James Lambert | Governance and co-responsibility: The OAS as a factor of continental cohesion

James Lambert | Governance and co-responsibility: The OAS as a factor of continental cohesion

Good morning to all, Mr. President of the Congress of Guatemala, Alvaro Arzú Escobar; Gabriela Lara and other representatives of the GEAP; distinguished ambassadors, parliamentarians and delegates.

On behalf of the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, it is an honor for me to be present today in this session. I take this opportunity to extend to Dr. William Soto Santiago an affectionate greeting from the Secretary General.

It is also good to go back to Guatemala and have the opportunity to see so many friends, colleagues and experts in Latin America and the Caribbean that I had the pleasure of meeting between 2002 and 2005 when I had the honor of serving as Ambassador of Canada in Guatemala .

I would like to take advantage of your deliberations on diplomatic and political issues to share with you some reflections on the theme of this session: Governance and co-responsibility: The OAS as a continental cohesion factor, and briefly try to identify how the OAS, which now celebrates its seventy years of existence, is in itself a reflection of the enormous diversity that characterizes the region we inhabit.

We just have to look around us this morning to recognize that the hemisphere is characterized by a tremendous diversity among regions, countries, cultures, languages, economic systems and social practices. These manifest themselves at a distance when we compare regions and countries, but also within the countries themselves. In Guatemala and Mexico, where I also served, the number of indigenous cultures and languages is amazing and has a great impact on the configuration of history and regional economic and political governance from the colonial period to the Cold War.

Encompassing all this diversity it is important to navigate between the academic constructions that try to order the universe and the specific reality that applies in such different regions as would be the case of Santa Lucia and Santiago.

In fact, there are generalities that should be explored as we approach this region, both today and in its evolution. The fact that the Americas, despite a couple of decades of significant economic growth, continues to overcome the global scale in terms of inequality and social exclusion, also forces us to ask ourselves, within this tremendous diversity: what are the common points? , why do they exist and how are they perpetuated?

Despite the diversity, there are a lot of terms, for example, warlordism, clientele, corruption and chauvinism, which will arise regularly in most of the countries of our region, regardless of whether they are Westminster-style republics or democracies.

In addition, it is worth noting that, despite the diverse conditions in which they manifest themselves, many of the challenges we face today are common: migration, gangs, globalization, cross-border crime, climate change, pandemic diseases, technology of the information accompanied by work dislocation and cyber-security problems, just to name a few.

The OAS, as the main multilateral and institutional body in the region, plays a key role in the treatment of these common causes, but to explain it well let me put this in historical perspective.

Beyond the 70 years that we celebrate this year, the OAS has its real origin in the Pan American Union of 1889. Then, with almost 120 years, it is the oldest continuous regional organization in the world. As it took an institutional form, the organization began to generate results for the common good.

A good example of this is the Inter-American Commission of Women, which was founded 90 years ago in 1928. This organization has a proud tradition of establishing global norms, including in 1933 with the negotiation of the Convention on the Nationality of Women, which stipulated that nationality should not be affected by marriage.

This was the first legally binding international instrument that affected the rights of women.

More recently, in 1994, the CIM gave birth to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para), and throughout this period it has played an important role in facing the challenges it faces. women in the region, and train new generations of women politicians.

In fact, the OAS was the place where the network of treaties and international jurisprudence was negotiated, which gave rise to a multitude of institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan American Health Organization and the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

In a century in which Europe, Asia and Africa were shaken by violent clashes between countries and entire regions, the Americas, even because of this network of binding legal commitments, were relatively free of wars between states.

Of course, that does not mean that the region was free of violence, oppression and abuse of human rights, because we had all of that on a massive scale.

Under the direction of Secretary General Luis Almagro, since 2015, the OAS has refocused its efforts to put human rights and democratic values at the center of our activities. His motto "more rights for more people" is now the goal we seek to achieve. In a sense, it is about returning the OAS to its original mandate: to serve as the principal hemispheric body for the resolution of disputes and the promotion of democratic values.

I would like to use the rest of my time to talk about this important goal, which is democracy; as well as the common obstacle, which is corruption.

As mentioned by Secretary General Almagro, the rule of law is the protection of individual rights of individuals. Human rights do not exist in societies where there is no rule of law, and there is no rule of law in societies where human rights are not protected.

In turn, citizens must have full freedom to participate in the decision-making processes that determine the laws that govern them. It is through universal suffrage that citizens are guaranteed rights and responsibilities at the very heart of democracy.

