Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 5, 2020 - Washington, DC

Thank you Mr. Chairman:

Distinguished Ambassadors and Representatives of Member and Observer States
Distinguished representatives of Civil Society Organizations
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am thankful for the opportunity to share with the representatives of the Civil Society Organizations duly registered with the OAS, the views and perspectives that will guide what I am hoping will be my second term as Assistant Secretary General of the OAS. Five years ago I had the honor of being elected to fill this post, and since assuming office, the journey has been an amazing learning and challenging experience, working hand in hand with the dedicated professionals that comprise the General Secretariat of the OAS and its affiliated agencies.

Today I am pleased to share that in working in ALL four Pillars of our organization, I have been able to focus on those critical areas that attend to the youth of our Americas, empowerment of women, climate change and construction of resiliency, matters related to Indigenous peoples and people of African descent, in addition to the political and administrative obligations inherent in the post of ASG. In several of these and other areas, we have had the opportunity to work with representatives of civil society, and I wish to underscore the valuable role played by your organizations both in the specialized sectors covered by your individual missions, as well as at the hemispheric level. I hereby also extend a special thank you to those organizations whose work and dedication have contributed in some way or the other to the efforts of our organization to attain our objectives and ultimately benefit the people we serve.

Señoras y señores: Sus organizaciones desempeñan un papel extremadamente importante y crucial en nuestros Estados miembros, actuando a veces como guardianes de los intereses de la sociedad. Muchas veces, Ustedes están a la vanguardia enfrentando graves problemas sociales, y utilizan su capacidad formidable de organización y abogacía en defensa de temas complejos y delicados que reclaman atención. Además, en muchos campos de interés público, tales como los relacionados con las demandas de la población para buena gobernanza, las preocupaciones sobre el impacto del cambio climático, la protección de los derechos humanos, la defensa de las instituciones democráticas y en muchas otras preocupaciones sociales, ustedes han tomado la iniciativa para exigir acciones.

Yo reconozco la importancia de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil como agentes que cumplen funciones críticas en nuestras sociedades, y como importantes socios potenciales en varias de las áreas de trabajo de nuestra organización. Hay mucho que podemos hacer juntos, sin perjuicio del hecho que la OEA está conformada por Estados Miembros representados aquí por sus gobiernos, y que es de ellos de quien nuestra Secretaria General recibe nuestros mandatos y ante los cuales somos ultimadamente responsables. No obstante lo anterior, muchas de las áreas de nuestro trabajo están saturadas de oportunidades para complementariedad y para realizar esfuerzos conjuntos, y debemos adoptar un enfoque pragmático y realista para identificar esas oportunidades y actuar en consecuencia de ellas. Vienen a mente varios ejemplos:

Under my leadership, we observed Black History Month at the OAS for the first time in February 2016 with a forum that was widely attended by civil society. As this had never been done before, the attendance exceeded expectations and feedback from both the mission and civil society was that we needed to build momentum. My office continued with more activities in 2017, and we eventually worked towards the adoption of a resolution by the Permanent Council in 2018 through which the OAS formally established, as part of the institutional calendar of the OAS, the Inter-American Week for People of African Descent to be celebrated in March every year, and the Inter-American Week for Indigenous Peoples to be celebrated in August every year. These two issues in particular, which are cross-cutting in our organization and touched on in several instances, now have in fact a dedicated political space in which we could deal with them in a fitting manner, and the OAS celebrations of both of these Inter-American weeks have been growing in scope and importance every year. In fact, with the full technical support of our Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity, and along with the Member States, we are in the middle of preparations for celebrating the Third Inter-American Week for people of African Descent. This year’s celebration will be held under the theme “Confronting Slavery’s Legacy of Racism Together in the Americas”, and we have several high profile activities being planned including a Special Session of the Permanent Council.

He dado también en mi oficina el mismo nivel de atención política a los preparativos y a las celebraciones de la Semana Interamericana para los Pueblos Indígenas, y en agosto próximo, estaremos celebrando nuestra tercera edición de esta semana. De igual manera que ha sucedido con la Semana Interamericana de las y los Afrodescendientes en las Américas, esta plataforma política proporciona un espacio dedicado donde se puede avanzar en las discusiones sobre los temas relacionados con los pueblos indígenas y para identificar formas prácticas de ir desarrollando estos importantes temas. Asimismo, yo tengo el firme compromiso de trabajar de manera estructurada y pragmática hacia la implementación de los Planes de Acción para el Decenio de los Afrodescendientes y el Plan de Acción de la Declaración Americana de los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas, y mucho me gustaría que aquellas organizaciones de la sociedad civil cuya misión se centra en estos temas puedan convertirse también en nuestros socios. Lo anterior es un ejemplo muy práctico de cómo yo, como Secretario General Adjunto, he estado trabajando en áreas de interés mutuo con la sociedad civil y promovidas por estas organizaciones y cómo hemos avanzado con los Estados miembros para integrar estos asuntos como temas del día a día de la OEA. Mi oficina continuará con su liderazgo en la organización de estos importantes eventos dentro de la Secretaría General.

