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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Ambassador Victor Marrero
U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States
Remarks before the OAS Permanent Council
January 21, 1998

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Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary General, distinguished members and observers of the Permanent Council, ladies and gentlemen: I am deeply honored to join this distinguished body as the Permanent Representative of the United States of America. It is a distinct privilege to represent my country before an international organization which is vital both to the interests of the United States and to those of all other nations in the hemisphere. The honor is all the more singular because I join the company of so many distinguished diplomats from this region and other parts of the world.
I am excited about my assignment here for two other reasons: the uniqueness of the moment and the vast opportunity it offers to us all. I can think of no better time in the diplomatic history of our hemisphere to participate in a vital way in directing the course of its foreign affairs. We all have heard that globally all countries, all peoples around the world, are now more interconnected and interdependent than ever. Everyday we witness fresh evidence of the reality and force of globalization. We experience and marvel day-to-day how rapidly and profoundly technology and instant communication from the remotest corners of our planet have affected our lives. As a consequence, many political barriers have broken. Commercial markets have opened. People everywhere have become more aware of fundamental rights and freedoms, and have successfully asserted them. Worldwide, nations are cooperating more closely in addressing common threats.
Within this region these developments carry special significance and implications. They have us moving simultaneously on several fronts toward greater integration. We have developed an extensive inter-American system to address shared problems and opportunities. More than ever we now pool our energies and resources in combating illegal drugs, corruption, environmental degradation, and extreme poverty. We are meeting at the ministerial level to exchange experience and improve standards in health, education, labor, finance, energy, and security. As our markets expand, we are becoming closer trading partners. Trends indicate that our commerce, industry and investment will become even more concentrated within the hemisphere. NAFTA, MERCOSUR, CARICOM, the Andean Pact, the Central American Common Market, each have added further linkages in our ever tighter commercial bonds. At the Miami Summit four years ago, our heads of government committed us to a hemispheric free trade area by the year 2005. Peace, stable democratic governments, and a better educated population whose growth rate has leveled, will all continue to foster an environment for further growth and for strengthening our regional ties.
To these hemispheric developments, I would add another phenomenon within my own country that will have some bearing in the years to come. The considerable growth of the segment of our population of Latin American and Caribbean origin, and its corresponding political and economic strength, will send further currents, with significant impacts, into the larger changes occurring throughout the hemisphere. Economically, it means that in developing new commercial opportunities, including investment, many in this population are likely to look first at and to favor nations for which they feel close affinities. Politically, as this community gains greater representation and leadership in our government, it is likely to use it to further the broadening and strengthening of this country's ties with other nations in the region.
Taken together, the combined effects of these circumstances are profound. They are redefining, reshaping, and redirecting the imperatives and dynamics of our region. Rather than east to west or west to east, in the years to come more and more of my country's foreign relations will be conducted along a longitudinal axis, north and south, moving to a two-way partnership based on the recognition of the greater mutual benefits derived from cooperation and integration within our region.
We have progressed beyond being just a hemisphere, two continental land masses, 34 territorial neighbors and allies. Now we are advancing to what the Miami Summit saw in the Americas as a "community of democratic societies." By small but progressive steps we are integrating into a partnership linked not just by geographic proximity, political pragmatism, and mercantile opportunity, but by certain shared democratic principles and universal values. We have been drawn of necessity into closer bonds because, politically and economically, we have evolved alike. We also have gravitated together by recognition that the new threats which affect us all transcend national borders and defy piece-meal bilateral efforts. More and more the concerns we have in common demand joint efforts and a pooling of resources in order to respond to them most effectively.
Many of the developments I describe have been occurring quietly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly. Much of their momentum is self-generated. Some are externally driven, occurring outside the range of public intervention and control, and, as if the events had a life of their own, often moving more rapidly than we can grasp. To some extent the events are taking place separately, independently of one another. Other developments have been thoroughly debated but their precise course and meaning are not fully understood. Everywhere, different people appear busily digging the ground and laying different parts of the foundation for some structure, but the entire form and function of the whole edifice remains a work in progress, still a blurred image in our collective minds.
Charles Darwin, observing the bees buzzing from flower to flower, unbeknownst to them pollinating the plants along the way, mused that those bees, unaware of the grander scheme of things, were, in fact, in their own infinitesimal way, integrally engaged in life's evolution.
