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Western Hemisphere: Remarks at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS)

(Via interpreter) Thank you very much, Mr. President. Good morning, and thanks to everyone. (In English) (Inaudible) Almagro for your very strong presentation and for hosting this 45th General Assembly of the OAS. It is an honor to represent the United States and to join so many of the hemisphere’s most committed ministers and representatives.

I also want to thank Roberta Jacobson, our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who’s with me today, and Michael Fitzpatrick, our Interim Permanent Representative to the OAS, for their ongoing work to strengthen ties with our neighbors throughout the Americas.

Secretary Kerry very much wishes he was here today. He sends his warm greetings to everyone present.

This year’s General Assembly is being held as a new chapter opens in the history of the OAS. We’ve come a long way since last year’s assembly in Paraguay. Today, we have a new secretary general, a new strategic vision statement, and renewed attention to genuine reform. This year has also been an important one for the United States and our relationships across the hemisphere. Today, we are experiencing the fruits of President Obama’s commitment to new and equal partnerships across the Americas, from a highly successful Summit of the Americans in Panama, to our efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba to our support for lasting peace and security for Colombia. We were honored to host President Pena Nieto in January at the White House, and we look forward to President Rousseff’s visit at the end of this month.

Together, we are working to realize a vision for the Americas where countries share responsibilities, cooperate as equals, and advance common interests and values. Secretary Kerry shares my belief that the OAS is integral to this future. We can all take enormous pride in the example that the Americas have set for the entire world. In this young century, the hemisphere has seen significant – even transformational – change from exclusive to inclusive societies, from authoritarian to democratic governments, from closed to open economies. The Americas are peaceful, overwhelmingly democratic, and increasingly prosperous.

As Secretary General Almagro has emphasized, the OAS must adapt to these modern times and to the contemporary challenges that we face. We must strengthen responsible stewardship and good governance in our own national governments and within the OAS, including its associated and constituent offices. This means shaping a more focused and fortified secretariat that faithfully reflects the Strategic Vision statement, advances an agenda for reform, and refocuses on the OAS’s core thematic pillars. And it means taking a stand against corruption and acts of betrayal by public officials in our own countries that undermine democratic institutions and the sacred trust of our people.

We must ensure that the organization and its member states safeguard and strengthen our independent human rights system, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court. These bodies must remain fully empowered to continue their essential work protecting the liberty of all our citizens. And we must continue to lead by example, holding each other accountable when we fall short of realizing our collective commitment to the principles that are enshrined in the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

As we build a more effective, efficient, and transparent forum for dialogue and partnership, we will continue to look to the organization for its indispensable work in deploying credible electoral observation missions, which safeguard the most basic expression of democracy. And we will look to the OAS to continue its pioneering work in conflict prevention and mitigation, something the Secretary General has spoken of often, and which we fully support. It is the responsibility of each of us – of each and every member of this institution – to ensure the secretary general has the tools, the resources, and the political support that he needs to uphold these duties and deliver on the founding ideals of this organization. Robust and transparent financing will ensure that the greatest strength of the OAS – its impressive staff – can continue applying their talent to solve the hemisphere’s challenges.

In this time of change, the founding principles of the organization remain as enduring and as relevant as the day the OAS Charter was first drafted. And even as we welcome new leadership and embrace the implementation of a new strategic vision, we remain committed to those bedrock principles and ideals of democracy, security, and development for all of our citizens.

We’re grateful for the secretary general’s leadership. On behalf of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, I offer our full support and partnership. We look forward to working together in the spirit of genuine and equal partnership to realize the inaugural promise of the OAS so that it can reemerge as a strong, credible engine of political, economic, and social progress for all the people of the Americas.

Thank you very much.