Luis Almagro is the Secretary General of the Organization of American States
When I visit Canada this week, my message to authorities, civil society, the private sector and the public, will be consistent: Canada matters in the Western Hemisphere. Its voice of reason, respect for diversity and co-operation based on shared values is essential for the Americas.
In the Americas, we have built a foundation with a common vision of what we believe; a vision of inclusiveness and multilateralism.
As the foremost political forum in the hemisphere, the Organization of American States is the space where diplomacy, democracy and human rights come together. Since joining the Organization in 1990, Canada's impact has been expanding.
Having just celebrated its 25th anniversary as a member state, Canada has been a key advocate for universal freedoms and human rights, as well as instrumental in solidifying democracy as a core value of the OAS and the hemisphere. The 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is a true Constitution for the Americas, was born out of the 2001 Summit of the Americas hosted in Quebec City.
The message is clear, in a world increasingly resistant to "intrusion into domestic affairs": Canada holds a distinct position that regional solidarity cannot come at the cost of human rights abuses, undermining democratic institutions and exclusionary policies.
Canada's priorities – shared prosperity, multilateral co-operation, human rights, inclusiveness, clean energy and economic integration – are in line with those of the majority of the hemisphere. These shared values represent a common platform that makes us a unique community in the global arena.
Canada has also taken a courageous approach to the region. It has maintained a historically open relationship with Cuba, even when it was unpopular, and ultimately served as a bridge for the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. The recent move to lift the visa requirement for Mexican visitors is seen as a public declaration of a welcoming and open approach. The longstanding investment in rebuilding Haiti after two devastating natural disasters, not only by the Canadian government but through the vast support of individual Canadians, demonstrates a sincere commitment to people-to-people ties in the hemisphere.
Taken together, these actions send a powerful message. Canada is committed to the Americas. Canada is open to the world.
Our response in the hemisphere is simple. We want more Canada.
Canada's engagement has been integral to the development and stability of the region. And, as a tolerant and inclusive country with real trade, investment and security issues at stake, Canada has the opportunity to make a difference.
The ongoing crisis in Venezuela continues to have a devastating impact on its population. What should be one of the wealthiest countries in the region is facing unprecedented levels of poverty, a critical humanitarian crisis, and one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. Canada has been a welcome voice of support for the people of Venezuela, and we must continue to work together to ensure the release of all political prisoners, restore separation of powers between the branches of government, return authority to the National Assembly, and urgently respond to the escalating humanitarian crisis in the country.
The leadership Canada demonstrated on the difficult issue of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission is timely and relevant on a topic of significance for the entire region. There are more than 60 million indigenous persons living in the Americas. With the OAS focus on more rights for more people, Canada is encouraged to use this forum to share these experiences, highlighting the importance of acknowledging past wrongs, and promoting reconciliation with indigenous communities. The launch of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is an important step forward, highlighting Canada's commitment to the health and rights of women and girls.
The hemisphere should celebrate the historic signing of the peace deal in Colombia. Even after the disheartening setback of the failed referendum, all parties remained committed to achieving a sustainable outcome. Canada has been a longstanding supporter of the peace process and continues to be an important partner as Colombians move toward the successful implementation of the agreement.
At a time when uncertainty dominates world affairs, Canada gives assurances to the hemisphere. It is reinforcing its commitment to multilateralism and openness and diversity, and it recognizes that future growth and prosperity does not lie with exclusion and isolation, it lies with inclusive policies, pluralism and greater integration. For these reasons and more, Canada's voice is essential.