April 7, 2017 - Syracuse, New York

The Organization of American States

• The Organization of American States (OAS) is the oldest regional organization in the world. The First International Conference of American States, held in Washington, DC between October 1889 and April 1890, led to the establishment of the International Union of American Republic and subsequently paved the way for the adoption of the Charter of the Organization of American States in Bogota, Colombia in 1948. The Organization was established “to achieve an order of peace and justice, to foster their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration and to defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence among its member states as stipulated in Article 1 of the Charter.

• The Organization is comprised of the hemispheric political forum with high quality, the unique space where Canada, the United States of America and all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are gathered on equal terms. The Member States elect the Secretary General for a period of five years with the possibility of re-election only once. The Secretary General Luis Almagro was elected on March 18, 2015 and took office on May 26 of the same year. The central lines of its management are clearly defined around democracy and human rights in the effort to secure more rights for more people.

• Cuba is the founding member states of the OAS. In June 2009, the State members of the OAS adopted by consensus the resolution of the OAS General Assembly “Resolution on Cuba” AG/Res. 2438 (XXXIX-O/09): 1) The Resolution VI adopted on January 31 of 1962 in the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which the Government of Cuba was excluded from its participation of the inter-American system (Which was revoked with this resolution of 2009). 2) The participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a dialogue process initiated at the request of the Government of the Republic of Cuba in accordance of the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS.

The hemispheric commitment with the democracy

• The promotion and consolidation of democracy, while respecting the principle of non-intervention, is one of the founding objectives of the OAS, as stated in the Charter of the Organization. Throughout its history, the member states of the inter-American system have reaffirmed their commitment to democracy in various instruments and declarations, leading to the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IDC).

• The General Assembly resolution on Representative Democracy, which is known as Resolution 1080 and was adopted in 1991, stands out among the texts existing previous to the IDC. Among other declarations, the Declaration of the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Americas, which is known as the Québec Declaration held in April 2001, calls for the strengthening of OAS instruments for the active defense of democracy.

• This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The IDC, which was adopted on September 11, 2001 by the OAS General Assembly, provides the inter-American system with a renewed commitment by its member states to democracy and collective defense mechanisms for its strengthening and preservation. In the IDC, the member states of the OAS establish the rights of the peoples of the Americas in democracy such as a regime of government, its essential elements and its fundamental components in an integral way. By this, they explicitly define the foundations of a democracy not only of origin with elections, but also of exercise.

• The IDC describes the respect for human rights, the access to and exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the observance of periodical, free and fair elections, the pluralist regime of political parties and the separation and independence of the public authorities as the essential elements. In addition, among the components of the democratic exercise, it includes the transparency, probity, constitutional subordination of state institutions to the legally formed civil authority and the rule of law.

• Democracy in the region has not been and is not without risks, although the nature of it has changed and continues to evolve in accordance with the political transformation of the region. For this reason, the IDC goes beyond definitions and takes into account mechanisms for its strengthening and preservation. The situations of threats to democracy and the mechanisms of action considered in the IDC are as follows:

a) When the institutional democratic process or the exercise of power is at risk, the Government of the affected Member State may appeal to the Secretary General or the Permanent Council to request its assistance with their consent. In that instance, they may arrange visits to analyze the situation.

b) When there is an interruption of the democratic order or a change of the constitutional order that seriously affects the democratic order in a Member State, any Member State or the Secretary General can request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to make a collective assessment of the situation and take proper decisions.

c) When there is a breakdown of the democratic order in a Member State, the General Assembly may suspend the State from exercising its right to participate in the OAS with the affirmative vote of 2/3 of the Member States.

• The IDC constitutes a hemispheric commitment to democracy and provides a unique framework to generate timely responses in support of the preservation and strengthening of democratic institutions in its region and in its exercise as the people of the region demands for its effort.
• The IDC is an ideal road map that works toward establishing solid democracy and brings more rights to people.

The challenges of the democracy in the region

• The Progress in democracy and democratic governance is evident in the Americas. The alternation in power and the renewal of authorities have been carried out many times without interruptions or alterations independent of the ideology of the outgoing or the incoming government. The results of the elections carried out in countries of various regions during last year showed a tendency towards the alternation.

• This was evident in the presidential elections of Argentina (2015), the legislative elections of Venezuela (2015), constitutional referendum approved in Bolivia (2016), and the municipal elections in Costa Rica (2016). This change was also visible in countries with parliamentary regimes as demonstrated by the results of the general elections of Canada (2015), Jamaica (2016), Guyana (2015), Saint Kitts and Nevis (2015) and Trinidad and Tobago (2015).

