Assistant Secretary General Speech


April 24, 2018 - Washington, DC

Thank you very much for this warm welcome and for the invitation to join you here today. I wish to thank Georgetown University and the Center for Latin American Studies as well as the Latin America Leadership Program who made this event possible, and to the entire Hoya community for their continued interest and study of Latin America and the Caribbean.

This is my first time visiting Georgetown University in my capacity as Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States. It is indeed a privilege to stand before an audience of bright minds and future leaders to share some thoughts on the recently held 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru. As you are probably aware from media reports, this was a very interesting and high profile event.

The Summit of the Americas process began 24 years ago, under President Bill Clinton’s initiative to invite the Heads of State and Government of the Americas to Miami with the main goals of strengthening economic integration and free trade in the Americas. Since 1994, a total of eight regular and two special summits have been held. During these occasions, leaders from the region have considered common policy issues, affirmed shared values and committed to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced by countries in the Americas.

Since the first summit in Miami, the Heads of State and Government have met in Santa Cruz, Santiago, Quebec City, Monterrey, Mar del Plata, Port of Spain, Cartagena, Panama City, and just 10 days ago in Lima, where they sought to establish pertinent and timely priorities that address the needs of the people of the Hemisphere.

The responsibility for holding the Summits of the Americas and implementing the resulting mandates rests directly with the region's governments and the Inter-American Institutions that support them. The OAS, as Secretariat and institutional memory of the Summit of the Americas process has played a key role in shaping the Inter-American agenda, through the preparation and follow-up of the implementation of the Summits mandates and articulating the work of the different stakeholders of the Summit process.

The Summit process has become the compass by which the inter-American system sets its bearings. Through these summits, our Member States have advanced important understanding on such key hemispheric concerns as economic growth, employment, poverty, environmental sustainability, energy security, discrimination, transnational crime and most recently to further strengthen hemispheric cooperation in the fight against corruption. The mandates approved by the leaders are not only composed of commitments that they undertake on behalf of their countries, they are also instructions to the institutions that make up the Inter-American community who are expected to promote and support regional efforts by aligning their own initiatives, research, programs and lending to accelerate achievement of these goals.

Since 2001 the OAS has chaired the Joint Summit Working Group with the active engagement of the Inter-American Development Bank, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, the Caribbean Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Development Programme, and reports each year on their efforts to deliver.

To be frank, after a good start in its first 15 years, the Summit of the Americas process has faced some challenges in recent years. The 2001 Summit in Quebec City probably represented a high point of region-wide consensus on the values of representative democracy and open, liberal economic models. This gave rise among other achievements to an instruction from leaders to draft an Inter-American Democratic Charter for the Hemisphere which was approved later that year, ironically on 9/11. Ideological divergence since that time made it difficult for leaders to agree by consensus on the set of over-riding priorities that ought to guide the region.

Indeed at the Summit in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, Cartagena in 2012 and Panama in 2015 leaders were unable to agree on joint declarations. The Summit continued to play an important political role, including as the single forum at which hemispheric leaders meet and dialogue to forge better relations. This contributed for example to the rapprochement between Cuba and the USA which was seen in the second Obama administration.

Happily, one of the important achievements of the VIII Summit of the Americas was the return, under the skillful Peruvian Chair, to having a final declaration and shared mandates to the countries and institutions of the region. So, let me talk a little about what that means.

The 8th Summit held in Lima was an important moment in Inter-American relations. Under the central theme “Democratic Governance against Corruption,” the hemisphere’s Heads of State and Government met to discuss the most pressing issues of the region and yielded concrete and important anti-corruption measures that will help to combat impunity through regional cooperation.

I think everyone recognizes that the leaders gathered at a critical moment for the Americas. There are differences over hemispheric matters and complex current issues. Nevertheless, amid the widely reported geopolitical differences that exist among states, the leaders were able to hold a frank and respectful dialogue that led to fruitful agreements.

This process underscores the importance of multilateral action. During the Summit, an effort was made by all to center the agenda and discussion on a substantive array of topics that united us and not those that divided us.

