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Advancing Democracy in the Americas

Ambassador Hector E. Morales, Jr., U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States
Remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute's Second Annual Future Leaders Conference
Washington, DC
July 16, 2008

Thank you very much Octavio for that very kind introduction. It is really an honor for me to be here this morning. You have a tremendous day ahead of you with some wonderful speakers. You have Ambassador Humbert from Panama here, a great friend of the United States, a real committed leader for the Americas.

I can’t say enough about Congressman Diaz-Balart, a true leader in Congress, someone who has a real vision about the Americas, and not only has it but acts on it. And his commitment to that vision is also reflected in his work here with CHLI. So thank you very much for being here; thank you very much for supporting what I think is a terrific organization. You are also going to hear later on from a fellow Texan, Congressman Henry Cuellar.

It really is an honor to be here with all of you at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute for this conference. I think it is also important to congratulate you Congressman Diaz-Balart for putting together a terrific board, the sponsors, and a fine team, and allowing interns from all over the country this opportunity to learn about the workings of our government, academia, and the public and private sectors. This is a very important experience that will give you the skill to lead and to improve your communities, not only in our country, but throughout the hemisphere and the world.

At the State Department, we have a longstanding tradition. Each time that a new Secretary of State arrives for the first day on the job, State Department staff gather in the main entrance to greet the incoming Secretary, who then offers a few words. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice first arrived in 2005 and addressed the gathering—she noted how she had first worked at the State Department, many years before, where she had served as an intern. And she quickly reminded the audience of the valuable lesson of the moment, “Be nice to your interns”, you never know what the future may hold in store for them.

So, that is a message for all of us who want to make sure that you have the best possible experience that you can have here today. And it also shows that this is an opportunity for you to go on to many different places to be a leader in the public sector or in the private sector, as certainly Secretary Rice has done as a top leader in terms of her diplomatic skills and the work that she has done under President Bush.

To all of the participants in today’s conference, I congratulate you for taking the time to be part of this important forum. I also want to thank you for your commitment and your public service. All those of us who work in government know all too well that if not for the valuable work and dedication of interns, this city and our government would most certainly come to a grinding halt. So thank you again.

It is particularly gratifying for me to be with you this year as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, and to welcome you to this historic building—to the House of the Americas. It is here that representatives of the 34 democratically elected governments of the Western Hemisphere come together to forge a common agenda and pursue goals in key strategic areas, including the promotion of democracy, human rights, hemispheric security, and economic prosperity.

This year marks an important milestone for this institution. It is the 60th Anniversary of the adoption of the OAS Charter and of the OAS, as we know it today. It is also 60 years since the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was adopted, the world’s first international human rights instrument, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by more than six months. And this year we also celebrate the centennial of the laying of the cornerstone of this great building in 1908, an occasion in which the U.S. Secretary of State at that time, Elihu Root, said: “May all the Americas come to feel that for them this place is home, for it is theirs, the product of a common effort and the instrument of a common purpose.”

Today in the Americas, that common purpose—a hemispheric consensus—centers on a core commitment to democracy. Democratic governance is an obligation of OAS member states, and a pre-condition for membership and full participation in the inter-American system. This commitment to democracy was enshrined in this visionary document adopted on September 11, 2001—the Inter-American Democratic Charter—which states that “the peoples of the Americas have a right democracy and their governments have obligation to promote and defend it.” It goes on to assert that “democracy is essential for the social, political, and economic development of the peoples of the Americas”

In your sessions here today, you will hear from a wide range of distinguished leaders and public servants from across our region. You will learn how the countries and peoples of the Americas are inter-connected, ever moreso each day, through strong bonds of family, history, commerce, and cultural identity, traditions and heritage.

You will come to appreciate how in the Americas stable democracies have replaced authoritarian regimes in all countries but one, Cuba, where the regime continues to deny its citizens their right to determine their own future.

People throughout the region must now consolidate these gains in the face of very serious challenges—challenges which include poverty, inequality, social exclusion, and the need to strengthen democratic institutions in order to deliver the goods and services that people need to take advantage of the benefits of democracy and economic opportunity.

Today will indeed be an educational experience. And as such, I would like for you to take away the valuable lesson of the critical importance of education in our societies. One of the most vital tools for addressing all of the challenges that we face is education.

I hope you will take from this experience a renewed appreciation of the importance of working to develop consensus, which is so critical to the importance of the workings of institutions such as the Organization of American States. For those of you visiting this building for the first time, I encourage you to take a good look around. You are surrounded by history and valuable lessons. You are in a great hall – the Hall of the Americas. But just outside you will see the busts and statues of some of the great leaders of the Americas. It is called the Hall of Heroes. You will find George Washington, Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, O’Higgins and Artigas, and Jose Marti, patriots who in their own time exercised extraordinary courage and leadership in search for freedom and human dignity; heroes who sought to secure a better future for their people.

In today’s discussions, I encourage to keep in mind that in April 2009, the next Summit of the Americas will take place, in Trinidad and Tobago. The Summits of the Americas process has helped to consolidate the region’s commitment to democracy, bringing together the 34 democratically elected leaders of region. The next Summit, which will take place under the theme “Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security, and Environmental Sustainability” will mark the first meeting of the next President of the United States with the other heads of government in the Americas.

You represent our future. You are tomorrow’s leaders. And I hope that your experience here today will have a profound impact on you, and will surely lead you to do many great things for many years to come. As Secretary Root once said in noting the significance and promise for future generations of a meeting of this institution: “Not in a single conference, nor by a single effort, can very much be done. You labor more for the future than for the present; but ...the work you do here will go on among all the millions of people in the American continents long after your final adjournment, long after your lives, with incalculable benefit to all our … countries…”

Congressman Diaz-Balart, I want to again commend the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute for sponsoring this extremely important event, and also express our gratitude for the leadership you are showing in addressing the many challenges that we are facing in our hemisphere, but also for helping us take advantage of the promises that it represents.

Thank you very much.

Released on October 2, 2008

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