• Democracy requires good governance and demands solid institutions, an effective system of checks and balances between the State powers, conditions for the full exercise of political citizenship, empowered citizens, political parties capable of acting as channels of Representation, as well as new forms of participation, transparency in the exercise of public management and local power, among other essential elements. While the progress of democracy in the Americas is commendable, the full validity of the democratic system can be in risk when situations that can deteriorate its essential principles and practices persist. The situations that deteriorate the democratic system can be the weakening of the balance between State powers, illicit associations between money and politics both in the public and private sectors, and the lack of equity in electoral disputes.

• The impact of the events occurred in the Americas during the recent months about recurring controversy on political financing which was amplified by the role of social networks and an increasingly active citizenship have shown the “caustic” effect that the phenomenon of the corruption has the credibility of the democratic system. The corruption scandals that have arisen in several countries have been the trigger of citizen demands and the unexpected intense social mobilization. This has tested the validity of the rule of law, the functioning of the system of checks and balances, the civic maturity of citizens and the necessary conditions of governance.

• The conservation of the essential elements of the electoral democracy, particularly in the practice of democracy, will be vital to decrease the citizen dissatisfaction with the democratic system to strengthen institutions and to ensure conditions of democratic governance. In this context, the political cycle emerges as a result of elections in several countries in the region, the increasingly active role of citizens in the political processes including the millennial democratic riddle, which is the Paradigm in inter-American relations as a result of the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the USA, the historic peace process in Colombia, and political, economic and social responses to the economic downturn.

• Every day new, manifold, and very significant threats to our democracies emerge. But to fully comprehend the magnitude of these challenges, we must share, in the broadest sense, our current understanding of democracy in the Americas.

• First, its meaning has come to encompass everything that we consider to be part of the political system: free, fair, transparent elections; independence and balance between government branches; transparency and the fight against corruption; citizen participation; strengthened political parties; decentralization and strengthening of local government; the Congress, its powers and functioning; the opposition’s access to information, accountability; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; a role for civil society.

• Meanwhile, over the past decade, we have witnessed the crisis of capital instability, the most undesirable aspect of globalization. One way or another, millions of citizens of all social strata feel vulnerable; they feel threatened by what they see as uncontrollable forces creating economic insecurity, social uncertainty, class and culture conflicts, and environmental degradation. This has brought enormous pressure to bear on our political parties and systems.

• Without doubt, the primary task of our political parties is to work effectively to ensure a better future for all of those who are left out of the market economy, for those living in misery, for the malnourished, for indigenous peoples, for the illiterate, for the elderly, for the most vulnerable populations.

• Moreover, above and beyond the immense challenges posed by economic globalization, the phenomena of political globalization also have presented enormous challenges for our democracies. Political globalization has generated a planet-wide awareness in the quest for social justice and the defense of citizens’ rights. It enables us to perceive the failures, weaknesses, and vices in our political systems and parties much more quickly and acutely than the economic shortcomings.

• Until recently, countries had the option of having a political system replete with shortcomings, but with the advent of political globalization this is no longer possible. We have observed problems of election fraud, or the lack of equity in electoral contests, or the problems of discrimination against indigenous peoples, women, and children. All of these things are translated instantly into the pervasive discrediting of our political systems and parties.

• Further, respect for the right of every citizen of the Americas is an imperative that is all of our responsibility. The unrelenting war against corruption to achieve greater transparency and accountability is inescapable.

• Likewise, NGOs and civil society, with their powerful mobilizations, today enjoy much more freedom of movement; their voices increasingly find echo; their cries are heard across the continents. Today there are more agents, more spokespeople, and more organizations pointing out the failures of our institutions, revealing their limitations, and demanding their reform.

• And as if this weren’t enough, democracy has to confront the legacy of the preceding economic model, the greatest inequality on the planet and, in some cases, even more acute poverty caused by the dramatic adjustment, palpable decreases in per capita income, and poor education systems.

• We should not be surprised, then, if sometimes it seems as if the scaffolding of the entire political system is becoming unhinged.

• When we speak of democracy, we are referring to the effective functioning of the State and to government institutions responsible for supervision, regulation, or control, or providing public services: education, health, police, justice, or security. And there is no question that this constitutes a huge challenge for political parties, as they are the ones who must be held accountable for the effectiveness of public institutions.

• In other words, each country’s democracy ends up being responsible for all of the acts or omissions of the state, the government, or any government agency, as well as for their past acts and omissions. Democracy has to confront the consequences or limitations of economic policy or social policy, just as it has to shoulder the malaise, the tensions, caused by the acute economic, social, and political changes of the past decade. And political parties must take on these enormous responsibilities.