As such, the countries of the region remained focused on the main issue at hand, corruption. Corruption is one of the most serious threats to the consolidation of democracy and to social and economic development. Indeed, it poses an obstacle and a real challenge to all the states. Because corruption is an enemy that knows no national boundaries, collective action by all the American nations is needed.


There is a clear correlation between corruption and the lack of confidence many citizens have in their governments. In its most recent report released last February, Transparency International highlights that “while progress has been made to combat corruption in several countries, there are still no overarching policies in place to address the historic and structural causes of corruption throughout the region.”

Besides undermining trust on governmental institutions and politicians, corruption also affects citizens economically. Fighting corruption is a key aspect of the democratic exercise of power as mandated by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus is a priority issue for all OAS Member States.

Great strides have been made in recent years to combat this problem in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to Transparency International, the region has experienced a solid increase in laws and institutions that promote transparency and accountability in the public sector. This has not happened by accident. In fact the Summit of the Americas in 1994 paved the way to where we are today.

One of the outcomes of that Summit was an instruction to the OAS to oversee negotiations of the world´s first treaty undertaking collective action to address the scourge of corruption. The resulting Inter-American Convention on Corruption, and its follow-up peer reviewed mechanism chaired by the OAS (MESICIC) inspired the subsequently negotiated UN Convention on Corruption, and has assisted countries in the region to take important steps to implement improvements in their legal and administrative systems to combat corruption and reinforce democratic governability.

For example in 2016, Chile passed a law on public probity that prevents conflicts of interest in the public sector. Similarly, the Bahamas recently passed a law on access to public information and Guyana created transparent mechanisms for public procurement. In addition, in Jamaica, a consolidated anti-corruption agency was formed to conduct investigations.

Notwithstanding these positive examples, the progress in the last few years has been overshadowed by one of the largest corruption scandals in Latin America’s history. The scandal involves a Brazilian construction firm known as Odebrecht. Last year this firm admitted to paying more than $800 million in bribes in exchange for securing lucrative government projects throughout the region. The revelations that continue to emerge from the investigation are staggering. The reach of the briberies spread to government officials in 11 countries and has directly implicated political figures at the highest levels.

Ironically, leading up to the Summit in Peru, the host country’s president resigned over allegations involving the Odebrecht corruption case. He was replaced three weeks prior to the Summit by his then vice president and now the President of Peru, Martin Vizcarra. The peaceful transition of power at such a critical time was a welcome sign of the strength of Peru’s democratic institutions.

This recent experience in our region clearly demonstrates how corruption is both a difficulty and a real challenge for all our Member States, regardless of size, economic development or political ideology. The scandal has challenged the independence of judiciaries charged with prosecuting crimes.

Nevertheless, a growing anticorruption movement has also gained ground. We continue to see promising results in the form of sanctions for businessmen and political figures alike. The Odebrecht investigations also underscore the progress being made by the majority of our nations and institutions in their efforts to promote transparency and accountability. We hope that in the future, unscrupulous business firms will think twice before offering a bribe to a public official as it is now more evident that not only the public official is subject to imprisonment, but so is the businessman.

The Odebrecht case has brought attention to the vast corruption problem in the political establishment in the region, and this corruption scourge also affects people of all walks of life. The problem affects each and every one of us, though our versions of it may differ.

One way to begin to change the culture that enables corruption and to fix the problem is by reevaluating, and if necessary, changing our conduct during all of our daily personal and public interactions. Take for instance a simple traffic stop. It is not uncommon in some countries to negotiate and perhaps offer a small compensation to the police officer in order to avoid a traffic violation. Other times, officials in positions of power take advantage of vulnerable citizens during simple legal transactions. For example, in some jurisdictions the procedure for obtaining a passport could be a challenging and time consuming process. This opens the door for corrupt officials to exploit the system by providing preferential treatment to those willing and able to pay to move ahead of the line. As soon as we agree to “pay to play”, we become part of the problem and complicit in the act of corruption, undermining the legitimacy of public institutions, the rule of law, justice and thus threatening democracy itself.