Another very important area to which I have dedicated time and attention is the one dealing with youth, including innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to offering consistent political support to the work of the General Secretariat in these areas, I have also worked closely with our affiliated agencies like the Young Americas Business Trust, the Pan-American Development Foundation, and the Trust for the Americas in promoting and actively supporting their initiatives and projects aimed at empowering the youth of the Americas. I believe that not only is there tremendous scope for cooperation between the OAS and Civil Society Organizations in these areas, but that there is an urgent need to work together on these issues which by their very nature are time sensitive – some of our young people need help and support now, before we lose that window of opportunity and they grow older and fall into wayward paths that abound in some of our countries. And there are many ways to approach the issues related to youth : we can look at it from the security preventative angle, working with the youth to help them avoid gangs; from the innovation and generation of economic opportunities angle; and from the perspective of addressing the root causes of migration, to name a few. There is also ample space for cooperation under the general umbrella of identifying and providing support to potential and emerging young leaders, and for working with youth not only in initiatives that underscore their human rights, but also emphasize the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society. Our region could be much improved if initiatives with young people include a reminder of civic duties, which along with respect for human rights are essential for ensuring stable and prosperous societies.

In the general area of women’s rights and empowering of women, which is another important topic to which I have dedicated attention, there are also many opportunities for collaboration. For instance, our organization’s efforts and commitment to rid the Americas of domestic violence requires an integral approach that also looks at the socio-economic elements in many households, and prioritizes the generation of economic opportunities for women. While it is important to ensure that the legislation in every country does in fact protect their rights, the socio-economic reality in many of our vulnerable communities’ points to other imperatives such as training and small business opportunities to change the dynamic and really empower women.

I also believe that we must find, as an institution, other practical ways in which we listen to the ideas and views of civil society, over and beyond our traditional engagements in the context of the general assemblies and the Summits of the Americas, whilst remaining faithful to the framework for engagement between the OAS and these organizations. For instance, there is one particular Ministerial meeting, the Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, also known by its acronym MISPA, in which there is already a formal platform for dialogue of our Ministers and Civil Society organizations. This example of a best practice should be analyzed and mainstreamed to those other Ministerial meetings where such an exchange would bring value added and where the specialized expertise of civil society could be meaningfully absorbed for the decision making process. I know for a fact that there is tremendous expertise in civil society in several specialized areas in which the OAS works, and to the extent that we can join forces and identify pragmatic opportunities for collaboration, we should not shy away from those.

Our continued and constructive engagement with civil society also requires certain inputs from the OAS as an institution, particularly in the arena of information sharing for strengthening these relations and in the spirit of transparency. In this regard, I am pleased to note that in the coming months my office will be presenting for use of the Permanent Council and any interested party, an information product that will include the provision on a regular basis, of a detailed report of all of our OAS projects and activities in each Member State. This information will be publicly available, and will enable your organizations to have a complete, objective and updated panorama of the multiple things we do in each Member State that do not necessarily make it to the news headlines. In addition, we are finalizing an initiative wherein the records of the Permanent Council meetings will be made available almost in real time in a state of the art, user friendly, video archive system that will contribute to informing our multiple stakeholders about what this important political body is doing on a regular basis. These two new initiatives will contribute to a greater understanding of what we do, and will be most useful to those organizations looking for opportunities to work closer with the OAS.

Señoras y señores, el hecho de que estemos teniendo este intercambio con la sociedad civil aun cuando apenas somos candidatos buscando ser electos, es una señal clarísima de la importancia que la OEA y sus Estados miembros le asignan a sus relaciones con la sociedad civil. Yo estoy comprometido a seguir escuchando a sus organizaciones, a identificar oportunidades para fortalecer nuestra relación y también a trabajar con todos ustedes en el cumplimiento de nuestras responsabilidades en beneficio de los pueblos de las Américas.

I thank you. Muchas gracias.