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OAS Ends Conference With Security Agreement - 2003-10-29

The Organization of American States has agreed on an overall security declaration to coordinate 34 countries in combating terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime.

The so-called action plan involves hemispheric cooperation in tackling an array of threats, ranging from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of fanatical terrorists to the alienating effects of widespread poverty, which affects more than 200 million people throughout this region.

OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria says this new level of consensus is vital to maintain and extend the rule of law and order.

"This was a very divisive issue in the past," he said. "It is not any more. I think we share values and mechanisms, tools and conventions, to face the new threats we have in security, narco-trafficking, terrorism, corruption, and illegal trafficking of arms. And I think that the effort that has been made has taken us to an agreement that we think is important in the Inter-American system."

Canadian Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Harder says that one crucially important practical aspect of this, will involve the merging of separate manpower resources.

"As we make institutional adjustments within the organizations of the hemisphere, the way in which the military organizations interact with civilian leadership, will be an important next step in the evolving architecture of the hemisphere," said Mr. Harder.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza highlighted the necessity of greater economic equality, explaining that in the absence of democracy and prosperity, there is no stable basis for building peace and security.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton agrees. He says the OAS now clearly recognizes just what a deep seated and explosive issue poverty really is.

"Poverty is a main detonator of violence in this world," said Mr. Chaderton. "Of course certain cases have to do with ethnic problems, religious matters, fundamentalists, and things like that. But underneath you find that poverty is the big issue, and finally I think that we are realizing this is the issue we should attack first of all." An extra declaration offers support to the beleaguered administration of President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, applauding his unremitting efforts to halt drug trafficking and the civil war, but advising that this must be done within the guideline framework of law, and the exercise of human rights.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman says that the OAS has effectively helped with a mediation process in Venezuela's political crisis, and this new concentration of its security priorities means it could play a vital role in helping uniquely challenged Colombia.

"As the declaration says, it might be that OAS would have something to contribute to disarmament, or reconciliation, or the integration of fighters into Colombian society," he said. "So one of the good things about the Declaration is that it calls on the international community to look down at the things that need to be done, decide what they can offer as value added, and then do it."

The security declaration also calls for the OAS to re-examine and reform its military defense policies and treaties to better respond to, what they called, multi-dimensional threats. Many members see the organization's current plans to be relics of the cold war.