Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 23, 2018 - Washington, DC

H.E. Juan Anibal Barria, Permanent Representative of Chile to the OAS and Chair of the Permanent Council
H.E. Hugo Cayrus Maurin, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the OAS and Chair of the Committee of Juridical and Political Affairs
Congressman Gregory Meeks, Representative for New York’s 5 Congressional District,
Lauren Vaughan, Secretary of the District of Columbia
Distinguished panelists, Permanent Representatives, colleagues,

Good morning,

It is with great pride that I take the floor to make brief remarks at this Special Permanent Council to celebrate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade under the theme, Remember Slavery: Triumphs and Struggles for Freedom and Equality in the Americas. This momentous occasion would not have been possible without the efforts of Member States to approve the Plan of Action for the Decade for Persons of African Descent in the Americas (2016-2025) in June 2016, which provides a framework for the OAS to implement policies, programs and projects as well as guidelines for cooperation with other regional and national organizations to recognize and promote the rights of persons of African descent in the Americas. Among its mandates, the Plan of Action calls on the OAS to commemorate every year on March 25 the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slavery Trade by focusing on eminent persons of African descent who made significant contributions to the abolition of the slave trade, slavery and in favor of civil rights in the Americas.

Today’s panel discussion intends to highlight the personal stories and gains of our esteemed panelists in the movement towards freedom and equality in their respective communities. The pervasive issues that derive from the legacy of slavery continue to haunt us today. Lack of access to basic necessities such as education, healthcare, and land rights, disenfranchisement, marginalization, and political persecution have led to the social, political, and economic disempowerment of many persons of African descent in the Americas. Millions of people in the Americas identify themselves as being of African descent, yet in many of our countries these same denizens wield the least socio-economic power. Our Americas is saturated with stories of struggles and crusades for freedom and justice for afro-descendants who form the minority group or due to institutional prejudices were denied basic civil liberties. We salute the civil rights leaders such as Dorothy Height, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom this year marks the 50th anniversary since his assassination; Congressman John Lewis, the iconic sitting member of Congress whose body of work is known for the fight for equality and who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. The OAS would welcome Congressman Lewis’ presence at next year’s special meeting and through you, Congressman Meeks, we ask if you may convey this invitation to the great Congressman. We recognize other freedom fighters such as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Marcus Garvey, Cesar Chavez, our esteemed panelists, and the countless others who dedicated their lives to seeking justice.

While we can never and should never forget the impact of slavery and the current plight of many persons of African descent in the Americas, we must also recognize the advances and triumphs that have been made in the pursuit of social inclusion and political and economic empowerment for all. In many countries in the Americas persons of African descent are Heads of State and prominent business owners who play a catalytic role in transforming their societies. Even in countries where afro-descendants form the minority group they have excelled in all facets of societies contributing immensely to the decision-making process and the formulation of governmental policies. In February of this year, my office launched a photo exhibit of 34 leaders of African descent in the Americas who governed from 1801-1910. This revealing exhibit honored the African heritage of some of the hemisphere’s most revered historical political figures, for many of whom the details of their ancestry remained obfuscated for generations.

The fight is far from finished and the road ahead is daunting at times. We can never forget our past. We must acknowledge the strife of our forefathers, those who died and continue to perish in the name of freedom and we must use the past injustices to build our future, to right the wrongs, free the captive, inspire the desolate, and teach the ignorant. The Organization of American States is committed to using the International Decade for People of African Descent as a catalyst for change in our Americas and a vessel for telling the stories of the forgotten and shedding light on the myriad contributions persons of African descent have made to the social, economic, political, and cultural development of our Americas.

I wish to extend heartfelt gratitude to our panelists for joining us today to share their stories and making a difference in their communities.