Media Center



April 19, 2010 - Madrid, España

I would like to thank my friend, Enrique Iglesias, and our Spanish hosts for giving me the opportunity to address you this afternoon and share some ideas about cooperation between Europe and America in the construction of democracy. Strengthening democracy is, as you well known, at the heart of the work of the Organization of American States.

Let us begin by examining the situation of democracy in our region; in the 10 years that have elapsed since the first Summit of Presidents of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union, we have made significant progress as regards the exercise of democracy in the region.

I believe that no one will raise an objection if I say that, today, we have more democracy than 10 years ago and much more than 25 years ago. The most substantive expression of this democracy are the electoral processes. Just last year, in 2009, 18 such processes took place, resulting in 24 elections in the region. Of these, six were presidential elections in Latin American, while four were referendums and one was a parliamentary election with direct effect on the constitution of the government in countries of the Caribbean and Central America. At this time, in all active OAS Member States, men or women are governing who were elected democratically by the people. This represents a major change from 30 years ago, when democracy was absent from most countries of the region.

The reality of the exercise of contemporary democracy, not only in our region but in the world, has led to the question of whether the fact that a government was elected is sufficient to classify it as democratic, or whether, in addition, we should require that the power granted by the election be exercised democratically.

Already in 1997 Fareed Zakaria – actual editor of Newsweek – questioned the nature of many old and new democracies indicating that, although they were the result of electoral majorities, they subsequently adopted policies that were contrary to the concept of liberal democracy, by suppressing or limiting the opposition, violating the separation of powers or infringing essential human rights and public freedoms. In other words, these governments were elected by popular vote but, as soon as they took office – at times even supported by the majority – they closed Parliament, repressed the opposition, restricted freedom of opinion, intervened in the courts of justice violating their independence, etc.

Since then the discussion has remained actual and may even have increased owing to the intensification of such incidents by governments that Zakaria himself classified as “illiberal.” In our own region, we have governments for which the temptation to change the rules regulating the duration of their mandate and re-election arises each time they see a possible political advantage to this, while laws that regulate fundamental aspects of democracy are frequently amended; even the exercise of public freedoms. The explanation given to justify this temptation is always the need to “finish the task” or to deal with urgent crises in society. But changing institutions and laws for this purpose weakens the institutional framework and, consequently, the democracy that it is supposed to defend. Although political success is related to results, this cannot be the only justification for changing the rules and seeking any way to prolong a government. In democracy, all power must have limits; to the contrary, those who govern us substitute for the institutions, which leads to the caesarism that the hemisphere experienced in former times.

Paradoxically, however – and I will explain why I use the word “paradoxical” later – for the inter-American system, the problem posed originally by Zakaria was solved, at least in the juridical sphere, when our countries, at the OAS Extraordinary General Assembly held in Lima on September 11, 2001, approved the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which adopted, unequivocally, the interpretation that democracy is both of origin and of exercise and that, in order to call itself democratic, a government must not only be elected democratically, but also govern democratically.

A brief review of the principal concepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter reveals this definition. In its first article, it proclaims the right of the peoples to democracy and then, in Article 2, it establishes that the bases for this democracy are representation (representative democracy), the rule of law and the existence of a constitutional order, adding that this democracy is strengthened by the full participation of the citizenry within the framework of the Constitution and the law.

In continuation (Article 3), the Charter lists the “essential elements” of democracy, adding to the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage, other characteristics such as respect for human rights, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of public powers.

Article 4 completes this initial explanation with a definition of the democratic pact, when requiring the subordination of everyone to the civilian authority and the public powers, but at the same time requiring transparency, probity, responsible public administration, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press as components of the exercise of democracy.

It is worth reading the whole Charter, but what I have said here suffices to indicate that, going to the opposite extreme to mere electoral democracy, the Inter-American Democratic Charter is, in fact, a political program for the “democratic republic,” a complex political system, composed of responsible citizens who generate their authorities by means of elections, with full participation and endowed with inalienable rights; and of a government of laws more than of individuals, the legitimacy of which is founded on transparency, good governance and full respect for the rights of the citizen.

