Media Center



September 16, 2002 - Washington, DC


I am particularly pleased to participate in this seminar organized jointly by the OAS and George Washington University. I want to express my appreciation for the invitation to celebrate the First Anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter signed in Lima, and the various resolutions and declarations that preceded it.
I cannot allow myself to begin without reflecting on the time I spent in the OAS as my country's representative at moment when Region's commitment to democracy was heightened. The nineties ushered in a period of grand convergences in the political and economic spheres. All countries adhered to the ideals of democracy and we began – some earlier, some later – to live under systems that respected our fundamental rights once again. We all favored – some more strongly than others, perhaps – the market reforms and opening up the Hemisphere to foreign trade. The pessimism that characterized the eighties, known as the "lost decade," had been left behind.
In this context an old aspiration of the Hemisphere surfaced again and became real in that framework: to respond collectively and rapidly in the face of any sudden or illegal interruption of a democratic regime. That reaction was expressed in the "Commitment of Santiago to Democracy and Renewal of the Inter-American System" in the historic Santiago General Assembly of 1991.
Along with the Commitment, Resolution 1080, titled "Representative Democracy" was adopted in Santiago. As we know, Resolution 1080 established the mechanism for the OAS to respond automatically to an illegal interruption of the democratic process in any country of the Region. We thus married philosophy to practice, word to action.
This organization, which, in the past, had been strongly criticized for its indifference, its inaction, its silence in the face of tyrants and dictators who devastated so many of our countries, and the resultant serious and massive violations of human rights, particularly during the sixties and seventies, now had the political will and decisiveness to condemn abrupt ruptures of the public order and to back its commitment to principles with effective measures of democratic solidarity in the Americas.
The Commitment of Santiago and Resolution 1080 served as a dike to contain authoritarian temptations, leading to the adoption of the 1992 Protocol of Washington, which provides for the suspension of a member State when its democratically elected government is overthrown by force. These have the additional merit of their juridical projection.
Thus we stated that with the Commitment of Santiago, (and even further with the Democratic Charter of Lima), had emerged a new standard of international law in the Western Hemisphere: the "Right to Democracy," understood not only as the conjunction of political laws that embody the Conventions of Human Rights or the San José Pact itself, but also as a recognition of the fact that democracy can and must be defended through collective actions pacific in nature. For Chile it was a great achievement that the Democratic Charter in its first article precisely recognizes this “right to democracy” in the Americas.
The road toward such legal recognition has not been free of contradictions, obstacles and reversals. Democratic ideals and the protection of individual rights have, in any case, consistently been goals of the peoples of the Americas, almost from the days of independence and the fall of absolute monarchs. Such aspirations have occupied a preeminent place in our history.
Along those lines, it is worthwhile to remember that the OAS's founding treaty, the 1948 Charter of Bogotá, in contrast to the UN Charter, contains an express mention to democracy not only in its preamble but also in its Chapter on principles, which says, "The solidarity of the American States and the noble ends they serve with such solidarity require the States to be organized politically on the basis of the exercise of representative democracy." That not only confirms the importance that our Region has always conceded that political option, but, at the same time, it ratifies the fact that democracy has always been linked to the effective exercise of human rights. The 1985 Protocol of Cartagena reaffirmed that preference with greater vigor.
Moreover, if the evolution of the Inter-American System is observed from its origins, the development of a real doctrine of representative democracy may be verified on the basis of innumerable declarations, resolutions and measures voiced. The problem always lay in the fact that the theory with respect to democracy was not the same thing as its practice.
The Commitment of Santiago, Resolution 1080 and the Lima Charter constitute a fundamental, decisive step towards the transformation of democracy from a moral prescription to an international juridical obligation.
The great merit of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is that it has brought the resolutions, declarations and modifications of the OAS Charter that constituted the democratic foundations and raison d’etre of the Organization into a single text. It thus institutionalized at a higher level the political and juridical commitment of the member States for the maintenance and defense of democratic regimes.
The Inter-American Democratic Charter is one of the greatest advances in the collective defense of democracy in the Hemisphere, but the challenges do not stop there. The economic crises through which several nations of the Region with democratically elected governments are passing obliges them to examine the complex dimensions of these processes and to respond to the enormous challenges for political stability in conjunction with economic and social development.
