Documents and Videos of the October 12th, 1999 Meeting of the 


Hall of the Americas, Organization of American States

Summary of the Open Meeting of the OAS Special Committee
on Inter-American Summits Management

Prepared by the Special Committee's Chair, Ambassador Peter Boehm, Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organization of American States

On October 12, 1999, I chaired an Open Meeting of OAS Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management, bringing together OAS delegations, experts from international financial institutions (IFIs), international /regional organizations (PAHO, OAS), and representatives of civil society to discuss progress on 6 of the 27 themes from the Plan of Action of the Santiago Summit of the Americas (Women, Regional and Municipal Administration, Micro-enterprise, Confidence and Security Building Measures among states, Regional Energy Cooperation and Science and Technology; the same six issues which will be covered by the SIRG next month). The next meeting of the Committee, scheduled for February 18, 2000, will cover the four remaining issues to be covered by the SIRG with regards to implementation of Santiago commitments: Human Rights and Democracy, Indigenous Populations, Property Registration and Financial Markets.

Despite the disparity of issues covered during this open meeting, several common elements arose in the discussions: (1) everything is inter-related, hence the need to have all of the actors engaged not only in policy development but also on the ground in implementing projects; (2) cross-cutting themes are manifold and difficult to keep track of; (3) lessons learned are many and experiences in one or two countries need to be more widely shared; model legislation that was successful in one country could be applied readily to another (particularly within regions); (4) action items in some areas are difficult to follow-up and monitor given the way text is drafted (often declaratory as opposed to action oriented); and (5) there is a need for greater refinement of the action items at the next Summit in order to facilitate monitoring of leaders commitments.


Carmen Lomellín, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Women (CIM), outlined the main areas of focus for CIM as follows: Education Reform, Elimination of Violence Against Women, and Participation of Women in Power and Decision-Making Structures. Education was one of the priority mandates of the Santiago Summit, and of the General Assembly in June. The mandates that the CIM intends to fill in this area are directed to promoting educational reform based on the principles of gender equity and nondiscrimination. Objectives include eliminating weaknesses in the formal education of women, achieving access to formal education for women in rural areas and in minority groups, and eliminating sexual stereotypes of women. Increased levels of violence against women has also made the implementation of the Belém do Pará Convention (The Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women) a top priority. Recently Mexico and Antigua & Barbuda ratified this convention, bringing the total number of states party to 29. Finally, to increase the participation of women in power and decision-making structures, the CIM, together with the IDB, has implemented a training program for women. With $4 million, the program financed 40 proposals from member-states among 300 received. The OAS General Assembly has also approved a resolution to urge the Secretary General to give more leadership positions to women within the OAS; the goal is that by 2005, women will occupy 50 percent of the executive positions in the organization.

Joan Caivano, Director of the Women’s Leadership Conference of the Americas, spoke about four topics relating to women: political presence, legal rights, violence against women, and women’s health. Overall, she noted that there has not been a significant advancement of women’s issues in the region. She claimed that Summit of the Americas policy initiatives lack both the political will and resources necessary to implement them, and she challenged leaders to commit to specific initiatives in future summits, rather than issuing broad declarations. In terms of political presence, Ms. Caivano stated that affirmative action policies are being tried by many governments, though there is no consensus on the issue. As well, women’s agencies and congressional committees have also been established in various countries, but their successes have been limited and have varied from country to country. In terms of both legal rights and violence against women, Ms. Caivano noted that the problem is not a lack of legislation, but rather the practical implementation of the laws. In Latin America, 12 countries have adopted new laws on domestic violence, but a lack of resources has led to poor enforcement, and few prosecutions have come from those cases brought to court. Women are almost absent at the Supreme Court judge level, and such high courts have yet to be sensitized to the issue of gender. Women’s health care, meanwhile, remains inadequate. Illegal abortions have risen in many countries due to a lack of education and the poor availability of contraceptives; meanwhile, sterilization remains the most widely used contraceptive in Central America. In addition, cervical cancer remains the leading cause of death among women in the hemisphere. Ms. Caivano recommended that governments should look to successful, existing NGO models for project implementation.

