Western Hemisphere: Election of the New Secretary General of the Organization of the American States

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me also thank you and President Perez Molina for the generous hospitality in Guatemala shown to Vice President Biden during his recent trip there. He spoke very highly of his visit and the energy and determination that he senses in the Northern Triangle of Central America.

I also extend warm greetings to Secretary General Insulza and to the distinguished delegates that are here today representing their country. It is an honor to represent the United States in this historic building on this very important occasion.

Since its founding, the OAS has been a vibrant and enduring forum for discussing, debating, and advancing our shared inter-American values. For decades, the OAS Charter has served as our compass and our guide—calling on each of us to offer our citizens a hemisphere where democracy advances opportunity and protects the liberty of all our citizens.

Today’s election marks a very meaningful step forward in this journey to strengthen the OAS and fully realize its promise for all of our hemisphere’s citizens. The United States wishes to join our fellow member states in congratulating the Secretary General-elect and assuring him of our full support.

As we gather today—and as we prepare our leaders to meet in Panama for the Summit of the Americas in just three weeks—the United States strongly believes that we need a revitalized OAS to fully live up to the aspirations of our founding Charter and address the common challenges that we face.

In this shared mission, we are fortunate to have the wind at our backs. Over the course of several decades, the growth of democracy has ushered in a new era of prosperity and peace throughout our hemisphere. Our InterAmerican Democratic Charter continues to stand as a model, not just for us but for other regions in the world.

Today, farmers sell their goods in global markets and invest their profits in the health and education of the next generation.

Entrepreneurs build start-ups that power their local economies and give young people good jobs and good skills.

Citizens express their opinions peacefully and democratically through free and fair elections—often thanks to the support of the OAS electoral observation missions.

And democratic governments—accountable to their citizens—help lift millions out of poverty through smart investments that unlock the potential of their people.

Since President Obama first proposed forging new and equal partnerships across North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean at the 2009 Trinidad and Tobago Summit, we have focused on translating this burst of innovation and energy into lasting progress for all the people of our hemisphere.

This is clear in our cooperation on energy security with the nations of the Caribbean; in our support for prosperity, security, and improved governance in Central America; in our coordinated response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti; and in our pursuit of renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

And it’s clear in our commitment to ensuring the integrity of our inter-American institutions. As is the case for all great international organizations, reforms play an essential role in this effort—strengthening financial transparency, reviewing and pruning redundant or ineffective programs, and investing in a regionally diverse staff of the highest caliber.

Our new Secretary General must be willing to lead the OAS through this genuine reform process by helping to refocus the OAS on its four core pillars—democracy, human rights, sustainable development, and citizen security. And he must ensure that the OAS resolves the institution’s current fiscal challenges without compromising its core mission.

A fully independent Inter-American Commission on Human Rights…

…a more focused and fortified Secretariat for Political Affairs…

…greater outreach to independent civil society…

…and robust electoral observation missions that are actively engaged before—and after—Election Day.

These are all essential parts of realizing a more effective, more proactive, more confident OAS.

Above all, our new Secretary General must uphold our collective commitment to the bedrock principles of democracy and human rights enshrined in the Charter of this institution, the InterAmerican Democratic Charter, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

This means holding our governments—all of our governments—to these principles not only when it is easy and no one is paying attention, but also when it is difficult and when it is necessary.

We look to the Secretary General for his leadership, but we want him to know that he does not stand alone.

It is the responsibility of all of us—of each and every Member of this institution—to ensure the Secretary General has the tools, the resources, the political support he needs to deliver on the founding promise of the Organization of American States.

Once again, I offer President Obama’s, Secretary Kerry’s, and my own sincere congratulations to Secretary General-elect Almagro on being elected to this position of high trust and even higher responsibility. We look forward to working with you. We wish you great success. Thank you. Gracias.