Assistant Secretary General Speech


March 30, 2021 - Washington, DC

- Professor Dale Webber, Principal of the UWI, Mona campus,
- Professor Luz Longsworth, Principal of UWI Open Campus and Pro Vice Chancellor, UWI Global Affairs
- Professor David Tennant, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS)
- Ms. Indera Persaud, Honorary Consul of Guyana in Kingston
- Former Permanent Representative to the OAS, Gillian Bristol, Director, UWI’s Latin American Caribbean Centre
- Dr Lisa Vasciannie, Associate Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences
- OAS Representative to Jamaica, Jeanelle van GlaanenWeygel

Faculty and students, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I always consider it a privilege to be able to address faculty and students of the University of the West Indies, and today I am especially honored to commemorate with you the 60th anniversary of the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) and to interact, albeit virtually, with academic mentors and future leaders who are poised to shape our sub-region and our hemisphere.


As you may recall, the OAS and UWI enjoy a history of productive collaborations ranging from joint scholarship programs, development projects, conferences and workshops, to shared expertise in advancing the work of the OAS in Jamaica and the Caribbean region. The FSS, steeped in the cultivation of minds, has also molded nationals of OAS Member States who have served at their respective Permanent Missions to the OAS or within the OAS family. Such collaborations bear the hallmark of a mutually rewarding relationship, and the OAS commits to strengthening this bond to the benefit of the people of Jamaica and the region.

I am immensely pleased today to launch a new collaboration with UWI aimed at bringing the work of the OAS closer to the people of the region. Through a virtual series entitled “A Chat with the OAS”, we are seeking to foster greater awareness of the role and relevance of the Organization and its impact on the lives of people, to inform on upcoming events and developments in the hemisphere, and to update on emerging opportunities. The series will afford direct access to OAS authorities and project implementers, and present students a unique opportunity to pose questions to OAS officials. The Office of Global Affairs of the UWI Regional Headquarters will support this initiative by engaging its International Relations students across the Caribbean. We look forward to your participation.

OAS-Jamaica collaboration on Democracy
As we start looking at the footprint of the OAS, its institutions and its anchor instruments such as the Inter-American Democratic Charter across the Caribbean region, let me first highlight some specific instances of collaboration between the OAS and Jamaica in strengthening Democracy, among which the following stand out:

• At the invitation of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, the OAS observed the General Parliamentary Elections in Jamaica in 2007, 2011 and 2016;

• Jamaica’s leadership role during the negotiations and the drafting of resolutions in the 1970s leading to the end of some dictatorships in the Americas;

• The nation’s support of processes to restore democracy in Grenada in the 1980s, in Haiti in the 1990s and 2000s and in Honduras also in the 2000s;

• Jamaica participated in the drafting of the 1991 Santiago Commitment on Democracy and in the Program of Work for the Promotion of Democracy, and provided inputs for drafting the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter
Jamaica is known for its strong democratic institutions and is one of the OAS Member States that routinely implements most of the recommendations made by OAS Electoral Observation Missions. The OAS recognizes and appreciates the support offered by Jamaica and many Jamaicans who have participated in, and even headed OAS Electoral Observation Missions in the hemisphere, including your own Associate Dean, Dr. Lisa Vasciannie.

The meaning of Democracy: the Jamaican experience
In discussing the 2019 ruling by the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the National Identification and Registration Act, former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding wrote in April 2019: “…democracy is not just about free and fair elections to choose a government. It is also about the recognition of the fundamental rights of every person, and the means to secure those rights. It is about the separation of powers and the independence of critical institutions to prevent the concentration and abuse of those powers”. He opined that the Constitutional Court’s ruling of the day, although a defeat for the sitting government, was “a validation of the independence of Jamaica’s judiciary and the sturdiness of its democracy…” adding that it was something of which Jamaica could “be proud and protective”.

In September 2020, Former Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN, Ambassador Curtis Ward asserted that “democracy thrives and flourishes in an environment in which there is strict adherence to good governance and to the rule of law by the governing political party when it assumes the reign of government.” He posited that “Democracy takes hold when equity is assured across all spectra of society; when basic human rights and basic human dignity are guaranteed to all the citizens; when the marginalized and underserved are not only provided with opportunities and equal access to education and social upward mobility, but are given the requisite capacities to take advantage of such opportunities”.