In the discussion that followed these two presentations, the theme centered around the lack of necessary resources and the need for specific proposals at the summits. Dr. Robin Rosenberg, Deputy Director of the North-South Center at the University of Miami, asked about the monitoring of women’s issues, to which both speakers replied that monitoring is very important. However, there is currently a shortage of gender data available--particularly in the private sector--and this is because resources for data collection are very scarce. In response to a question from Canada about the legal framework, Ms. Caivano replied that while it is important to continue to review the current laws, it is necessary to focus on implementing those laws which already exist, which also requires a larger commitment of resources. Canada also asked how women can be promoted in small-and-medium-size enterprises and the answer involved the need to focus on women’s access to credit, as well as gender roles.


Elizabeth Spehar, Executive Coordinator of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), began the discussion describing the role of the UPD and what it has done in this sector. In general, the UPD helps to implement the mandate of the Summit on decentralization, as well as strengthening the participation of civil society. This is done by way of seminars, training workshops, applied research and information sharing, and other programs. Its specific objectives are to contribute to policy debates, to support institution building, to increase the access and participation of the citizenry at the local level, and to cooperate with other institutions in this regard. Ms. Spehar then outlined a number of the programs and training courses that had taken place, including a meeting of experts in Central America in March 1999, and the 2nd Forum for Citizens’ Participation at the Municipal Level, held in Argentina (and including 300 local participants).

Oscar Avalle, Assistant to the Vice-President for Latin America and the Caribbean Region at the World Bank, next outlined some of the work of his organization in the area of decentralization. Specifically, the World Bank has dedicated one of its reports on world development to the theme of the reform of the state, which gives great importance to decentralization and the transferring of services to the municipal and provincial level. In addition, the World Bank has held inter-regional programs to analyze and compare experiences. This has led to the production of a report entitled "Beyond the Centre: The Decentralization of the State", which will be reproduced on the OAS webpage. Finally, the World Bank has also given technical assistance and loans to many projects involving the decentralization process.

Dr. Allan Rosenbaum, Director of the Institute of Public Management at Florida International University, next discussed the slowdown of the process of decentralization in Latin America and the reasons for this slowdown. Up until very recently, Latin America had been the world leader in the decentralization process, but this has now changed. There are numerous reasons for the slowdown: the failure to link local government to economic development; the inability to see the role of national governments in strengthening local governments; the failure to focus on sustainability but instead on short-term projects; the focus of training on elected officials (who may soon be out of office) rather than university students; and finally, the lack of political leadership and support. Christina Rodríguez-Acosta, Assistant Director of the Institute of Public Management at Florida International University, also noted that local governments are often blamed for non-action, when the real problem is that insufficient resources are transferred from the national governments to train the local officials in their new responsibilities. The training of human resources is a key to the whole process of decentralization.

Margaret Sarles, Democracy and Human Rights Officer in the Bureau for Latin America at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), outlined the work that the U.S. government and other donors have underway to fulfill the Santiago Plan of Action, as well as current programs being carried out in Latin America and the Caribbean. Strengthening local governments is the fastest-growing sector of USAID’s democracy portfolio, and now accounts for 20 percent of the budget–over $20 million per year. Programs in this sector are increasingly judged on the basis of increasing civil participation. In addition, USAID has helped establish a permanent International Forum for Cooperation on Local Government in Latin America and the Caribbean, which includes the participation of the UNDP, OAS, World Bank, IDB, the European Community, and at least six bilateral donors. The international community is also increasing its funding to local government and local development, visible after Hurricane Mitch and George when donors agreed that local governments must be full participants in the effort. Finally, USAID has signed agreements totalling more than $4 million with two Latin American institutions (the Federation of Municipalities of the Central American Isthmus and the Latin American Chapter of the International Union of Local Government Authorities) and a US-based institution (the International City/Council Management Association) to help achieve the Summit mandate. Much of the progress that has been made in this sector is also due in large part to the national governments’ own commitments to strengthening sub-national governments.