The role of political parties

• First, we must recall that the cause of most democratic ruptures has been rooted in the weakness of the executive branch and the fragmentation of the legislature. The region learned a number of lessons from the democratic debacle and a second round for presidential elections has been established in most constitutions or legislation.

• This has been only a partial solution since, while we must acknowledge that it can help prevent a democratic breakdown by bolstering the legitimacy of the executive, it does not, however, solve the governance crisis.

• There are many facets of governance, one of the most important of which involves the impossibility of advancing reforms when the government is faced with a divided Congress and is unable to move ahead with the tasks it promised to the electorate. It is therefore necessary to revise the institutional framework in which political parties operate. If we want strong parties, we need legal frameworks that facilitate their functioning, not only as an electoral apparatus, but also as tools for strengthening democracy, whether they are carrying out governmental functions, or acting from the opposition.

• This requires a guarantee of at least a minimum of public resources in order to maintain a solid party apparatus and enable parties to carry out their most basic tasks in terms of informing their constituents and the political development of party members.

• Reform of this institutional framework also must include better guarantees for opposition activities as well as improving parties’ capacity for action in the parliaments, their natural setting. The crisis in the Congresses is but a reflection of the crisis affecting parties; as long as the latter fail to surmount their own difficulties, it is unlikely that the Congresses will be able to do so, on their own. All of the surveys reveal a dangerous, negative trend in which Congresses and political parties receive the lowest ratings in terms of citizen regard.

• Political financing must be central to this effort to change institutional frameworks. I already mentioned the need to allocate a basic minimum to ensure that parties are not just phantom institutions.

• Citizens have a right to know where politicians’ campaign financing is coming from. This requires an underlying commitment to transparency in divulging the origin and use of public and private funding. According to data from the World Competitiveness Report, (a publication on competitiveness) the Latin American region has the highest rates of illegal political financing, and the highest rate of corporate co-optation of laws, policies and regulations. In terms of financing, an appropriate balance must be struck between accountability, caps on campaign contributions by individuals and corporations, spending levels, and finally, repayment of campaign expenditures and effective oversight mechanisms. These mechanisms require an independent electoral authority, one that is well equipped to investigate and to impose penalties.

• In the area of financing, it is easy to imagine the kinds of distortions that arise between the government apparatus and political campaigns. In any event, creativity is necessary to prevent corruption, to ensure equality, and to avoid excessive increases in campaign costs, since it is necessary to preserve the credibility and integrity of the process.

• While it is virtually impossible to come up with definitive solutions in such matters, finding answers for particular contexts and engaging in a valuable exchange can be very enriching.

• However, neither a conducive political environment nor favorable regulations will restore citizens’ confidence in parties unless their leaders have a strong commitment to party democratization and modernization.

• The first element to consider is that parties have to reclaim their vocation to prepare themselves to govern. What we have observed is that parties, and particularly candidates, invest enormous quantities of financial, personal, and institutional resources to win an election. Huge sums of money are spent on consultants, advertising, and other aspects of the electoral debate. Yet campaigns fail to reserve resources for the transition or for setting up the government and, at the same time, States do not make such resources available to the incoming president.

• As a result, governments frequently take office essentially lacking basic information about the financial situation or the status of many public policies. Compounding this, the task of governance often does not fall to the party but rather to certain elites or technocratic groups; this defeats the notion of political competitiveness, thereby increasing public skepticism and the malaise afflicting party structures.

• This brings us to an issue that we must examine very seriously and that is that weaknesses in presidential systems are becoming apparent in Latin America. Besides the weakness of governments lacking a parliamentary majority, we have observed many cases of destabilization caused by rapid political mobilizations through weak institutional mechanisms. We are starting to see, for example, how indigenous communities’ historical feeling of exclusion has had sometimes devastating effects on the political system in several countries.

• This leads us to a situation in which merely strengthening political parties is insufficient. We need to enter into pacts or agreements with representatives of certain minority groups regarding the rules of the democratic game. In this case, mechanisms based on democratic majority are insufficient in dealing with minorities.

• In such situations, marginalized groups must receive public resources to organize and to articulate their demands. Both the parties and the NGOs, however, must act responsibly and refrain from encouraging extremist positions that block consensus and could result in a spiral of violence.

• This leads us to a situation in which we must agree that certain types of political participation should be encouraged, while others must be restricted or prohibited. This is particularly important in order to defend democracy, the rule of law, and to reject violence from any source.

• Therefore, regulations governing political party operations and financing must include strict regulations that prohibit discrimination, uphold freedom of speech and the press, and create a climate of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism.

