THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the virtual Foreign Press Center briefing. It’s June 20th, 2023. Just a reminder that this briefing is on the record and is being livestreamed. A transcript will be available later on our website at fpc.state.gov. My name is Jed Wolfington, and I will be moderating today’s briefing. It is my honor to welcome today Ambassador Francisco Mora, Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States. Ambassador Mora will brief on the developments of the 53rd General Assembly of the OAS which will take place in Washington, D.C. June 21st to 23rd. The theme of the OAS General Assembly is “Strengthening a Culture of Democratic Accountability with Human Rights Promotion, Protection, and Equality in the Americas.” Ambassador Mora, thank you very much for joining us, and the floor is yours.
AMBASSADOR MORA: Thank you very much, Jed, and thank you and welcome to all those that are listening in. I look forward to answering any questions you might have about the General Assembly that starts, as Jed said, tomorrow and runs until Friday. Let me just say a couple of words regarding our expectations, our priorities for this coming General Assembly. Several key developments in this year’s General Assembly has the goal of reaffirming the importance of the OAS as the foremost institution in the hemisphere, particularly in advancing our shared interests in the region and protecting and promoting democracy and human rights throughout the Americas, as the theme suggests. And within that frame of democracy, human rights, and in a sense doubling down on the organization and our commitment – U.S. commitment – to that organization, there are three or four priorities that I’d like to lay out that I think sort of highlight these objectives.
One is the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The United States along with a number of other states believe that the charter needed to be strengthened. We needed to in a sense reaffirm our commitment to the charter at a time when, as we know, the region is facing a number of challenges with democratic governance and respect for human rights. We believe that sort of bringing attention to the commitment that all member-states made over two decades ago to – as the first article of the charter says – to protect and to promote that states have the obligation of defending and promoting democracy in the region. So we have presented a resolution, a proposal that’s under negotiation sponsored by a number of states, elements to strengthen the democratic charter – the Inter-American Democratic Charter that again that was signed on September 11th, 2001 in Lima, Peru.
What are those – what are the elements of our proposal, which are, I think, relatively modest proposals but important nonetheless? First, is a sort of volunteer peer review process – a voluntary peer review process that allows the Organization of American States, the Secretariat, to monitor in a sense, to review, and to highlight areas where democracy is weakening. If a state or member-state does not want to participate, it does not have to. It’s sort of voluntary, and it is, I think, best way to make sure that we can get this proposal forward.
Second, preventive diplomacy – I think the organization has a history of addressing regional crises, and democracy is in crisis at the moment in the region. And there are areas where we can take preventive measures – the organization can take preventive measures to mitigate, ameliorate, to keep the crisis from getting worse in certain governments, and the – frankly, the OAS has been doing some of that already. We saw that, for example, in Peru not too long ago, but I think it was important to institutionalize it.
And the third element of the proposal is promoting, funding, supporting civic, democratic education in the region through the appropriate Secretariat institutions. And I’m happy to elaborate on that if you like. So that piece at a time when democracy is threatened, I think – we think it was important for us to remind folks of the commitment and then to add a little bit more to strengthen its role – the charter’s role in the region.
The second is the budget. This will not be a controversial issue, but it was a controversial issue two weeks ago. Because the United States and many other member-states are interested in strengthening the organization, demonstrating its value, its impact that it has in the region, we proposed, along with other states, to increase the budget of the OAS for the first time in over a decade. This was a controversial issue. Some states did not want to do that. We believe that if it was – if the OAS to maintain its credibility and its relevance it needed to fund the important and relevant and impactful activities that it does in areas such as human rights and democracy. We – the budget, proposed budget, was increased by about 8 or 9 percent for the first time, as I said, in over a decade. And the United States contributes 50 percent – by U.S. law, 50 percent – of the regular budget. So we needed to increase, therefore, our contribution. So half of the increase was paid by the United States. But it demonstrated our commitment, the U.S. commitment, to multilateral diplomacy, to democracy, and human rights, as President Biden and Secretary Blinken have said on numerous occasions when this administration began.