I share his view that “vigilance in promoting and protecting democracy and the rule of law must remain priorities.” It is a testament to the commitment to Democracy of the people of this great nation that Jamaica, a relatively small country with limited resources, stands as a beacon in guaranteeing these freedoms and ensuring that such liberties are protected and preserved for current and future generations.

The OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charter
The OAS is a unique forum where each of its 34 active Member States, regardless of size, power, or scale, is afforded an equal voice. It has evolved into the hemisphere’s principal multilateral forum for political dialogue and collective action since its founding in 1948, with core values reflected across its four main pillars of Democracy, Human Rights, Security and Development, the cornerstone of the Organization’s work and relevance in the hemisphere. As the oldest political Organization in the world, the OAS is unstinting in leveraging its significant convening power to buttress the strength of democracy across the Americas.

Against the backdrop of variances in styles of democracy such as ‘social democracy’, ‘nationalist democracy’, and ‘people’s democracy’ as defined by some governments, the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in 1959 delineated the factors which constitute “representative democracy” and established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The following core features were then linked to ‘representative democracy”:

• Respect for human rights
• The separation of powers
• Free and fair elections
• Freedom of information and expression

As the era of dictatorships in the Southern Cone drew to an end in 1985, a confluence of factors resulted in a renewed defense of democracy on the OAS agenda, including accession by Caribbean States to membership of the Organization, and an amendment to the OAS Charter which committed not just the Member States, but the Organization itself, to the safeguarding of representative democracy.

In 2001, the Declaration of Quebec City arising from the III Summit of the Americas affirmed the shared commitment to democracy of Heads of State and Government, who, mindful that threats to democracy take many forms, instructed Foreign Ministers to prepare an Inter-American Democratic Charter to reinforce existing OAS instruments for the defense of representative democracy.

On September 11, 2001, remembered for the terrorist attacks in the United States, the OAS General Assembly unanimously adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter at a Special Session in Lima, Peru, defining the essential elements of democracy, setting forth prescriptions for its promotion and defense, while providing to governments of the hemisphere a framework to guide their collective action “with due respect for the principle of nonintervention”.

The Democratic Charter highlights the linkages between democracy and the Inter-American system through the fundamental premise of Article 1, which posits that:
“The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it” …
and that
“Democracy is essential for the social, political, and economic development of the peoples of the Americas.”
In pursuit of these objectives, the Organization actively engaged on its new mandate, promoting representative democracy through studies and proposals by the Inter-American Juridical Committee, and establishing a unit for the promotion and strengthening of democracy which still works through electoral observation missions in support of efforts to guarantee fair and legitimate ballot processes.

Representative democracy is and has been, all things considered, not devoid of challenges. On the question of appropriate organizational responses to a disruption of the democratic order in a Member State, the resolution “Representative Democracy” adopted by the General Assembly at its regular session in 1991, states:

“in the event of any occurrences giving rise to the sudden or irregular interruption of the democratic political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power [...] in any of the Organization’s Member States…the purpose of the ad hoc meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs or the special session of the General Assembly shall be to look into the events collectively and adopt any decisions deemed appropriate, in accordance with the Charter and international law.”

Clear linkages are established throughout the Charter between representative democracy and the rule of law, as well as to citizen participation within the context of the Constitution of the respective state. Transparency in government activities, and respect for social rights are also codified as essential components of the exercise of democracy.

Guidelines are clearly articulated in chapter IV for procedural steps where there is a situation in a Member State which “may affect the development of its democratic political institutional process” or an “unconstitutional disruption of the democratic order, or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order”.

The Charter speaks to the strengthening of political parties and political organizations and emphasizes the indispensability of the exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights for the sustainability of thriving democracies. The elimination of all forms of discrimination is underscored as fundamental for the strengthening of democracy, with special focus on eliminating gender, ethnic and race discrimination, and intolerance in all its forms.

The preservation of democracy is also linked to generating and maintaining sustainable gains in Integral Development towards the alleviation and eradication of poverty, and the establishment of mechanisms for preserving and continuously reinforcing checks and balances to guarantee the quality of democratic governance.

