Keynote Remarks by
Special Advisor Christopher Dodd
to Protocolary Session of the OAS Permanent Council on the Occasion of Pan American Week
Monday, April 17, 2023
Mr. Secretary General, thank you for the wonderful welcome. I’m privileged to be here.
Thank you also Ambassador Washington Abdala — and to the distinguished members of the Permanent Council, Permanent Observers, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, OAS staff, and members of civil society — for the chance to join you. Today marks four years to the date of our last celebration of Pan American history and cooperation.
I am also delighted to be back in this beautiful, historic building — the House of the Americas, as it is called — for this session of the Council. On the occasion of Pan American Day and Pan American Week, I bring you warm greetings from President Joe Biden as his Special Advisor for the Americas. I also want to acknowledge the leadership of Ambassador Frank Mora, who we are so pleased to have at the OAS at long last.
It is fitting to begin today by recalling that this year marks the 240th anniversary of the birth of the great South American liberator Simon Bolivar – whose ideal of hemispheric cooperation inspired the creation of our inter-American system.
In furtherance of Bolivar’s vision, on April 14, 1890, 18 nations of this hemisphere came together to form the International Union of American Republics — the oldest regional international organization in the world and the precursor to this, our modern Organization of American States.
Today, the OAS consists of diverse independent States dedicated to the principles of advancing peace, development, security, and democracy throughout the Americas. On my way into this Hall, I had the chance to see the “Peace Tree” that President Taft planted below in the Aztec Patio. The Peace Tree continues to stand as evidence of the deep and strong roots of the OAS.
Let me be clear: Joe Biden, my good friend and President of the United States — is a champion of this Organization. He asked me to share with each of you a personal pledge of his and the U.S. commitment to the OAS.
The United States remains deeply invested in the future of the OAS and the Inter-American System. Colleagues and friends, I believe strongly that we need to once again recapture the spirit of Pan-Americanism that informs so much of our shared history, and our region’s future destiny.
It must seem odd, even quaint, to talk about Pan-Americanism in light of the differences we see in the region today.
But the reality is that regional integration is now a fact. In some ways we are promoting regional integration as governments, but in many instances, it is occurring in markets, private sector organizations, universities, NGOs, faith-based institutions, and by changing demographics. Clearly, as former Secretary of State John Kerry, my former Senate colleague, stated in this hall ten years ago, “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” But I would add, so also is the era of undervaluing the resources, both human and natural, that our Americas offers itself and the world.
Our region’s dynamic and integrated relationship was on display at the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last June. The region’s leaders came together to reaffirm shared goals — promoting sustainability, resilience, and equity across the hemisphere; advancing economic prosperity; strengthening democracies; mitigating the effects of climate change; fostering clean energy transitions; creating more resilient public health infrastructure; increasing access to digital technologies; and protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Priority U.S. initiatives to address these common concerns and opportunities include the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, the Americas Health Corps, and the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030, or “PACC 2030,” which was launched by Vice President Harris at last year’s Summit of the Americas, is our flagship initiative to promote climate adaptation and resilience, as well as clean energy programs across the Caribbean region and elsewhere. This comprehensive, goal-oriented approach is supporting our Caribbean neighbors and others with the urgency that this moment demands.
he Biden-Harris Administration’s Root Causes Strategy was released in July 2021 and is making critical investments in addressing the drivers of migration from Central America, with a sharp focus on good governance.
Our Call to Action, a public-private partnership supporting long-term development in Central America, is one way in which we are helping to create economic opportunity in the region. To build on momentum generated under this successful initiative, Vice President Harris launched the next chapter by announcing “Central America Forward.” As of February 2023, companies within Central America Forward had committed more than $4.2 billion in investment to the region.
Central America Forward also includes new U.S. government commitments to complement private sector investments in the region, including a new U.S. Government Northern Central America Investment Facilitation Team and commitments to combat corruption and protect labor rights in the region.
Mr. Chairman, as we work to move forward with all these efforts, we will also be hosting local leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere at the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, Colorado later this month, from April 26-28. Over 2,000 local leaders and organizations have registered for this two-day conference. We are very pleased to have the OAS engaged in this Summit on open government and regional migration. This is the first time ever to hold such a summit of local leaders throughout the Americas. Our efforts to improve economic conditions, strengthen security measures, and promote democratic values, must not be left to heads of state but also include efforts at the local level throughout the hemisphere.
And yet, despite these advances, we know there is growing impatience for tangible progress in the region. Efforts by leaders to make democracy deliver have fallen short.