The OAS in action

• The OAS contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the consolidation of the rule of law in its member states, ensuring the principles adopted in the Charter of the Organization of American States and in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Conscious of the duty of this hemispheric political forum, my administration has emphasized that the OAS is a "fundamental instrument of democracy" and affirmed that "the OAS cannot be an Organization of neutral use, and the OAS must be the expression of commitment with fullest respect to these fundamental tools and instruments that the Organization has." In this sense, "the OAS should give a hand to those countries that are experiencing tension and antagonism that sometimes surpass the levels of civility that regional democracy should aspire to."

• The Organization's action in the preservation and strengthening of democracy has underlying tension between the principles of non-intervention and the collective defense of democracy. However, the OAS cannot and should not remain indifferent to the incidents that doubt the elements and essential components of the democratic system, such as the absence of conditions for an election, the violation of the system of checks and balances designed to ensure the separation and independence of powers, corruption and impunity that creates distrust of citizens in the system and the perception of injustice in society.

• My principal tasks in the area of democracy and peace are electoral observation missions, special missions covering a wide range of methods, as well as technical cooperation programs for the strengthening of democratic institutions and initiatives for the prevention and resolution of conflicts. The works of the OAS in these areas are the reason that the OAS is widely known in many parts of the hemisphere.

• Democracy is more than elections but free and fair periodical elections provide a starting point for access to the power and the building of inclusive societies. For this reason, Electoral Observation Missions are central instruments to strengthen democracy in the hemisphere. The OAS has had a successful history of more than fifty years in this area.

• This work is carried out in accordance with international principles and standards that promote the observation of the process in all its stages, the exchange of experiences and, in particular, the formulation of recommendations that strengthen the progress and address the challenges in the effort that the electoral authorities of the region carry out to ensure better elections.

• On many occasions, the recommendations created by the electoral observation missions transforms into concrete initiatives of technical cooperation, such as the project for the audit of the electoral register in Bolivia, as well as the recent certification of the National Electoral Council of Ecuador with the Electoral Standard ISO TS / 17582: 2014 through the International Electoral Accreditation Body and in pioneering efforts such as the development of methodologies for observing the electoral participation of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.

• In 2017, the OAS has deployed electoral observation missions in the following countries: Haiti (presidential and legislative elections), Ecuador (presidential and legislative elections), and Honduras (primary elections).

• The OAS has an essential role in responding to crisis or possible political-institutional crisis in the prevention and resolution of conflicts as required by its member states in accordance with the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and in the instruments of the inter-American system

• One year ago, the OAS began the installation of the Mission to Support Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), at the request of the Government of Honduras for a four-year term. The MACCIH is an innovative and symbolic initiative in anti-corruption efforts. It has 4 components: prevention and fight against corruption, criminal justice reform, political-electoral reform and public security. The primary activities emphasize the support to national actors in the formulation of a proposal of law on financing, transparency and electoral audit based on international standards and sound practices in the field.

• The Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP) accompanies the peace policy of the Colombian State, with an extensive mandate until 2018. This Mission provides assistance in monitoring armed conflict, community involvement, forced recruitment, reconfiguration of new phenomena of violence, as well as monitoring and accompanying the process of reintegration in the communities of demobilized persons, implementation of the Justice and peace process, the policy of comprehensive reparation to victims, and return of lands and territories.

• Support for the peaceful settlement of the territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala is achieved through the office of the Secretary General, the Peace Fund and the OAS Office in the vicinity. This includes the implementation of confidence-building measures between the parties, meetings between national and local authorities, verification of incidents and peace-building programs among communities.

• During my term in office, as Secretary General I had made public statements on the defense of democracy and have taken priority discourse to the action in support of the Member States that have requested concrete initiatives.

• In accordance with the prerogatives established in the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Secretary General of the OAS expresses its views when there are situations that contravene the principles established in those instruments (such as the invocation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter by the situation in Venezuela) and ensures a presence on the ground when a country requires institutional support in the effort to strengthen and preserve democracy. (The last resolution of the OAS on April 3th grew out of the work of twenty states members to face the significant challenges posed by a democratic, elected government that became increasingly authoritarian and moved away from democratic principles, with the intention of closing the congress, intervened in the judicial system and disrespected the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, as well as significantly damaging freedom of expression and the press. That regime is destroying the environment of equity and liberties in the electoral process.)

• The Secretary General of the OAS is paving the way for the revitalization of the OAS. The priority of mine administration is to have the OAS in action properly to put together democracy and human rights closer to the people. We are working closely with the authorities of the member states in this regard.