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Promoting Democratic Governance in the Americas

The Honorable Bill Graham
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada
OAS Main Plenary
Santiago, Chile
June 8, 2003

Madame chair, colleagues;

"The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it." this sentence from the Inter-American Democratic Charter represents our shared commitment to principles of democracy, and our will to cooperate in ensuring that these principles are upheld. In Canada, we believe that the democratic charter has the potential to become the Magna Carta of our hemisphere: a foundation of democratic governance in the Americas.

However, for this to happen we must be prepared to respond quickly to crises of democracy, and to use the charter as it was intended. Indeed, we must do more to promote and implement the charter across our societies in order to reinforce democratic governance, which is the main theme of this general assembly.

Déjà, les obligations de la charte ont amené des états membres à agir. ainsi, le Nicaragua, s'est référé à la charte en septembre dernier pour soutenir sa campagne nationale contre la corruption. Cela marque un progrès important dans la volonté des états membres d'utiliser les nouveaux outils qu'ils ont créés pour promouvoir la démocratie sur leur propre territoire, ainsi que dans l'hémisphère.

Il nous reste cependant beaucoup de chemin à parcourir pour réaliser la promesse de la charte. comme vous le savez, le premier ministre du Canada a proposé la tenue, cette année, d'un « sommet extraordinaire des amériques

» Pour examiner les défis que l'hémisphère doit maintenant relever.  Le président fox a gracieusement offert d'accueillir ce sommet en novembre  prochain. Nous savons qu'il est urgent de produire des résultats dans le domaine de la gouvernance démocratique. Il faut donner à nos citoyens des raisons de croire en la capacité de la démocratie à résoudre les problèmes sociaux et économiques d'aujourd'hui.

Comme le sommet sera la première rencontre des chefs d'etat et de gouvernement depuis l'adoption de la charte, le 11 septembre 2001, ceux-ci auront l'occasion de réaffirmer leur engagement à l'égard de la charte elle-même, et de dire encore une fois aux populations des ameriques que la démocratie est le meilleur espoir pour l'avènement de sociétés stables et prospères. This is why we must support minister Alvear's call for the development of an "Agenda for Democratic Governance in the Americas", which leaders could endorse at the special summit. In our view, such an agenda should focus on ways to strengthen institutions essential to democratic governance.

These include independent and effective judicial and economic institutions; a professional public service; credible electoral systems; legislators that have the capacity to debate and improve legislation; a free and responsible media; constructive consultations with civil society; professional police and military services that respect the primacy of civilian authority and a strong commitment to human rights that lays the foundation for these initiatives to succeed. we also need to tackle such highly complex and controversial issues as that of political party campaign financing.

I also urge that we work together in implementing the Monterrey Consensus in our hemisphere, in order to encourage the wider trade and investment flows that serve as the main engine for development.  This will be essential to addressing poverty and social exclusion in our hemisphere. We must use the special summit, along with the O.A.S. and development banks, to gather new ideas on these topics.

To date, Canada has committed some cdn$440 million to activities supporting the Quebec City plan of action. in light of our belief that efforts cannot succeed without the participation of civil society and indigenous peoples, our commitments include funds for the indigenous peoples partnership program, which matches development expertise of aboriginal canadians with the development requirements of indigenous peoples in the Americas.

One central and difficult point must be emphasized at this juncture. As we all know, globalization is benefiting our peoples in dramatically unequal ways, and this is producing considerable strains in all of our countries. The summit process and our plan of action of Quebec City have given us some valuable tools to address these realities, but we must continue pressing for concrete policy options to address adverse effects of recent economic and political changes.

I should also emphasize that our collective efforts at reform must include not just a top-down institutional and political approach, but equally importantly, a bottom-up approach working with those whom we seek to assist, and with civil society organizations. consultation and dialogue, as well as a strong commitment to human rights, are indispensable for the success of our efforts. Democratic reform, like democracy itself, must be founded in the informed participation of all elements in our societies if it is to be legitimate, and in the end, effective.

I cannot close my remarks on democratic governance, madame chair, without a reference to the issue of Cuba, a country of our hemisphere and where recent events have raised serious concerns that people are suffering unacceptable penalties merely for speaking out about the basic freedoms that we are discussing here as essential elements of our experience in the Americas.

I know that many colleagues around this table do not believe that the OAS is the appropriate forum to discuss Cuba. In that respect, I refer to the words of the representative of the United States at the civil society dialogue yesterday, to the effect that we do need to find constructive, positive ways to move forward on this issue.

In fact, colleagues, we did open the door to this discussion last month. Surely now, whatever our different perspectives on the appropriate solution to this long standing issue, we owe it to ourselves in this, the only multilateral forum representing the diversity of views of the Americas, to seek constructive ways to begin a process to deal with this issue and bring the benefits of our work on democracy to the Cuban people.

Thank you.

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June 11, 2003

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