Alvaro Ramírez, Chief of Operations in the Micro-enterprise Unit of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), first discussed the direct and intermediary financing the IDB is involved in relating to micro-enterprises, and then outlined some of the meetings which have taken place on this topic. The IDB has directly invested $27 billion in the development of small and medium size enterprises, spread over 73 different operations. In terms of intermediary financing, the bank has approved loans of over $10 billion. Some of the meetings held in this sector include the following: the 1st Inter-American Micro-Enterprise Forum held in March 1998, in Mexico City; a Round Table on Policies to Support Small-to-Medium-Sized Businesses in July 1998 in Washington, D.C.; a Conference on Micro-Enterprise Business Development in March 1999, in Rio de Janeiro; and the 2nd Inter-American Micro-Enterprise Forum in June 1999, in Buenos Aires.

Roy Thomasson, from the OAS Unit for Social Development and Education, introduced a program named the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT). It is a multinational project to provide business skills enterprise development training for young people throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. Specifically, the YABT gives priority to (1) creating political and regulatory environments conducive to business growth by highlighting the importance of young entrepreneurs as a public policy priority, (2) increasing the level of training and follow-up resources available to young entrepreneurs, and (3) using new technologies such as the Internet to distribute "how to" information and curricula through international business and technical cooperation networks. Some of the YABT’s activities include business leaders summits, "1,000 for the Millennium", and YBIZ Young Entrepreneur Technology Centers.

Danielle Yariv, Program Officer with the Grameen Foundation USA (GF-USA), then introduced the GF-USA, a relatively new NGO created to promote greater understanding of, and support for, the successful anti-poverty programs of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and related Grameen institutions. In all aspects of its work, the GF-USA aims to focus the attention of donors, commercial banks, and micro-finance practitioners on the importance of targeting resources for the poorest of the poor, especially rural women. Over the next few years GF-USA will work to establish micro-finance programs targeting the poorest people in Latin America and the Caribbean and support the expansion of those that already exist.

María Otero of Acción Internacional next discussed three aspects of dealing with micro-enterprises that her organization has learned through 25 years of experience. The first lesson is that micro-enterprises can contribute significantly to the welfare of both the poorest levels of society and to women. The second lesson is that financial institutions that specialize in lending to micro-enterprises and the poor must be developed. These banks, while granting credit to those previously without access, are able to be both sustainable and profitable. Her third point was about the need to establish regulatory agencies that supervise banks in this area. She concluded by noting that the issue of micro-enterprises is more advanced in Latin America than anywhere else in the world, and thus Latin America is a model for other regions.

Jeremy Smith of the Micro-enterprise department at USAID next outlined the role USAID has played in advancing work on this topic and his organization’s commitment to continuing to support this theme. Since 1990, USAID has funded approximately $250 million toward micro-enterprises, with four specific goals: (1) to maintain the focus on women, (2) to bring micro-finance to a greater number of people, (3) to promote institutional sustainability, and (4) to increase partnerships between organizations. At this point, the Chair offered some concluding thoughts on the theme of micro-enterprises. He pointed out that it is clear that there are cross-cutting themes involved, such as women and gender and (although not mentioned previously) indigenous populations. As with the other themes discussed at the meeting, there again appears to be a desire for the Summit to focus on more concrete recommendations, as well as the desire to more actively involve international organizations.


Ambassador Carlos Portales of Chile gave the first presentation on this topic as the responsible coordinator. The most important advance that has been made has been the signing of peace agreements between Peru and Ecuador. The second most noteworthy event has been the Inter-American Convention on Transparency in the Acquisition of Conventional Weapons. The member-states of the OAS represent the first region in the world to make an obligatory commitment to the exchange of information on conventional weapons. Many subregional political commitments have also been made in the area of arms trafficking and de-mining. Support to eliminate anti-personnel landmines has also led to great advances, with the western hemisphere leading the way in efforts to be declared a landmine-free zone. Numerous programs, seminars and conferences have been established and held throughout the Americas on the landmine issue. Progress has been made to address the security concerns of small island states, develop information sharing programs on defense expenditures, and evaluate mechanisms in place to provide assistance in cases of natural disasters. The Committee on Hemispheric Security will soon be undertaking further work to revitalize institutions of hemispheric security and to study the future role of the OAS in hemispheric security.