To reinforce this programmatic nature, the Charter indicates that “democracy and social and economic development are interdependent and are mutually reinforcing” (Article 11) and develops this notion to enunciate how the absence of development and equity, discrimination, illiteracy, poverty, and the failure to respect the rights of workers and women, are factors that adversely affect the consolidation of democracy.

It seems unnecessary to say that this series of democratic requirements is not completely fulfilled in any of our countries, or in any part of the world. We are therefore talking about a “program”, an ideal to which we aspire and that can always be improved.

But the risk of “illiberality” is not the only one that threatens democracy in the societies of Latin America. In such unequal societies as ours, it is not unusual for the dominant sectors to be apprehensive about any process of reform. Attempts to correct a democratic process using undemocratic means were common in our hemisphere in the first half of the last century and, contrary to what many may think, have not been eliminated completely. Now that the era of the dictatorial governments of national security, which were much crueler and longer, has passed, the “corrective coup” appears to be an interesting praetorian option, as revealed by the recent coup d’état in Honduras.

What the Honduran crisis has in common with other recent crises in the region, whose origin can easily be recognized in situations of “illiberality,” is the fact that all of them are based on the insufficiency and even the ineffectiveness of the systems of government in many of our countries. In brief, I would even say that, in my opinion, most if not all the political crises that we have recently experienced in the region have arisen principally from the very significant deficit of governance that still characterizes us and not from irreconcilable ideological differences.

I also believe that, in the multilateral system, the equivalent to this lack of governance in our States, are the constraints that prevent us from intervening preventively when certain crises of governance are revealed in its components. And herein lies the apparent paradox to which I referred above, because although the essential issues concerning democracy in our region have been solved at the juridical level with the approval of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the same is not true at the political level and, fundamentally, at the multilateral political level.

I would like to refer specifically to the latter situation, using as an example the situation in Honduras. As everyone know, immediately after the coup d’état in that country, and in compliance with Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the OAS General Assembly approved a resolution to suspend Honduras from the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS and commissioned the Secretary General, together with representatives of several countries, to facilitate dialogue and the re-establishment of democracy and the rule of law in Honduras.

In the months following the coup d’état, the de facto government and President Zelaya failed to reach any agreement, and presidential elections that were already scheduled and underway before the coup, were held on November 29, 2009, without the restitution of the constitutional President, José Manuel Zelaya. Following the election and after Porfirio Lobo had taken office as the new President of Honduras, only nine of the OAS 34 Member States explicitly acknowledged his government and Honduras continues to be suspended from the Organization.

Why could the OAS not have done more to restore the democratic institutional framework in the country before President Lobo was elected? And, above all, why could it not have done more, if it had the legal framework of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is entirely explicit on such issues? The answer relates to one of the essential characteristics not only of the OAS but of all multilateral organizations: because the OAS, as all multilateral organizations, is made up of sovereign States, and respect for that sovereignty imposes limits. A country can be suspended from the Organization, it can be isolated internationally and economic sanctions can be imposed, but always within certain limits.

Moreover, the Inter-American Democratic Charter defines the essential elements of democracy and provides governments with a procedure to guide collective action when democracy is threatened, but it does not include mechanisms for preventive actions. In addition, although it establishes the need for mediation using “the necessary diplomatic initiatives” and “good offices to foster the restoration of democracy,” it does not establish any procedure to this end or authorize the Secretary General to take initiatives in this regard. Furthermore, since neither the Democratic Charter nor the founding Charter or any other OAS legal instrument allows State powers, other than the Executive, to appeal to those same instruments, the possibilities of preventive or diplomatic action are even more limited.

In contrast, the Democratic Charter is entirely explicit about the procedure to be followed to sanction the State in which there has been an interruption of the democratic order – a procedure which, incidentally, is fairly expedite – as well as about the definition of the sanction that should be applied.

It was within this framework that the States of the Americas had to act to deal with the flagrant interruption of the democratic order in one of their number; an interruption, moreover, where the way it happened sadly recalled past practices, especially in view of the abusive use of force and the humiliation of a constitutional president. The result was the decision to suspend the State from the Organization before the facilitation of dialogue, as well as other efforts that could have been used to seek the restoration of democracy prior to the presidential elections, could be fully deployed.