In full appreciation that democracy thrives in the complementary and enabling environment fostered by security, development, and respect for human rights, Member States must work to ensure that peace and stability prevail and they must establish mechanisms to deter any obstacle which could stymie progress and security, and impede continued improvement in the lives of their citizens.

Upholding of Democratic Order

The Inter American Democratic Charter is widely recognized as the most comprehensive Inter-American instrument ever promulgated on democracy. Chapter IV of the Charter has been invoked in response to arising challenges to democracy on no less than 14 occasions within the last decade.

In most cases, the Charter was applied pre-emptively to avoid the escalation of political-institutional crises which could have otherwise jeopardized the democratic processes or the legitimate exercise of power, leading to the breakdown of democratic order. The Charter has also been invoked in response to situations considered disruptions of the democratic order.

In all cases, the OAS acted with due respect for ‘the principle of non-intervention’ as facilitators of dialogue and consensus. Here are just 4 of the many examples that speak to the important role played by the OAS in sustaining democratic order in the Americas:

• Nicaragua 2005 - At the request of President Enrique Bolaños, the OAS sent a special mission to Nicaragua to facilitate a dialogue between the Government and the main political parties, amid a crisis that stemmed from differences over constitutional reform. The Mission facilitated political dialogue that resulted in the adoption of the Framework Law for the Stability and Governance of the Country, incorporating agreements between the political forces which generated conditions for the normal development of the electoral processes that eventually took place in March and November of 2006, respectively.

• Honduras 2009-2010 – This was perhaps one of the best known early cases of the application of the Charter. After the then President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales was deposed in a coup d'état in June 2009, the OAS Permanent Council adopted a resolution condemning the coup, invoked Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and entrusted the Secretary General to spearhead consultations among Member States to promote the normalization of the democratic institutional order. The General Assembly adopted a resolution aimed at restoring democratic order, the rule of law, and the constitutional presidency of Zelaya Rosales which was rejected by the de facto government of the day and led ultimately to the suspension of Honduras from the OAS. In June 2010, the General Assembly instructed the Secretary-General to set up a High-level Commission to analyze developments in the country's political situation, and in 2011, on full compliance by Honduras with the Commission's recommendations, the suspension was lifted, and Honduras returned to the OAS as a full member. Importantly, Jamaica’s then Foreign Minister Kenneth Baugh was a member of this important Commission.

• Haiti 2016 – In line with a resolution approved by the Permanent Council, a Good Offices Mission was deployed to Haiti in February 2016. Given the impending expiration of the term of President Martelly, the objective was to find an interim solution that did not violate the Constitution, and was acceptable to all parties, including the Parliament, the Opposition, and the President himself. Partly due to the mediation of the OAS mission led by the then chairman of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Ronald Sanders, an agreement was reached in which President Martelly agreed to demit by the deadline, followed by the installation of the interim president, President of the Senate, Jocelerme Privert.

• Venezuela 2016-20121 - The Inter-American Democratic Charter has received significant attention in recent years as a direct result of the political situation in Venezuela, its citing in regional and international news, and verbal exchanges across the spectrum of opinions on the situation in the Bolivarian Republic. In May 2016, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter, presenting a report to the Permanent Council documenting the deterioration of democratic, humanitarian, and economic conditions in the country, requesting that the Permanent Council consider the situation in the Member State. The Permanent Council conducted an extraordinary session on Venezuela in June of that year, and over the next two years, three more comprehensive reports were produced detailing the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and recommending the suspension of Venezuela’s membership in the Organization. The Permanent Council has met more than 20 times to consider the democratic crisis in Venezuela, and 12 separate resolutions have been adopted. The Secretary General, Permanent Council and the General Secretariat continue to remain seized of the situation in country and continue to work to help restore the democratic and constitutional order.

Conflict Prevention and Special Missions

Fledgling democracies must work continuously to prevent and resolve conflicts, an element central to the role of the OAS as it constructs and maintains peace. The OAS has remained at the forefront of important initiatives for strengthening democratic governance, including the Inter-American Program of Judicial Facilitators), and the Mission of Support against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) which ran from 2016 to 2020.

