James Lambert | Governance and co-responsibility: The OAS as a factor of continental cohesion
Good morning to all, Mr. President of the Congress of Guatemala, Alvaro Arzú Escobar; Gabriela Lara and other representatives of the GEAP; distinguished ambassadors, parliamentarians and delegates.
On behalf of the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, it is an honor for me to be present today in this session. I take this opportunity to extend to Dr. William Soto Santiago an affectionate greeting from the Secretary General.
It is also good to go back to Guatemala and have the opportunity to see so many friends, colleagues and experts in Latin America and the Caribbean that I had the pleasure of meeting between 2002 and 2005 when I had the honor of serving as Ambassador of Canada in Guatemala .
I would like to take advantage of your deliberations on diplomatic and political issues to share with you some reflections on the theme of this session: Governance and co-responsibility: The OAS as a continental cohesion factor, and briefly try to identify how the OAS, which now celebrates its seventy years of existence, is in itself a reflection of the enormous diversity that characterizes the region we inhabit.
We just have to look around us this morning to recognize that the hemisphere is characterized by a tremendous diversity among regions, countries, cultures, languages, economic systems and social practices. These manifest themselves at a distance when we compare regions and countries, but also within the countries themselves. In Guatemala and Mexico, where I also served, the number of indigenous cultures and languages is amazing and has a great impact on the configuration of history and regional economic and political governance from the colonial period to the Cold War.
Encompassing all this diversity it is important to navigate between the academic constructions that try to order the universe and the specific reality that applies in such different regions as would be the case of Santa Lucia and Santiago.
In fact, there are generalities that should be explored as we approach this region, both today and in its evolution. The fact that the Americas, despite a couple of decades of significant economic growth, continues to overcome the global scale in terms of inequality and social exclusion, also forces us to ask ourselves, within this tremendous diversity: what are the common points? , why do they exist and how are they perpetuated?
Despite the diversity, there are a lot of terms, for example, warlordism, clientele, corruption and chauvinism, which will arise regularly in most of the countries of our region, regardless of whether they are Westminster-style republics or democracies.
In addition, it is worth noting that, despite the diverse conditions in which they manifest themselves, many of the challenges we face today are common: migration, gangs, globalization, cross-border crime, climate change, pandemic diseases, technology of the information accompanied by work dislocation and cyber-security problems, just to name a few.
The OAS, as the main multilateral and institutional body in the region, plays a key role in the treatment of these common causes, but to explain it well let me put this in historical perspective.
Beyond the 70 years that we celebrate this year, the OAS has its real origin in the Pan American Union of 1889. Then, with almost 120 years, it is the oldest continuous regional organization in the world. As it took an institutional form, the organization began to generate results for the common good.
A good example of this is the Inter-American Commission of Women, which was founded 90 years ago in 1928. This organization has a proud tradition of establishing global norms, including in 1933 with the negotiation of the Convention on the Nationality of Women, which stipulated that nationality should not be affected by marriage.
This was the first legally binding international instrument that affected the rights of women.
More recently, in 1994, the CIM gave birth to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para), and throughout this period it has played an important role in facing the challenges it faces. women in the region, and train new generations of women politicians.
In fact, the OAS was the place where the network of treaties and international jurisprudence was negotiated, which gave rise to a multitude of institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan American Health Organization and the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences.
In a century in which Europe, Asia and Africa were shaken by violent clashes between countries and entire regions, the Americas, even because of this network of binding legal commitments, were relatively free of wars between states.
Of course, that does not mean that the region was free of violence, oppression and abuse of human rights, because we had all of that on a massive scale.
Under the direction of Secretary General Luis Almagro, since 2015, the OAS has refocused its efforts to put human rights and democratic values at the center of our activities. His motto "more rights for more people" is now the goal we seek to achieve. In a sense, it is about returning the OAS to its original mandate: to serve as the principal hemispheric body for the resolution of disputes and the promotion of democratic values.
I would like to use the rest of my time to talk about this important goal, which is democracy; as well as the common obstacle, which is corruption.
As mentioned by Secretary General Almagro, the rule of law is the protection of individual rights of individuals. Human rights do not exist in societies where there is no rule of law, and there is no rule of law in societies where human rights are not protected.
In turn, citizens must have full freedom to participate in the decision-making processes that determine the laws that govern them. It is through universal suffrage that citizens are guaranteed rights and responsibilities at the very heart of democracy.
Inequality is the worst impediment to development. And the worst inequality is that which results from the lack of protection of the rights of citizens. At the OAS, we have enshrined these values in our founding documents.
The OAS is the first regional organization to enshrine the principle of "representative democracy" as an essential element for development.
From the beginning, the OAS has had an undeniable mandate to promote, promote and, when necessary, protect democracy in the region. Of course, in practice, politics and diplomacy do not always work as we would like and Member States do not always fulfill their obligations.
Many of our Member States suffered military dictatorships, which led to the suspension of elections and eliminated most guarantees of basic human rights or access to justice. Aware of the fragility of democracy, in 1991 the member states approved the "Commitment of Santiago with democracy and human rights" and, shortly after, Resolution 1080 requesting a specific action of the Member States when there is an "interruption" abrupt or irregular democratic political institutional process "in a Member State of the OAS.
Although, initially conceived as tools to defend against the military, coups d'état or external forces, it was evident that threats to democracy could come from within the democratic process.