Statement by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Permanent Representative of Guyana, on Becoming the Chairman of the Permanent Council of the OAS - April 3, 2003

Posted April 4th, 2003

Ambassadors, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, Alternate Representatives, Representatives of Observer States, Members of Delegations, Members of the Secretariat, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Two days ago, as you are aware, I acceded to the position as Chairman of the Permanent Council. Before we move into the actual business of this meeting, I want to make some preliminary remarks.

First, I want to thank Ambassador Godoy Morales of Guatemala for so ably managing the Permanent Council after he took over midstream from his esteemed colleague, Ambassador Arturo Duarte, to whom I must also express appreciation. I am not sure if this was the first time in the history of the OAS that two Ambassadors from the same country served as Chairman for the same period. We must check that for the record. In any case, I am put in a situation now where I have to try to do as well, as not just one Guatemalan Ambassador, but two of them together.

This is the second time I am serving as Chairman of the Permanent Council. In the last quarter of 1994, when I was in this position for the first time, the situation in Haiti was engaging the very serious attention of the international community, and, of course, the OAS was in the forefront in the struggle to remove the military dictatorship. Significantly, it was during that same quarter, we saw the ending of the military regime and the restoration and return from exile of President Aristide, the democratically elected President of the country.

Ironically, as I take up the Chairmanship, now almost ten years later, the situation on Haiti is still again pleading for our attention. Just last month, a joint OAS-CARICOM mission visited Haiti and met with the representatives of the Government, the opposition and civil society. How persuasive was that Mission will be determined by whatever positive action towards democratic governance will develop in the immediate future. It is my view that if the representatives of the electoral council can be named by the parties concerned, we may be able to see a positive shift from the stalemate that is currently being experienced. I am hoping that the OAS, and also CARICOM, will continue with some urgency to help promote political dialogue and compromise among political forces in Haiti to enable the process to move out from the rut in which it is stalled.

This next quarter sees the OAS being faced with the task of preparing for the General Assembly in Chile. I am ready to work as hard as is possible "and I hope all delegations will be ready as well "in order that when we arrive in Santiago, there will be no backlog of work to deal with. You may feel that this is very optimistic of me, but I am sure you will agree that this can be done. I look forward to the cooperation from all delegations and also from the hard-working members of the General Secretariat.

I note that the delegation of Chile has suggested that the theme of the General Assembly should be on democratic governance. I congratulate the Chilean delegation for making this suggestion. For democracy and democratic governance are ideas and practices which continue to gain attention "and concern" in all our countries.

We have to see how we can work together to develop and deepen democracy within our countries and, at the same time, to protect whatever democracy C or levels of democracy C we have achieved. Therefore, the period of the General Assembly will be an opportune time to highlight this issue, and to make it very clear to all the people of our Hemisphere that we are very serious in moving this process of democracy forward.

We cannot afford to remain smug, feeling that since we in this hemisphere have a Democratic Charter, that democracy and democratic governance will always continue to be advanced and improved. I say all of this because democracy itself is under severe strain in some parts of this hemisphere. Indeed, democracy is under very severe threat in some countries. This threat is even more serious when we keep in mind that in some countries in this Hemisphere, democracy still remains a relatively fresh idea in the minds of the people, and the experience of democracy has not really grown deep roots.

There are forces which make threats against freely elected governments and place all kinds of impediments to prevent such governments from carrying out their development programs. While we can agree that free and fair elections alone are not the sum-total of democracy, only if all forces respect the results of those elections can a fledgling or developing democracy can be allowed to nurture and embed its roots in the society.

I hope also that we will continue the dialogue with the African diplomatic corps - a dialogue initiated by Ambassador Dennis Antoine of Grenada when he was Chairman of this Council late last year. This is important since, in addition to cultural and historical links with Africa, we experience in this hemisphere problems as those experienced in Africa. We also share similar developmental issues and we can learn from each other's experiences. And certainly, together we can share ideas on issues of democracy and democratic development and managing the HIV/AIDS crisis, if we name just two examples.

And finally, I want to touch briefly on issues of economic development in this hemisphere, and particularly within the smaller economies. Many of our countries are still plagued by the effects of the heavy debt burden. Efforts to obtain debt write-offs and development funds from the multilateral financial institutions sometimes are heartbreaking. In the meantime, the economic situation becomes more depressed and the social situation worsens. Violent crime has become a serious epidemic in many of our countries, and addressing this has put a severe challenge on our human and financial resources. Other forms of antisocial behavior are on the increase, and social problems of disease and poor housing, among others, continue to take up more of our Governments' attention.

The OAS will certainly have to address this issue of development, particularly that of financing the process. As we are aware, practical ideas have already been worked out to remedy many of these problems that we face. Certainly, we in this hemisphere will have to as a matter of urgency begin to identify effective means of applying the much touted Monterrey Consensus. Talking about it and glorifying it at numerous conferences will do nothing to ease the plight of the poor in our countries. Applying it is what will bring beneficial results.

As Chairman of the Permanent Council, I look forward to your cooperation over the next three months. Let us work assiduously to help improve the political, social and economic conditions of all our people.

Return to Speeches