Statement by María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, the Caribbean candidate for Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) – Hearing before the OAS Permanent Council [Wednesday, February 12, 2020]
Chairman of the permanent council, ambassadors and alternate representatives, distinguished permanent observers. It is a great pleasure to be here in this Hall of the Americas in which, for decades, the member states of this celebrated Organization have deliberated and decided on matters of importance to all our peoples. We have gathered here for a necessary and welcome exercise in transparency and democracy.
I am before you as a Latin American and Caribbean woman whose commitment to multilateralism and whose work for peace, development, and dignity for all people is a matter of record. We are a community of one billion people with such vast and varied resources, that we could rival any other region in not only transforming the lives of our people but settling an example for peace, security and human development in the world.
This Organization of American States (OAS) is the anvil at which cooperation and collaboration have been hammered out in the past, and which can continue to be the crucible in which we blend our national concerns into a common hemispheric objective. We are rich in diversity; we can also be wealthy in unity.
We have a decision to make; either we commit to moving forward to a new, powerful stage in the history of the Organization, or we simply maintain the status quo, continuing along the same path, content with frustration and a lack of meaningful response to the great challenges we face.
The OAS is irreplaceable. However, institutions must change with the times, they must grow and evolve. We now must face the challenge of renewing, revitalizing and rejuvenating the OAS.
To achieve this, I propose to carry out my functions based on the following seven guidelines:
First, strengthening the leadership role of the OAS in the hemispheric context, with renewed legitimacy and credibility, around its four pillars of work.
Second, building a greater sense of hemispheric community in which we recover the principles of cooperation and solidarity contained in the Charter.
Thirdly, enhancing the Organization’s capacity for dialogue with other regional integration mechanisms and international bodies. Our Organization cannot continue to be absent from major global and regional debates.
Fourth, ensuring that the collective and individual rights of all people are respected and guaranteed, and to listen especially to the voice of groups whose rights are most at risk.
Fifth, enlarging the spaces for participation of civil society in the hemisphere and bringing the Organization closer to the peoples of the Americas.
Sixth, ensuring respect for the sovereignty of States and basing decisions and management of the Organization on strict adherence to procedures, the principle of legality and international law.
And ﬁnally, upholding respect for the sovereign equality of States, which establishes equal rights and responsibilities for each of the members of the Organization.
Based on these guidelines, I propose to organize my management around three areas of work: renewal and revitalization; a relaunch of the programmatic agenda; and a code of ethics for the role of the secretary-general.
Regarding the renewal and revitalization of the OAS, to make it a modern, eﬃcient, and accountable organization, I will implement the following priority actions:
- Guide the work of the Secretariat in accordance with its strategic plan, its mandate, and in keeping with inter-American and international law;
- Conduct a review of mandates and propose their prioritization for the new management cycle of a reinvigorated general secretariat;
- Promote greater coordination among the organs of the Organization, ensuring synergies and complementarity;
- Assess with States any emerging issues of a sensitive nature, before implementing actions on behalf of the This does not mean immobility or inertia, but responsibility and respect for the multilateral nature of the OAS;
- Strengthen the legal advisory mechanism to inform action in accordance with inter-American and international law;
- Reinforce external relations, especially coordination with the Permanent Observers, as strategic partners in the achievement of institutional objectives and programs;
- Transform the Organization’s communication machinery, eliminating personal positions and reﬂecting the positions of member states taken by resolutions and declarations;
- Modernize the organization’s management system, ensuring eﬃciency and impact indicators for better administration, monitoring, evaluation, and transparency;
- Evaluate the administrative and ﬁnancial systems and increase transparency in the use of resources under the authority of the secretary-general, reporting, for example, on travel and the hiring of consultants;
- Strengthen the Oﬃce of the Inspector General to ensure its independence and management capacity;
- Implement a human resources policy with the highest international standards, to ensure transparent, impartial and merit-based recruitment processes;
- Pay special attention to policies on gender equality and geographical representation among the Organization’s staﬀ;
- Establish a policy of zero tolerance for sexual and labor harassment and all forms of employment discrimination, and strengthening the capacity of the oﬃce of the Ombudsperson;
- While the new methodology of quotas is being considered for implementation in 2023, I will put before the member states a plan for ﬁnancial sustainability, based on a full analysis of the economic situation of the Organization and the capacity of States.
I will use my experience as a planner and manager in institutional transformation. This includes updating foreign policy; modernizing armed forces; managing cultural and environmental policies; and supporting the process of reform and revitalization of the United Nations.
The second area of my management will be aimed at relaunching and refreshing the programmatic agenda.
The four pillars are democracy and governance, multidimensional security, integral development, and human rights – are equally important, interdependent and necessary to advance the purposes of the Charter.
I propose the following speciﬁc actions:
The electoral observation missions have been a hallmark of the OAS. It is imperative that these Missions maintain a technical, impartial and independent character. We must also plan prudently, transparently and in advance for their ﬁnancial requirements and to organize them in a timely manner and optimize costs.
With regard to the special missions maintained by the Organization, their actions should be strictly framed within the terms established with the requesting country. Further, to maintain their credibility and eﬀectiveness, the highest standards of administration must be applied, including accountability and transparency.
Finally, several countries on the continent are facing conﬂict situations and social protests. The OAS and its specialized organs must operate in strict compliance with international law and inter-American instruments. It is important that human rights bodies act in a timely, impartial and eﬀective manner when situations that violate human rights exist. While decisions in crisis situations are made by the permanent council and the general assembly, the secretary-general should provide early warnings and quality, technical and legal information to ensure informed decisions and avoid unnecessary confrontation among member states.
