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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Luis J. Lauredo, Permanent Representative of the United States to the
Organization of American States

Remarks at the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum, Washington DC, September 12, 2000

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As prepared

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for this invitation to speak before you today.

For the last 9 months, I have had the pleasure of serving as my country's representative to the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS, which is the world's oldest international organization, includes all 34 democracies in this hemisphere. The Organization does a lot, from monitoring elections to humanitarian de-mining, to technical cooperation. But the OAS' main purpose is to serve as the principal political forum for issues of peace, security, and democracy. The particular emphasis on specific issues may wax and wane but the commitment to these core themes always will be at the heart of everything the Organization does and is.

In some respects, things have never been better for the OAS and the inter-American community. Armed conflict, although not quite a relic of the past, is increasingly rare in the region with the notable exception of Colombia. Central America is no longer at war with itself. Chronic border disputes and aggressive national rivalries have diminished for instance between Peru and Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil, Argentina and Chile, Chile and Peru, and Honduras and El Salvador. In short, the hemisphere again with one exception is free of war, and at first glance even the possibility of war.

If we look more closely, however, we realize that this happy state is by no means guaranteed to be a permanent one. Just since my swearing in as Ambassador to the OAS last January, I have dealt with serious threats to democracy in Ecuador, Peru, and Haiti; a resurgence of border disputes in Central America; and worrying signs of one-man rule in Venezuela.

Lasting peace and security are based on a shared commitment to the fundamental beliefs of democracy, human rights, and a free market economy. The devil, as they say, is in the details. And it is in the details of democracy, in the details of human rights, and in the details of a free market economy that we all must work to ensure the Western Hemisphere does not slip back across the precipice into dictatorship and ultimately, war.

Brief OAS History

What has the OAS done in this area? I thought it might be useful to briefly summarize the role of the OAS since its founding in promoting security and addressing the roots of conflict within the hemisphere. The OAS is the oldest regional international organization in the world, tracing its origins to the First International Conference of American States held in Washington in 1889-90. This conference created a new organization, renamed the Pan American Union in 1910, which in turn became the OAS after the adoption of a new Charter in 1948.

That Charter was a reflection of the times. It was a dangerous world then. We had just come out of a catastrophic World War during which invasion from outside the hemisphere was a real danger. We were then plunged into a super-power standoff when the prospect of nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. It should therefore be no surprise to find that in the Charter of the OAS conventional security concerns figure large in the essential purposes set for the Organization.

Essential Purposes of the OAS

First and foremost the OAS is "to strengthen the peace and security of the continent"; it was also "to prevent possible cause of difficulties and to ensure the pacific settlement of disputes that may arise among the member states," and finally, it was "to achieve an effective limitation of conventional weapons that will make it possible to devote the largest amount of resources to the economic and social development of the Member States."

The OAS and its predecessors have served as the catalyst for hemispheric cooperation and the broader "inter-American system," which now includes the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, and many other entities. The OAS has also produced a framework of regional security instruments such as the Inter-American Treaty on Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) and the American Convention on Human Rights; a large number of specialized agreements dealing with commercial matters and private international law; and -- most recently -- the conventions against corruption, on international trade in firearms, and on transparency in weapons acquisitions.

The OAS During the Cold War

The Organization was extremely active during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's, especially in the area of peacekeeping in Central America and the Caribbean. It negotiated the end of the 1969 Honduras-El Salvador "soccer war" and stopped a resurgence of fighting on that border in 1976. It sought unsuccessfully to pressure the Somoza regime to cede to a moderate leadership before the Sandinista takeover. In the economic area the OAS played a large part in the Alliance for Progress; its technical assistance program was substantial throughout the 1970's.

During the 1980's, however, the OAS role became much less prominent as the United States placed its emphasis on bilateral rather than multilateral diplomacy. This was due in part, quite frankly, because of frustration over the lack of support from other OAS governments for U.S. policy objectives in Central America and elsewhere in the hemisphere. The Organization was also bypassed in the Falklands Islands and Grenada crises.

Revitalized Role As Superpower Conflict Ends

With the end of the Cold War, the OAS began a dramatic turnaround. This coincided with the prevalence of democratic governments and a growing consensus in favor of free market economies. The OAS played an active role in resolving the Nicaragua conflict notably with strong electoral observation missions and management of a national reconciliation program. In 1991 the Santiago General Assembly approved Resolution 1080 which requires OAS Foreign Ministers to meet swiftly and act whenever the democratic constitutional order in an OAS country is disrupted.

As a result, the OAS played a prominent role in political crises in Haiti, Peru, and Guatemala, and was active behind the scenes during crises in Venezuela, Paraguay, and Ecuador and most recently in a flurry of Central American border disputes. The Charter has been amended to permit suspension of governments that seize power by force, as well as to create a new Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) to lead a hemisphere-wide attack on extreme poverty.

Future Conflict Resolution Activities

Looking ahead, the inter-American system requires revitalized collective security mechanisms and conflict prevention instruments. Such mechanisms should strengthen the existing commitments for collective security and seek to facilitate multilateral responses to common security concerns.