My personal opinion is that the application of this sanction had a positive effect, because the whole international community was fully united behind the decision. No country in the world recognized the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti and, in this context, all the international organizations and bilateral cooperation agencies suspended their relations with Honduras. I must acknowledge, however, that our action to safeguard democracy would have been much more effective if we had been able to act – with “the necessary diplomatic initiatives” or “good offices,” as the Democratic Charter establishes – before the crisis had reached its breaking point.

However, in the case of Honduras this prior intervention was not invoked in time. As I have mentioned, the OAS depends on the request of the Executive power in order to act. This has occurred on previous occasions on which a preventive intervention was able to prevent a greater crisis. It happened in Ecuador in 2005, in Nicaragua the same year, in Bolivia on several occasions, and in Guatemala in 2009, when the governments resorted to the Inter-American Democratic Charter in time. But when the Government of Honduras invoked it, the interruption of democracy was inevitable.

Consequently, the lesson learned from the interruption of the institutional order in Honduras is that we must start to examine more rapid and more flexible procedures to handle issues that are crucial for the Organization of American States, so as to enable it to act preventively in situations that, as I have also mentioned, are representative principally of scenarios of lack of governance rather than ideological conflict.

Several OAS Member States are already demanding some kind of early warning and monitoring mechanism that permits this rapid and preventive intervention; an intervention that could evidently only be carried out within the framework of respect for the principle of non-intervention and State sovereignty. In my opinion, one of the main challenges for contemporary multilateralism is to find the appropriate balance between respect for these principles and the obligation to protect democracy.

Another very useful procedure to this end could be an understanding or interpretation of the Democratic Charter that permitted extending the capacity to appeal to it to all the powers of the State and not only the Executive. I am convinced that this would allow us to apply the Charter more effectively, even in its present form, and especially in situations such as those described above as “illiberal” – to use Zakaria’s definition – or of the non-democratic exercise of powers granted democratically.

Of course, all these are issues that must be discussed by the OAS Member States, even though their impact, as I have said, extends in my opinion to the whole of the multilateral international system.

And we already have an important precedent for this discussion: the peoples of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly reaffirming their commitment to democracy because, according to the latest Latinobarómetro report, since the end of the Asiatic crisis in 2003-2004, in Latin America satisfaction with democracy has increased on average from 29 percent to 44 percent in 2009. Furthermore, trust in governments has increased also on average from 19 percent in 2003 to 44 percent in 2008. Latinobarómetro also reports that 62 percent of the region’s inhabitants say that coup d’états are unlikely in their own country.

We should add to this the significant expansion over recent years of civil society organizations, which provide a vehicle for greater citizen participation in many fields of social activity previously reserved to the State. Without having to go any further, in the OAS General Assemblies we already receive and hear more than 150 delegations from the many civil society organizations of Latin American and the Caribbean. This also is a manifestation of the commitment to democracy and another expression of the intensification of democracy that is underway in the region.

This is the framework within which we can dialogue and seek new forms of developing cooperation for democracy between our two regions, 10 years after the first meeting of our Heads of Government in Río de Janeiro.

This possible cooperation is based on the essential fact that Europe and the Americas have shared principles and values. Democracy and human rights are the main ones and they serve as a basis not only for our cooperation but also for all our relations. This notion of shared principles and values is the one that has fostered our dialogue, which has intensified in recent years. It began with the Ibero-American Summits of Heads of State and of Government almost 20 years ago, which were followed by the Summits of Heads of State of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union, whose inception 10 years ago we are recalling today. The creation of the Ibero-American General Secretariat during the thirteenth Ibero-American Summit in 2003 was a landmark in the intensification of this dialogue, because it expressed its institutionalization and the guarantee that application of the agreements and decisions of our Presidents would be monitored and controlled.