In a parallel vein, there are worker bees throughout our hemisphere, many people in this room included, preparing the ground and spreading the seeds for the evolution of its future. I believe that in all the indicators, in all our seemingly helter-skelter commotion, behind the flashes and shadows and tremors of our joint endeavors, and also underpinning our shared aspirations, there lies a larger end: that of improving cooperation, fostering harmony and prosperity, and creating a progressively better way of life for all people throughout the two continents in our part of the globe.
But I make these observations with more than mere academic interest. To me there is no greater creative challenge for diplomacy in this hemisphere than to define more concretely what next lies ahead for our region. Few foreign policy opportunities hold more promise than for us to play a vital part in charting and steering the course of the hemispheric community of nations to which our future is so clearly destined.
How do we perfect our new partnership? Having identified representative democracy as the bonding essence that now holds our countries closer together within the hemisphere, how do we best consolidate the gains we have achieved? What more shall we do to carry out the commitments we have adopted to protect and promote democracy? What is the next generation of norms and values we should advance to strengthen our democracies and make even more cohesive our community of nations?
We have a vision to strive for. It is that anywhere and everywhere in the hemisphere, from the Straits of Magellan to Hudson Bay, every man, woman, and child lives in peace and security in a zone defined not only by free trade, but by the equal enjoyment of human rights and human dignity, a region where justice and fair process uniformly prevail, and where all people feel secure in their persons, their homes, and their property. Our central aim should be to ensure that while we differ in heritage, we are one on the rule of law; that while we each preserve our distinct languages, diverse cultures, and historical traditions, we have a common understanding and speak with one tongue about the most basic tenets of democracy and human rights. Experience has taught that democracy does not end at the ballot box. Some of the world's worst despots have been popularly elected. For democracy to take root, fair elections is only a beginning; the ground under it must be continually nourished with human rights, political and civil liberties, open and fair processes, social justice, and development.
We have made major strides in this hemisphere in establishing more broadly shared standards defining individual rights and structuring public institutions and procedures. Nonetheless, we have much unfinished business. Civilian control over the military needs to be reinforced in some nations. We still see evidence of government intolerance of dissent and of political opposition resorting to violence. We read of instances in which the safety and independence of the press and the integrity of the judiciary are not assured. And we receive reports of places where, because government is weak, public accountability lacking, and corruption entrenched, effective access to justice is limited, where there is no reliable way to redress wrongs or enforce agreements or seek protection for private property and investment.
If we are to improve our partnership, to strengthen and broaden our coalition of democracies, we must continue, in concert and individually, to address these flaws. To these ends, I suggest we place our focus on refining and reinforcing the core values of democracy, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, the integrity of justice, public accountability, openness, and the inclusion of civil society in public forums. In each case we should identify the common meaning of the basic norms, define the most essential content minimally necessary to guarantee their fullest enjoyment and protection, propose appropriate instruments to promote their incorporation into our national laws, and establish methods by which to assess regional and national fulfillment of commitments.
These we regard as the momentous issues of the day confronting our hemisphere. In a few weeks in Santiago de Chile, our heads of government will gather for their second summit in four years to review what progress we have made to address some of these questions and to formulate the hemispheric agenda as we enter the 21st century.
I have spoken of lofty concepts in lofty terms. Now, I must turn from the rhetorical to the mundane, and bring my remarks close to home right here at the OAS, to pose some real world questions and concerns. What role in this over-arching endeavor is there, or should there be, for this Organization?
The issues we face present many historic opportunities. But there are some structural gaps that need to be filled. I believe there is need for a focal point to bring cohesion to and better propel the larger hemispheric building process we have undertaken. We should develop a nucleus of activity rather than the atomized scheme which has prevailed to date.
Indispensable to any redesign of our methods and structures is a deliberative forum with a prominent part in drawing up the regional agenda, drafting the architecture, and in giving better focus and definition to how our future as a hemisphere unfolds. We need an invigorated body where basic norms and principles, the building blocks upon which our cooperative venture is founded, are hammered out and where the foundation for hemispheric consensus around them can be grounded. Finally, we need strong executive leadership for the process, a professional corps of experts and advocates to give it the new impetus it requires corresponding to priorities of our time and the new demands we place on the system.
I believe that the Organization of American States is the most logical home for many of these crucial functions. We should entrust it with a greater voice in the hemispheric dialogue. But, again, I must pause for a reality check. Assuming you agree with my assessment of this need, are we, the member states, fully satisfied that this Organization as it now functions is the kind of hemispheric assembly I have described? Is it up to the task? Can it rise to the challenge? If not, do we want to reform it to perform more of these normative and systemic tasks? In short, what do we want the OAS to be and to do?
