Latin America is going through its most prolonged period of democracy and the public election of authorities, and an unprecedented order can be observed in the region in terms of finances, inflation rates and indebtedness. Nevertheless, public frustration is also evident in the face of huge disparities of wealth and power, weak public participation in political affairs, persistent public and private corruption, growing citizen insecurity and the erosion of the rule of law.
These are the highlights of the Second Report on Democracy in Latin America, titled, “Our Democracy,” and produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organization of American States (OAS) under the direction of the former Argentine foreign minister Dante Caputo, on behalf of the OAS, and the former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, José Antonio Ocampo, on behalf of UNDP.
“Our Democracy” was published today in Mexico City in the framework of the Latin American Democracy Forum in a panel that featured the participation of OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza; the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Heraldo Muñoz; and the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena.
During the presentation of the report, Secretary General Insulza said that “one of its particularities is its reference to the concept of citizen’s democracy and the relation of it to the Inter-American Democratic Charter in article 1, which says that the countries of the Americas have the right to democracy, placing emphasis on the subject of democracy not from the point of view of those who regulate it or direct it, but of those who are entitled to the benefits democracy must provide.”
The Secretary General also highlighted that in today’s world the concept of citizenship has been expanded, “We have gone from understanding citizenship as the right to elect, to be elected and to have equal access to authority, to include civil rights and finally include what we have called social citizenship.”
The subject of citizen security, also an important part of the report, was described by Insulza in terms of a “regression of democracy” in various countries of the region, and he said security must be treated as “a social policy—in the same way as education, health and housing—to which citizens must aspire to be able to exercise the other rights that society confers upon them.”
In the words of Heraldo Muñoz, “Latin America continues to search for its democratic identity. There is a quality problem in our democracies. Democracy not only is characterized by the irreplaceable act of holding elections, but also by the way in which power is exercised and the basic forces of citizenship are conducted.”
The report makes a call to work on issues like the reduction of income, gender and ethnic inequalities; to reevaluate the limitations of privileges and abuses of power; and to assess the lack of democratization of the economic and social debate. “This report is a call to build sustainable democracies in the region, where power is better and more symmetrically distributed among citizens, where citizens’ rights are guaranteed for all,” Muñoz added.
The document is the result of a process of research, consultation and debate with stakeholders in 18 of the region’s countries who conducted a reflection on power and the effects of extreme inequalities on the practice of democracy. It includes an analysis of the deficiencies and weaknesses in Latin American democracies and suggests the prioritization of action in three areas of public policy: fiscal supervision, social inclusion and public security.
The text analyzes, among other things, the question of power: where it is localized; how it is distributed or concentrated; if it is in the hands of the democratically designated entities or exercised behind the scenes by other powers. It also examines forms of access and conditions of permanency in public office; the representation of women and minorities; and the decision-making mechanisms of governments.
With respect to the basic weaknesses in democracies, the Report refers to a crisis of representativeness, the weakness of controls and counterweights among the Powers of the State, and insufficiencies in transparency and accountability. Finally, it refers to one of the problems that, according to polls, most worry the citizenry: those regarding insecurity.
The report in its online version will be available here: http://www.nuestrademocracia.org
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.