And third, we are going to be joining Barbados and other Caribbean countries on a resolution financing climate change, to improve developing countries access to existing and newly emerging global climate finance. This could be a significant resolution. We are – plan on cosponsoring – not just simply supporting, but cosponsoring – this resolution. And it reflects our U.S. continued support for CARICOM, the 14 member-states at the OAS, and of course that Vice President Kamala Harris visited, as you know, the Bahamas last week. So it’s a —demonstrating a commitment not only to CARICOM or the Caribbean, but to this issue of climate change and climate finance.
There are other issues. We are going to commemorate the legacy of former President Jimmy Carter at the OAS. There’ll be an exhibit. Since we are emphasizing and underscoring democracy and human rights, we thought that one of the ways to do that is to remember the legacy and the commitment of former President Carter in institutionalizing human rights as part of our foreign policy. And so there’s going to be an exhibit, as I said, at the OAS. There’s going to be an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Friday, I believe, to do just that.
I’m happy to go in greater details about other things that we’re doing, but I wanted to share at least that chapeaux with you and to – so that – to sort of frame the discussion of questions you might have.
Jed, over back to you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Ambassador Mora, for the opening remarks. And we would welcome questions from the field. In the meantime, if – just raise the hand – use the raise hand function within the Zoom interface, and if you would be so kind when you are answering – asking your question, either to turn on your video or we will unmute you, and just kindly identify yourselves and the media outlet for which you work.
So not seeing any hands up. Ambassador Mora, there was – there were a couple of questions, and one of the questions, advance questions, was about the budget. You briefly touched on that, but perhaps you could talk a little bit more about the budget increase and, if you can at all, talk about which countries were involved in that negotiation process. That was the question submitted in advance. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR MORA: Sure. Happy to go in a bit more detail than that. So it is true that the OAS finds itself in a challenging fiscal environment. Just to give you one data point, the budget of the OAS in 1984 – so 40 years ago – the budget in 1984 dollars was $94 million. That was the budget, in those dollars back then. Fast forward 40 years, the budget in 2023, in 2023 dollar amounts, is $82 or $83 million, right. We have not seen an increase, and as a result there have been cuts at the OAS.
We did not think, with a number of other states, that that was sustainable at the OAS, that if we believe that this was an important institution, important multilateral institution engaged in conflict resolution, in dealing with the challenges facing the region, including, of course, democracy, that we needed to fund it and we needed to increase the budget. And so the budget has gone – is going from about $83 million to about $91 million or so. I apologize; I don’t know the exact numbers.
So it’s about an eight or nine percent increase. That will allow to sustain the organization at its current operating level – no cuts, continued funding some key programs and activities that the OAS does, that the secretariat does. And we will be doing an analysis and evaluation of the organization that will be funded by member-states so that we can make informed decisions this time next year when we are discussing the budget, and we can make informed decisions about where to cut, where to save, where to invest, et cetera. I hope that’s sort of greater detail than —
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We do have two questions, one from Alejandra and then we’ll hear from Juan. So Alejandra, I will ask you to unmute and —
QUESTION: Hey, hello. Thank you so much for doing this, Francisco and Jed. My question is in relations to the resolution on Haiti. What are the U.S. hopes for a way – for finding a way of solving or helping to solve the situation in Haiti through the OAS? Is there a consideration of a force similar to the blue helmets like in the UN-backed for Haiti? Is that going to be a topic to consider – to put in consideration in the General Assembly? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR MORA: Yes. As you know, the United States is very interested and working towards the establishment of a multinational force, multinational police force in Haiti, to deal with the number one challenge and crisis that Haiti faced, which is the security challenge. And that is ongoing.
However, as you know, the OAS is a – is run by consensus. It is a consensus-based organization. There is simply not enough support – there is not consensus – to support tangibly or politically yet such a force through the OAS, through the OAS. Not that I think member-states are against such a multinational force, but that the OAS as an organization is not – doesn’t have the sort of tools and there isn’t yet the commitment – a political commitment – to support such a thing in the future.
