On the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we take note of Article 1 of the Charter: “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and our governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” This language is a powerful affirmation of the region’s vision of democracy: not just as a system of government, but as a fundamental and practical responsibility of governments toward their citizens. As terrorists launched a brutal, senseless attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, 34 foreign ministers were working with common purpose on behalf of freedom and democracy.
During the past decade, in part because of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, democracy has continued to deepen throughout the hemisphere. While this occasion is a chance to celebrate all that we have accomplished, we should also remember that our work is not finished; there are still challenges to democracy. There is much more we can do together to translate the Charter’s common vision into common action.
The promotion of democratic rights and values remains a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. We understand that when we pursue our common goals together we thrive, and when democratic practice is threatened anywhere in the Americas, it harms all of us. That is why the United States remains a committed partner and supporter of the Organization of American States’ efforts to promote and defend democracy throughout the Americas. And the Democratic Charter provides a standard by which to gauge challenges to democracy in the Hemisphere, and to help member states where democratic practices or institutions are under threat. It is an example for democracy activists around the globe.
As we celebrate democracy’s advance, let us also recommit ourselves to our common goals, and to ensuring that the Democratic Charter remains the indispensable tool for the collective defense of democracy in our region.
Let me begin by thanking Secretary General Insulza, President Funes, and Foreign Minister Martinez for their superb efforts in organizing and hosting this 41st General Assembly of the Organization of American States.
It is fitting to the spirit of the OAS Charter and the Inter American Democratic Charter that the General Assembly is meeting in El Salvador. The hard-won achievements of Salvadorans are widely recognized. I would like to reemphasize President Obama’s words during his March visit here, when he commended El Salvador for its courageous work to overcome old divisions, and for showing that progress comes through pragmatism and building consensus.
The theme our hosts have selected for this General Assembly, “Citizen Security in the Americas,” is profoundly important for all of us, and we applaud the Salvadoran decision to highlight citizen security as the theme of our Assembly this year.
Threats to the security of our citizens often come from transnational crime. No individual government can hope to deal with international criminals alone. Indeed, the criminals use our international boundaries to their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of law enforcement. But working together, we can reinforce national efforts and create new collaborative efforts to fight crime in all its forms.
Throughout the Americas, our governments understand the critical importance of building effective, democratic institutions that can deliver concrete results, provide economic and social opportunity, and safeguard citizen security. Civil society across the Americas is a vibrant and engaged partner, helping to strengthen political will, and to amplify the voices of the governed. This critical partnership, within our countries and here within the OAS, is essential for building stronger institutions, reinforced by dialogue and mutual respect.
Regionally, there is renewed impetus for security cooperation and coordination between democratic societies—cooperation that transcends traditional state-to-state formulas, and that draws from the experience, knowledge, and resources of multiple players. In Central America, regional governments and other partners throughout the Americas – the European Union, and institutions like SICA, the Inter American Development Bank, and the World Bank – are collaborating in unprecedented ways to develop and implement national and regional strategies to bolster citizen security.
Let me recall that the first sentence of the first article of the OAS Charter calls the Organization to a high purpose—which includes promoting solidarity, strengthening collaboration, and defending sovereignty.
The strong partnerships growing across the Americas embody that purpose. It would be hard to imagine this common cause without the democratic growth and development that are transforming most countries in the Americas.
The OAS has played a very important role in getting us to this point. I think of the critical role the OAS has played in brokering the peaceful settlement of border disputes involving member states, or the ever-increasing number of electoral observation missions the OAS has undertaken.
The OAS also leads the way in developing peer review processes, such as that established by the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission continues to seek redress for the victims of abuse throughout the region—and has not hesitated to criticize and make recommendations for every country of the hemisphere, including my own. We should be proud of this record, and continue to build upon it.
With these milestones in mind, we recognize that the central pillars of the OAS—strengthening democratic institutions, safeguarding human rights, promoting development, and enhancing multidimensional security—are important goals that deserve our focused energy. At the same time, a renewed effort to better align these pillars with available funding guides the efforts of the United States to ensure that the OAS remains focused and clear in its purpose. Strengthening of the OAS can be achieved, even in difficult budget environments, by directing attention and resources toward its core strengths.
The OAS enjoys a unique status in the Americas. It embodies much of what makes the Americas a remarkable community of shared interests and values. And the Organization has a vast capacity to nurture the impetus toward integration that exists in every sub-region in the Americas. That integration will be critical to the success and competitiveness of my country, and each of yours, in an ever more interconnected world.
The reality of the Americas is that our citizens have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of their global interests, and are increasingly linking up with each other and the rest of the world. We see this in civil society through the use of social media and modern technology. We see this in the private sector. And we see this in governments, across all agencies and at all levels.
And so, as we work in solidarity to strengthen our institutions to fight transnational crime and build resilient communities, we know that our common cause does not compromise sovereignty, but rather safeguards it. This is why we must work even harder to strengthen the underpinnings of our democratic societies—good governance, responsive institutions, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law—which are essential elements of democracy and founding principles of this Organization.
As members of the OAS, we have pledged to support and uphold democratic principles and practices, and that standard must continue to guide us. We share a fundamental belief in the dignity and worth of the individual, and that those who govern must have the consent of the governed. Democracy requires the ability of citizens to openly enjoy their political and civil liberties without fear of reprisal; a free and unfettered press; and a vibrant civil society.
