Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
June 1, 2011

Thank you Madame President. For my part, I would like to say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was going to represent the United States at the General Assembly this morning. The delay in the start of the session has now made it impossible for her to attend because of a previously scheduled meeting with President Obama. She asked me to express her deep regrets that she could not be here and provide her personal endorsement for reintegrating Honduras into the OAS and the Inter-American community. Let me express my appreciation to Secretary General Insulza for his leadership of this organization. I also want to thank the governments of Colombia and Venezuela for their contributions and efforts to broker the “Agreement for National Reconciliation and the Consolidation of the Democratic System in the Republic of Honduras” signed by President Porfirio Lobo and former President Manuel Zelaya that has made this assembly meeting possible today.

This moment has been a long time coming. We should all be proud of what we have accomplished together–because this is an important milestone for Honduras, for this organization, and for the Americas.

First: Honduras. It has been two years since the nations of the Americas came together to condemn the coup in Honduras and demand a return to democracy.

We worked through the OAS and other institutions to help the people of Honduras restore the constitutional order. They went to the polls and elected President Lobo in a free and fair election that was underway before the removal of President Zelaya. Backed by that mandate, President Lobo formed a government of national reconciliation and a truth commission, fulfilling his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Since then, we have seen a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order.

So now it is time to welcome Honduras back into the OAS and back into the Inter-American community. Honduras still faces significant challenges, including building stronger democratic institutions and protections for human rights. And we expect that reintegration into hemispheric institutions will help put Honduras on firmer footing to continue its progress in confronting these challenges.

Now, this is also an important day for the OAS.

The crisis in Honduras was a test of this organization and its ability to act swiftly and decisively to safeguard our shared democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked. Honduras was suspended. And democracy was eventually restored. We should all be proud that in this case, the system largely worked.

But we cannot afford to be complacent. We must turn our attention to preventing future crises and putting in place even more robust protections for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law throughout the Americas.

A year ago in Lima, Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to work with member states to build a stronger and more effective OAS that both serves the interests of its members and addresses regional challenges and prevents crises before they arise. She outlined three lines of action: First, refocusing the institution on its core mission of advancing strong democratic institutions that foster peace, citizen security, and opportunity for all. Second, reforming the OAS budget and more effectively and equitably sharing responsibility for supporting its operations.

Third: moving ahead with full implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

This third area is particularly important in light of events in Honduras. The United States appreciates the recommendations of the Secretary General’s 2007 and 2010 reports on the Charter. We remain committed to working with other members to develop a collaborative Plan of Action to guide implementation of the Charter, and we hope to see this plan adopted in time for its 10th anniversary in September 2011. In particular, we should consider more precise guidelines that define an unconstitutional alteration of democracy and incorporate the Charter’s “essential elements” of democracy in the OAS peer review process. The creation of a Special Rapporteur for Democracy would bolster these efforts.

These steps will help the OAS live up to its founding ideals and become a more effective champion of democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law across the Hemisphere.

The people of the Americas have worked hard and sacrificed much to move beyond a difficult past and claim a brighter future. Now the work of strengthening democracy must continue. As we welcome Honduras back to the OAS, we should take this opportunity to renew our resolve. Our citizens demand it and they deserve it. The United States is ready to be an active partner in making that goal a reality.

So let me conclude by congratulating Honduras on its return to democracy and to this institution, and once again acknowledging the work of Colombia, Venezuela, and all the other member states that helped make this day possible.

Thank you.