So there will be a Haiti resolution. There will be – so there is a working group. I am the vice chair of the working group on Haiti. I also – I lead the cluster within the working group on democracy and elections. And so we’ve made a lot of progress there. I think we’re prepared to support that when the opportunity and the conditions allow for us to support electoral observation, to fund such an electoral observation and the preparation for such a thing, when the conditions are there. But there isn’t yet the support, the consensus, for supporting politically a multinational force. But there will be a resolution, by the way, on Haiti.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry, just a follow-up question, Francisco. So and the resolution on Haiti, what would it entail apart from the electoral support from an OAS mission? Would there be any kind of military aid, military support, support to the police forces? What kind of other support could it be? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR MORA: That kind of – there is a program that’s been going on for a while, an OAS program with municipal policing. It’s a relatively small program that we do in Haiti. But beyond that, there is no political support to do a more tangible thing.
Now, member-states on their own – the United States, for example, supports the Haitian National Police. Canada is supporting the Haitian National Police. Others are doing as well in different ways, but those are bilateral efforts. But as an organization, as a collective within the Permanent Council, no, there is no – no support at the moment to even, as an organization, support the Haitian National Police beyond what I just mentioned, the program that I just mentioned.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador. Thank you, Francisco and Jed.
MODERATOR: Yeah, thank you for the question, Alejandra. Juan, I see you have your hand up. I believe Juan is from Radio W in Colombia, but I’ll allow him to ask his question.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Ambassador, which countries in the hemisphere do you think are being threatened in terms of democracy? And if possible, if I can make a second question it would be: Which is the OAS perspective on Colombia’s peace dialogues with ELN guerrillas so far?
AMBASSADOR MORA: In terms of your second question, the OAS has not pronounced itself in support. It’s not against it, but it hasn’t made a statement in favor of that process. One should not read into that anything other than we’ve just not come to it.
Now, the OAS is supporting the peace process in other ways. It has an entity, the – it’s called the MAPP now, the acronym, which is a kind of organization entity within Colombia that is trying to help the Colombian Government establish a presence and manage in sort of interior parts of the country, bring education and a number of other programs to the areas, and the OAS is involved and it has been, by the way, for a number of years. And the OAS will continue supporting that particular program at the OAS. So – but nothing specific on the ELN peace process.
Your first – oh, listen, I think all democracies find themselves facing a number of challenges. And as the Secretary has said on a number of occasions, democracies have to be able to show that they can deliver, right? Deliver expectations. And so there isn’t any one single country that one can allude to where democracy would – I think they’re all facing challenges, including in the United States, right.
So I don’t want to point one country over next to – but I do think it’s a regional problem. It’s not a “yes here, but not there” issue, right. I think it is a regional – and therefore it requires a regional response. And I can’t imagine of a better entity through which to address a regional problem than through the OAS.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for the question, Juan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Yeah, I’m not seeing any other hands up. So if no one has any other questions, I understand, Ambassador Mora, you must be very busy this week with – especially with the General Assembly going on. So if you have any concluding remarks, you’re welcome to, and if not, we can move along.
AMBASSADOR MORA: Oh, just to mention a couple of other items that you’ll see, there’s going to be a statement likely on Ukraine by a group of nations who sponsored a declaration a year ago. You’re going to see that. We expect President Zelenskyy to speak before the General Assembly. I don’t have days for you, unfortunately – I’m sorry – but he will be speaking before the General Assembly. There is a very strong resolution on Nicaragua, which puts the continued focus on the situation in that country and the human rights abuses in that country. So we’re still working on that, but I think it will be a very strong statement, very similar to the one we had, I think, last year.
Again, much going on, a lot of activities, but I just wanted to highlight those two additional items.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I want to thank you, Ambassador Mora, for taking the time today to share your thoughts and insights with us. And I want to thank all the media representatives who joined us this afternoon. This briefing, again, will be – there will be a transcript on our website. And I want to thank everyone, and that concludes today’s briefing.
AMBASSADOR MORA: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much – very much.