Senator Menendez Addresses 15th Annual Gala of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute

Senator Menendez Addresses 15th Annual Gala of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute

Praises OAS Secretary General Luis Amalgro for Championing Human RIghts

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke today at the 15th Annual Gala of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute and applauded the presentation of the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen International Leadership Award to Secretary General Luis Amalgro of the Organization of American States.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery Below

Buenas noches y gracias. I’m thrilled to be here at the 15th Annual Gala of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. Allow me to thank my friend and former colleague, the founder and president of CHLI, Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balart for his leadership.

And to all the supporters and corporate sponsors here tonight, thank you for your commitment to empowering the next generation of Latino and Latina leaders.

I am especially excited to be here because tonight, a transformational leader, someone I truly believe in, will be recognized with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen International Leadership Award – named in honor of my former colleague and her fierce commitment to democracy and human rights.

I’m referring of course to our honored guest, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States… His Excellency Luis Almagro.

Back in 2014, when I first heard that the Foreign Minister of Uruguay was a leading candidate for Secretary General, I had my doubts.  

Like so many across the Americas, I was exhausted by the weak leadership at the OAS.

I was frustrated by its failure to meet an array of challenges throughout the Americas, both from the right and the left.

And I was increasingly doubtful that anyone could wrangle the complicated politics of 33 different governments and unite them in common cause.

How grateful I am that Luis Almagro proved me wrong!

With bold leadership and an unyielding commitment to democracy and human rights, Secretary General Amalgro has singlehandedly redeemed the Organization of American States.

I saw it first in 2015, when he shocked the hemisphere with his outspoken condemnation of the Maduro regime’s efforts to rig Venezuela’s legislative elections.

I saw it again in 2016, when he spearheaded the unprecedented, 100-page OAS report detailing Venezuela’s economic collapse and devastating humanitarian crisis and calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners.

At a time when so many were still debating the extent of the crisis and the nature of the threats to Venezuelan democracy, Mr. Amalgro spoke the truth about Maduro. I’ll never forget his words, which were that Maduro is a “petty dictator, like so many this hemisphere has seen before.”

I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘now this is my type of Secretary General!’

Beyond documenting crimes against humanity, Mr. Amalgro was instrumental in helping the OAS remove Maduro’s ambassador, and seat the rightful ambassador of Venezuela’s legitimate Interim President, Juan Guaidó.

And his leadership extends far beyond Venezuela.

When protests erupted in Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega directed his police and paramilitary squads to brutalize demonstrators, Luis Almagro again raised his voice.

His leadership paved the way for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate these injustices up close. He continues to push for democratic reforms to help the Nicaraguan people elect a new leader.

And, in a truly unprecedented effort, last December he hosted the first OAS conference on the state of human rights in Cuba, which included direct testimony from Cuban activists struggling for freedom.

But, Mr. Almagro understand that threats to democracy come from both the left and right.

That’s why he didn’t hesitate to condemn the irregularities that took place in Honduras’ presidential elections and the extrajudicial killings of protesters -- crimes that have yet to be brought to justice. 

Likewise, the Secretary General understands that lasting democracies hinge on the rule of law and good governance.

With criminality and impunity at the center of our political debates across the Americas, he helped launch MACCIH in Honduras, the first of its kind OAS mission focused on good governance and accountability. 

My friends, in just four years, Luis Almagro has made the Organizations of American States relevant again.

He is the real deal!

As Secretary General, Luis Amalgro has stood up for the oppressed and against the oppressors.

He has rejected apathy and inspired hope.

He has spoken the truth and given voice to the voiceless.

And through sheer determination and strength of conviction, he has restored the OAS as the preeminentmultilateral forum for our hemisphere. 

For years and years, we waited and waited for a leader at the Organization of American States.

We waited for a clarity of vision. We waited for a voice for democracy and human rights, a voice for fair elections and good governance, a voice for the rule of law and opportunity for all.

Ladies and gentlemen, our wait is over.

We have that found that leader, that vision, and that voice in Secretary General Luis Amalgro. And the future of the Americas is brighter thanks to him.

Thank you and enjoy your gala!