Secretary Antony J. Blinken at OAS General Assembly First Plenary Session
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
LIMA CONVENTION CENTER
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Buenos dias, bom dia, bonjour, good afternoon to everyone. It’s wonderful to be with all of our colleagues here today.
And I’m especially grateful that we’ve been able to hold the OAS General Assembly in person for the first time since 2019, and I want to start by again thanking our hosts here in Peru for the wonderful hospitality, the wonderful organization.
Since the last time we met in person, I think it’s fair to say that our hemisphere has faced no shortage of challenges. No region in the world has been harder hit by the pandemic or its economic consequences.
And then just as we were beginning to recover, we ran into new headwinds – rising food and energy costs, which have been worsened by President Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine.
What we’ve also experienced is that the consequences have fallen disproportionately on communities that have historically been marginalized or underserved. People of African descent, and other racial and ethnic minorities. Indigenous communities. Women and girls. People with disabilities. LGBTQI+ people.
The recent headwinds have been compounded by longstanding, pre-existing challenges across the region: a chronic lack of economic opportunity; an accelerating climate crisis; endemic corruption, all of which are driving people to leave their homes in unprecedented numbers, despite knowing the serious risks of the journey.
Citizens across our hemisphere are looking to their governments – to us – to help address these problems, to create the conditions, and give them the tools they need, to actually improve their lives. So it’s one of the greatest tests that our nations face – indeed have faced since we came together in Lima to adopt the Inter-American Democratic Charter on that indelible September 11 day in 2001.
We believe strongly that we can meet this test if – if we come together to close two gaps between what our democracies promise and what they deliver.
First, we can address enduring inequities in access to opportunity, which have for too long prevented communities from reaching their full potential.
This social compact has been at the heart of the OAS since its conception. Under President Biden’s leadership, we are committed to partnering with countries across the region to deliver solutions to challenges affecting all of our people – challenges that no country can solve alone.
In the Caribbean, where today, two-thirds of the people are experiencing food insecurity, we’re partnering with CARICOM to combat hunger and malnutrition, but also giving farmers the tools they need to boost productivity and adapt to the growing effects of climate change, so that communities can actually feed their own people as well as others.
Together with partners, we’re working to meet the commitment we made at the Summit of Americas in June to train and equip half a million local health care workers across the hemisphere, so that more people can get the quality care that they need in their own communities. This initiative in and of itself can help revolutionize access to health care and the quality of health care.
Through the efforts of Vice President Harris, we have raised $3.2 billion in investment commitments from more than 40 companies to promote broad-based economic opportunity in El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras – from expanding access to rural broadband to helping create good-paying jobs in manufacturing to providing small, minority and women-owned businesses with access to credit.
Across these efforts and others, we focused on empowering communities that have experienced systematic marginalization over the years because it’s the right thing to do. Because when all communities have equal access to development, all of society benefits. And because more equal democracies tend to be more stable and secure partners. That’s the spirit of the Lima Declaration – “Together Against Inequality and Discrimination” – that we will collectively adopt tomorrow.
A few days ago in Colombia, I had the honor of formally committing the United States to be the first international accompanier of the Ethnic Chapter of the country’s 2016 peace agreement.
This is a visionary document because it recognizes that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without making strides toward greater equity, justice, and inclusion for the country’s Afro‑Colombian and Indigenous communities who suffered disproportionately during the country’s conflict.
Advancing equity is also crucial to building durable democracy – not just in Colombia, but across our hemisphere. Including the United States, where we have our own deep history of discrimination, which is still felt in our society. That’s why President Biden has made the fight for equity and racial justice a priority for our administration – at home as well as around the world.
I have to tell you it’s been one of my highest priorities at the State Department, because we know that the incredible diversity of our country is one of our greatest strengths, including in our foreign policy. It makes us stronger. It makes us smarter. It makes us more creative. It gives us the plurality of voices and views and visions that are vital to our own democratic experiment and to being a better partner to fellow democracies across the hemisphere. I appointed the Department’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer to help drive progress toward a more diverse institution that actually looks like the country it represents and, as well, our first Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, Desiree Cormier Smith, who is part of our delegation to the General Assembly to help us promote these efforts around the world.
So that’s one big piece. The second is this: We believe that we have to recommit to delivering on the core principles of our OAS and Inter‑American Democratic Charters. There are so many ways member states can help make real the commitments embodied in those charters.
We can unequivocally condemn the authoritarian regimes in our region and take collective steps to hold them accountable.
In Nicaragua, the Ortega-Murillo regime is shamelessly flouting virtually every principle of the OAS and Democratic Charters – arbitrarily locking up its political opponents, brutally cracking down on protestors, committing flagrant election fraud, attacking and imprisoning journalists and human rights defenders.
The Cuban regime continues to imprison hundreds of people unjustly detained in the July 11th, 2021 protests for the supposed crime of coming out into the streets to peacefully call on their government to meet their basic needs, and for demanding human rights. Some of those incarcerated are minors; others were sentenced to decades in prison just for speaking their minds.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the Maduro regime has repeatedly denied the Venezuelan people’s right to pick their own leaders, caused a humanitarian catastrophe that’s displaced more than 6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants toward whom Venezuela’s neighbors have shown extraordinary generosity. All OAS member states should be able to come together to support a negotiated solution that leads to free and fair elections in Venezuela in 2024.
We can further reaffirm our commitment to the OAS and Democratic Charters by defending their principles around the world, as our member states did when the OAS became one of the first multilateral bodies to condemn President Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine and then subsequently suspended Russia’s membership as a Permanent OAS Observer.
It’s crucial that we stay united by condemning Russia’s sham referenda as a violation of international law, and unequivocally rejecting any attempts to illegally annex Ukrainian territory. And I think the statement that member states signed on to today led by Guatemala demonstrates that. And we hope that countries will similarly support the UN General Assembly resolution that is expected to come up in the next week or so.
We can help our fellow democracies that are struggling most to meet their citizens’ basic needs. That’s why we co-sponsored the resolution before this General Assembly on Haiti, which supports solutions driven by Haiti’s government, political parties, civil society, diaspora, and private sector to address the country’s deteriorating security situation, to restore its democratic institutions, to foster conditions so the Haitian people can finally realize their full potential.
Finally, we can speak up when democratically‑elected leaders in our region borrow from the playbook of autocrats to try to stay in power and erode checks and balances, like passing legislation that grants the government overly broad powers to crack down on the media and civil society, extending term limits; harassing, persecuting, or firing independent government officials like prosecutors and judges for doing their job. We’re seeing more leaders taking these anti‑democratic steps – often under the false justification that they enjoy popular support.
We will work to bring more partners into this effort: civil society organizations, the private sector, youth groups, and other parts of our governments, which is why the United States is pleased new text – is pleased to present, excuse me, new text, for this assembly calling for more robust inter‑parliamentary engagement on issues of common concern.
But I want to be very clear that this is not about picking sides between left and right or between liberal and conservative. It’s about putting our shared commitment to democracy above loyalty to ideology or to party. It’s about defending the rights and aspirations of people across our hemisphere. It’s about standing up and giving meaning to the words that we all signed on to in the charters and indeed in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Ultimately, I’m confident that we will be able to meet this moment because while citizens may not be satisfied with the way their democracies are working, most still think it’s the best way to tackle the everyday problems they face and actually improve their lives in tangible ways.
Citizens still believe. And if they believe and are willing to engage to be our partners across this hemisphere in improving democracies from within, then there is no challenge that we cannot overcome if we do it together. That’s the spirit that the United States brings to our common enterprise and to this hemisphere that we share.