Statement by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana in the Permanent Council of the OAS During Discussions on the Inter-American Democratic Charter C Washington DC, June 20, 2001

Posted June 21st. 2001

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

The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States has been given the task of examining and streamlining the draft text of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

My Government supports the principles laid out in the draft text. We feel that this Charter is a significant milestone in the historical development of the OAS. For when the OAS was initially formed, its objective was not the promotion and defense of democracy, but instead it was more concerned with the broad areas of regional cooperation. The idea of democracy was just given lip service since many of the regimes in those days were not rooted in that principle.

It is generally postulated that the idea of regional cooperation that forms the basis of the OAS grew out of a history of regional cooperation dating back to the 19th century. But, in reality, even before that period, long before the arrival of European conquest, people of different nations in this hemisphere coexisted, implemented systems and patterns of government, and carried out lucrative trade between areas stretching from, what is today, the southern United States to as far as Bolivia in South America, and including the Caribbean islands. In some areas advanced civilizations with advanced cultural forms developed, and the levels they reached amaze some of the most advanced minds even today. History is now revealing that in the pre-European period, Amerindian nations contacted and communicated with each other, sending emissaries to negotiate political, military and trade deals. How advanced was this hemispheric cooperation at that period will be left for historians to analyze. But as we know, the advent of the military and pseudo-religious conquistadores from the sixteenth century changed the face of the Americas and introduced new concepts of government and culture.

Within two hundred years, Eurocentric nations of generations of immigrants sprang up, and by the early nineteenth century, many of them on the continental landmass, and also the Black Republic of Haiti in the Caribbean, had moved on the road to self-determination.

Then in 1826, the liberator Simon Bolivar convened the Congress of Panama with the idea of creating an association of states in the hemisphere. Fifty-five years elapsed before independent Republics in 1889 held the First International Conference of American States in Washington, DC, established the International Union of American Republics and its secretariat, the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics. This organization became the Pan American Union in 1910.

From 1910 through 1945, many conferences were held concerning issues like commerce, external aggression, and cooperation.

It is my belief that the OAS, as we know it, began in 1947 with the Rio Treaty, which established a mutual defense treaty applicable to American states.

On April 1948, at the Ninth International American Conference, organized by the Pan American Union, representatives of 21 countries of the hemisphere met in Bogota, Colombia, to adopt the Charter, which serves as the foundation of the Organization of American States (OAS). This they did on April 30, 1948, and by so doing they affirmed their commitment to common goals and respect for each nation=s sovereignty. They signed the OAS Charter and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the first international expression of human rights principles.

The Charter, signed in 1948, defined the purpose of the OAS as follows: "To promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention; to prevent possible causes of difficulties and to ensure the pacific settlement of disputes that may arise among the Member States; to provide for common action on the part of those States in the event of aggression; to seek the solution of political, judicial and economic problems that may arise among them; to promote, by cooperative action, their economic, social and cultural development, and to achieve an effective limitation of conventional weapons that will make it possible to devote the largest amount of resources to the economic and social development of the Member States."

In the period beginning from the decade of the 1970s, the OAS began to expand its membership and it now includes Canada and the independent nations of the Caribbean. Since then, a number of amendments were also made to the OAS Charter.

Looking back over the years, it is not unknown that the main reason for the formal establishment of the OAS, shortly after the end of World War II, was for it to act as a deterrent to the perceived threat of communist expansionism in the western hemisphere. At around the same time, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) were set up with the primary objective of containing communism.

As such, the OAS was not set up to promote democracy since many existing military regimes which were seen as fighters against communism, were coddled and told they were doing a good job, even though in many instances people in their countries suffered from repression and poverty.

Despite its Cold War cloak, the OAS made some significant strides in promoting democracy. In 1959, it created the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which today provides recourse to citizens who have suffered human rights violations. Ten years later we saw the signing of the American Convention on Human Rights, and in 1978, it established the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

In 1961, Punta del Este launched the Alliance for Progress, an ambitious program of reforms designed to strengthen democracy and achieve economic progress and greater social justice in the hemisphere.

In introducing his Alliance for Progress on March 13, 1961, President Kennedy pleaded: "Those who possess wealth and power in the poor nations must accept their own responsibilities. They must lead the fight for those basic reforms which alone can preserve the fabric of their own societies. Those who made peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

However, those reforms were not carried out by the Latin American oligarchy C which included the military, the upper-clergy and the latifundistas -- and this resulted in tragic consequences for the people.

