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June 8, 1998

The assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, has said that democracy will not survive and cannot be enhanced without effective participation of civil society. That participation, he insisted, "must be founded on principles of justice for the future development of communities as a whole."

Ambassador Thomas made these remarks Monday at the opening of a two-day workshop on "Local Government, Communitarianism and the Citizen: Opportunities and Challenges," in Kingston, Jamaica. It was jointly organized by the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) and the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of the West Indies, with support from the Jamaican government.

Noting that the workshop involved a "responsibility to stir these values throughout the Caribbean," the assistant secretary general added: "We can do so here by formulating the proposals, launching the initiatives and inviting participation for the ultimate results." He told the workshop participants--senior policy makers from the Caribbean and OAS member countries--that the hemisphere's heads of state and heads of government had committed themselves to civil society involvement.

With civil participation secured, said Ambassador Thomas, it will help to reverse "the increasing indifference that is affecting most modern democracies." He cited the recent [legislative and municipal] elections in the Dominican Republic as an instance of what he termed an "increasing indifference of our population to the democratic process,"which was evident in the low voter turn-out.

The workshop was put together for policy makers whose responsibilities include decentralization, local government and citizen participation issues. Others among the workshop participants were practitioners in local government, and selected representatives of non- governmental organizations (NGOs).

An activity under the UPD's recently-launched Program of Cooperation in Decentralization, Local Government and Citizen Participation, the workshop also took up issues raised in the conclusions of a conference held in Barbados in September last year, on "Governance, Democracy and Civil Society in the Caribbean Community."

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