Additionally, the role of the OAS in response to cross border conflicts has been characterized by a culture of political dialogue in territorial disputes such as existed between Colombia and Ecuador (2008-2010), Costa Rica and Nicaragua (2010), El Salvador and Honduras (2002-2004), and in the differendum between Belize and Guatemala on which the path to progress continues.

Moreover, the OAS has implemented observation and dialogue mechanisms, as well as cooperation projects that have contributed to the resolution of conflicts with longstanding historical roots, among these:

 The Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym MAPP, is active in hundreds of offices across the country. The MAPP has monitored and verified the demobilization of over 30,000 persons and the disarmament of thousands of weapons and continues to oversee permanent support mechanism for victims in the communities most severely impacted by the war.

 The provision of technical assistance and policy guidance in the dispute between Belize and Guatemala. In this case, the OAS Peace Fund facilitated negotiations within the framework of the "Agreement to Establish a Transition Process and Confidence-Building Measures between Belize and Guatemala” agreed in February 2003, and the "Agreement on a framework for Negotiation and Confidence building Measures between Belize and Guatemala” of September 2005. In December 2008, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize and Guatemala signed the "Special Agreement between Guatemala and Belize to submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim to the International Court of Justice”, and this ongoing process continues to move in a positive direction.

Electoral Observation and Cooperation

The OAS became a signatory of the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation in 2005 and has been strident in its implementation of the two related mandates in its Chapter V which speak to the strengthening of electoral institutions and processes, as well as the deployment of electoral observation missions. Through its Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO) the OAS has developed technical tools and methodologies through which recommendations are made on key issues such as electoral organization, electoral technology, political finance including campaign financing, media access, gender equality, and participation of indigenous peoples and afro descendants.
Since 1962, the OAS has deployed more than 250 Electoral Observer Missions (EOMs) to countries of the hemisphere for presidential, parliamentary, legislative, regional, and municipal elections, referenda, popular consultations, primaries, and regional parliaments. These EOMs are recognized among the Organization’s key tools to promote the strengthening of democracy in the Americas, and in observance of processes related to electoral justice, security, participation of people with disabilities, and overseas voting.


Ladies and gentlemen, this year 2021 is a good moment to pause and take stock of how far we have come. We can look back and recall that in the decades preceding the early 1990s, bloody coups d’états marred the political scene across a landscape of instability, upheaval, and regression, laying waste to prior gains in social and political advancements, including human development.

This year, as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we correlate the adoption of the Charter and the evidentiary rise in free and fair elections in the hemisphere. We also recognize the regularity of the peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected government to the next, and the fact that governments actually complete their terms, uninterrupted, in countries where heretofore this had not been historically prevalent.

In today’s reality, we cannot help but recognize the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state of hemispheric democracy and on democratic institutions in the Americas. The reality is that maintaining and buttressing democracy is an ongoing process. While there is still more work to be done, Member States can remain proud that the common code to which they committed in 2001, and to which they remain resolutely bound, continues to bear good fruit as the Organization strives to uphold and defend democracy.

I would like to pause here for just a moment and underscore that although over the last twenty years Chapter IV of the Interamerican Democratic Charter has been the focus of attention, in fact the Charter has six chapters including Chapter Three on Democracy, Integral Development and Combatting Poverty, and Chapter Six which is entitled Promoting a Culture of Democracy. In this context, and given the reality of the pandemic, I would like to venture that now more than ever, as our countries struggle to emerge from the economic crisis, we should start looking closer at the other chapters of the Charter such as Chapter Four.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter affirms the cumulative expression of Member States that representative democracy is the desirable and mutually recognized form of government of its constituent states, and that it is a value they all hold in common. This instrument underpins for our States the power inherent in joint action towards the strengthening of democratic institutions, in bolstering the relationship between democracy and integral development, and in confronting together all threats to democracy. This we do as an Organization in collaboration with constituent members for the protection of the social, economic, and political gains we have achieved, and towards the sustainable development of our States in striving to maintain our hemisphere as a Zone of Peace.

As we commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, I close by reiterating heartiest congratulations to the UWI Faculty of Social Sciences on its milestone 60th Anniversary, and by expressing thanks to you for your interest.

Thank you.