The following concludes a three-part series following an exclusive interview with the Caribbean candidate for secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Maria Fernanda Espinosa, during her visit to Saint Lucia, January 24.
‘There is so much greatness in smallness’ ~ Maria Fernanda Espinosa
Caribbean leaders priority
Janeka Simon: You mention that you are hearing from Caribbean leaders; what are the main topics or priorities you’re getting from them?
Maria Espinosa: First of all, the need to re-boost the development pillar of the OAS, which has been sleeping for a while to connect the development pillar to the other three pillars, to the pillar of security, the human rights and the democracy pillar, because they all come together.
The issue of a greater and clear technical cooperation, issues that are of concern of the Caribbean, such as provide the OAS as a platform for dialogue on issues of common concern, for example, financial services, to have a dialogue with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – why is it that the Caribbean countries there are measured by the GDP and they’re all middle-income countries when they’re so vulnerable to climate change.
In 48 hours, you can have infrastructure dismantled completely. Hence, what is the special treatment for these countries? For example, when you deal with a multilateral bank, the loan conditions, the debt management, all these macroeconomic challenges that are common to the Caribbean countries and the OAS can be a platform for dialogue.
There are other places and spaces, however, to provide this unified voice where Canada and the US are also present, this traction is extremely important but underused, underutilized in the opinion of Caribbean leaders. We discuss a lot about the climate change agenda, the climate finance agenda. The financing for development agenda and issue of technical assistance.
There are several countries that are facing domestic security challenges that the OAS can address together on a preventive agenda. These issues are now part of my program of work because of what I heard in the region.
The blue economy, tourism, investment are critical issues for the future of CARICOM countries the OAS can provide technical assistance and a dialogue platform to make smart use of all the resources. The support is out there within the hemisphere, and also outside with extra-regional partners.
Janeka Simon: The Caribbean is in the middle of the big consumption of North America and the production of South and Latin America. What assistance can the OAS provide to ameliorate security and social issues that stem from narco-trafficking?
Maria Espinosa: The OAS is a natural organization to deal with something that goes beyond national borders. The typical multilateral challenges of international organised crime, connected to drug trafficking, to weapon trafficking, to human trafficking. It is a very complex, interconnected security challenge.
Basically, there are good practices, prevention mechanisms, cooperation, judicial cooperation and information among countries including police training and prevention mechanism at the domestic level, and at the sub-regional level. There are so many things that can be done. Unfortunately, we have not been very successful at cooperating, among ourselves.
The OAS is the venue and the space to establish protocols, cooperation mechanisms at training exchanges of good practices, but more importantly, intelligence information.
As mention, I was minister of defense in my own country [Ecuador from November 28, 2012, to September 23, 2014] and I know that you cannot deal with these issues alone. It has to be a cooperation platform, a constant dialogue, and exchange. There has to be a roadmap of plan commitments, financial support for this to happen. There is no easy fix on that.
However, working with the youth as actors and shapers of peaceful societies is extremely important. As president of the general assembly, one of the problems that we tackled and worked in-depth on is the issue of youth peace and security. It takes different shapes in different parts of the world. Countries that are in a civil war is a different matter. But in our part of the word to have young people motivated with a future, with dreams, with opportunity, (without good quality education) is the most powerful deterrent (non-deterrent) policy that you can have. 31:06
There is also a bank of good practices in terms of security. And that’s why one of the pillars of the OAS is multidimensional security in all fronts. But the most important perhaps is the preventive front and the efficiency in dealing with international/transnational organized crime.
Domestic security (St Lucia)
Janeka Simon: In many Caribbean countries and CARICOM Member States organised crime is seemingly an intractable problem because it has enveloped or encompassed some of the very people that are in the positions to be fighting crime. In Saint Lucia, there is a general sense that people at the highest level of our security apparatus – policymaking operatives – are ostensibly involved and benefiting from the proceeds of the illegal drug trade, human trafficking and other aspects of organised crime.
‘As secretary-general’ how do you think it is possible to attack these problems if in the territories themselves you have people at the very top of our governments involved in these kinds of activities?
Maria Espinosa: That’s where I see a typical example where you connect multidimensional security with an issue of democracy and good governance. It is extremely important that we strengthen the rule of law in all our countries in the hemisphere. Independence, strong and transparent, efficient judicial systems to combat corruption.
These are the things that must go hand in hand; the rule of law, good governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions. That is the preventive work that I think the OAS is called to do with Member States – a preventive agenda with development. A preventive identity with strong democratic institutions that are transparent and accountable. This has the enormous benefit to improve security, and the environment of a country. Together, these have cross-cutting elements such as, human dignity and the right to exist, the right to life which is the human rights pillar of the Organization.
Consequently, the four pillars of the OAS are there for a reason. They are critical. That’s why a holistic interconnected approach is much needed.
‘There is so much greatness in smallness’
Janeka Simon: What is your message to Saint Lucia and CARICOM in terms of candidacy for secretary-general?
Maria Espinosa: In a very humble way – I have the experience and the professional background. I have the political understanding to lead an Organization such as the OAS.
I want to put my 25 years of professional and diplomatic experience to the service of all 34 Member States of the OAS. I really believe that the OAS requires fresh rethinking. The OAS needs to recover the legitimacy and the trust of Member States and of the people that they represent in each country and territory.
I commit myself to put all my energy, my experience, my capacity to the service of the OAS. I know I can do it. I have proven that even with difficult challenges, I can do it. I have during all these years learned to respect, admire and understand, the views, the needs and the incredible contributions of Caribbean countries to the international community.
I have a phrase that I repeat not because I am campaigning, but long before, “there is so much greatness in smallness.” So, for the multilateral system, for me, for the OAS – there is no small country.
Dignity, sovereignty, smartness, contribution, talent has nothing to do with square kilometers of demographics.