The perceived anti-communist tendency of the OAS was paramount in the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, there are some who would argue that being anti-communist amounted to being pro-democratic. In the context of this hemisphere, this is debatable. The suspension of Cuba in January 1962, supported by 14 of the 21 members, was not because it was "undemocratic". If the lack of democracy was a cause for suspension of a member, then at that period the OAS would have been desperately short of members. The expulsion measure stated that Cuba's "adherence . . . to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system." Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico abstained on the grounds that the measure violated the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another member state -- part of the OAS Charter.

Further, the support of the OAS for the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1963 was not given because that act was meant to protect democracy. Democracy was actually overthrown earlier. And in 1964, with regard to my own country, which was still a colony of Britain, the OAS did not issue a whimper when international anti-communist organizations allied with the opposition to destabilize the freely and democratically elected Government of that period. It was a Government which was putting into action democratic reforms to reduce poverty and to improve the livelihood of the masses. In those days this was enough to give leaders who were fighting against colonialism the communist label, and those who controlled the destiny of the hemisphere could not allow them to remain in power, even though they won elections freely and fairly.

As the communist threat waned in the 1980s and the Cold War collapsed, the OAS rapidly began to re-assert itself as the champion of the promotion of democracy. It was clear that the OAS was going through an evolution from its formation to the mid-1980s. It had by then shed its Cold War cloak, and certainly, the advent of the English-speaking Caribbean countries helped it to do so. The CARICOM nations have a long tradition of representative democracy and the respect and protection of human rights, and the fresh ideas they brought to the forum of the OAS encouraged this hemispheric body to adjust its perspective. Issues relating to democracy in the hemisphere became more important, and programs to encourage democratic development such as promoting and supporting programs to reduce poverty and to combat crime became more and more significant as the years progressed.

And in a most significant move in 1991, there was the adoption of Resolution 1080, which set up procedures to react to threats to democracy in the hemisphere. A key factor in helping to manage crises, Resolution 1080 has been invoked four times: in Haiti (1991), Peru (1992), Guatemala (1993) and Paraguay (1996). Preventive diplomacy, to promote democracy, has also been applied by the OAS from time to time, as has been seen in more recent times, for example, in Peru. Further, the electoral observation by the OAS in many of our countries has helped to strengthen democracy and promote confidence in the electoral process by our people.

So we saw during the 1990s a most rapid evolution -- indeed a revolution -- in the political transformation of the OAS. In 1997, the ratification of the Protocol of Washington helped to strengthen representative democracy by giving the OAS the right to suspend a member state whose democratically elected Government is overthrown by force. Earlier, the Organization had established the Convention against Corruption, the first international agreement of its kind.

Successive Summits of the Americas added responsibilities to the OAS and reaffirmed its role in strengthening democratic values and institutions, and established a range of new roles and priorities.

And so the OAS has come a full circle, and it can now with a clear collective conscience live up to the ideals it set out in the charter, as I have quoted earlier.

I have taken you on a stroll through history and laid it bare so that you can appreciate the evolution of the OAS in promoting democracy. The current draft of the Democratic Charter that we are examining also highlights representative democracy, as the Charter of the OAS has done.

We feel that the people of this hemisphere will strive under democracy which is progressively advanced. While representative democracy through free and fair elections is laudable, such a democracy must not remain static. Remember, this is a concept which was existing at the time of the adoption of the OAS Charter. It is essential for it to be advanced to become all-inclusive -- not only representative, but also consultative and participatory. With participatory democracy, we are empowering the people at the grass roots. This is a democracy which guarantees, in addition to civil and political rights, social and cultural rights as well.

The father of the Guyanese independence movement, the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, summed up this qualification of democracy when he spoke at the Sustainable Development Summit in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on December 7, 1996. He said: "Democracy must have as its objective 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. This would be ensured when it is embracing, not only representative (5-minute voting), but also consultative and participatory, particularly of women, and when not only civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights are realized. A person must exercise his/her right to vote, but that right will be exercisable only if the food necessary for life is available."

In any case, we fully support the principle of democracy as expressed in the Democratic Charter, despite the limitations which we feel it has. We also support the other principles and measures that are expressed in the draft.

The establishment of the Inter-America Democratic Charter is a historic forward move by the Governments of this hemisphere. As we know, it is a mandate given to the OAS by the Heads of State and Government, and its basic fundamentals were firmly stated in the "democracy clause" of the Quebec Declaration. Therefore, the final product, which will also give consideration to the views of the general public, will certainly win the widest approval throughout the hemisphere.

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