As the premiere multilateral institution in the Americas, many have looked to the OAS to find solutions to political impasses – while others in the region continue to question its viability and capacity to address threats.
Mr. Chairman, our Pan-American – now our Inter-American — community is bound together and strengthened by diverse multilateral institutions, and they too are indispensable to achieving our common aspirations.
Their focus and membership vary – some include the United States as members and others do not – but in every case, the effectiveness of these multilateral institutions depends upon members’ willingness to step up and meet their obligations. Here at the OAS, this means speaking up and defending democracy anywhere when it is under threat or assault.
Just as we committed to do this past year in Los Angeles, and in keeping with the core mission of this Organization, we must step up and advance the full implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
This is what our leaders envisioned when we gathered 22 years ago on that fateful and dreadful day of September 11th of 2001 to adopt the Democratic Charter.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a great friend of this Organization who attended every OAS General Assembly in Washington and even hosted the Assembly in Atlanta in 1974 when he was the Governor of Georgia, underscored this point clearly in his speech inaugurating the first Lecture Series of the Americas in 2005 before this Council.
President Carter called on “all governments of the hemisphere to make the Democratic Charter more than empty pieces of paper, to make it a living document. The charter commits us to help one another when our democratic institutions are threatened. The charter can be a punitive instrument, providing for sanctions when a serious challenge to the democratic order occurs, but it is also an instrument for providing technical assistance and moral encouragement to prevent democratic erosion early in the game. Let us strengthen the charter and not be afraid to use it.”
Mr. Chairman, these words compel us to continue to make progress and act. Now more than ever. And so, the United States looks to fellow OAS delegations to help realize fully the Inter-American Action Plan on Democratic Governance adopted at the Ninth Summit. We are proud to be collaborating on efforts through the Permanent Council that support more proactive use of the Democratic Charter and enhanced inter-parliamentary cooperation.
We also commend the efforts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for highlighting threats to democracy and human rights in the region and for holding all of us, including the United States, to account. The U.S. was pleased to welcome the Commission to California for its 186th period of sessions just last month at UCLA.
We commend the Commission because deepening respect for democratic governance, human rights, and fundamental freedoms is a top priority for the United States and President Biden.
Recognizing human rights at home is a critical part of the President’s foreign policy vision – we can’t be credible advocates for democracy and human rights abroad if we are not demonstrating our commitment to these principles at home.
The United States is proud of the role we play in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Americas and across the globe. None of us is – but we strive to live up to our highest ideals and principles.
We work to empower, defend, and lift up human rights defenders in all their forms – and to counter repressive tactics against citizens, dissidents, academics, journalists, and others targeted by authoritarian regimes.
Last month, President Biden co-hosted the second Summit for Democracy , along with leaders from Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and Zambia – where we demonstrated that democracies can deliver and are delivering for their people.
That gathering’s outcome declaration, which many OAS member states endorsed, underscored the following – and I quote: “freedom and democracy are strengthened through cooperation, and we commit to building stronger domestic, regional, and global partnerships that are more assertive in countering authoritarianism and corruption and that demonstrate that democracy delivers peace, stability, and prosperity for all.”
President Biden and I thank the OAS and the Inter American Commission of Women (the “CIM”) for supporting Summit for Democracy activities. As we celebrate the 95th anniversary of the CIM this year and the visionary leadership of its first president, the Pan American feminist Doris Stevens, it’s wholly fitting that Summit participants committed to redouble their efforts to “protect and uphold the human rights of all women and girls in all their diversity” – cognizant that “women’s rights are human rights.”
Mr. Chair, we also made major new commitments at the Summit for Democracy, including President Biden’s announcement of up to $690 million over the next fiscal year for the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal – supporting efforts at home and around the world to make our democracies more resilient, by bolstering democratic reformers and independent journalists, defending free and fair elections, and advancing anti-corruption campaigns.
Colleagues, at the same time, we must recognize that inclusive economic growth remains essential to safeguard democracy. Without job creation and investment, the fragility of democracy quickly becomes apparent. Similarly, without security and law enforcement, democracy becomes vulnerable. Governments must provide freedom from fear for its citizens if democracy is to thrive. We all understand that democratic consolidation is not possible without a commitment to inclusive economic growth and citizen security. Failure to recognize the interdependence ensures the permanent fragility of democracy.”
Allow me to touch on a few specific challenges and opportunities we see impacting our approach to the region and here at the OAS.
I want to commend the OAS’ recent efforts to identify ways to help Haiti address its acute and deteriorating security, political, and health crisis. Haiti’s current lack of stability is critical to the people of that country and also important to our region.
