Address To The 46th General Assembly Of The OAS by Hon. Camillo Gonsalves

The theme of this year's General Assembly speaks to an indispensable role that strong institutions must play in the achievement of our shared developmental aspirations. In particular, the recent global consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals demands the enhancement of our economic, social and political institutional apparatuses in such a manner as to ensure that the right to development is protected, and enjoyed by all.

 

Institutions are not an end unto themselves, but a means by which we deliver promised and needed benefits and opportunities. Institutions cannot repress or thwart the popular will, but must give voice to that will, through adherence to structured and lawful processes. Similarly, we must repose in our institutions a level of trust and respect, which will strengthen the people's belief in the ability of institutions to act in the interest of their personal and national development. Politically motivated attacks on institutions, like political motivated institutions themselves, engender a lack of faith in the ability of the state to deliver, and stoke the glowing embers of cynicism, opportunism and unrest.

 

Our focus on institutions, our endorsement of the SDGs, and our presence in the Dominican Republic today demand an honest assessment of the national and multilateral efforts to redress the ongoing human rights crisis that was triggered by a retroactive decision of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic that rendered thousands of Dominican-born citizens stateless, and set in motion a process of deportations, civil and law enforcement actions that were, at worst, at least partially informed by the race and ethnicity of the affected citizens.

 

Within the Caribbean Community, our collective history is indelibly scarred by forced mass migration, statelessness, and iniquitous institutional racism. That history, and our continued struggle to triumph over its lingering effects, has informed CARICOM's visceral abhorrence to the re-emergence of any such human rights violation within our proud Caribbean civilization. CARICOM has also sought, actively and in good faith, to dialogue with the relevant authorities in moving towards a fair and just solution to this problem.

 

Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which we all adopted, speaks to "Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions," and is thus closely related to the theme of this Assembly. Among the targets of Goal 16 is to "provide legal identity for all, including birth registration." Nowhere in our hemisphere is this issue more urgently felt than within the confines of this existing human rights crisis. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines applauds the European Union for its new commitment to provide €7 million to this effort, which may lead to the registration of an additional 45,000 Dominican citizens. We stand ready, as always, to contribute in whatever way possible to assist our beloved brothers and sisters in the implementation of any home-grown,  structured, measurable, and clearly articulated commitment to to redress an acknowledged human rights crisis. José Martí reminds us that "No land feels more solid under a man's feet than that where he was born," and "No man can long exist without a country, nor can any country exist for long without liberty." Within that compelling framework, we are eager to extend our hand in friendship on this matter, and are fully confident that we can re-establish our modern Caribbean civilization as one that has mastered, and is not mastered by, our difficult past.

 

Mr. President,

Yesterday, in his opening remarks, the esteemed Constitutional President of the Dominican Republic, referred to our collective concerns over the ongoing political unrest in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We echo President Medina's endorsement of the approach to this issue as outlined in the June 1st Declaration of the OAS Permanent Council and the more recent Special Declaration of the Association of Caribbean States. Specifically, we applaud the initiative of former Presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, Leonel Fernández of Dominican Republic and Martin Torrijos of Panamá for re-opening of an effective dialogue between the Venezuelan Government and the Opposition. This initiative must be given time to bear fruit.

 

President Medina also called for the OAS to acknowledge and apologise for its role in the 1965 invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic. However, the OAS cannot acknowledge its 1965 cheerleading for violations of sovereignty while committing the same sins in 2016. Similarly, the state that led the 1965 invasion cannot today be allowed to use the guise of OAS resolutions to exacerbate political unrest and cast this organisation once again as the handmaidens of sovereignty violations and regime change. Indeed, any attempt to invoke Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter would require an extraordinarily flexible and jaundiced interpretation of the legal prerequisites to any such invocation.

 

Our focus on institutions at this meeting requires analysis of this institution, the OAS. We are mindful that the OAS Charter espouses the principle of non-intervention, and that the organisation has traditionally played a leading role in the peaceful resolution of political disputes. To uphold that principle, and to fulfill its role as an even-handed interlocutor, it is important that the good offices of the Secretary General must be guided by, and responsive to, the expressed will of the member states, in full compliance with Article 118 of the Charter.

 

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is concerned that recent intemperate and unsanctioned utterances emanating from functionaries of this Organisation have compromised its ability to act as a force for peaceful dispute resolution in the Venezuelan context. We must examine and address the institutional checks on administrative overreach, which, however well meaning, can stain the credibility of the Organisation and sideline it in critical moments in our shared political evolution. Certainly, in light of recent unfortunate remarks, the Organisation must step back and re-evaluate the framework within which it addresses internal political disputes. It would be foolhardy to double-down on a failed approach with further misguided initiatives that could compromise the role and reputation of the OAS for decades to come. The Bible warns that "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall". We cannot allow pride, whether individual or institutional, to impugn the good name, or good offices, of our Organisation.

 

Mr. President,

The institutional analysis of the OAS is doubly important in this era of budgetary belt-tightening in the wake of the global economic and financial crisis. Repeated budgetary shortfalls in the OAS will likely come to a head this year, and spur difficult discussions as to what constitutes the central mission and mandate of the Organisation. From the perspective of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the OAS is distinguishable from other overlapping multilateral entities by its focus on development, on education, and for maintaining a vibrant presence within countries, as opposed to some distant, central citadel. To strengthen this institutional comparative advantage, the OAS' post-crisis identity must build upon, and not cut, its development focus, its scholarship programs, and its presence in country offices. Yesterday, His Excellency the Secretary-General, pledged to "bring the OAS closer to the people". We view this pledge as a profoundly effective mission statement for the Organisation. To bring the OAS closer to the people is to enhance its outreach and to touch citizens in tangible and transformative ways. As such, we take the Secretary General's pledge as an endorsement of the idea that belt-tightening decisions, however difficult, will focus first on administrative inefficiencies, bureaucratic bloat, and the disposal of physical assets not central to the institutional mandate.

 

Mr. President,

The Caribbean Community has established a CARICOM Reparations Commission in furtherance of our call for reparatory justice for native genocide, the transatlantic slave trade and a racialised system of chattel slavery. Our call has been amplified by voices within the African Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and CELAC. This General Assembly will consider a Declaration that acknowledges the transatlantic slave trade as a crime against humanity and applauds the efforts of the CARICOM Reparations Commission in redressing the historical injustices wrought by slavery and the slave trade. This welcome declaration is timely and will add powerful impetus to our efforts to engage – within the parameters of CARICOM's 10-point Program for reparatory justice – in a discussion with the European nations that profited immensely from this crime.

 

Mr. President,

Talk of institutional strengthening is not sexy. It is not the cause over which wars will be fought or poems written. It is not the populist talking point that will spur cheers or sweep politicians to electoral victory. Yet, institutions play an indispensable role in growth and development. Indeed, many argue that strong institutions are the main determinant of prosperity. Our hemisphere is faced with a host of new economic, political and developmental challenges, which have emerged in the wake of the global economic and financial crisis, intensifying weather events, the spread of information and technology, and our global commitments to new and ambitious developmental and climate action plans. Each of these challenges is an opportunity – indeed a demand – for new and better institutions and institutional arrangements. We have a moral, political and constitutional mandate to review and reform those institutions for modern realities, and a revolutionary right, if necessary, to correct the most decadent among them. The OAS must take its place at the vanguard of this just quest, in the interest of the peoples of the Americas and our collective humanisation.

 

I thank you.