Organization of American States

ADDRESS BY Colin L. Powell, U.S. Secretary of State

Washington, DC
January 24, 2003

(As prepared for delivery)

Secretary General Gaviria. Assistant Secretary General Einaudi. Ministers and Permanent Representatives. Distinguished guests.

I would like to thank Secretary General Gaviria for convening this meeting and, even more, for his tireless efforts to reach a peaceful and democratic way out of the current impasse in Venezuela.

Tragically, however, the situation in Venezuela grows worse by the day. Venezuelans of all stripes see their democracy and their hopes for prosperity growing ever weaker. All of us in the region and, indeed, in the international community, recognize that Venezuela’s woes are our concern, too, lest they set back the march toward economic and political stability elsewhere in the hemisphere.

Colleagues, the situation is grave. We must help our Venezuelan friends find a way out of their current crisis.

We are here today to do just that.

We are here to underscore our strong support for the people of Venezuela and for the democracy they have cherished for over four decades.

Specifically, we are here to help the Venezuelan people find a democratic solution to their immediate problems.

The United States believes that the only way out of the crisis in Venezuela is through a peaceful, constitutional, democratic, and electoral process, one that the government and the opposition have both agreed to.

We also strongly believe that the dialogue led by Secretary General Gaviria remains the best opportunity for Venezuelans to achieve such a result.

We are not alone in our conviction. The entire membership of this body endorsed these principles when it passed Resolution 833, by consensus, last December.

It is by supporting these principles, and the Secretary General’s determined efforts to secure an agreement based upon them, that we believe the Group of Friends can help. Indeed, I suggest we call the group the “Friends of the OAS Secretary General” to emphasize our commitment to helping the Secretary General in his mission to bring the two sides to a peaceful resolution of their differences.

I would like to thank President Lula of Brazil for his leadership in the creation of the Friends Group. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Group from Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Portugal.

The Friends of the OAS Secretary General initiative is firmly embedded within the OAS. The Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes the central importance of democracy in our countries and gives the OAS a special role in its protection and promotion in our region.

Time is of the essence. To facilitate the process for reaching an accord, Secretary General Gaviria has detailed the points of agreement between the opposition and government.

Now, the Friends must act quickly to reaffirm the group’s mandate to support the Secretary General and work for a “peaceful, constitutional, democratic, and electoral” solution to the current crisis in Venezuela.

We have two good proposals to work with, both tabled by former President Carter. Each offers an electoral way out of the present stalemate.

Under one proposal, the government and opposition would agree to a recall referendum, consistent with the constitutional provision for such a referendum, to be held this August.

Under the alternative proposal, the two sides would agree to a constitutional amendment to enable early general elections this summer.

The Carter proposals represent the best path available to Venezuelans. They provide the badly needed basis on which both sides can bridge their differences on the immediate issues. They offer a way out of the current impasse, and it is our job, as the Friends of the Secretary General Group, to urge both sides to agree to one of them.

Once the two sides have agreed to a political process, the Friends should establish a mechanism to monitor and ensure full implementation of the agreement.

The situation in Venezuela requires urgent action, and the Friends should send high-level representatives to Caracas as soon as possible, even as early as next week. This Friends delegation should act, under the guidance of Secretary General Gaviria, to press both sides to accept one of the proposals currently on the table.

Finally, we believe the Friends’ OAS missions here in Washington and embassies in Venezuela should form working groups to enhance the Group’s coordination and communication as our efforts move forward.

My friends, the Venezuelan people need to direct their political aspirations into constructive and democratic channels. President Chavez and the leaders of the opposition must understand that the current situation is untenable. An electoral process will allow the Venezuelan people to resolve their problems in an orderly, fair, and transparent manner. Without an electoral process, nobody wins; everyone loses.

It is important to end the current stalemate, but that step alone will not solve Venezuela’s problems. Today’s impasse arose from, and reflects, the deep divisions that remain in Venezuela. Even after the electoral process is underway, Venezuela’s deeper problems will remain. Until those problems are addressed, Venezuelans will not be able to move confidently into a brighter future.

At the end of the day, it is the Venezuelans themselves who must find the solutions to their problems. It is my profound hope, and my confident belief, that the Secretary General’s continued work, the Friends Group’s sustained efforts, and President Carter’s valuable contributions, will help them do so.