Inequality is the worst impediment to development. And the worst inequality is that which results from the lack of protection of the rights of citizens. At the OAS, we have enshrined these values in our founding documents.

The OAS is the first regional organization to enshrine the principle of "representative democracy" as an essential element for development.

From the beginning, the OAS has had an undeniable mandate to promote, promote and, when necessary, protect democracy in the region. Of course, in practice, politics and diplomacy do not always work as we would like and Member States do not always fulfill their obligations.

Many of our Member States suffered military dictatorships, which led to the suspension of elections and eliminated most guarantees of basic human rights or access to justice. Aware of the fragility of democracy, in 1991 the member states approved the "Commitment of Santiago with democracy and human rights" and, shortly after, Resolution 1080 requesting a specific action of the Member States when there is an "interruption" abrupt or irregular democratic political institutional process "in a Member State of the OAS.

Although, initially conceived as tools to defend against the military, coups d'état or external forces, it was evident that threats to democracy could come from within the democratic process.

So in 2001 member States adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is now the veritable Constitution of the Americas. The Democratic Charter expanded the authority and responsibility of the OAS to react in situations where there was a deterioration of the internal constitutional stability leading to a threat in democracy.
Article 1 of the Democratic Charter enshrines democracy as a right, stating that the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. Those elected to lead assume the responsibility to protect these rights and if they do not they lose the legitimacy to lead. The Democratic Charter defines the essential elements of representative democracy as a respect for human rights, of fundamental freedoms, rule of law, periodic free and fair elections based on universal suffrage, a pluralistic system of political parties, as well as the separation of powers and the independence of the branches of government.
Democracy was clearly defined as were the situations where member States might cooperate and support one another. It is designed to reinforce the principal of regional solidarity in the international defense of democracy.
Article 20, for example, establishes the authority of any member State or the Secretary General to act and outlines the range of measures for possible recourse and powering the permanent counsel to take such decisions as it deems appropriate in the face of a breakdown of constitution irregularity in a member State.
The obligation to the international defense of democracy is created* when individual States signed on to these treaties quotifying these into principles of international law. We have created an international requirement to observe and scrutinize our democracy.
Prior to the tragic case that has unfolded in Venezuela, the Democratic Charter has been evoked seven times and triggered once in the case of a coup d'état. In diplomacy these agreements become our tools and in each of these cases regional solidarity has been strengthened as member States have worked together to support the State in question on its path back to democracy; and let us hope that will be the case in Venezuela.
Finally, let me address the question of corruption: Perhaps the greatest of existential threats comes from within the political system and poses a central challenge to the stability and growth of our region.
Corruption and bad practices are contagious. It is a disease that is easily spread and which can create a very dangerous precedent. Corruption not only affects the citizens economically but undermines the public trust in the governments elected to serve them. Embedded institutional corruption results in the gradual atrophying of democratic norms.
Across the Americas, political corruption has mobilized citizens to take to the streets, to demand transparency, to demand accountability. Political campaigns are being fought and won to push out corrupt leaders and challenge entrenched* elites who prevent any meaningful change to or meaningful reforms.
This is a reality in countries as popular as Brazil to the microstates of the Caribbean. Corruption has become front and center on the political stage in Central America and particularly in the northern triangle. As we know, there has been several multilateral missions to address these. I was sure that the president of the creation of CICIG in Guatemala under U.N. direction and the mission to support and fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras, which falls under the direction of the OAS as another important example of these initiatives.
In Honduras OAS efforts have helped to establish a special anti-corruption jurisdiction in the judiciary vetting the judges that oversee corruption cases. Additionally the mission recruited and vetted specialized team in the public ministry to investigate and prosecute cases related to corruption. The political cost of not fighting corruption for democratic regimes has grown much higher in the era of digital globalization where a photo posted on Twitter or a leaked document for instance rapidly catches fire in a virtual world.
There is no surprise to see anti-politics and anti-establishment trends around the world after cases such as Odebrecht, Panama and Paradise Papers, which have recently come to light. Public scrutiny for government officials is facilitated with ease by social media and a 24-hour news cycle and therefore for a much higher than ever before, fighting corruption has become a central challenge to sustain satisfaction and legitimacy of the representative democratic model.
And hence, the importance of open government, open data, open contracting and the involvement, the full involvement in civil society in the scrutiny and oversight of governments in our region.