Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


April 14, 2021 - Washington, DC

Thank you Janelle, very nice to see you and my friend Jacinth, and Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

I want to tell you how much I admire your work about reparatory justice related to slavery in the Caribbean countries and the whole hemisphere. I hope that one day this issue can be brought back to the Organization of American States and I want to tell you that I completely share your views and the position that you have defended and the arguments that you have exposed. I think definitely it is an issue in the hemisphere and it is very difficult not to move forward without thinking that there should be reparatory justice to all in the Caribbean countries related to this matter.

Thank you for joining us, this matter was brought once to the Permanent Council of the Organization by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, I think it should be brought back one day again, you can come to the Secretary General of the Organization in order to do that, and in this regard I also want to send my best regards to the people of San Vincent and the Grenadines and express all the solidarity of the hemisphere of the Organization and of course to resolve as much as we can this matter.

Thank you for joining us for this first chat in the series “A Chat with the OAS.” With this series, we hope to strengthen our bond with the people in our member states by informing you of the work that we and our partners do to address your countries’ needs. We look forward to hearing from and engaging with you through these chats, as we continue to work toward a more just, equal, inclusive, safer, and prosperous hemisphere.
Amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, our sisters and brothers in St Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as nearby Barbados and St. Lucia are now also suffering from the effects of the recent eruptions of the La Soufriere volcano.

Fortunately, trying times like these often also bring out our true humanity and an enhanced display of unity. We commend our CARICOM member states for immediately stepping up to the plate and opening their doors to support their fellow Caribbean nationals in their time of need. The OAS expresses its solidarity with and support to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. I call on the international community to continue its efforts to support the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the aftermath of this natural disaster. We need additional financial resources, we need more donors engaged, we need developed countries to provide their technologies and financial resources.

This time of COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted us away from what we considered our normal lives. It forced us to recognize and address the pre-existing challenges that worsened, as well as new challenges that arose. The multidimensional nature of the challenges in the development of our Caribbean member states was underscored during the pandemic and the progress that was being made on the Sustainable Development Goals has been undermined.

Today, I would like to highlight some of the actions the OAS has taken to support our member states, and in particular, our CARICOM members, in responding to the challenges imposed on our nations by the pandemic.

In 2020, my administration published a policy document on the Caribbean, a “Framework Strategy Document: From Vulnerability to Resilience.” In this document, we have plans of the Caribbean’s pre-existing vulnerabilities that the pandemic has exacerbated, and we provided recommendations that require collective efforts for the region to be more resilient. But they mentioned today of the work of Sir Hilary related to reparatory justice, I think it should be included too and should be taken into special consideration about this matter.

Our main recommendations include a call to the world’s most developed countries and international financial institutions for:
• debt relief through grants and low-cost loans;
• increased resources to Inter American organizations to assist with the extraordinary COVID-19 related public health expenses;
• financial support to transform to digital economies and develop a resilient infrastructure facility to exploit the Blue Economy,
• funding for strategic regional maritime and airspace security, as well as institutional capacity strengthening under the CARICOM Regional Security Management Framework, and
• establishment of a “Caribbean Recovery Fund” for rapid response in case of natural disasters and proactive planning to minimize damage.

Over the past 14 months, the OAS General Secretariat has supported member states as they faced unprecedented challenges due to the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Post COVID-19: OAS Portal for Consultations, Forums and Repository was established. The Portal is available through the main page of the OAS and it provides information on COVID related topics that have already been analyzed by multiple actors.

In addition, to promote inclusive and competitive economies, the OAS Secretariat for Integral Development partnered with Facebook to improve the digitalization of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Six roundtables were organized through this initiative with MSME authorities of member states. 25 best practices were shared with more than 85,000 viewers to help small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the roundtables was specifically dedicated to the tourism sector in the Caribbean, considering the severe blow that the pandemic has dealt this most significant sector for the region.

