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Maisto: Delivering the Benefits of Democracy

Delivering the Benefits of Democracy

Ambassador John F. Maisto, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States
Remarks at the Civil Society Hemispheric Forum
Washington, DC
April 11, 2005

Good morning and welcome to all of you. In some ways, I feel like this Civil Society Hemispheric Forum is the unofficial kick-off for the General Assembly maybe like baseball spring training, which has a warm-up that's essential to a good season, and also a reminder that the season is fast approaching. And what a season it will be this year in the hemisphere we have the General Assembly in June, the Summit of the Americas in November, and a host of other ministerial meetings in between not to mention today's election of the new OAS Secretary General.

Given all that is happening in the hemisphere, we are truly honored and excited to be the host for the OAS General Assembly this year, and the United States is very pleased by all the interest from civil society. I'm particularly pleased to be opening this session with my old friend USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Magán. His agency has been at the forefront of supporting civil society in the hemisphere for a long time, and I would add that Mike has a lot of personal experience on these issues in other forums. I am also pleased to join Acting Secretary General Luigi Einaudi, who during his time at the OAS has overseen a truly remarkable effort on the part of the Organization to reach out in new ways to civil society. I also want to recognize the efforts of Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Jorge Sanín, and the rest of the Summits Office staff who have worked very long hours to make this event happen, and are working hard to make sure that the participation of civil society in the General Assembly this June is better, more fruitful, and more effective.

I hope that by now all of you have had a chance to read the discussion paper the United States distributed to other governments outlining our vision for the theme of the General Assembly, which is "Delivering the Benefits of Democracy." I'm not going to repeat what is in that document, but in the short time I have, I would like to draw your attention to some of the key elements in that document, from my government's perspective, and I want to encourage you to consider the whole document seriously as you undertake your deliberations and as you frame your recommendations.

First, I want to point out the significance of the theme. We chose "Delivering the Benefits of Democracy" because we believe the hemisphere has entered a new democratic era. With the single exception of Castro's Cuba, elected governments are the norm. We not only agree about that, but we have enshrined our commitment to democracy in a truly groundbreaking document, the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We agree that democracy is the best political system for guaranteeing human rights, for achieving lasting social and economic development, and for fostering long-term security. Thinking back to the state of play only twenty years ago, this hemispheric consensus in favor of democracy is a truly extraordinary achievement. And given the state of play elsewhere in the world even today, it is not a consensus to be taken lightly.

The debate now, and the discussion we hope to have at the General Assembly, is how to make sure that democracy delivers that all of our people benefit from the freedom, the opportunity, and the access that democracy affords. This is a tremendous challenge perhaps a never-ending one; in over two centuries of democratic government in the United States that certainly is our experience. But ultimately, it is the quintessential challenge for any system of government, and democracy must step up to it. Easy to say, but not to do. That is the focus of our attention now in this hemisphere, and that is why we chose this theme. In each country, and together, we need to forge a new consensus on democracy that delivers.

Second, I want to draw your attention to our approach to building this new consensus. We don't want to discount the importance of statements of principle they're very important but this new consensus can't be based on rhetoric. It has to be based on political will, leadership, and a common commitment to action on behalf of all in our individual countries and in the hemisphere. There are those in this hemisphere who still want to frame things in "us against them" terms or whine about how unfair the world is or that inequality exists. We should not go there. That approach is old-think that won't help our democracies reach their full potential, or help spur cooperation, anymore than it would help any of us achieve our personal goals. What we need is action, and the political will to move forward in ways we can all see and measure, through the difficult economic, political, and social circumstances that we all face, to create democratic institutions that work, that have credibility, that promote sustainable growth, and that undo the lack of justice that has led to exclusion in so many of our countries.

The paper highlights the areas where we think action is needed most urgently, first at the national level, and then, in support of national-level efforts, together collectively. We need to, as I like to say, put teeth in the Democratic Charter. We need to implement policies that promote growth. We need to fight corruption and increase transparency. We need to build the institutions that can guarantee security of individuals, of communities, of countries, and of the hemisphere. And we need to foster greater citizen participation in making our democracies work. We need to do this by establishing measurable goals and then challenging ourselves to meet them. These are the elements we've put on the table for Ft. Lauderdale. These are the areas where we believe governments need to take action. And these are the areas where we need your thinking realistic, feet-on-the-ground thinking, from people who have experience about how we can move forward together.

Finally, let me focus for a moment on that last element participation. You will notice that in our paper we have stressed the importance of expanding participation, and have highlighted the fact that the government is only one of many actors who have to play a role if this new consensus on delivering the benefits of democracy is to emerge, and if it is to work. Individuals, civil society organizations, political parties, the private sector, labor unions, governments and international organizations all have a role to play. As citizens, we cannot sit on our hands and wait for governments to solve our problems. As governments, we cannot wait for the international community to solve our problems. If we want prosperity and opportunity and security and genuine democracy democracy that works for everyone each has to do his, her, our part.

That, of course, is where you come in. I recognize that some of you feel as if you are voices crying in the wilderness. And we recognize that it often seems that governments only rebuff the participation that we claim we want. I want to encourage you to keep working with us. We change in the OAS not as fast as many would want, but we do change this forum is evidence of that. As most of you know, this forum is a relatively new event, and we're still working out the kinks. Based on comments received last year, we worked with the Summits Office to move the forum up this year so that your comments and recommendations receive the widest possible circulation among governments before resolutions are finalized.

We see this as an evolving process, and this forum, together with the meeting with ministers in June, is really part of a growing outreach effort on the part of the OAS. Where civil society is concerned, no single meeting or document can substitute for regular, ongoing, probing discussions with governments at the national and international level, and I want to encourage you from now to the General Assembly, and from the General Assembly to the Summit in November, and as follow-up to that Summit to keep seeking opportunities to engage your governments and the OAS on key issues.

Again, thank you for participating in this forum, and I want to assure you that we see it as an integral part of the process as we head toward the General Assembly. I look forward to seeing you again at the close of the forum tomorrow.


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