Last year the OAS looked in detail at conflict prevention and conflict resolution. In our view, conflict prevention and resolution in the Americas should include the following activities:

This last point regarding confidence and security building measures, I might note, is especially important to the United States. A key pillar of hemispheric security is the Summit Action Plan and the Declarations of San Salvador and Santiago on CSBMs. More work needs to be done on universal implementation of those commitments. The U.S. places great importance on increasing transparency and openness in military matters and in using such openness to build confidence among nations. Universal progress on implementation in our hemisphere should be a goal.

Building Blocks of Conflict Resolution

I think it is clear that the OAS has done a great deal to foster a fundamental commitment to shared values. I would argue that this is the first level of conflict prevention. However, the existence of shared values is a necessary but not sufficient condition to resolve long-standing conflicts, particularly territorial conflicts which carry an enormous amount of political and psychological baggage.

The next level of conflict resolution must include established bilateral or multilateral mechanisms in which the sources of a given conflict or potential conflict can be addressed.

At the bilateral level I would cite as an example Border Liaison Mechanisms (BLM's) that we have established with Mexican authorities. Created in 1993, the BLM's provide a means for rapid mobilization of local civic and law enforcement officials in response to problems or incidents. Ten BLM's are chaired by the U.S. and Mexican Consuls in "sister city" pairs.

The mechanisms facilitate local resolution of problems such as accidental violations of sovereignty by law enforcement officials, charges of mistreatment of foreign nationals and coordination of port security. Various federal, state, and local agencies are represented in BLM's, including U.S. Customs, INS, and USDA, and local police departments and city governments. The "New Border Vision" Report signed by Secretaries Albright and Green at the 1998 Binational Commission has called for BLM's to establish subgroups in three areas: economic and social development, protection/migration and border crossing facilitation, and border public safety.

In a multilateral context, I would simply cite the work of the OAS itself to create institutional frameworks across a range of hemispheric challenges. For instance, there are over 50 inter-American treaties or conventions that run the gamut from A to Z. There are the "macro" issues such as human rights, reciprocal military assistance, anti-corruption, extradition, and illicit arms trafficking, to name just a few. But there are also scores dealing with issues that are relatively narrow in scope but of real practical importance. For example, there is an Inter-American Convention on Conflict of Laws Concerning Checks. There is another on the use of letters rogatory and one on the use of powers of attorney. One treaty even deals with the regulation of inter-American automotive traffic.

Limitations of Agreements

My point here is not to argue that we can fix the region's problems through the endless negotiation of treaties and agreements. Indeed, even the existing inter-American treaties have not been ratified by all countries, nor has the implementation and enforcement of appropriate legislation been carried out by all those states that have ratified these conventions. But these agreements, both on the broad issues as well as the narrow, have created a framework through which countries in the hemisphere can, if they so desire, resolve problems and avoid conflicts.

The Importance of Political Will

That brings me to the final level of conflict resolution and that is political will. If shared values and an institutional framework are the foundation and building stones respectively, it is political will that is the capstone of conflict resolution. This is the variable, unfortunately, that is the hardest to manage and predict. But it is also the dimension in which active leadership, flexibility, and creativity become the raw ingredients for a political or diplomatic breakthrough. I have to admit that, personally, it is this dimension of conflict resolution that is the most interesting -- and fun.

Perhaps this is the wrong forum to admit that I sometimes like a good fight -- a political fight, that is. Those are what we have at times in the Permanent Council but they serve a very constructive purpose. Through a combination of political pressure, persuasion, and rhetoric, both in open meetings of the Council and in small negotiating sessions, parties in a conflict sometimes will muster the will to achieve a settlement. That process is not easy nor always successful, but it is possible.

Nicaragua-Honduras Dispute

One such example is the ongoing dispute by Nicaragua and Honduras over their maritime border. This dormant conflict came alive in December 1999 after Honduras ratified a treaty with Panama implicitly giving Honduras jurisdiction over waters claimed by Nicaragua. Initially, there was inflamed rhetoric, bordering on the bellicose, by both parties. As both nations stepped up patrols by their maritime forces, the probability of violence dramatically increased. Both nations, however, also chose to make their respective cases before the OAS. The Nicaraguan and Honduran foreign ministers came to Washington and vigorously presented their arguments before the OAS Permanent Council.

After extensive discussion, the Permanent Council approved the designation of a special envoy, former U.S. Ambassador Luigi Einaudi (now OAS Assistant Secretary General), as an envoy to "facilitate" talks between the two sides. The OAS was careful to make a distinction between "mediation" and "facilitation." While this word choice may seem arcane to some, it is a difference worth exploring. "Mediation" to some delegations implied that the Organization would act ultimately as a judge in the case, pronouncing a settlement after sifting through the evidence.

Since the OAS is primarily a consensus Organization, it is very difficult to have all member states collectively agree to any sort of judgement against another member state. Therefore the OAS role was limited to "facilitation," which implied that the Organization would merely serve as a conduit through which the two parties could exchange information on 1) confidence and security-building measures to avert armed conflict; 2) establishing a framework for negotiations; and 3) possible resolutions to the dispute.

