Secretary Blinken Addresses the OAS General Assembly

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Organization of American States General Assembly Third Plenary Session




JUNE 23, 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mr. President, thank you very, very much. Secretary General, colleagues: Buenos días. Bonjour. Bom día. It is again very good to be with everyone here today in this – in this place that brings us together every day. This is the House of the Americas.

More than 75 years ago, our nations came together to affirm what the OAS Charter called the “indispensable” role of democracy in delivering on security, on human rights, on development, on other vital needs of people across our hemisphere. And at the heart of this charter – and the Inter-American Democratic Charter that followed – is the recognition that the fates of our individual democracies are bound up in one another. And that when it comes to improving the lives of our people, our democracies are better together.

Yet, as we meet today, a number governments in the Americas are questioning the relevance of the OAS – and democracy, more broadly – the relevance to solve the problems facing many people across the hemisphere. A lack of economic opportunity, widespread insecurity, endemic corruption, an accelerating climate crisis. All problems that have helped drive an unprecedented number of people in our region from their homes.

So, we find ourselves at a moment of reckoning. Do we still believe that democracy is the best system to deliver for our people? And if so, are we willing to recommit ourselves to strengthening our fellow democracies and the institutions where we work together?

The United States answer to this question is unequivocal: We believe in democracy – in its enduring capacity for renewal and for revitalization. We believe it is the best way to meet the needs of our citizens and people across the region that we share.

And we believe in the OAS – both in its capacity to improve our individual democracies and unite us to solve problems that none of us have the capacity to tackle effectively alone.

As our former president, President Jimmy Carter, said at the OAS many decades ago now, to make our charter, and I quote, “more than empty pieces of paper – to make it a living document,” all of our member states must believe, and act, to uphold and to improve it.

So today, let me briefly make the case for how we can recommit ourselves, together, to make our charter a living thing for people across our hemisphere.

First, we can continue to support and strengthen the OAS’s core competencies – where it has a proven track record of improving our democracies in concrete ways. The OAS electoral observer missions are the gold standard for providing an independent, impartial assessment of whether elections are free and fair. In 2023 alone, the OAS has observed elections in Antigua and Barbuda, in Ecuador, in Paraguay, and it will observe Guatemala’s presidential vote on June 25th – just two days from now.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has for decades provided a forum for citizens in all of our nations to seek justice for human rights violations and abuses – from the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the Dirty Wars and the drug wars to the report it published just last week concluding that Cuban Government agents were involved in the 2012 deaths of human rights defenders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. And the commission has been a trailblazer in promoting the rights of traditionally marginalized populations, including peoples of African descent, Indigenous communities, and LGBTQI+ people.

The Americas Health Corps – we talked about that earlier today – will train half a million healthcare workers over five years – half a million – on key issues like maternal and child health. And we’re well on our way to realizing that goal: We’ve already trained 119,000 people just in the last year. That is going to make a material, concrete difference in the lives of our citizens.

Longstanding strengths like these are the reason that our ambassador to the OAS, Frank Mora, fought so hard to rally support for one of the biggest increases to the organization’s budget that we’ve seen in decades. The United States funds approximately half of that budget, thanks to the support of our Congress. I want to thank CARICOM for spearheading the effort to approve what is a crucial increase.

We also fully support the outside review of the OAS General Secretariat, so that we can ensure that people in the Americas are getting the most out of the resources that all of us are contributing.

Second, we can recommit to holding ourselves – and countries across the region – to the core principles of the OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charters. And that of course means continuing to shine a spotlight on the widespread violations of human rights perpetrated by authoritarian governments, and looking for ways to hold them appropriately accountable – and stop their repression – at the same time as we seek to aid their victims.

But that’s only part of it. We also have to make our voices heard when our fellow democracies stray from the principles that we have all agreed repeatedly to uphold. When democratically elected leaders in our region try to weaken the independent institutions that provide checks and balances; when they crack down on the media and on civil society; when they fire or harass prosecutors, judges, election officials, or other independent government officials just for doing their jobs; when they try to extend term limits; when they attack or try to discredit multilateral institutions – including this one, for raising legitimate criticisms – we cannot stand by. We need to speak up – not because any one of our members thinks that we’re perfect – we know that we’re not; no democracy is – but rather because we’re invested in each other’s democracies, because we made a commitment to hold one another accountable. Because we know that one of the most dangerous steps a democracy can take is to strip away citizens’ rights to improve the system from within. And because we know that the risks inherent in backsliding – not just to individual countries and their citizens, but to entire regions – are real.

