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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States

Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State
Asuncion, Paraguay
June 4, 2014


Buenos días. Good morning.

Let me begin by thanking President Cartes, Foreign Minister Loizaga, Secretary General Insulza and Assistant Secretary General Ramdin for hosting this 44th General Assembly of the OAS. This is my first trip to South America as Deputy Secretary of State and I am so pleased to be here and to have an opportunity to meet so many of the ministers whose leadership is shaping the direction of our hemisphere.

I also want to thank Roberta Jacobson, our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, our Permanent Representative to the OAS, for their constant work in strengthening our ties with our neighbors in the Americas.

Secretary Kerry asked me to bring you all his best wishes and warm regards. He was greatly impressed by the positive and productive discussions at last year’s General Assembly in Guatemala.

It is quite fitting that the General Assembly is meeting in Paraguay. Today, the people of Paraguay are building a more open and inclusive society, and stronger institutions to guide the country’s democratic development and its growing prosperity. We congratulate the people and Government of Paraguay and thank them for welcoming us with such kindness and hospitality.

In my discussion yesterday with President Cartes, I underscored that the United States is committed to collaborating closely with Paraguay, and indeed, all our hemispheric neighbors, on the issues that most affect the well-being and security of our citizens.

In this regard, we have been very active. President Obama made his fifth visit to Mexico in February and just hosted President Mujica of Uruguay in the White House. President Bachelet will visit at the end of this month. Vice President Biden has visited the region seven times while in office, and he will cheer on the U.S. national soccer team in Brazil at the World Cup in two weeks, while also visiting Colombia and the Dominican Republic. In the last year, Secretary Kerry has been to Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala.

So as you can see, U.S. ties to Latin America and the Caribbean command a high level of our attention and strategic focus -- precisely because this region is so important to our collective future.

The theme our gracious hosts selected for this General Assembly is “Development with Social Inclusion.” I can think of no more fitting theme.

Our region has already accomplished much in this regard, yet there remains more work to be done. In many parts of our hemisphere, unemployment, economic exclusion, and discrimination remain far too common. This is particularly true for historically marginalized groups, including women and girls, people of African descent, the indigenous, the disabled, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Therefore, the United States is working on a number of innovative initiatives. Last year our grants benefitted more than 357,000 people in poor and marginalized communities in 20 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. And millions more have benefited from the jobs created in their countries by trade with the United States and U.S. foreign direct investment.

Under the Americas Partnership for Social Inclusion and Equality, we are also funding projects to build the capacity of vulnerable groups in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.

Across the region, we partner with the OAS through the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas initiative. We are excited about the Pathways Innovation Challenge which seeks to unlock the potential of small and medium enterprises in the hemisphere. And we are proud to support the Inter-American Social Protection Network, which promotes best practices on social protection and access to basic services for vulnerable groups across the hemisphere.

We are also very proud of President Obama’s “100,000 Strong in the Americas” initiative, which seeks to build a more competitive, inter-connected region by supporting 100,000 student exchanges annually between the U.S. and our partners in the hemisphere by 2020. This initiative will offer our young people the chance to build the skills and networks they need to compete in this globalized world.

That world will be full of challenges, but also full of opportunities. As we navigate the coming decades together, staying true to our democratic principles and core values will be essential to our shared success.

It is no accident that the hemisphere’s recent economic vitality—its success in lifting people out of poverty and expanding opportunity—has come on the heels of a generation of democratic consolidation. When leaders derive their power from the vote – when the will of the people truly rules – then leaders find a way to unleash the forces of growth, of progress, and of freedom.

Indeed, the Americas have shown the world that accountable, democratic governance is the surest way to expand social and economic opportunity, and we can all take enormous pride in that.

But, as Secretary Kerry has said, “democracy is not a final destination; it is an endless journey. And every day, all of us must renew our decision to actually move it forward.”

As we seek to support and enhance democratic institutions through the Americas, the Inter-American Democratic Charter remains our compass and guide. The OAS Charter, the Democratic Charter and the Social Charter of the Americas, call on all of us here to offer our citizens a hemisphere of liberty and social justice, and to create the conditions where everyone can realize their democratic aspirations.

To this end, we have no greater priority than ensuring the integrity of our Inter-American institutions. We cannot allow them to be weakened under the guise of reform, and yet genuine reform and greater efficiency must be part of our common agenda. In the case of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, this means preserving its independence and autonomy. It also means finding new funding to support this institution's mandate.

Bearing in mind the democratic progress this region has made regarding the promotion and protection of human rights and civil liberties, the United States remains committed to working with OAS member states to advance meaningful dialogue in Venezuela. Specifically, the United States has supported the UNASUR-led dialogue and we encourage all sides in Venezuela to take advantage of this effort to resolve their political impasse. We and the rest of the hemisphere share an interest in a stable, peaceful, and democratic Venezuela that respects the rights of its people. We believe it is the responsibility of the Venezuelan government to govern in an inclusive and constructive manner, in order to safeguard the welfare of the Venezuelan people and to address the serious political and economic problems that confront their nation.

Over the past several decades, the OAS has been essential to brokering the peaceful settlement of border disputes, overseeing free and fair elections, driving the human rights agenda, and serving as a forum for discussing pressing global and regional issues.

We especially commend the OAS’ Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia. We remain convinced that this mission can help Colombia end the hemisphere’s last armed conflict. As such, I am pleased to announce today a new contribution to support this OAS Mission in the amount of $420,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

This new support underscores our strong belief in the core objectives of the OAS — strengthening democratic institutions, safeguarding human rights, promoting development, and enhancing multidimensional security.

At the same time, we recognize that the Organization can be further strengthened by refocusing on these strengths and better aligning them with available funding.

Today, it is more important than ever to have a frank discussion on the future role and impact of the OAS. We strongly support the ongoing effort to craft and implement a “New Strategic Vision” for the Organization, and we look forward to the adoption of a guiding vision statement at this General Assembly.

We appreciate the hard work that has been done in strengthening the OAS over the past year, and look forward to continuing the dialogue with all member states on the substantive agenda for our Organization in the years to come.

The United States believes that a vibrant and active OAS is central to our common vision of creating a peaceful, prosperous and socially inclusive hemisphere.

I would like to once again reaffirm the United States’ commitment to working with all of you, and with this organization, in a spirit of genuine and equal partnership, so that together we can build that hemisphere. Thank you.

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