STATEMENT TO THE PERMANENT COUNCIL BY AMBASSADOR ODEEN ISHMAEL, PERMANENT
REPRESENTATIVE OF GUYANA TO THE OAS - WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 22, 2003
Posted October 22nd. 2003
Mr. Chairman, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General, Ambassadors, Alternate Representatives, Members of the General Secretariat, Friends all….
I am deeply appreciative of the kind sentiments expressed to me today. It certainly was my great pleasure and honor to have worked with all of you over the years in the deliberations of the Organization of American States.
When I first arrived at the OAS in July 1993, Guyana had just completed two years of membership in this body. In October 1992, the first free and fair election in 28 years was held in my country, and I was the first Ambassador appointed to the OAS and to the United States by the new democratic Guyanese administration. Back then, Guyana was relatively unknown in hemispheric multilateral relations and our role was not very significant. Certainly, as you will agree, that situation has changed very much over the past ten years.
Guyana's prestige in this Organization has been enhanced by our participation in the negotiation process which resulted in the finalization of significant hemispheric agreements. I have had the honor of twice presiding over the OAS Permanent Council, a situation which is unique for any diplomat from the CARICOM region. And my country has also benefited from OAS development assistance, and the growing success of the Intermediate Savannahs Project in Guyana bears testimony to the achievements we scored within the hemispheric organization.
I was a participant in the Summit of the Americas process from its inception in 1994. As a negotiator of the Summit action plans and political declarations of Miami, Santiago and Quebec, and as CARICOM's representative on the executive committee of the Summit Implementation Review Group, I enjoyed a front row seat in viewing the growth and development of integration within the Americas.
To serve ten years in the OAS is quite an achievement. I certainly owe a deep gratitude to the late President Cheddi Jagan who appointed me to this post and who told me to use my initiative and be innovative within this organization of the Americas.
And that is what all of must continue to do as we work to improve the lives of the peoples of the Americas. We must work unselfishly as individuals and as a collective and do not bother about scoring personal points. In this respect, I am influenced by a statement of the late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, when she declared: "My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who do work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there is less competition there."
In the 1990s, the OAS was immersed in the promotion and strengthening of democracy, which was its chief priority. In reality, as we enter the new century, that priority has not changed, since the OAS has become more and more involved in preventive diplomacy and in efforts to stabilize democracy in some of the member states.
But as we are observing, democracy seems to be still experiencing birth pains in some parts of the Americas. The principle of changing a government through free and fair periodic elections is experiencing some problems in being accepted by all sectors of the populace. Some societies still firmly believe that a government can be removed by popular street demonstrations and that such actions are a legitimate form of democratic expression. Is it because such societies feel that popular agitation, without the use of the ballot box, is a credible form of democracy? But doesn't such action breed instability which can mutate into a political virus? Does it mean that we have to re-examine our definition of democracy as is stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter? Those of us who expound on theory, practice and philosophy of democracy may now have to think of reformulating our ideas based on the resurgence of these experiences.
While the OAS grapples with the defense, promotion and strengthening of democracy, the time is opportune for it to be fully involved in the fight against poverty. The holding of the High Level Meeting on Poverty, Equity and Social Inclusion in Venezuela recently shows that the Organization is moving in the desired direction.
Despite numerous multilateral programs formulated over the past fifteen years, poverty in the Americas has not decreased. Actually, the proportion of the poor has increased. Ironically, in general, while almost every member state of the OAS has shown significant increases in their GDP and their per capita income, yet the hemisphere of the Americas is experiencing growing poverty. This clearly indicates that the wealth generated is not distributed equitably. All of our countries, with the support of the OAS, must work together to apply with great urgency the recommendations of the recently concluded meeting held in Venezuela. By so doing, we will be showing to the growing army of the poor and desperate that the Organization is interested in their welfare and is determined to fight the root causes of poverty.
To alleviate poverty is to promote democracy. We continue to expound the view that democracy will improve the lives of our citizens. But when these citizens continue to live in poverty despite the grounding of political democracy, they begin to question the values of such a system, and ultimately they demonstrate on the streets and worsen the state of instability and may in desperation support anti-democratic groups which promise to alleviate their problems.
In the Caribbean region, the HIV/AIDS problem has taken on added dimensions. What we must all understand is that this is not just a health problem. For the countries of the Caribbean it has become a security issue, and unless we see a reversal in the effects, it can easily have political repercussions. This Permanent Council must grapple with this crucial matter and begin to discuss its political ramifications and suggest political solutions from the multilateral perspective.