The United States is not immune to this. Throughout our history, we have grappled with challenges to our own democracy. We continue to grapple with them to this very day. Indeed, in so many ways, these experiences underscore for us the importance of always striving to address our own shortcomings, and to do it openly, to do it transparently – not to pretend they don’t exist or to try to sweep them under the rug. Because we know, ultimately, that is the only way to get better; the only way, as we would say, to try to form a more perfect union. That’s why we open ourselves up to review – and criticism – from journalists, from human rights defenders, from regional and multilateral organizations. And that includes from the OAS and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which recently conducted site visits to the United States to focus on homelessness, indigenous rights, and climate change.

Third, and finally, we must continue to adapt our institutions and partnerships to try to seize some of the emerging opportunities and meet emerging threats. Never has the need to do this been so acute. Look at any of the big challenges that we all face, that are actually affecting the lives of our people – not a single one of them can we solve by acting alone. That’s why President Biden has worked relentlessly to reinvigorate institutions like the OAS, and to try to stand up new coalitions across our region and around the world.

We brought together countries at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles to adopt the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection – the first truly regional approach to this issue – and 21 countries have signed on with concrete commitments. Together with civil society, with the private sector, with humanitarian organizations, with multilateral and regional organizations, we continue to drive progress on the pledges that we made – and we will work on that day in, day out. We’ll continue that later today, when I have the honor of convening a ministerial meeting of our partners.

In April, we convened the first-ever Cities Summit of the Americas, in Denver, Colorado, bringing together 250 mayors – and also governors, tribal and indigenous officials, leaders from communities, NGOs, from businesses. Participants shared innovative ideas, knowledge, approaches, and forged new partnerships at the level where democracy is closest to the people it serves. Most of all, we listened, we took notes, and we learned.

We’re working together to expand inclusive economic opportunity across the Americas. We’re broadening access to the emerging technologies that are increasingly crucial for doing business. We can’t have a digital divide that separates those who have access from those who do not. We launched a new economic agenda – the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity – to build more equitable growth from the bottom up and from the middle out. And we’re making a push for multilateral development institutions, like the World Bank, to increase financing for the region’s middle-income countries, as Vice President Harris discussed with our friends in CARICOM and other partners a few weeks ago at the U.S.-Caribbean Leaders Meeting.

Today, we’re launching a new global coalition to address the public health and security threats posed by the illicit production and trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. We encourage countries across the region to join us in this effort. In many ways, the United States has been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to synthetic opioids, but we see this problem spreading, including especially in our own hemisphere.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 110,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2022. More than two-thirds of those deaths were the result of synthetic opioids, inflicting immeasurable suffering on families across our nation. But there is not a country across our hemisphere that is not going to be hurt by this scourge, or by the transnational organized crime groups that profit from it. And the only way to effectively confront it is together. In a few weeks, I’ll have the opportunity to convene dozens of my counterparts from around the world for the coalition’s inaugural meeting.

Colleagues, I said at the outset that the United States continues to believe, and believes strongly, that – when it comes to fulfilling the aspirations of our people, the people across the hemisphere that we share – there is no better way than democracies working together. But of all the reasons I’m confident that our democracies can ultimately deliver to meet the significant challenges we face, there is one that eclipses all others: Our citizens believe in democracy. They want democracy. The latest annual survey from Latinobarómetro shows that – even if most people in our hemisphere agree that democracies can and work – can and should work better – and we know that – two-thirds of our citizens still believe that democracy is the best way for government to meet their needs. Two out of three. That’s actually an increase from just a few years ago.

And if all of our citizens continue to believe in democracy – if they are still invested in making our systems better from within, in holding us accountable, there is no flaw we cannot fix, there is no challenge that we cannot overcome, in the enduring march to make the rights and aspirations of our people a living thing.

Thank you. Gracias a todos. (Applause.)