Those negotiations continue with OAS assistance. I think it's fair to say the Organization played a crucial role to stabilize a sudden dispute that had the potential for armed conflict and to assist in the resolution of the fundamental issue at the heart of the dispute. This became apparent after a subsequent flurry of similar territorial conflicts in Central America ended up in the OAS. In the Nicaragua-Costa Rica dispute and the Guatemala-Belize dispute the OAS also engaged in facilitation -- that is, the use of its good offices to create an environment where both parties could negotiate in good faith.

Creation of Peace Fund

That spirit was also behind the creation at last June's General Assembly of a "Peace Fund," administered by the OAS, to help member states defray the costs of peaceful settlements. The fund, accessible to states that have agreed to a peaceful settlement of a territorial dispute, will help defray the costs of submitting a case to, for instance, the International Court of Justice, or to another international body. We hope that this fund will contribute to the lasting settlement of border disputes that have distracted some countries from more pressing political and economic problems.


So far I have spoken only of conflict resolutions between states. Let me turn now to conflict resolution within states and the growing OAS role in facilitating solutions. The most salient example of this type of conflict resolution is occurring in Peru. The recent presidential elections there were, as many of you know, flawed. Recognizing this, the OAS General Assembly approved a high-level mission led by Secretary General Gaviria and Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy to explore with the Government of Peru and others ways to strengthen democratic institutions in that country.

After two preliminary missions, the OAS has established a Secretariat in Lima, led by former Dominican Republic Foreign Minister Eduardo LaTorre, which has initiated a national dialogue on democratic reform. Participants in the dialogue include representatives from the Government of Peru, the political opposition, and Peruvian civil society.

These participants have agreed to form five working groups to address the various themes recommended by the OAS. Those working groups will cover:

Work is also underway in four Ad Hoc commissions to formulate proposals by September 19 addressing:

We fully support the dialogue and the OAS effort to strengthen democracy in Peru. We are encouraged that the talks are now underway and we are urging all parties in the process to continue their cooperative efforts to develop an effective agenda for democratic reform. That said, the United States and the OAS are under no illusions. Strengthening democracy is more than just rhetorical commitment and dialogue. We are looking for concrete changes in the way the Government of Peru conducts its electoral processes and safeguards its democratic institutions.


The OAS is trying in Haiti to assist in the resolution of a conflict concerning the Haitian Government's flawed vote counting from the May 21 Senate elections. The Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General, along with representatives of CARICOM and the UN "Group of Friends" traveled to Haiti in mid-August for high-level discussions to end the electoral impasse. This followed weeks of intense discussions in the OAS and with the Government of Haiti on possible outcomes to the electoral crisis.

The OAS has not been alone in working with Haiti. The United Nations, the European Union, the Caribbean Community, and representatives from private and religious groups have expended great effort in Haiti. Instead of working collaboratively with the OAS mission and the international community, however, Haiti's leaders have chosen to proceed unilaterally down the wrong path.

Consistently these leaders have ignored the serious concerns raised by the international community regarding the May 21 elections. Their decision to publish the final results of the badly flawed elections, to install the parliament produced by these elections, and to begin preparations for the November 26 presidential elections with a compromised Provisional Election Council, indicates an unwillingness to engage with the international community regarding the most serious challenges facing democracy in Haiti.

We believe that the OAS must remain engaged with Haiti. But absent new steps to end the impasse, the U.S. Government will be unable to continue our past close relationship with Haiti. Instead, we will pursue a policy that distinguishes between helping the people of Haiti and assisting the Government of Haiti.

In the absence of meaningful change, the United States will be unable to support the Presidential and legislative elections of November 26 financially or through observation missions. We also will find it necessary to channel all U.S. Government assistance to the people of Haiti through private and non-governmental organizations.

We will also look closely at approval of loans and grants for Haiti from international financial institutions, carefully balancing the need for a strong political message with the desire not to punish the long-suffering Haitian population.

We have reached a dangerous crossroads. The elation experienced on May 21, when millions of Haitians demonstrated their trust in the ballot box and democratic elections, has turned sour following months of pointless efforts by Haitian authorities to monopolize political power.

The Organization and the U.S. remain willing to help, but again we are under no illusions. Help is a two-way street. We in the international community can help Haiti strengthen both its democratic institutions and its economy. The Government of Haiti, however, must address the issues pointed out by the OAS or risk once again becoming isolated from the hemisphere's democracies. We remain hopeful that Haiti will return to the democratic track.

I hope that I have given you a good picture of what and how the OAS operates in the area of conflict resolution. I could go on and on, for instance the work that the Organization has done in Paraguay, Venezuela, or Suriname, but I think you get the idea. The Organization, especially over the course of the last year, has proven itself to be agile enough to respond constructively to sudden threats to democracy. It has the legitimacy and the authority to speak on behalf of the hemisphere's governments, particularly in the core areas of peace, security, and democracy. The United States believes this is an invaluable forum and we will continue to do our utmost to support and advance its agenda.

[end of document]

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