Democracy today is threatened in Latin America. As the Third Chapter of the Inter-American Democratic Charter points out, poverty, corruption, ignorance and inadequate human development are plotting against democracy. Additional real threats are international terrorism and organized crime.
Foreign investment in Latin America has been falling since 1999 from 90 billion dollars to 40 billion dollars in 2002. Similarly, the Regional GDP will fall at least 0.8% this year.
On the other hand, while democratic adherence in Latin America reflects citizen support of 56% (four points more than in 2001) according to Latinobarómetro, Latin Americans also show a high degree of dissatisfaction with democracy, as much as 60%. In fact, only 27% of Latin Americans are satisfied with democracy. That indicator is lower than in Europe, Africa or Asia, probably due to a poor democratic culture and to the frustration and disenchantment resulting from the economic, political and social crises the majority of countries of the Region are going through.
Looking to the future, I should like to take advantage of this forum to suggest that the work of this Organization be oriented to conform a regime favoring democracy with three principle areas of action: promotion, prevention and reaction. To a certain extent these separate dimensions are already spelled out in separate chapters of the Democratic Charter. We would then only need to give them more operational substance.
In the first place, we must not abandon the promotion of democratic values and practices. The OAS, its political organs, its Secretary General and other political and financial agencies, along with the non-governmental organizations, can and must work in a coordinated manner to design assistance programs for political parties, parliaments and governments, as well as to encourage cooperation in institution-building and supervising elections, among others. The Unit to Promote Democracy (UPD), which enjoys well-earned prestige throughout the Hemisphere, must continue exploring new methods and new partners to favor sowing the roots of democratic culture in our countries.
I believe that one of the greatest challenges that we face in our Hemisphere is the on-going encouragement of citizen participation in public affairs, involving vast sectors of our societies in favor of democratic ideals, transparency, respect for diversity, ethics and tolerance. Indeed, present social, cultural and economic problems associated with governability oblige us to rethink imaginative formulas for combating the apathy and political disenchantment that grow in moments of crisis.
A second area of work is the prevention of such undemocratic practices as the manipulation of votes, electoral fraud and political violence. These problems are real. They affect some of our societies more than others. And they demand assistance from this Organization and, specifically, concerted action of the OAS with the NGOs of the world.
It would be useful to have "early alert mechanisms" available. This is clearly present in a basic form in article 18 of the Democratic Charter. The OAS, in consonance with its abilities and resources, could undertake such an exercise. Another instance occurs in those situations in which the dialogue between political actors breaks down. We ought to propose mediation or negotiation exercises, such as those used by other entities of the Inter-American System. OAS support for the processes of national reconciliation, dialogue and deep-rooted conflict resolution seem to me to be an activity of enormous importance for the UPD. It could help to avoid democratic ruptures and promote more solid and durable democratic institutions. This Organization, moreover, has invaluable experience in post conflict stages that should be more thoroughly exploited.
Finally, we must persist in the perfection and fine-tuning of our reaction in defense of democratic regimes. The Charter, the declarations and statements of the Permanent Council, of the political organs, are undoubtedly an important dissuasive. The suspension contemplated in the Protocol of Washington (and repeated in the Democratic Charter in articles 20 and 21)– which we should like for all the member States to ratify – is extremely important as well. Nevertheless, we should reflect on going even further in relation to possible political and diplomatic sanctions of such democratic ruptures in order to be consequent with the tradition and attributes of our Organization. In the future perhaps it will be necessary to advance from the Inter-American Democratic Charter to a Convention that strengthens juridical obligations of Member States.
On the other hand, the extension of the principles of the Commitment of Santiago, Resolution 1080 and the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the democratic clauses of MERCOSUR and to the FTAA itself creates mechanisms endowed with enormous force and dissuasive capability.
Further measures certainly merit a more intense exercise of discussion and reflection. We must not exhaust the mission of the OAS in defense of democracy fighting brushfires. It is essential to overcome the present difficult situation so that democracy really does continue to be the fundamental axis of our political and institutional architecture, the most recent milestone of which is the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
In the final analysis, we are all building democracy. Democracy is the fruit of the daily work of thousands of men and women. Democracy is an effort that must be pursued by governments, national institutions and civil society, all of them. To live in a democracy is no longer a mere aspiration. It is a right acquired and conquered in the Americas with great pain and effort and it imposes us all the duty to defend it and improve it, here and everywhere in our long and wide Americas.