Corruption not only affects citizens economically but undermines the public trust in the governments elected to serve them. We must therefore change this culture, while also focusing on the rights of individuals. That is why we work at the OAS to ensure “more rights, for more people,” but we must remember that with more rights comes more responsibility. This responsibility falls upon all of us.

To truly improve anti-corruption efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean, governments must foster political will and demonstrate a sustained long-term commitment to anti-corruption reforms. The leaders of the region demonstrated a real conviction to abstain from and root out corruption as they unanimously adopted the Lima Commitment. As I have mentioned above, this is the first Summit in 14 years where leaders from throughout the Americas were able to approve clear mandates, in this case to tackle corruption. This not only binds the countries but also Inter-American institutions to support these efforts.

In the Lima Commitment, the OAS Member States agreed to take a strong stance against corruptive practices, pledging an improvement in transparency and a strengthening of Inter-American anti-corruption mechanisms. The regional Heads of State and Government agreed to reduce bureaucracy; strengthen the independence of their judiciaries and regulatory agencies; improve education and develop civic awareness initiatives; get more private sector participation in the formulation of public anti-corruption policies; and protect informants, journalists and law enforcement officials.

The leaders also pledged to work towards preventing regional financial systems from being used to transfer and conceal illicit funds; implement digital government and procurement systems; broaden cooperation between regional judiciaries, regulatory agencies and police; and clamp down on tax evasion, among other measures.

The Lima Commitment also calls for the creation of an Inter-American open data program within the OAS to increase governments' capacity to fight corruption and strengthen mechanisms to implement the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC).

These are all substantial achievements that we hope will have a significant impact on the peoples of the Americas.

So, after the Lima outcomes, the process of hemispheric integration is strengthened by the fact that these agreed mandates from Leaders will serve as the compass for our efforts. Importantly, the legitimacy of the outcome has been enhanced by the fact that all of these developments and outcomes were strengthened by the active participation of civil society, composed of NGO´s, Unions, Academics, Expert Think Tanks, and business in the Summit Process. This was the case in the preparation phase, where these various groups were invited to prepare inputs to better inform the discussion of government representatives about their concerns. But, it was also seen in Lima where the Peruvian government complemented the ongoing negotiations by creating parallel forums for civil society, youth and business representatives. Separate meetings also brought participation from parliamentarians and indigenous Leaders. Such meetings have taken place at past summits. An important difference this time was that a representative of each of the groups had an opportunity to speak directly to the Leaders of the Americas, making their deliberations more open and inclusive.


While the Summit of the America’s agenda mainly centered on joint efforts to combat corruption, several leaders used the platform to address the situation in Venezuela. Governments supportive of the absent nation expressed concerns over the decision to revoke the invitation to the government of President Nicolás Maduro to attend the gathering. Other countries voiced their concerns on Venezuela as that nation proceeds with plans to hold a presidential election next month that is considered to lack the necessary guarantees for a free, fair, transparent and democratic process.

Sixteen of the 33 nations gathered issued their own statement on the sidelines of the Summit denouncing the upcoming May elections. The Heads of State and Government of Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia, and the Vice President of the United States, expressed concern over “the worsening political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in that country


The Peru Summit has rekindled the will to work together to overcome the many challenges facing the Americas. In our large and diverse Hemisphere, it is not unusual to see different viewpoints displayed on any number of issues. Yet in Lima, the region’s leaders demonstrated that the ties that bind us are much stronger than the differences that divide us. The many challenges that confront us can be resolved, respecting those differences, under the commitment to strengthen collective action on behalf of shared goals.

Let me close with the inspiring words of President Clinton at the First Summit of the Americas in Miami twenty-four year ago.

“Just imagine it: a hemisphere where disputes among and within nations are peacefully and honorably resolved, where cultures and nations are universally and mutually respected, where no person's rights are denied and labor is not abused, where ideas and trade flow freely across borders, where work is rewarded and families and communities are strong. Just imagine it. My fellow Americans, this is a magic moment. Let us seize it.”

Thank you