CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

A Conversation with the OAS Secretary General

January 7th, 2010

On January 7th, José Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), held a conversation with students, faculty and other guests about the state of inter-American relations and their prospects for the future. The event was sponsored by CIPR and the Tulane department of Economics.

Mr. Insulza stroke a relatively optimistic tone about the state of the inter-American system affirming that it had managed to solidify itself institutionally while increasing its relevance in hemispheric affairs. With regard to the former, he indicated that, unlike when he took over as Secretary General almost five years ago, most member countries were now current in their financial contributions to the OAS. About the latter, he indicated that there had not been a single critical incident in the region in which the OAS had not played a substantial role. Aside from its generally recognized “three pillars” of promoting democratic principles, fostering economic development, and protecting regional security, Secretary Insulza stated that the organization had also become a crucial repository of Pan-American Law without which international relations within the region would not be possible.

As for the challenges facing the region Secretary Insulza remarked that its most serious was one of a “creeping political division” within most countries as a result of the limited progress made in countering poverty and inequality. While Latin America is now a “democratic continent” (with the exception of Cuba), a distinction shared only with Europe, much work remains in spreading a “culture of democratic inclusion” that might safeguard institutions against authoritarian encroachments. It is this type of institutional corrosion that most threatens the health of democracy in the region today. A culture of democratic inclusion must be sophisticated enough to accommodate different conceptions of democracy that allow for new forms of participation and citizenship.

With regard to the lessons derived from the recent crisis in Honduras, the Secretary General emphasized that the universal repudiation of the coup, with absolutely no government recognizing the de facto regime, aside from being a historical first, demonstrated the prevalence of democratic values in the international community today. For Latin America this condemnation was especially critical as it relayed a clear message that the use of coups as “corrective political mechanisms” is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, the Honduran coup also demonstrated that democracy in the region is not as stable as it was thought to be. For the OAS it also highlighted the challenges and limitations of multilateral action as well as the difficulty of balancing the values of national self-determination and democracy. Secretary Insulza suggested that the resolution of the crisis would be contingent on the international recognition of the newly elected government, which would in turn depend on the extent to which it managed to separate itself from the de facto regime, grant amnesty to president Zelaya, and achieve national reconciliation.