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Embassy, September 28th, 2005
By Vladimir Torres
OAS's Shrewd, New Chief Pays a Visit to Canada
Hemispheric organization has its hands full of problems, but Canada is not one of them.
Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza was in Ottawa for a one-day visit last week, at the invitation of Foreign Affairs Canada. At the end of his tight schedule and before returning to Washington, he spoke with Embassy about the main issues and challenges within the OAS and in the hemisphere.

Speaking with the calm aplomb of a shrewd politician, whose many years in the Chilean government earned him the reputation of a great negotiator, Mr. Insulza praised Canada ÂÂ*the second largest contributor to the OAS budgetÂÂ* for its commitment to the Organization.

"Canada has a very consistent policy in terms of the main goals of the Organization," he says, which includes democracy and stability in the Americas, balanced development, and peace and security. "Canada actually puts actions where the goals are, that's why they have been so supportive with the OAS. When you say we have to stay for a long time in Haiti, Canada goes there, stays there and works in Haiti. There is nothing more far from my mind than believing we have any pending problem with Canada today."

But, this is clearly not the situation with all member countries, as Mr. Insulza quickly added that the OAS has "problems with other members of the Organization in terms of their contributions," diplomatically declining to specify which members were in default.

One of the main challenges facing Mr. Insulza's tenure at the helm of the hemispheric forum is proceeding with the Organization's reform; ensuring its relevance and efficiency in achieving the shared goals of the Americas, while overcoming its precarious financial situation.

Mr. Insulza describes his idea of reform as a change within the priorities in the three basic pillars of the OAS: democracy and human rights; peace and security; and development.

"The main challenges to stability in the region today are not ideological," he points out. "They are not about the 'comrade Perez' or the 'colonel Gonzalez' trying to overthrow a government. They are the challenges of the common people who want to receive the benefits of democracy," listing problems of governance and public sector deliveries to the people, as well as security and the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism and common crime. "This is, again, an institutional problem. We don't have good structures in the countries, good police forces ÂÂ* we have to work on that, [but] if you ask me how, I still don't know," he says.

Mr. Insulza notes that his comment was not triggered by the most recent events in the U.S., that ours is a natural-disaster-prone region and that we need mechanisms of prevention, concluding that we don't have that kind of security either.

"In matters of development, we are less innovative," he says, noting that governance is also a problem with international organisations. "They tend to repeat themselves and to compete among themselves. The heads of states in the 2000 meeting at the United Nations invented the millennium goals, so let us stick to the millennium goals, that's our program, the goals are there."

One recurrent debate in the OAS stems from the Inter-American Democratic Charter and how to devise and implement mechanisms of accountability. After the U.S. proposal for monitoring democracies was rejected in the last General Assembly in June 2005, the matter remains pending.

Mr. Insulza acknowledges that "The big issue continues to be what to do when a government that is elected democratically -- and enjoys a majority -- affects some of the other values of democracy, we don't have an answer for that, I must admit it. That is a problem that has been raised many times." Teasing the two Embassy journalists who met with him in a suite at a downtown hotel, he hypothesized about a democratically elected government that suspended the right of newspapers to publish. What then?

Ever since the Democratic Charter was drafted in Quebec, Venezuela has objected to the definition of representative democracy, and to this day continues to insist in the inclusion of the term participatory democracy.

Mr. Insulza's emphatically replied that "The Organization doesn't need to tell a definition of democracy, the adjectives, or the last name, there is a definition of democracy in the Democratic Charter, and it is not a taxonomy it defines democracy by listing a lot of things that have to be present. That is what I abide by. I like defining things by enumeration."

The Secretary General was equally emphatic when discussing the roles of the State and the private sector in economic development.

"The role of the state as an entrepreneur is out of date," he said. "I do feel that the state should be stronger and bigger to take care of the social problems of the people. My opinion that private business and enterprise has to do most of the work in creating wealth has nothing to do with an idea on the size of the state," he says.

With the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Argentina only a few weeks away, Mr. Insulza gave his perspective on the summit's process, noting that the OAS should take responsibility to organize the summit which he's like to see take place every three years in order to set policy guidelines.

"The OAS is very much involved in the Summit, but the Summit is not the first level of the OAS, the Summit is the first level of the Inter-American system," explained Mr. Insulza. "This Summit has a good theme: poverty, job creation and governance, but it is yet to strike a note by which it will be remembered. The theme of the Santiago de Chile Summit was education as a tool for development, but the summit is remembered because the negotiations for the FTAA were launched there," he said, adding that the Democratic Charter of the Americas was launched at the summit in Quebec. Mr. Insulza says that Argentina will organize a good summit.

The all but stalled initiative of the Free Trade Area of the Americas is also a pending matter on the hemispheric agenda. Mr. Insulza cautiously said despite the FTAA's progress, "there have been several trade agreements in the hemisphere and many more to come, but the whole idea of the FTAA is basically stalled," he said. "In the South, the notion of an FTAA has withdrawn more than [it has] grown, and probably what we should do is have a very frank process of dialogue to see where we stand. The schedule has ended, time ran out, June 30 was the end, but I know there have been conversations to revive it and that should be done at the highest level, to see what we want to do. I don't think that we will get too far with the FTAA without some kind of political verification."

Arguably one of the most contentious issues in the Organization's history has been Cuba, expelled from the OAS in 1962 and currently the only state in the hemisphere that is not a member. Mr. Insulza once again showcased his pragmatic approach:

"The problem of Cuba in the OAS is that is a divisive issue and you know what the result is going to be," he says. "We could discuss Cuba even though we know that we will arrive to no result. I have said that if we know it is divisive why bring it to the Organisation? Let us just leave it the way it is until we are ready and prepared to raise it again. We should engage with Cuba in some way, but I will not be ready to pay the price of dividing the OAS on Cuba."

Finally, when the Canadian public -- and media -- apparent indifference towards the Americas, the Secretary General, with the confidence of someone that has seen it all before, said: "That changes with time. Canada is the youngest member of the OAS. Canada is a recent member of the Inter-American community and some time has to pass to get more involved, and in general, international organisations are not a feature of daily life, except probably in countries like Iraq or Haiti."

Within the OAS, Canada carries the clout of being one of the main contributors to the budget, without imposing an agenda or behaving as our hegemonic neighbour to the south. Canada has the political capital to broker discussions, promote agreements and manufacture consensus surrounding contentious issues. The multilateral forum should be a cornerstone for the leadership role Canada could play in the hemisphere. The Americas, the OAS -- and the Secretary General -- would certainly appreciate it.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Jim Creskey.