Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release April 18, 2002


Remarks of the Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell
to the
Special Session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States

April 18, 2002
7:15 p.m.

We, the Inter-American Community, convene here today in Special Session to underscore our strong support for the people of Venezuela and for their 44-year democracy.

We condemn the blows to constitutional order that Venezuela has suffered.  We look to the legal authorities of Venezuela to hold accountable all who violated the law both before and during the recent crisis.  And we call upon President Chavez to follow with deeds his new pledges of national reconciliation and respect for democratic principles.

The crisis in Venezuelan democracy that brings us to this Special Session did not begin last week.  It built and deepened over many months.  Venezuelan democracy has been crippled for too long by polarizing rhetoric and action.  For many months, we, and others, have expressed our deep concern about this. 

The events of April 11 are a call to all present to reaffirm our collective commitment to democracy and constitutional order.

There is no justification for any government to prevent its citizens from exercising their fundamental rights.

That said, it is incumbent upon all elements of society to seek resolution of grievances through democratic means.

This is the era in our hemisphere of democracies, not dictatorships, of constitutions, not coup d'etats.  Coups are a thing of the past, not a pathway to the future.  

In a democracy, no one can be above, or outside of, the rule of law. Democracies do not remain democracies for long if elected leaders use undemocratic methods.  And defending democracy by resorting to undemocratic means destroys democracy.

If the people of Venezuela are to succeed in building better lives for themselves and better futures for their children, their political leaders now must come together to resolve problems constructively and constitutionally.

My country welcomes the voices in Venezuela calling for a national dialogue.  We also agree with Venezuelans who say this is a time for reconciliation, not retaliation.  For calm, not hate.  A time to respect differences and reflect on mistakes.

We now look to President Chavez to lead his country out of this crisis by acting on those words.  And we urge all democratic forces in Venezuela from political life, civil society, the business community, and labor, to participate in that national discussion.

But it is not only the people of Venezuela who must reflect on and learn from what happened there.   Our Inter-American Community must do so as well. All of us must examine how we could have used the mechanisms of the Democratic Charter before April 11 to better support Venezuelan democracy.

We must do this not just for Venezuela's sake, but for all our sakes, because the consolidation of democracy in our hemisphere is profoundly important to all of us -- to our freedom, to our prosperity, and to our security. 

Venezuelans themselves must resolve their problems, but they need our support.  With our support, they must address the underlying causes of the current crisis. With our help, they must strengthen their democratic institutions so that the depredations that their democracy has suffered are not repeated in Venezuela or anywhere else in our hemisphere. 

In this effort, our Inter-American Democratic Charter and the democratic principles it enshrines must be our guide.

We must take a balanced approach as we work together with Venezuela's government and society to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Together, we must also promote a pluralistic system of political parties and organizations in Venezuela. 

With our support, Venezuelans must ensure that all of their state institutions are subordinate to legally constituted civilian authority. 

In keeping with the letter and spirit of the Democratic Charter, I propose that this Assembly mandate our Secretary General to facilitate the national dialogue within Venezuela.  And I hope that the people and government of Venezuela will accept the Secretary General's offer of his good offices.

Let us act today to put our Democratic Charter to work for the people of Venezuela.