During this year, there is a growing momentum in the region to reflect on the implementation of the Democratic Charter—and how it can be used more effectively and proactively.
The Democratic Charter served as our guide in dealing with recent events in Honduras, and assisted in shaping our region’s discussions regarding its successful return to our Organization. We should take stock of the lessons learned from this experience. Following the suspension of Honduras, the international community worked through the OAS to help Honduras restore its democracy. The free and fair election of President Lobo, and the formation of a government of national reconciliation and a Truth Commission, fulfilled the obligations in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Honduras continues to exhibit an unwavering commitment to democratic governance. For Honduras, the recent vote on reintegration marked a historic milestone and represents a significant moment for the OAS, which demonstrated its capacity to safeguard democracy in the hemisphere.
By working together to integrate our steadfast commitment to democracy with real and sustained efforts to help citizens, we can make tremendous progress in advancing Inter-American cooperation in support of a safe and secure region. Our futures and our fortunes are closely linked. Our common challenge is to ensure that our common efforts support the vital role of the OAS.
Let me conclude simply by reaffirming the United States’ commitment to working with all of you and this Organization in a spirit of genuine and equal partnership.
Assistant Secretary Valenzuela’s Remarks on the Decision To Readmit Honduras Into the Organization of American States
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Actually, we have a special guest with us to lead off the briefing. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela has come down to talk a bit about the decision yesterday to readmit – (laughter) – okay, go ahead, that’s okay – to readmit Honduras into the OAS. Without further ado – and he’ll also be able to take just a few questions, and then I believe he’s got another interview he’s running off to.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. Thanks. What I’d like to do is first read a statement that the Secretary put out late last evening:
“The United States welcomes yesterday’s decision by members of the Organization of American States, OAS, to lift the suspension of Honduras’ participation in the organization. This moment has been long in coming. It’s an important milestone for Honduras, for the OAS, and for the Americas.
“The crisis and coup in Honduras was a test for the OAS in its ability to act swiftly and decisively to safeguard our shared democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked. Honduras was suspended. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of President Lobo and his commitment to national reconciliation, and the tireless efforts of several OAS member states, democracy was restored. This accomplishment has strengthened the OAS’s ability to deal with future challenges to democracy and the threat they pose to peace and prosperity. But there’s more work to be done.
“A return to the OAS allows Honduras to resume its rightful place in the American system to help other countries in the hemisphere address common challenges and seize new opportunities. Honduras’s Government and people have the tools to improve governance, strengthen democratic institutions, and safeguard human rights so that all Hondurans have the chance for a brighter future.”
That’s the end of the statement. And I’m happy to take any questions you might have.
QUESTION: A lot of reports of lingering human rights abuses in Honduras by the government. Is that still an issue of concern for you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yes. It is an issue of concern for us. We take it very seriously. We also applaud the fact that President Lobo, for example, has appointed a minister of justice and human rights to specifically address these questions. But there are some really significant problems in Honduras in this regard. Part of it is due to the fact that Honduras is facing also a very significant crisis with the criminal organizations and the narcotics trafficking organizations there. But human rights is a very important objective for the U.S. Government and it’s an important objective for the Honduran Government as well.
QUESTION: Talking about drug trafficking and the impact in Central America, do you have any comment on this report on the Global Commission on Drug Policy that recommends really to – dramatic changes in how governments address drug trafficking and the problem of drug abuse?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: We’re aware of these efforts that these commissions have been making. Our position is very clear on this, that we support an integrated strategy, a comprehensive strategy, in combating the problems of drugs and drug trafficking. We have to look not only at issues of elimination of the cultivation of drugs and eradication, interception, and that sort of thing, but we also have to approach this with a focus on the demand side, and this is the policy of the Administration in this regard.
And we’re working very effectively, I think now, with our partners in the region to address these issues in a comprehensive way. It’s also an international problem, so more and more we’re working with others to try to see how we can have a coordinated strategy. And more specifically – and I’ll end with this – with regard to Central America, we’re very, very concerned about the situation, and this relates back to the importance of Honduras returning to the OAS. As you know, next week there will be a regular general assembly of the Organization of American States. It will deal with security kinds of issues in the region, and we will certainly be addressing the problems of drug trafficking.
MS. FULTON: Okay. If there are no further questions, we’ll move on to the regular briefing. (Inaudible.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much.
MR. TONER: Thank you so much, Arturo. Thank you.
The United States welcomes today’s decision by members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to lift the suspension of Honduras’ participation in the organization. This moment has been a long time coming. It is an important milestone for Honduras, for the OAS, and for the Americas.
The crisis and coup in Honduras was a test for the OAS and its ability to act swiftly and decisively to safeguard our shared democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked. Honduras was suspended. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of President Lobo and his commitment to national reconciliation, and the tireless efforts of several OAS member states, democracy was restored. This accomplishment has strengthened the OAS’ ability to deal with future challenges to democracy and the threat they pose to peace and prosperity. But there is more work to be done.
A return to the OAS allows Honduras to resume its rightful place in the Inter-American system to help other countries in the hemisphere address common challenges and seize new opportunities. Honduras’ government and people have the tools to improve governance, strengthen democratic institutions and safeguard human rights so that all Hondurans have the chance for a brighter future.