Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Interim Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS), bid farewell to the OAS in an address to the Permanent Council, June 29, 2016.
Mr. President of the Permanent Council, Embajador Juan Jose Arcuri
Mr. Secretary General, Luis Almagro
Mr. Assistant Secretary General, Nestor Mendez
Ambassadors of Member States and of Observer States
Members of the General Secretariat, Distinguished delegates, colleagues, interpreters, friends all:
Muy Buenos tardes a todas y a todos.
First of all, let me say thank you to our President, for his leadership through these last three months – a period of much activity, and even some turbulence. And we thank you for your vision, your firm hand, and your evident camaraderie with all the Member States, no matter the issues, or the positions, before us. Muchas gracias.
Now, you have already heard enough farewells today, so I will be brief. Well, maybe not so brief. So I appreciate your bearing with me, one last time.
I thank you all for the kind words and sentiments directed my way, not just today but during the course of the last two years, in my time with the U.S. Mission to the OAS. I likewise thank you for all the courtesies, confidences, challenges and yes, los cariños, you all likewise have extended to me.
I accept them gratefully. Not on my own behalf, however. For I recognize that they were extended not on my personal behalf but on the behalf of the nation, and this community of nations, which I aim to serve. And more specifically, I must note that I accept them on behalf of what I consider – with evident pride and more than a little prejudice – to be the hardest working, the most committed, and most capable team of professionals working to advance the cause of the OAS for all the peoples of the Western Hemisphere. I am speaking, of course, about my colleagues at the U.S. Mission to the OAS. I thank them individually and collectively before you all today; I have learned from each of them, as I have from each of you. But I underscore my thanks to my team, for they are the evident manifestation of the heart and soul of my nation’s commitment to this organization, and to its continuing health and success.
Now then, about that health and success. Let me now speak personally, on my own behalf, and not for my Mission.
Even as we celebrate the service and bid farewell to four members of this Permanent Council today, I note that the collective tenure of us four with this organization reaches just over 20 years, two decades. And that’s only because Ambassadors Beale and Karran are exceptional, and in so many ways. For we clearly are now embarked upon a new era in this chamber.
John Beale: We particularly appreciate your steady leadership in the CAAP over the past year – a year which may well have driven you to leave us!!
Your direct, matter-of-fact approach to diplomacy was often necessary to get Member States back on track, when we would occasionally lose sight of the goal in front of us. We know the OAS is better today for your leadership.
I likewise must commend, Bayney, Ambassador Karran, for his strong interest in support of this institution, and for his deep and abiding commitment to democracy, human rights and hemispheric security.
Your observation of, and insights into, the challenges that the OAS has faced over your long tenure have been deeply appreciated by my delegation. We have been particularly impressed by your capacity for strategic thinking, and for proposing options to help address the various challenges facing the OAS. And I appreciate your mentorship.
During his all-too-brief time with us, Ambassador Estévez staunchly defended the need to support our organization, not just in words but with actions. He has demonstrated his commitment to a peaceful resolution of the territorial differendum with Belize; spoken forcefully about the need to finance adequately the organs of the Inter-American Human Rights System; joined us all in advocating national dialogue as the means to bring a peaceful end to Venezuela’s many problems; and, has spoken out on the evils of corruption and impunity in his country and elsewhere. Throughout it all, he ably defended, and indeed advanced, Guatemala’s interests in this Permanent Council. We all appreciate the exemplary role he and Guatemala have played this year in our region’s developments.
And I will miss each of them, my also-departing colleagues, John, Bayney and Luis, very much.
But because of the continuing financial challenges facing the OAS, this organization is also losing this week – this same week – several dozen career employees. Each with many, many years of dedicated service to this organization. And with perhaps − I don’t know − 500 total years of service to the OAS. Probably more. I would suggest it is they who we owe a farewell, as well. We owe them a word of thanks. We owe them a world of thanks. But we owe them, and those who remain, even more: We owe them our renewed dedication to righting the financial ship of this organization. NOW. Not in five years. Not next year. NOW.
For their departure is only further hollowing out this organization. There has been no plan for these buyouts. And there is little plan for covering the gaps, the genuine and random gaps in services, that will follow their departures. And unless things change significantly, this organization will only enter into a deeper financial crisis. And more fine employees shall depart. Even as the OAS regains its footing, and its proper role in our region.