Additionally, the Caribbean Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) Program hosted the "Breakthrough" webinar series and provided almost 3000 Caribbean entrepreneurs with tools and strategies to successfully respond to changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of scholarships, the Rowe Fund granted 14 interest-free loans and 8 COVID emergency relief scholarships to citizens of Caribbean countries, while the OAS and its partners awarded over 1100 OAS scholarships to CARICOM nationals in 2020. Tejahd Richards from Dominica who is currently studying in the United States said “this pandemic has made it incredibly difficult to find a job to pay school fees, for groceries, bills and other expenses.” His Rowe Fund COVID emergency relief scholarship has opened the way for him to cover these expenses and give him peace of mind.

To promote equitable and inclusive job conditions and opportunities for vulnerable populations, the OAS offered capacity-strengthening opportunities to gender units of Ministries of Labor to analyze and respond to emerging issues and challenges of gender equality and gender institutionalization in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To complement the pandemic recovery efforts of the 17 member states eligible to participate in the 2021- 2024 OAS Development Cooperation Fund (DCF) project cycle, US$1.7 Million in seed funding has been approved. Seven Caribbean countries will receive grants through the DCF to implement projects related to “Inclusive Resilience for an Effective Recovery, with a Focus on Science and Technology.”

To strengthen legal standards and recommendations to combat structural racial discrimination in the Americas, the Inter American Commission for Human Rights plans to address the disproportionate effects of the COVID 19 pandemic on the human rights of Afro-descendant populations. The Commission is also working to increase the effective protection of people who are at serious risk of irreparable harm to their rights, with a special focus on defenders, social leaders and the most vulnerable people directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To combat discrimination and violence against women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Commission plans to implement the Inter-American standards on prevention and eradication of violence and discrimination, always considering the multiple forms of violation of rights that are still imposed in our continent.

In June 2020, the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity (SARE) hosted a meeting of High-Level National Authorities on Persons with Disabilities of the Caribbean to analyze, among others, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the situation of persons with disabilities.

The Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) examined the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the drug problem in the hemisphere as part of the “Early Warning System (EWS) in response to the Opioids and New Psychoactive Substances in the hemisphere.

Our work in the Caribbean region to strengthen democracies included the deployment of OAS Electoral Observation Missions to Guyana and Suriname during the pandemic.

In terms of cybersecurity, the worldwide increase in remote work, online schooling, online banking, and commerce during the pandemic, unfortunately also caused an increase in cybercrime. The Inter American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) therefore supported several Caribbean member states in efforts to strengthen their cyber security capabilities. CICTE provided support with the drafting of National Cybersecurity Strategies as well as virtual courses on cyber diplomacy and cybersecurity leadership and strategy. CICTE had also developed a 24/7 secure network to exchange sensitive operational information among designated points of contact in OAS member states to prevent and counter terrorism in the region.

Definitely we are working in this matter of security engaged with CARICOM countries and we are providing response to most of their concerns.

This pandemic has undoubtedly changed life as we knew it. It is sad to think of the many lives that were lost in our hemisphere and around the world. The pandemic caused setbacks to many of the social and economic achievements in our countries, as well as setbacks in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. Regrettably, in some of our countries it has caused crime and domestic abuse to soar. At the same time, it has forced us to reflect on the importance of work-life balance. Many of us discovered that we are happier and get more done working remotely from home, while spending more time with our families. Most importantly, it has shown the goodness of many, who have selflessly risked their lives every day to save and support others in need.

Our Caribbean members have been exemplary in helping one another in times of need by sharing the first few shipments of the COVID-19 vaccines received in the region with sister nations and by immediately reaching out to support those that have been displaced due to the recent natural disaster in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

If anything, this pandemic has shown us that we truly live in a world and that we are in this together. We cannot close our eyes to the abject poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, and many in this world being left behind, while others thrive. We have a responsibility to recognize the humanity in one another for all of us to survive in this world.

Thank you very much