck approach to grappling with the enormous challenges posed by this pandemic. Indeed, at no other time has concerted action as an Inter-American family been more important.
It is impossible to disagree with those who say that our civilization is facing THE most severe threat it has ever faced. I suspect I speak for many of us when I say that I never expected to see such far-reaching, social, and economic upheaval in our world, in my lifetime, with millions out of work, hundreds of thousands, dead, and millions facing hunger and starvation.

I never thought I would see a time when routine tasks, like shopping at the mall or supermarket, receiving a package in the mail, or sending children to school, could be so complicated.

Of course, these are only a few examples of what many have come to describe as the “new normal” marked by a pronounced shift from in-person to virtual activity with e-commerce, virtual meetings, and on-line education becoming the order of the day.

No one can say with any certainty what effect these changes will have on the way our cities and communities will function in the medium to long-term. Futurists believe that telework, virtual education and home-schooling will likely become more permanent and that career choices will shift from desk work to occupations that are more resilient to economic shocks. Other analysts believe that shopping malls, department stores will have a reduced physical presence and that mass urban transportation--which is key to combatting climate change--will be shunned in preference to personal transportation.

Few, if any of us of us can claim to have been fully prepared for this “new normal.” But it is one to which we must quickly adjust.

In addition to forcing us to adjust to a new way of life, the Pandemic has compounded many old, social, economic, and environmental challenges. Generally, it has exposed fundamental inequalities in development models that continue to leave far too many behind. We see this in glaring inequalities in access to healthcare and education, and in development policies and safety nets that do not adequately take care of the needs of poor and vulnerable groups, which include women, children, youth and the physically challenged.
These weaknesses and challenges threaten the realization of the sustainable development goals and the 2030 agenda.

At the 46th Plenary Session of the OAS General Assembly, held in June 2016, OAS Member States adopted the Inter-American Program for Sustainable Development (PIDS) the first regional instrument to be aligned to the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This program calls on the General Secretariat of the OAS to take account of the impact of its work on vulnerable groups in society and adopt an inclusive approach to supporting OAS member states in their efforts to achieve sustainable development in its economic, social, and environmental dimensions, including their policies for eradicating poverty, particularly extreme poverty. The Pandemic brought into sharp focus the urgency with which we need to implement this Program.

But the Pandemic has also generated some positives. For example, it has highlighted the need for inequalities in housing and healthcare sector to be addressed. It has revealed to us the vital importance of occupations that we had taken for granted, like the nurse, bus driver, and cleaner, among others. Moreover, it has made us more conscious of the importance of inclusive and sustainable development.

These positives are inter-related. They bring to our attention, imperatives like inclusion, sustainable lives and livelihoods, and sound human and environmental health.
The frequent reminder that hand washing is an effective way to avoid being infected and contain the spread of the virus, is indirectly a reminder of the links between water, health, sanitation, food security and nutrition.

Consider then, the challenge faced by communities in water-stressed areas, such as in the Drought Corridor between southern Mexico and Panama, and in small states like Antigua and Barbuda, which have no permanent rivers or streams. With the disruption of global food supply chains caused by the Pandemic, how will these countries address their food and nutritional security challenges?
Consider too, how climate change is compounding the challenges created by the Pandemic. Many countries in the Caribbean and Central America in particular, are struggling with the twin challenge of managing the Pandemic while responding to extreme weather threats, associated with the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

In its last Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the window for taking decisive action to curb global warming that causes climate change is fast closing and that failure to act will result in untold human hardship and environmental degradation. The existential threat that climate change poses to our lives and livelihoods and those of our children and their children is one that can no longer be ignored.

The OAS acknowledges this threat and through its Secretariat for Integral Development that I have the honor to lead, it is supporting the climate and disaster resilience efforts of its Member States, in areas such as water, energy, business continuity, and disaster risk management. The focus of these efforts is the establishment of whole-of-community approaches to dealing with small-scale and large-scale, frequent, and infrequent disasters.

Arguably, the area in which a fundamental adjustment is needed to address the challenges created by the Pandemic is in governance and decision-making.

The perfect storm of crises produced by the Pandemic has reinforced the need for integrated and participatory approaches to decision-making, especially in times of uncertainty. But it is precisely at times like these that the core principles that underpin sustainable development are at greatest risk of being undermined. It is at times like these that countries must guard against the risk of panic-driven policies that are not informed by science and that generate unintended consequences.

Even in normal times, the challenges to sustainable development would be beyond the coping capacity of any Government acting alone. Now, in these times of extreme challenge and deep uncertainty, Governments are obliged to deepen and widen opportunities for full participation of all citizens in the development process. Both Governments and civil society will have to prepare to participate in decision-making. Governments will need to eliminate barriers to public participation, by adopting polices, and laws that guarantee timely access to information.

In addition, mechanisms will be needed to encourage information sharing, collaboration, and cooperation within and among civil society groups, within and between levels of government, and between all levels of government and civil society. The rationale for participatory decision-making is simple. It is about sharing the burden of development, building ownership of development plans, and building the resilience of citizens.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Crises also present us with opportunities and this one is no different. Consider, for example the new opportunities presented by the new trend in remote work. It means that companies will more aggressively recruit talent globally. New business models have emerged as have opportunities in the digital economy, and in automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual an Augmented reality. Empowering our people, particularly our young people to quickly adapt to become global citizens and to embrace these new realities is fundamental to our social and economic recovery. As consumption declines and consumers make decisions about what they can afford, our small businesses will have to pivot to ensure that they are meeting the new consumer trends and demands.

As the Pandemic reminds us, everything in nature and in life is connected; our goal at the Secretariat for Integral Development is to develop useful tools to ensure that actions taken in one area of development do not weaken actions in other areas.

We are focused on building resilient communities, through a range of programs in education and human development, science and technology, economic development through micro, small and medium enterprises, and water, energy, biodiversity management among other areas. It is challenging work but seeing the transformative impact we have been able to achieve with limited resources has made our job fulfilling.

The overarching challenge for our region is how to rethink, reshape and reconstruct more resilient societies and economies that expand opportunities for all actors in our vast socio-economic ecosystem, including our indigenous communities, micro-small and medium enterprises, our creative industries, our farmers and producers and many others.

Going forward, we at the OAS will be looking to strengthen old partnerships and build new ones. My hope is that this event may serve as a launching pad for a fruitful relationship with First Ladies and Gentlemen of the Americas on Sustainable Development.

I Thank You!