There are some encouraging steps in Haiti — the February 6 appointment of the High Transition Council and naming of Supreme Court Judges.
The OAS is working hard to play a supportive role. But Haiti’s political parties, civil society, diaspora, and private sector must play a role in this process, working together in the interest of the Haitian people.
Those who impede this process of the welfare of the Haitian people will continue to face the possibility of U.S. sanctions. We also will continue to provide support of humanitarian efforts to ensure vulnerable groups have access to food, water, and health services.
We remain committed to working with our international partners, including through our vice-chairmanship of the new OAS Working Group on Haiti, to aid Haiti in combating gang violence and mitigate its security threats, while creating the conditions for Haiti’s political actors and other stakeholders to reach a political accord and hold elections.
Mr. Chairman, the situation in Nicaragua remains a serious concern for our Inter-American community. While the United States believes the recent decision of the Nicaraguan government to release political prisoners was a welcome step, it did not resolve our underlying concerns about the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law.
In fact, the decision of the government of Nicaragua to revoke the citizenship and seize assets of these political prisoners, as well as those of an additional 94 individuals and Bishop Rolando Álvarez, negates almost any goodwill this release may have generated by the Ortega-Murillo regime.
OAS member states must keep up the pressure. We will work to ensure the adoption of a strong resolution again this year at the June General Assembly.
We also continue to stand with the people of Venezuela, Mr. Chair. We join the international community, including the OAS, in welcoming the resumption of negotiations between the opposition and the Maduro regime.
We will do everything within our ability to help Venezuela move toward the restoration of democracy. The Venezuelan people should be allowed to exercise their right to choose their leaders and move on from corruption and repression.
At the same time, the Biden Administration will continue to support efforts here at the OAS to ensure the Maduro regime is held accountable for atrocities committed against Venezuelans.
We have long made clear our willingness to review our sanctions posture based on concrete steps toward a democratic solution in Venezuela or to reimpose sanctions should the Maduro regime fail to follow through on its commitments.
Let me also applaud OAS member states for standing in solidarity with Ukraine since Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion. This family of American democracies was one of the first multilateral bodies outside of Europe to demonstrate its solidarity with Ukraine, including suspending Russia from its membership as a Permanent Observer.
I want to say a few words about a principle that continues to inform our work across the hemisphere and here at the OAS — the importance of social inclusion.
Advancing racial equity and justice in our foreign policy is essential to U.S. national security and the strengthening of democracies around the world. As democracy continues to open the door to sectors of societies that have been historically excluded, we are finally seeing — throughout the Americas — a real rethinking and re-understanding of what our countries represent.
For our part, on President Biden’s first day in office, he signed the Executive Order “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”
Today our hemisphere stands at a pivotal crossroads. A rising generation – born in the Americas, applying the technologies of the 21st century, and enriched by the diversity of multicultural societies – stands poised to lead in the years to come.
They are urging our democracies and the OAS to address issues of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion – and to do so within a context that recognizes that social justice is vital for the longevity and very legitimacy of our political institutions.
The OAS must play an active role in engaging these future leaders as champions of democratic and representative institutions.
To further support the education of our region’s young people, I am pleased to announce today a $250,000 contribution for supplementary scholarships — for eligible beneficiaries of the Leo Rowe Pan American Fund. This will enable more students from the Americas to study here in the United States. During and following his tenure as Director General of the Pan American Union, Dr. Rowe was devoted to fostering understanding within the Americas and promoting education. The President and I are advocates of his enduring legacy.
Ultimately, the OAS is a product of who we are as member states. That is why we must come together to ensure the OAS can meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century. President Biden stands ready to work with you.
And so, during Pan American Week, the President and I celebrate our close ties – but also urge closer cooperation for a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable future for all people in the Americas.
Allow me close by quoting from former Vice President and Governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller, the father of our Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau at the State Department.
Following Rockefeller’s historic study tour to 20 nations in 1969 to assess the state of U.S. relations with the region, he observed that “the fundamental question for the United States is how it can cooperate to help meet the basic needs of the people of the hemisphere despite philosophical disagreements … It must seek pragmatic ways to help people without necessarily embracing their governments.”
That assessment remains relevant for today’s hemisphere. We seek to advance an inclusive agenda – based on democratic self-determination – and by employing a language of understanding, respect, and empathy. This is what we all must bring to the table, at the OAS and in our regional cooperation.
Thank you again for including me in this important session. President Biden and I wish you a happy Pan American week — and we look forward to continuing to work with all your governments in advance of the OAS General Assembly.