I am impressed by the major strides the OAS has made in recent years. Secretary General Gaviria has shared with us his vision. I applaud the Organization's achievements under his stewardship in strengthening the inter-American human rights system, monitoring elections, consolidating democracy, combating illegal drugs, and promoting sustainable development. But in the little time I have had to observe the workings, programs, and priorities of the Organization, I have formed the impression that a substantial part of its efforts and resources are still devoted to discrete, ad hoc, project-by-project activities of more limited impact that perhaps better served another era, rather than to the larger systemic issues to which today's hemispheric priorities demand the greater attention.
In the wake of the Santiago Summit and as the OAS celebrates its 50th anniversary, the moment is propitious for us to take stock. The Organization should look closely at itself. I propose that we also undertake a broader comprehensive assessment which should include the role of all entities of the inter-American system. Central to this review should be an analysis of the Organization's current mandates, priorities, structures and procedures, as well as the role of civil society in its work, with a view to ensuring its readiness to assume the functions and fulfill the priorities called for in our hemispheric dialogue today.
What I have laid out is admittedly a tall order. It raises two critical issues I am sure have crossed your minds: the financial situation of the Organization and resources for new mandates. Preemptively, therefore, I will respond to these concerns, acknowledging the limitations placed on the position of my delegation by the arrears we owe to the Organization. I assure you that I am profoundly aware of the weakening, both to the workings of this Organization and to our own policy initiatives, created by my government's dues arrears. Accordingly, I have made the settlement of our accounts one of my high priorities.
I now must speak frankly, even bluntly, in underscoring another matter. To the extent the work program I have proposed, as well as any new mandates that may flow to this Organization from the Santiago Summit, may require resources to carry out, we cannot realistically count on the availability of substantial additional funds from assessed quotas to finance new mandates. I believe there is not one government represented here that is prepared to raise tax outlays to support more public functions. This is a political reality we must work with and around. I realize it presents us an acute dilemma, and intensifies the challenges we must confront.
In light of the new hemispheric policy demands of our time and new calls for the services of this Organization, two actions are essential. First, we must honestly examine the Organization's current programs and expenditures and shift resources to meet the new priorities we have assigned to it. Second, though we commend and deeply appreciate the steps already taken by the Secretary General to accommodate new activities within fixed resources, the Organization, including the members' intergovernmental processes, must do more still to streamline and make its activities even more efficient.
These courses, naturally, entail hard choices. But we should not shun them in favor of the easy way. Avoidance invariably translates into inertia, the paralysis of the status quo. My previous post was at the United States Mission to the United Nations. There, just one month ago, the member states gave approval to a very ambitious and far-reaching reform blueprint offered by the Secretary General that did much to instill a new culture of reform throughout the United Nations system. A comparable effort would be welcome here at the OAS. I would encourage all the members, and the Secretary General, to examine the United Nations' experience closely and consider how much of it might be productively imported and applied here to further enhance the reform initiatives the OAS has undertaken.
To us, the option for the Organization to avoid taking tough actions is only deceptively easy, and not without its own long-term costs and implications. At bottom, the actual choice before us reduces to something else. A momentous challenge appears spread before us, a historic opportunity to re-chart the course of this Organization into the next century, for the betterment of our hemisphere and our peoples. Do we take it? Or do we watch the moment pass us by? Do we remain on the sidelines, a silent spectator of some of the most profound diplomatic events of our time, or do we embrace them as our own? Do we perform our duties, or watch them done by someone else? History is a one-time thing. It will not wait for us. The hemispheric evolution will happen with us or in spite of us, in which event we will be all the poorer for having missed out on the chance to lead and put our own stamp on the major events of the day.
Fifty years ago the visionaries who wrote the Charter of this Organization convened to consider what were then the similarly hard choices and far-reaching opportunities of the time. We are here today, honored with the privilege to fulfill their visions and their legacy, because they chose wisely and boldly.
At this juncture, close to the eve of the Organization's 50th anniversary, let us pray for the wisdom to continue to carry on in the tradition of the founders of the OAS. I, for one, believe that we can do no better for ourselves, for the people and countries we represent, for the OAS, and for the future of our hemisphere.
[end of document]

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