Noriega US Ambassador Remarks at the Organization of American States
U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS and Chairman of the Permanent Council
Special Session of the Permanent Council on
the Inter-American Democratic Charter
September 16, 2002
Excellency, Alejandro Toledo, President of the Republic of Peru; Ladies and
It is my honor to open this Special Session of the Permanent Council of the
Organization of American States, which as been convened to commemorate the First
Anniversary of the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
As we look back over the great history of this Organization, September 11, 2001,
will be forever remembered as a tragic day in our community’s memory. That day,
32 of our member states lost citizens as a result of savage terrorist attacks.
However, something very good happened on that fateful day, as the free nations
of the Western Hemisphere reaffirmed the very principles of democracy that the
terrorists had targeted.
It is poetic justice that within moments of those horrific attacks, the nations
of the Americas vowed to preserve and defend our common values by approving the
Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The Role of Peru
It is altogether fitting that President Alejandro Toledo of the Republic of Peru
has been invited to present the keynote reflections on the Inter-American
Democratic Charter here today. Because, in a very real sense, his people
inspired the Charter. In the year 2000, while grappling with a constitutional
crisis, fraudulent elections, and notorious corruption, the Peruvian people
experienced firsthand that democracy provides the ideal framework for reclaiming
essential rights and for resolving crises.
They also came to recognize the full potential of the Organization of American
States: An independent, well-led OAS electoral mission courageously exposed and
derailed a fraudulent election. And a focused and fair “national roundtable,”
coordinated by the OAS, provided an accountable forum for airing disputes and
helped lay the foundation for a successful democratic transition.
Peruvian democrats also realized — and brought to our attention — that in order
for the OAS to reach its potential, it required the mandate and the means to
respond to institutional weaknesses or constitutional transgressions -- before
they produce an outright democratic rupture. It was then-Foreign Minister of
Peru, Diego Garcia-Sayan, who, at a meeting of the Community of Democracies held
in this very room, suggested a “Democratic Charter” for the Hemisphere.
At the Summit in Quebec in April 2001, our leaders mandated that the OAS draft
such an instrument, setting us on an ambitious path that led us to San José,
Costa Rica, to Lima, Peru, and here, today.
The Democratic Charter and Its Contribution
The Inter-American Democratic Charter represents and unambiguous rejection of
any act or ideology that threatens the “right to democracy.” But it does even
more: it represents the solidarity of our community to help one another
strengthen democratic institutions and processes that might be at risk and to
defend democratic order or constitutional regimes that are undermined or
Just as important, the Charter defines, in conscientious detail, the “essential
elements” of representative democracy,” — that is to say, the “democratic
order,” including respect for “human rights and fundamental freedoms”; the “rule
of law”; “periodic, free, and fair elections”; a “pluralistic system of
political parties”; the “separation of powers and independence of the branches
of government”; “freedom of expression and of the press;” and, the
“constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally
constituted civilian authority.”
Thanks to the Democratic Charter, the time has passed when regimes could tinker
with the definition of democracy to suit themselves. So, too, the time has
passed when this community could choose to ignore an autocrat simply because his
country is too poor or, for that matter, too rich.
Applying the Charter
The Democratic Charter builds upon a practical legacy in which the OAS advances
principles that will make all our nations stronger by making each of our nations
stronger. The resolutions and accords we approve in the OAS are not mere words:
they constitute legislation that provides the framework for action. They chart
the course for pursuing our ideals and objectives.
We pursue these goals as a community not because one government or another is
imposing an agenda. We do so because we are compelled by our shared interests to
However, some worry that the Democratic Charter is reserved for our “weakest” or
“smallest” neighbors. Anyone who understands the genuine purpose of the accord
would never make that mistake. Let me explain:
First, no one would include my country, the United States, on any list of “weak”
or “small” countries. Yet when we were attacked on September 11, we sought help
from our neighbors. And, quite sincerely, you delivered results that exceeded
our most optimistic expectations. I do not exaggerate in observing that every
single delegation seated around this table made concrete contributions to the
anti-terrorism efforts taken by this Organization in the past year. And, those
I dare say that my country is safer and stronger today because of the solidarity
and resolve of our partners in the OAS — large and small, strong and
not-so-strong. The lesson is this: every country stands to benefit from the
solidarity embodied in the Democratic Charter.
Second, invoking the Charter’s self-help mechanism (Article 17) should not be
viewed by any nation as a sign of weakness or failure. It should be viewed as
one more tool that any government has at its disposal to help ensure the free
exercise of democracy for its citizens. The ability to summon the help of sister
nations is a source of strength, not a sign of weakness.
Third, the Charter’s true strength is not that it carries a potential sanction.
We had and still have “Resolution 1080” at our disposal to respond to
anti-democratic measures. No, the Democratic Charter’s central contribution is
how it seeks to avoid or remedy ruptures in democracy.
Indeed, it might be said that our community will have failed if we are ever
compelled to suspend a government under the Democratic Charter. It might be said
that we set ourselves on the road to that failure when we shrink from using the
Charter’s preventive mechanisms to respond to manifest weaknesses in democratic
institutions or clear threats to constitutional regimes.
The Democratic Charter allows for a gradual, measured steps to prevent and
respond to political crises. Indeed, we have evoked – if not, invoked – the
spirit of the Democratic Charter each time during the past year that we have
passed resolutions, deployed missions, or taken other steps to promote
Looking to the Future
Only through application and exercise of a document will it achieve its full or
even intended potential. Through fits and starts and repeated attempts, the
value of any seminal public policy document, like the Inter-American Democratic
Charter, eventually becomes tangible and comes to life.
As I have said, perhaps the greatest single feature of our Democratic Charter is
that it succeeds in defining the “essential elements” of representative
democracy. These “rules of the game” are not imposed by any one nation or
ideology. These standards, which we set for ourselves, embody the immutable,
common values of our inter-American community.
is my fervent hope that the good people of Cuba are studying the Democratic
Charter, because it represents a path to their reintegration into the
Inter-American System. A growing number of Cubans already are moving toward that
future; many dissidents are struggling to claim their human rights and liberty;
independent journalists are chronicling that valiant struggle; and more than
11,000 Cubans have petitioned for a referendum to exercise their fundamental
As the Cuban people claim the “right to democracy” — and when a government there
recognizes its “obligation to promote and defend” democracy and respect all of
its “essential elements” — we look forward to their representative taking Cuba’s
seat at this table.
Recognizing President Toledo
As I have stated, we owe the Peruvian people a debt for inspiring the instrument
we commemorate today. The Peruvian people know, too, that democracy is not an
end in itself: it is simply the best guarantee that people from all walks of
life will be able to claim their fair share of political rights and economic
The Peruvian people continue to inspire us. We are pleased to note that Peruvian
democrats of good will have joined President Toledo in committing to a national
accord that puts the well-being of their people above their own personal and
political agendas. Democracy is not always easy, nor does it provide instant
results. It requires patience, commitment, and hard work by the government,
civil society, and each and every citizen.
As President Toledo continues to work with democrats from across the political
spectrum to construct that prosperous future for all of his people, his
constitutional, democratic government can count on the full support of this
Permanent Council and of this Organization.
According to the Order of the Day, the Chair now has the honor of recognizing
His Excellency, Alejandro Toledo, President of the Republic of Peru.
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September 17, 2002