Yes, nations in arrears need to pay. NOW.
Yes, there need to be penalties, not sanctions mind you, but penalties for delayed payments. NOW.
But we – all the nations of the hemisphere – need to recognize that, as we say in English, “you get what you pay for.”
And the Secretary for Administration and Finance, Ambassador Anania, has been clear – we are attempting to run an organization with a genuine operating budget of some $120 million a year with income of roughly $84 million. Only now, as approved ad ref this morning for the General Assembly on the Budget, it will be cut to $72.5 million. Today’s decision does not fundamentally change these facts. And, as we saw here this morning, we are a long, long way from accepting that reality. The phrase, “Repainting the deck chairs on the Titanic” comes to mind. This is NOT a happy day.
So we need to radically change the way we do business. Yes, we need to reduce mandates. That is being accomplished. But Member States, all of us, need to expect to pay more. Major contributing nations need to pay more. It is that simple. Even as the overall percentage that the United States will pay declines in coming years to 49% – after all, NONE of your nations wants an OAS so beholden to just one nation – my country’s total financial commitment to the OAS will NOT decline. Indeed, it likely will increase in total dollar terms. But other major contributors likewise should – MUST – expect to pay more. Middle-income states need to expect to pay muchmore. In fact, they need to insist on it. And small nations need to start paying much more, as well. It must be embarrassing, after all, to pay more for the car driving the PermRep to the meetings than one’s nation pays in several years to the Regular Fund sustaining the core functions of the region’s pre-eminent multilateral fora, working on behalf of one’s national interests. Again, we get what we pay for.
And those nations which today think that reducing the effectiveness of this organization is in their national interest, let me just say: You are wrong. Things change. What goes around comes around. And there will come a day – if it is not already upon us – when your peoples, your nations, rue the day decisions were made to attempt to asphyxiate this organization. For you DO need the OAS. Today. And you WILL need the OAS. In the Future. We all do.
Yes, we also need to modernize the way things are done within the OAS. Fair enough. But mostly we need to begin to say NO. And not just as Member States. The decisions are not hard. Living with the consequences? Perhaps so. But the decisions themselves are not hard. And so I call on the Secretary General to likewise demonstrate leadership – not just in the region, as he so capably has done – but also of the employees under his command. With buy-outs underway and firings likely soon as well, we can no longer continue with “Business as usual.” No more can we fund “Like To Do” projects. Only “Must Do” items, essential for survival, can go forward. I repeat: Only Must Do Items essential for the survival of the institution should go forward. As on the airplanes, one must put on one’s own oxygen mask before attempting to help other passengers. And there is no more money. And there is no free lunch.
So, with now more than one year on the job as Secretary General, I ask that he please stop hiring CPRs and contracts of dubious value to the organization’s overall health. Reduce the redundancies and the number of Positions of Trust. Do away with the 1% of additional temporary positions that were authorized by this Permanent Council last year for one year – a decision made before this organization determined it had to reduce yet another $12 million in cuts this year. “No” to sending people to observe BREXIT. “No” to anything that is not absolutely essential to the organization’s survival, if not core success. So please, reverse course on the creation of new Secretariats and new initiatives that have minimal support, borrowed staff, and no funding. Rely even more on the remaining professional staff of the OAS. As you have seen, they respond when challenged. And very well. And be transparent about it all, as we know you desire to be.
But make no mistake about it, Member States. When I refer to the SG, I am actually referring to the Member States. For that means the SG will be saying “No” to us, to the Member States. At times, to individual nations or to individual PermReps. And at times to all of us. But we expect no less from you, Sir. And we will have only ourselves to blame if we collectively do not recommit ourselves now to the continuing health and success of this most noble of organizations. For democracy. For human rights. For integral, sustainable development. And for multi-dimensional security for the 850 million humans who call the Western Hemisphere home.
Again, I thank you all for your kindnesses. And I will always remember all that has been accomplished for the peoples of our region, nuestra America. And I will always cherish your friendships. As Marco, the Ambassador of Ecuador, reminded us all recently, the OAS exists to seek to resolve the problems of our region. So, our work – your work – here is not done. On the contrary.
Que siga la lucha.
Y hasta pronto.