In this context, what should be the priority areas for our cooperation for democracy? I believe that the Inter-American Democratic Charter can guide us in this matter. If we examine each element that the Charter defines as essential for democracy, we find both progress and shortcomings: respect for human rights is significantly greater than only 20 years ago, but shortcomings remain such as police abuse, infra-human prison conditions, violence against women, and discrimination against vulnerable groups. In many countries transparency and probity have been the subject of special laws and, in general, there is a greater control over the exercise of authority; while others still reveal an absence of control, disregard of opposition and abuse of authority. Major judicial reforms have been carried out, but access to justice is still limited and biased in favor of the higher-income groups.

If we turn our attention to the shortcomings, it becomes evident that an important area for cooperation for democracy between us must be the one wherein lies one of the major problems of the region of Latin America and the Caribbean: governance. Because – and I am going to insist on this – as or more important that the democratic origin of our governments is the way they govern, and we have already seen that we have an important deficit in this area.

The reality is that many countries of the region are not in conditions to create basic laws or institutions formally able to implement public policies. Similarly, many governments do not have the necessary instruments to govern; they do not have adequate instruments to provide education and health care, protection for the environment, or public security and other services that help ensure equal opportunities among our citizens. The relationship among the powers of the State is often vague and conducive to differences and even conflicts, and all those powers are lagging significantly in their incorporation of technology and procedures that would permit them to make their processes more efficient and their functioning more effective.

Another useful guideline for our cooperation for democracy arises from information generated by a project that the OAS executed last year. This was a cooperation project on “Democracy and Development” implemented with IDEA International during which we made a regional survey of the perceptions of the European Union’s role in the construction of democracy in Latin American and the Caribbean. One of the principal conclusions of the survey was that the definition of democracy needed to be expanded to make the European Union’s role more effective. Particular emphasis was given – very much in keeping with the Inter-American Democratic Charter – to the fact that the construction of democracy needs to advance from “electing democratically” towards “governing democratically and effectively.” Hence, the very concept of democracy must go beyond electoral processes to include issues such as the fight against corruption, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, and the promotion of gender equality and freedom of expression. The essential idea behind this concept is that democracy without prosperity is not sustainable.

The intensification of our cooperation for democracy should take these concepts into account. The same report suggests that the European Union and each of its countries should consider democracy from this perspective when they define the terms of their cooperation with the Americas. Specifically, it proposes that the definition of democracy as an object of cooperation should exceed the electoral processes and be synchronized with the definitions contained in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The report of IDEA International also suggests that a closer coordination between the European Union’s different policy areas that deal with the construction of democracy, such as cooperation for development and the Common Security and Foreign Policy, will help make its efforts more effective in supporting democracy in the Americas.

In other words, to provide more effective support to democracy in the Americas, the European Union should focus its efforts in two areas: strengthening institutional stability and dealing with the problems that underlie poverty and inequality. The European Union cooperation will be effective only if our citizens can see that democracy translates into an improved quality of life, better medical coverage, better education, better personal safety, and better institutions of government, among other tangible benefits.

I am convinced that we can make great progress in the coming years in our cooperation to enhance democracy. Indeed, significant advances are already occurring that it is worth highlighting here. In particular, I would like to emphasize the importance of the “Association Agreements” that are being negotiated with Mercosur since 1999 and with Central America and members of the Andean Community since 2006. In contrast to previous regional agreements, these include democracy and the protection of human rights as central and basic objectives. They are wide-ranging understandings that, in addition to the financial aspect, include cultural, political and cooperation issues within the framework of three central elements: political dialogue, cooperation and trade.

It is very encouraging to see also that, following long negotiations, the Association Agreements between the European Union and Colombia and Peru were concluded successfully last month. It is possible that the Association Agreement with Central America will also be concluded soon; in fact, it is hoped to sign both agreements next May during the European Union -Latin America and the Caribbean Summit in Madrid.

I must repeat that our region is making progress in the exercise of democracy. However, last year’s events and all the accumulated experience show that our democracies, in some cases, are flawed in their exercise. We must do better. We can do better. The cooperation with the European Union can provide immense help to achieve this objective. Hence, we must continue working together, within the framework of our shared principles and values.

Thank you very much