Remarks by the Chairman of the Permanent Council of the OAS, Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana, at the Protocolary Session of the Permanent Council to Celebrate Pan American Day, April 14, 2003

Posted April 14th. 2003

Ambassadors, Assistant Secretary General, Members of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen. . . .

At this protocolary session, we come together to commemorate Pan American Day. I take this opportunity to offer my greetings to the people of all the member states of this Organization as they mark this very significant day in the hemispheric calendar.

From the last quarter of the eighteenth century, colonial territories in the Americans began to assert their right to self determination. Naturally, the colonizing powers wanted to assert their power and control, and they were prepared to use force to keep the independence movement in check. In 1776, the 13 North American colonies declared their independence as the United States of America, and they had to wage a long and bloody war against Britain to assert their right to be free. Then, in the 1790s, with the French Revolution no doubt being an ideological influence in the European colonies, Haiti began its own war of independence, which culminated in its declarations as an independent sovereign nation in 1804.

Starting from the early nineteenth century, the burden of colonial oppression began to be thrown off in Spanish South America where military leaders excelled themselves in combat, and later in government. There was broad unity in the fight to wrest independence from the Spanish crown. Much of the military campaign involved cross-border alliances and popular support of the anti-colonial struggle in each territory from the people across the South American continent. This in essence marked the birth of Pan-Americanism.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the role of Pan Americanism began to undergo a change. Leaders of sovereign nations in the Americas began to realize the importance of moving from the use of conflict to win independence to the application of peaceful means in such an effort. As a consequence of the development of this doctrine, and to promote peace among all nations in the hemisphere, the first Pan American Conference was held in Washington, DC, in 1890. The main objective of this Conference, the formation of the Pan American Union, was realized in 1910. This Union set itself the task of promoting friendship and cooperative action in the Americas. In 1930, its members agreed to celebrate Pan American Day on April 14 to celebrate peace, friendship and cooperation throughout the Americas.

But Pan Americanism also experienced its downside. The early twentieth century saw strained relations between the United States and some Latin American states. That period leading up to the 1930s also saw conflict situations among some Latin American states.

However, from the mid-1930s, President Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy helped to improve friendly relations between the United States and the Latin American states. This was the period of the rise of fascism in Europe, and as Nazism began to seriously threaten world peace, the independent nations of the Hemisphere held two major conferences in 1936 and 1938 to discuss this threat. Then just after the outbreak of World War II the Inter-American Neutrality Conference was held in 1939 in Panama. The following year a conference of foreign ministers at Havana produced the Act of Havana, which opposed changes of sovereignty in the Western Hemisphere. Finally, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most of the Latin American nations declared support, and in some cases, joined the Allies in the second World War.

The experiences acquired from these multilateral agreements and arrangements, and others which were to follow in the 1940s, eventually resulted in the formation of the Organization of American States in 1948.

Pan Americanism promotes solidarity, mutual assistance and understanding. In these days when we are bound together by the common goals of the Summit of the Americas process, we, as people of this our common Hemisphere, have to make use of our common ties - historical, cultural, economic, and social - which link us closely to each another. Interestingly, seventy years ago, when President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the Pan American Union and expounded his "Good Neighbor" policy, he called upon the nations of this Hemisphere to utilize their common bonds. He declared: "Common ideals and a community of interest, together with a spirit of cooperation, have led to the realization that the well-being of one nation depends in large measure upon the well-being of its neighbors. It is upon these foundations that Pan Americanism has been built." This statement made seven decades ago holds true to this day.

Pan Americanism has also influenced relations in the English-speaking Caribbean where the struggle for independence from Britain was more evolutionary in nature. My own country, Guyana, while still a colony in the 1950s and early 1960s, obtained firm solidarity from the Latin American political parties and governments during its independence struggle which was marked with some conflict and the imprisonment of the leaders of the independence movement. Some of these Governments spoke out very firmly for Guyana's independence in the UN Committee on Decolonization, then known as the Committee of 14.

As we now progress into a new century, the nations of the Americas are faced with new challenges. In 1961, President John Kennedy, in an address commemorating the birth of Pan Americanism, called for a new Alliance for Progress to address the basic needs of all peoples for homes, work and land, health and schools. Today, four decades later, the Governments in the Americas continue to face these same challenges.

But there are also new challenges and problems brought about by the struggle to improve democracy, human rights, trade, health, education and security, and the ongoing fight against drugs, corruption and growing poverty.

The problems of poverty have become even more serious in many of our countries in the past decade. These are problems which have to be continuously addressed in order to ensure that practical programs are implemented to alleviate the conditions of the poor. It was Shakespeare who said, "The miserable have no other medicine but only hope." It is for all of us - members of the OAS family - to work together in the spirit of Pan Americanism to find long-lasting solutions to give that hope to the growing army of the poor in our hemisphere.

Let us continue to work together in solidarity and friendship in the spirit of Pan Americanism.

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