John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Protocolary Session of the Council of the Organization of American States.

April 14, 1961

Mr. Chairman, members of the Council of the Organization of .American States, Mr. Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen:

A number of Presidents of the United States have visited the Pan American Union since President Theodore Roosevelt shared with Ambassador Nabuco of Brazil the honor of laying the cornerstone of this building over one-half a century ago. It is an honor for me today, as President of the United States, to share the platform with another distinguished Ambassador from Brazil, Ambassador Lobo.

I doubt whether anyone in all those years has had the privilege of listening to a more thoughtful and wise speech than the one we have just heard from the Chairman of the Council of the Organization of American States.

He has defined our task and our responsibility with both precision and feeling.

There is in this last decade, or in the last few years, in the organizations of the hemisphere and in western Europe of the Atlantic Community, a strong pressure to develop new institutions which will bind us all closer together. I sometimes feel that it is our function and responsibility to use in a more effective manner the institutions we now have.

The Organization of American States represents a great dream of those who believe that the people of this hemisphere must be bound more closely together. It seems to me it is our function and our responsibility, in our day, to make this organization alive, to make it fulfill its function, to make it meet its responsibilities, and not divert ourselves always with developing new institutions, when we have one which was nurtured in time, which has served well in the past and which can, if we give it our lasting support, serve us well in the future.

Ambassador Lobo has suggested in his speech that we stand on the threshold of a new epoch in the development of the American Hemisphere. Science, and all the other things which have sprung from science, have brought a better life into the reach of every man and woman in our hemisphere.

The 20th century has given mankind the tools to make abundance not the gift of a privileged few but a practical possibility for all who live within our frontiers.

The other change which our century has given us is even more important.

That change lies in the new attitude of the mass of our people.

For too long, poverty and inequality and tyranny were accepted as the common lot of man.

Today people everywhere are demanding-and are rightly demanding--a decency of life and opportunity for themselves and their children.

This new attitude has produced an immense surge of hope throughout the entire Western Hemisphere.

Our common purpose today is to harness these new aspirations and these new tools in a great inter-American effort--an effort to lift all the peoples of the Americas, including the people of my own country of the United States, into a new era of economic progress and social justice.

Seventy-one years ago the new American nations were exploring new frontiers of international organization when they formed the International Union of the American Republics for regular consultation to solve common problems.

Today, as the Organization of American States, we constitute the oldest organization of nations now in existence.

Already the OAS--our OAS--has moved ahead to meet the new challenges of the 20th century. The Act of Bogota is our charter for economic and social advance. Many of the provisions of this Act are Latin American in their inspiration. I am glad that this should be so, because the OAS will thrive and grow only as it derives its vitality from all its members--and only as its members strengthen their own capacity for choice and decision.

The time has come to transform these pledges of social and economic concern into a concrete and urgent collaboration for hemisphere development.

The grand concept of Operation Pan-America has already offered inspiration for such an effort. One month ago I proposed a new cooperative undertaking--an Alianza para el Progreso--a 10-year program to give substance to the hopes of our people asked all the free republics of the hemisphere to join together to make the 1960's a decade of unexampled progress--progress in wiping out hunger and poverty, ignorance, and disease, from the face of our hemisphere.

This is surely the contemporary mission of Pan-Americanism--to demonstrate to a world struggling for a better life that free men working through free institutions can best achieve an economic progress to which all of us aspire.

But, if we are to succeed, we must take specific steps to realize our common goals-and we must take these steps without delay.

This very week, in Rio de Janeiro, the assembled Governors of the Inter-American Development Bank--representing 20 American Republics--endorsed the principle that development planning on a country-by-country basis was vital to the success of an Alliance for Progress.

Now we may take the next step--to establish the machinery, to adopt the plans and to accept the commitments necessary to speed the pace of hemisphere development.

Therefore I will shortly instruct the United States delegation to this Council to request a meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council at the ministerial level. I will suggest that this meeting be held at a mutually agreeable date this summer. This will give us all the time for the extensive preparation that will be necessary.

This meeting should have three fundamental purposes.

First, it should encourage all the free states of the hemisphere to set deadlines for the completion of preliminary plans for national economic development--as well as to begin long-range planning to meet the development needs of the rest of the decade.

Second, it should set up inter-American machinery to aid participating countries in the rapid formulation of realistic economic plans. The OAS Secretariat, the Economic Commission for Latin America, and the Inter-American Bank are already preparing a joint recommendation for a hemisphere planning-for-progress staff. I hope that a group of economists, drawn from all parts of the hemisphere, will soon be available to offer assistance to all nations preparing development programs.

Third, the meeting should outline basic development goals. This means elaborating the objectives of the Act of Bogota in all the key areas of economic and social betterment--in education, in land use and tenure, in taxation, in public health, in the mobilization of resources, in the development of self-help programs, in the stabilization of commodity markets, and in regional economic integration.

These details of procedure may seem dry and technical. But they are the basis for the development of the life for our people to which all of us aspire. They should not obscure the exciting prospects for human growth and liberation which lie within our group.

Our task is to build a society of men and women conscious of their individual identity, of their national aspirations, and also of their common hemisphere interest.

This means re-creating our social systems so that they will better serve our nations and our people.

It means social legislation for workers, and agrarian legislation for those who labor on the land. It means abolishing illiteracy, it means schools for children and adults as well, and it means strengthened institutes of higher education, technical as well as humane. It means doctors and hospitals for the sick. It means roads linking the interior, frontiers with the markets and the ports of the coast. It means the spread of industry and the steady increase of both industrial and agricultural production. And it means, above all, the assurance that the benefits of economic growth will accrue, not just to the few, but to the entire national community.

Is this not the new ideal of Pan-Americanism? On the OAS rests much of the hope of realizing these possibilities--on the OAS rests the duty of giving the people of this hemisphere their long-awaited goal of self-fulfillment. Either the OAS will demonstrate a capacity for practical action in the next years, or else it will become an artificial and legalistic body, without substance, without purpose, and finally without a future.

If we are a united hemisphere, we have no choice but to make the OAS the instrument of our common purpose. And the social and economic programs represent only one part of the OAS agenda. For material growth is not an end in itself. It is rather a means--a means of strengthening the dignity and freedom of the individual. This faith in freedom is the enduring essence of our hemisphere cooperation.

This year, six of our sister Republics complete the 150th anniversary of their independence. The memory of past struggles for freedom must confirm our resolution to enlarge the area of freedom every year in our hemisphere. In the end, our moral unity as a family of nations rests on the ultimate faith that only governments which guarantee human freedoms, respect human rights, and vindicate human liberties can advance human progress.

Franklin Roosevelt, at an Inter-American Conference in Buenos Aires 25 years ago, spoke of our common faith in freedom and its fulfillment. He said it had proved a mighty fortress, beyond reach of successful attack in half the world. That faith, he said, arises from a common hope and a common design given us by our Fathers--in differing form, but with a single aim: freedom and security of the individual. That is our task. That is our responsibility-and that, gentlemen, is our opportunity.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. at the Pan American Union Building. In his opening words he referred to Ambassador Fernando Lobo, Chairman of the Council of the Organization of American States, and Mr. Jose A. Mora, Secretary General of the OAS.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Protocolary Session of the Council of the Organization of American States. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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