Magazine article Americas (English Edition) , Vol. 46, No. 3
DR. CESAR GAVIRIA TRUJILLO, President of the Republic of Colombia, was elected to the post of Secretary General on March 27. At the 21st Special Session of the General Assembly he received twenty of the thirty-four votes cast in the first round of voting, against fourteen votes given to Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bernd Niehaus. The new Secretary General will assume office in September.
"I will work toward an integrated OAS, completely united, and transformed into a catalyst for change that can bring together existing processes and initiatives of economic liberation and commercial integration in the hemisphere," said Mr. Gaviria, speaking after his election. "Bolivar's dream of unity should also be reflected the creation of a commercial free zone, from Alaska to Patagonia, that shows to the world the greatness of a united America, nourished by its countless resources and its multiethnic, multicultural character."
President Gaviria's distinguished career in public service began over two decades ago in his hometown of Pereira, in the Department of Risaralda, when he was elected Councilman of his native city at the age of twenty-three. Four years later was appointed Mayor of Pereira. In 1974 Mr. Gaviria was elected to Colombia's House of Representatives. He was appointed Vice-Minister of Economic Development in the administration of President Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala in 1978. He turned to journalism in the early 1980s, writing for La Tarde in Pereira, and later for El Tiempo, the nation's largest and most influential publication. Mr. Gaviria returned to politics in 1986 when he was chosen to manage Virgilio Barco's successful presidential campaign. He served in the Barco administration as Minister of Finance and Minister of Interior. In the latter role Mr. Gaviria played a critical role in the beginning of peace negotiations with the M-19 guerrilla organization. In early 1989 he left the Barco government to manage the presidential campaign of Senator Luis Carlos Galan Sarmiento. Following the brutal murder of Senator Galan by narco-terrorists during a campaign appearance, Mr. Gaviria was endorsed as a presidential candidate by the Liberal Party. Running on a platform of political and economic reform, Mr. Gaviria was elected presidential in May 1990.
During his administration, Mr. Gaviria has given special attention to issues ranging from the broadening of Colombian democracy to economic integration and regional trade. He has spearheaded a process of constitutional and institutional change, focused on strengthening the judiciary and human rights protection. Through a plebiscite and an elected constitutional assembly--representing all parties, former guerrilla groups, indigenous peoples, and black communities--the Colombian people drafted a new constitution.
The main characteristics of this new constitution are a stronger justice system, an expanded bill of rights, an independent General Prosecutor's Office, new safeguards and institutions to respond to citizens' complaints, and institutions that promote greater local, regional, and minority participation both in government and in the oversight of public officials.
Mr. Gaviria has been one of the most outspoken and active defenders of democracy in the Western Hemisphere. His foreign policy has played a major role in peacemaking and conflict resolution in the hemisphere. Under President Gaviria's leadership, Colombia joined the "Friends of the Secretary General" group to support the peace process in El Salvador. A similar effort was launched to help the Guatemalan government in its initiative to find a negotiated solution to its internal conflict. President Gaviria has also supported Nicaragua's national reunification efforts by providing short-term financing and promoting the renegotiation of Nicaragua's bilateral commercial debt.
President Gaviria supports a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone and campaigned strongly for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), believing that its passage will lead to a new relationship between the northern and southern hemispheres. …