Ambassador Flavio Darío Espinal of the Dominican Republic, Chair of the Committee on Hemispheric Security, next continued the discussion of work undertaken by the OAS this year. He first discussed the Meeting of Experts to Draft a Program for Education for Peace, which would take place in a few days in Colombia, and which was especially noteworthy for its inclusion of academics and NGOs in its meetings. Planning is also underway for a Meeting of Parliamentarians early in the year 2000 to exchange ideas on the promotion of confidence and security building measures. The OAS has continued to exchange information on this issue with other regions of the world and has held consultations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as well. Other items on the agenda include the security concerns of small island states, the proliferation of illicit trafficking in small arms, and developing common approaches on hemispheric security in order to prepare for the special conference on hemispheric security which will be taking place in the first decade of the new millennium. At the end of this presentation, Eric Dannenmaier of the North-South Center Washington Office noted that the Committee on Hemispheric Security should also give importance to environmental security issues such as resource access, depletion, and degradation.


Mark Lambrides, Senior Energy Specialist at the OAS Unit for Sustainable Development and Environment, was the sole speaker on the topic of regional energy cooperation. His outline of achievements made in the energy sector under the Summit mandate was very positive. The summits seek to fuel the expansion of energy services in urban as well as rural areas while ensuring the protection of the local and global environment. He traced the history of this goal to the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, the 1996 Bolivia Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Hemispheric Energy Ministerial Initiative (which recently held its fourth meeting).

The Americas are apparently leading the world in terms of privatization, deregulation, and integration of the energy sector. The Chilean and Argentine models for electricity privatization are particularly well-respected, while the Dominion Republic, Guatemala and Bolivia have all been making progress in privatizing their energy sectors. In terms of integration, six Central American nations (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama) have taken action through the Electric Interconnection System for Central American Nations (SIEPAC), while a $2.1 billion pipeline connecting Bolivia natural-gas fields to the Brazilian market became operational in July 1999. On a regional level, a Hemispheric Energy Business Network and Forum is in its initial planning stages.

Many countries in the Americas are also committed to maximizing the use of environmentally-sound, renewable energy and to the concept of energy efficiency as a means of addressing their energy needs while combatting pollution and climate change. Specific examples were noted of renewable energy laws passed in Argentina, Honduras and Brazil, as well as rural electrification programs that rely on the use of renewable energy sources in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. The island nations of the Caribbean also launched the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Project in 1998. On the regional level, the 1999 Hemispheric Energy Ministers Meeting issued the Joint Statement on Clean Development and Use of Energy, while the OAS Unit for Sustainable Development and Environment incorporated the Renewable Energy in the Americas Initiative.

Finally, there has also been progress made on the climate change provision of the Santiago Declaration. Specifically, Belize is currently involved in at least three projects specifically related to climate change, while also participating with the Caribbean nations in the Planning for Adaption to Global Climate Change project. Meanwhile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Argentina have established national offices on climate change. As of August 1999, 22 countries in the Americas had signed the Kyoto Protocol, and seven had ratified it.


Dr. Sitoo Mukerji, Director of the OAS Office of Science and Technology, made the final presentation, outlining the activities of the Office of Science and Technology as a follow-up to the Plan of Action approved in Santiago. The Office has continued to cooperate in its mandate with other hemispheric programs in science and technology, administered by such organizations as Science and Technology for Development (CYTED), UNESCO, PAHO, IDB, IDRC and INTERCIENCIA. The Office has also maintained the logistical support to the MERCOCYT initiative to monitor and assist in all ministerial recommendations. Currently, there is a project underway on the strengthening of the network of institutions performing studies on "El Niño", while the Office is in the process of developing national policy programs for poverty eradication. He concluded by noting that science and technology development is critical to achieving economic and social development.

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