Reflections on the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Author:Powell, Colin


September 11, 2001--or "9-11" as we call it today--is a date the world never forget. Each of us will forever remember where we were on that day. I was the Secretary of State, and on that fateful morning I was in Lima, Peru. I was there to attend a meeting of the Organization of American States, the 34 democratic nations of the Americas. Our goal for the meeting was to discuss and then approve a new Democratic Charter for the Americas, a document that would lay out our collective view of how democratic nations should be formed and governed.

Early that morning, I was having breakfast at the home of President Alejandro Toledo. There were eight of us at the round breakfast table and we were discussing, of all things, cotton textile quotas. President Toledo was anxious for the United States to improve the quotas for Peruvian textiles.

Suddenly, my assistant came into the room and handed me a note saying a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. We didn't know if it was an accident, a mad man, or a terrorist attack. A short while later he handed me a second note which said that another plane had crashed into the second World Trade Center tower. It was definitely a terrorist attack. I told my aide to get my plane ready for an immediate departure for home. We ended the breakfast and went to the conference center. It would take an hour or two to ready the plane.

At the conference, my colleagues extended their condolences and promised support in responding to the crisis. I thanked them and said the best immediate support they could provide was to pass the Democratic Charter so terrorists would see that we remained steadfast to our principles, even in a time of tragedy. The Charter was passed by a vote of acclamation.

In the ten years since, the Charter has grown to become a defining standard of democratic ideals in the Americas. Just before leaving the conference on the morning of 9-11, I made a statement that ten years later seems as relevant today as it was on that fateful day:

A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and befallen all those who believe in democracy. Once again we see terrorism, we see terrorists, people who don't believe in democracy--people who believe that with the destruction of buildings, with the murder of people, they can somehow achieve a political purpose. They can destroy buildings, they can kill...

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