The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, highlighted in an address to the London School of Economics (LSE) the achievements of democracy in Latin America, while simultaneously warning of the challenges that remain, and that must be addressed in order to avoid stagnation in the positive political process the region has been following in recent years.
“Although democracy has made major gains in the region, based on many constructive elements, the elements of its destruction exist alongside this strengthened democracy. Interaction between the two on the political front will determine whether, this time, our region takes advantage of the major opportunities offered by the global economy or it remains, as so many times in the past, at the “threshold,” a prisoner of its own phantoms,” he said.
During his presentation at the renowned British institution, Secretary General Insulza emphasized that Latin America is fulfilling the three processes that American political scientist Charles Tilly considered give form to a democracy: power centers outside the government are being suppressed; social inequalities are being reduced; and a basic consensus that can sustain a process of institutionalization is being created.
“There is no doubt that our societies have made important progress on the road to democratization. Many limitations can be attributed to the still short time in which all these events have developed; democratic governments have taken a long time to develop in other regions of the world and there is no reason to expect full success in the Americas in a few decades,” he added.
Democracy, said the OAS leader, has been "unquestionably on the rise in our region," and one of the pillars of that ascent has been the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC), adopted by OAS Member States in Lima in 2001. The document, the Secretary General recalled, establishes that democracy begins with free and fair elections, but it also requires other essential elements such as “respect for human rights, the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, a pluralistic system of political parties, the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government, freedom of expression and of the press, and transparency of government activities.”
“No democracy in the world today meets all the conditions set forth by the Charter. The IADC is a program for democracy; an ideal that we aspire to and that can always be improved on,” Insulza warned, as he stressed that Latin American democracies have made important advances toward that ideal. For example, he said, “Governments are created through clean, universal elections using the secret ballot,” something the OAS can confirm “because, in just the past five years, the OAS has observed more than 50 electoral processes of all kinds in different countries of the region, and every one of them has more than fulfilled the requirements for a democratic election.” He also mentioned that a significant number of governments in the hemisphere have finished their terms, which signals that “governability has greatly improved in Latin America,” as shown by the numbers: from 1990 to 2005, eighteen elected governments ended their mandates prematurely, by coups, resignations in the midst of severe upheavals or impeachments; from June 2005 to this day, only two such events have occurred, the coup d’etat in Honduras and the impeachment of President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.
However, Latin America “still faces severe challenges,” beginning with the achievement of “stable, sustainable growth,” as opposed to a circumstancial one, based on the sale of commodities, a case that “happened in some regions of Latin America before, followed by long periods of stagnation or low rates of growth.” He also said there must be improvements in poverty and inequality rates, which particularly concerns women, indigenous and Afro-American peoples, as well as persons with disabilities.
The head of the OAS also reiterated that crime still constitutes one of the main challenges in the region, as it is “a threat to democracy” and has become a major concern of citizens in the hemisphere. “The increase in drug trafficking, with its related crimes of money laundering and other highly lucrative criminal pursuits, such as arms trafficking and trafficking in persons, has given rise to actual criminal corporations that are in conflict with each other for control of areas of our territory and form criminal armies that fight the monopoly of our police and armed forces with imported weapons,” he said.
Secretary General Insulza traveled to London to meet with Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations; Mark Simmonds, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Kate Smith, Director of the Americas Department, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and Paul Chandwani, Head of Drug Strategy, Legislation and Licensing, British Home Office. Tomorrow he will travel to Paris to participate in a High-Level Meeting of the Panel of Advisors to the Chair of the United Nations General Assembly, to be held in the French capital.
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