The alleviation of poverty is linked to the problem of the debt burden. The development of many of our member states is negatively affected by the onerous foreign debt. Yet, as a hemispheric body, we have not seriously examined this issue. Considering that this matter has been receiving the attention of the international financial institutions, the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, and other regional organizations, the time is ripe for the member states of the OAS, under the umbrella of the Summit of the Americas, to set up a high-level working group on debt reform. This working group should attempt a fresh look at the origins, structure and growth of debt and a creative approach to debt relief, its rationale being that the alleviation of the debt burden will liberate additional resources for development for mutual North/South benefit.
I was involved in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) process from its beginning in 1994. I realized then that this process was hastening globalization in the Americas and that smaller economies would be at a disadvantage if economic assistance is not provided to them. The FTAA seems to be on track for a launching in 2005, but I am not too sure that all the OAS member states will be ready for that date. Nevertheless, globalization is rolling across the world and we are rapidly being engulfed in it.
But if it is to succeed without causing grievous damage to economic and political institutions, globalization must be small-economy friendly or else it will face strong opposition from nations that are trying to market their relatively small amounts of export commodities. Globalization must not be rapacious, like a shark feeding on sardines. There must be no double standards where developed countries demand that they market subsidized commodities to compete with those produced by developing countries forced to cut out subsidies as a condition for multilateral financial assistance. What is desired is a "humane globalization" which allows for special and differential treatment for the smaller economies and which encourages not only free trade but fair trade as well. From this forum, I reiterate the call for the establishment of a Regional Integration Fund to assist the smaller economies to enable them to establish a competitive base for participation in the FTAA.
The OAS has scored many successes over the past ten years, but it also has seen some setbacks. My greatest disappointment is that we have not arrived at an acceptable solution to the political situation in Haiti. I have consistently argued that Resolution 822 of late last year set out a blueprint for a positive forward move. But the initial steps can only materialize if all the parties to that resolution the Government, the opposition groups along with civil society organizations, and the international financial institutions act simultaneously on the responsibility with which they have been entrusted by this resolution. As the Haitian Republic prepares for the commemoration of its bicentennial, I do hope that all the parties will develop the political maturity to move the political process in a forward direction. I have been deeply interested in the Haitian cause ever since I presided over the Permanent Council in the last quarter of 1994 when we oversaw the restoration of the democratically elected President of Haiti back in Port-a-Prince. Despite my departure from the OAS, I offer my assistance to this organization and to the Haitian delegation to continue to help bring about a solution to the current impasse.
Now, I must express some words of thanks. Let me thank Secretary General Cesar Gavira and Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi for their cooperation and wise counsel over the years. And even before them, I did learn from the wisdom of the previous Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General, Baena Soares and Christopher Thomas, respectively. Mrs. Anna O'Brien, the Chief of Protocol, has always been most helpful and has guided me through many a pitfall here at the OAS. I have always received maximum cooperation from the members of the General Secretariat and from the various Units, Commissions and affiliated bodies. And I do not think that my message would have properly reached my multi-lingual audience without the help of the ever patient, tireless and alert team of interpreters. I express my appreciation to the General Secretariat staff members who worked with me during my two terms as Chairman of the Permanent Council. And what I say and do at the OAS could not have reached my own people in Guyana without the skills of Von Martin and Mario Martinez of OAS Radio, and Ian Edwards and Lucricia Baracat and other staff members of the Department of Public Information.
To my own staff of the Guyana Permanent Mission, and particularly the Alternate Representative Deborah Yaw, I pay special tribute for their support. My CARICOM colleagues, Ambassadors and Alternates, have been most helpful to me over the years, and so have been all the Ambassadors and Alternates of all the other parts of the Americas. And certainly, I cannot forget the friendship of our colleagues from the Observer Missions who play a crucial supporting role in this organization.
In the days of the sailing ships, the sailors felt happy when they felt the wind blowing on their backs because that was a sure sign that their voyage would be easy and they would reach their destination in quick time. If there were no obstacles along the way and everything turned out all right, it was said, according to the traditions of my ancestors, that certainly the sun was shining down on their faces. It is with these reflections in mind that I say to each of you may the wind blow on your back and the sun continue to shine down on your face.
Thank you very much.