by the honourable Denis Paradis
Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa
to the XXIX Special Session of the General Assembly
of the Organization of American States 

Washington, d.c.
april 18, 2002

Let me begin by thanking the secretary general for his report on the mission to venezuela which he led earlier this week under the mandate of oas permanent council resolution 811.  The report presents a disturbing picture of the situation in venezuela and offers guidance to our deliberations here today.

Canada stood in solidarity with oas member states in invoking article 20 of the inter-american democratic charter and adopting resolution 811 which condemned the attempted coup - or to use charter language reflected in the resolution, condemned  “ the alteration of the constitutional order in venezuela”.

I must stress that this first invocation of the recently adopted democratic charter strikes a special chord for canada and canadians.  Indeed, it was in quebec city, at the summit of the americas, only one year ago, that all our countries united in an historic effort further to protect democracy in our hemisphere.  In the declaration of the quebec summit, our leaders included a democracy clause and, as an additional measure, mandated the oas to prepare an inter-american democratic charter – a mechanism unprecedented in the world.  In so doing, we took a major step forward in the history of the americas.

It was indeed a remarkable reflection of our common commitment toward democracy that led to the expeditious preparation and adoption of the charter less than five months later, on september 11, in lima, peru.  As we know, however, the adoption of the charter was overshadowed by the tragic events that took place on the same day here in washington and in new york and pennsylvania.

Just seven months after its adoption and barely a year after quebec city, it took another regrettable event in our hemisphere to bring the charter to the foreground.  With the attempted coup in venezuela we witnessed armed forces playing a role that is utterly inappropriate and unacceptable in any democratic order.  In the words of canada’s permanent representative early on april 13 to the oas permanent council,  we also witnessed “interim authorities that had no democratic legitimacy either in the way they assumed power or in the actions they had taken since assuming power - namely the dismissal of democratic institutions”.

The charter was invoked and follow-up action was initiated through resolution 811.  I believe we are justified in saying that the pressure brought to bear by the hemisphere through its  invocation of the charter was among the factors that influenced developments in venezuela and led to the end of the attempted coup.  In resolution 811, the charter survived its first test.

Incidentally, the attempted coup led canada, as chair of the summit of the americas process, to give serious consideration to invoking the democracy clause, which stipulates that “any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state's government in the summit of the americas process.”  With the return of constitutional order in venezuela, it is no longer necessary to invoke the democracy clause or its corollary, article 19 of the democratic charter.

I would like us to shift our focus at this point from the decisions which we have taken over the past few days to those which we are about to take here today.  We should recall that the spirit which imbued the quebec city summit and  both the development of the democratic charter and its adoption in lima, was one of strengthening and safeguarding democracy.  It is therefore particularly disappointing that the first invocation of this mechanism was punitive in nature, responding to an outright assault on democratic processes and institutions in a member state. 


I would draw our attention to the fact that much of the democratic charter was built around a range of measures that are fundamentally preventative and remedial in nature rather than punitive.  It is canada`s deepest hope that in future we will no longer see situations arise that require invoking the charter for punitive purposes.  Instead, we would hope to see its invocation in order to invite oas assistance and expertise with preventative and remedial measures that would further strengthen democracy.

It is at this preventative and remedial stage that we find ourselves  today.  The events of the last few days have underscored the fragility of democracy in venezuela and the underlying threat of violence.  For this reason, canada encourages venezuela to take advantage of the assistance available through the oas, including the institutional and technical support which can be provided by the unit for the promotion of democracy.   In this regard, we are pleased to note the planned in-situ visit of the inter-american commission on human rights to venezuela, at the invitation of the government of venezuela, and trust it will be undertaken with dispatch.

Canada is determined to accompany venezuela, through the oas and the mechanisms at its disposal, as set out in the inter-american democratic charter, in taking the measures needed to strengthen further its approach and its democratic institutions.

In accordance with the democratic principles contained in the democratic charter, and with the due process of the venezuelan constitution, we hope to see rapid and sustained progress in a number of key areas, including the following:

·                      respect for basic freedoms, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

·                      respect for the autonomy of institutions and strengthening of the latter to ensure the separation of powers. 

·                      establishment within venezuelan society of a climate conducive to consensus decision-making.

We are pleased to note that the congress and the supreme court are functioning once again.  Canada takes note of the appeal for reconciliation by president chavez, his firm commitment to the due process of law, and his promise to hold consultations on national issues involving all sectors in society.

It is only through the profound commitment of president chavez and his government to rapid and sustainable progress in these areas that a viable and stable democracy can be actively promoted in venezuela.  However, the shared commitment of all oas member states to seeing a viable and stable democracy thrive in venezuela will be equally important in ensuring that it is achieved.

It is in this spirit of shared commitment that canada proposes we move quickly to the adoption of a resolution that reflects that commitment and will provide concrete support to democracy in venezuela.