Agreements and shared visions exist among member states under the multidimensional security pillar more than any other.
That is why I will strengthen its successful programmes, especially good practices such as the multilateral evaluation mechanism to address the problem of drugs and related crimes; eﬀorts to prevent intentional homicide; to eradicate human traﬃcking and smuggling; and to combat illegal mining, among others.
In particular, I will promote an initiative for the hemispheric coordination of the Armed Forces and civilian experts for emergency disaster situations. As Minister of Defence, I had the privilege of coordinating actions of the Armed Forces of Ecuador in response to natural disasters and reconstruction in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Haiti. I know that this is a noble and necessary task, especially for the countries most vulnerable to disasters and the devastating eﬀects of climate change. This is an opportunity to lean into our strengths for the betterment and protection of all peoples in our region.
I understand that the pillar of integral development has a strong institutional and programmatic fabric.
Despite this, I believe that this pillar requires a new pact for relaunching it among the States, identifying the added value and comparative advantages of the Organization, in order to oﬀer tangible results for the development of our nations.
I am aware that there is no unanimous position on the role that we should play in this area. The OAS is not a development agency. But it can be an enabling platform for promoting a better understanding of vulnerabilities and for strengthening capacities in the framework of sustainable development objectives.
I also believe it is essential to promote the following actions:
- Promote a hemispheric alliance to advance the fulﬁllment of the Sustainable Development.
- Evaluate our national policies and eﬀorts to address the climate I will encourage a platform for the exchange of good practices and technologies for mitigation and adaptation, access to mechanisms and sources of ﬁnancing and transfer of low-carbon technologies, and building resilience to disasters.
- There is no organization in any other region of the world, with the institutional capacity and suitability to address migration and refugee issues that matches the Addressing these issues within the Organization would be beneﬁcial to all member states.
- The countries of the Caribbean have great potential for development and are a hemispheric example of regional economic integration.
Their particular challenges demand special attention from the OAS, and I therefore propose the following actions:
- A trans-Caribbean blue economy initiative, which will make it possible to identify the enormous potential for the sustainable use of ocean resources;
- A funding and transfer initiative for low-carbon technologies;
- I will put into full operation the contingency fund for natural disasters;
- I will use the convening capacity of the OAS in coordination with CARICOM to facilitate dialogue and agreements on ﬁnancial services and other macroeconomic challenges;
- I will encourage the strengthening of interconnectivity eﬀorts, both logistical and in information and communications;
- I will promote a student and cultural exchange initiative for the development of bilingualism among the American and Caribbean peoples. Breaking down language barriers will guarantee real and lasting integration;
- I will strengthen the scholarship system, training and capacity building programs, according to the priorities of the Caribbean States.
Without a doubt, one of the greatest legacies and contributions of the OAS has been the Inter-American human rights system.
Despite signiﬁcant progress, we can still do much more and better.
- I will support all actions that strengthen the functions of human rights bodies;
- I will promote concrete actions around groups whose rights are most at This includes enhancing the implementation of the Plan of Action of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Plan of Action for the Decade of the Americas for People of African Descent;
- I will also give special attention to the implementation of the Declaration of the Americas on the Dignity and Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The equality, rights, and empowerment of women will be a guiding thread in the management and actions of the organization.
My proposal will be to guarantee the implementation, results and impact of all the political tools and instruments generated in these last 25 years of commemoration of the Belem Do Para Convention and the Beijing action plan. This will be the ﬁve-year period for women in the OAS.
If your decision is to support me, this Organization will have for the ﬁrst time in 71 years a woman in its highest executive oﬃce. This will be a manifestation to the women who represent half the population of the hemisphere of their equality and their merit.
- I will promote an Initiative on Equality and Empowerment of Women, with emphasis on the exchange of good practices for the eradication of violence;
- I will create an Observatory on Women’s Political Participation and the formation of networks of young leaders;
- And I will work on economic empowerment initiatives, activating an Inter-American chapter of the International Coalition on Equal Pay.
The third measure that I propose corresponds to the implementation of a Code of Ethics for my performance as the new secretary-general.
In the content of the Charter, the section that has received my greatest attention has been the clear mandate regarding the functions that I will have to perform at the head of the general secretariat.
Article 118 states that “In the performance of their duties, the secretary-general and the staﬀ of the Secretariat shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any authority external to the Organization.
Within this framework, I am committed to signing a Code of Ethics that reﬂects that principle and establishes among other ethical standards, the following:
- I will strictly comply with Article 118 of the Charter;
- I will not promote personal ideologies or the interests of non- governmental, social or partisan groups;
- I will carry out my functions in a constructive manner to reach agreements based on respectful dialogue and the spirit of Unity in Diversity;
- I will at all times observe the highest standards of ethical conduct;
- I will not use the resources or assets of the Organization for personal gain or personal interest;
- I shall not seek re-election after the end of my ﬁve-year term.
The proposals that I have presented can only be put into practice if there is the decision and the political will of the States to begin a new moment in the history of the Organization, one that responds to the great challenges facing our hemisphere. This vision requires strong leadership, collective action, and shared responsibilities, which will enable us to write together a new chapter in the history of hemispheric integration.
I am ready and willing to join in making that vision a reality.