The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today announced the appointment of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to be his Special Envoy for Hemispheric Affairs.
During a press conference at OAS headquarters in Washington, Insulza explained that as a “goodwill ambassador,” Richardson will help promote dialogue on issues of importance to the region, such as immigration and free trade, and work to strengthen relations between countries.
“We are very proud that Governor Bill Richardson has taken an interest in helping us to develop these relationships,” said Insulza, who explained that the two men had been talking for the last few months about the diplomatic role Richardson could play within the framework of the OAS. Insulza said the idea is to seek opportunities for dialogue and understanding, to help advance the “long conversation” required to develop strong political relations.
“I have always been in favor of resolving problems through conciliation, through negotiation, through conversation, not through confrontation,” Insulza said, adding that his special envoy would seek to “harmonize” positions among countries on certain complex issues.
In accepting the honorary appointment, Richardson emphasized the importance of Western Hemisphere countries to the global community and expressed his interest in contributing to dialogue and understanding. He said he has always believed that the OAS is “the regionally important international organization dealing with political issues.”
Richardson explained that as an Hispanic American who governs a border state, he brings to the table an appreciation of the political, social and economic complexities of the migration issue. He agreed with the Secretary General that the construction of a fence along the border would not solve the problem of illegal immigration.
“I am against the wall,” he said, adding that he will work to promote in Congress a comprehensive law that would take into account all aspects of the problem, including security and the legal status of some 12 million immigrants who are already in the United States, as well as the issue of international economic cooperation. Richardson stressed that his top priority will continue to be serving as Governor of New Mexico, but that the Secretary General could call on him to help promote dialogue on hemispheric affairs.
Richardson, a Democrat, has held high-level diplomatic and political posts, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy, both under President Bill Clinton. He explained to journalists that throughout his career, he has had the chance to meet many of the current leaders of the region and that this familiarity would help him in his new role.
Asked about the current state of political affairs in the region, Richardson said that as an American citizen and as a Governor, “I do believe that the relationship between the United States and Latin America needs to be improved, that there has been a vacuum, but that there are opportunities to improve relations.” The migration issue is “key” in this regard, Richardson said.
Insulza noted that when it comes to migration, in many countries the U.S. point of view is not fully understood. “This is no small matter,” he said, since the United States receives about one quarter of the world’s migrants.
During the press conference, journalists also asked about the possibility of improving relations with Cuba during this transition period. Both Richardson and Insulza underscored the importance of promoting democracy in Cuba. The Secretary General talked about the need to establish a dialogue among Cubans about their own future, promoting the participation of all sectors of society in this process – not just governments and the exile community – to help ensure that the island nation can undergo “a peaceful transition process.”