Media Center



July 11, 2007 - Washington, DC

This morning we listened to President Alpha Oumar Konaré expressing important concepts when describing the situation on his continent – that immense continent that has the potential to be the new world market, one of the largest markets on earth – which faces problems and yet is progressing. Yesterday, we heard a World Bank report on governance and noted that the indicators have improved in many regions of the world, but in Africa more than on any other continent. I believe it is important to highlight this as an intimation of optimism about what we are beginning to see.

We are interested and enthusiastic to join in the promotion of most of the significant elements that President Konaré has indicated, and we believe that we can share experiences concerning the major issues that confront our democracies; first, in order to be truly democratic and, then, to continue being democratic despite all the problems relating to economic growth, hunger, misery, disease, war and conflict. Democracy is not the heritage of developed countries, although it is obviously easier to have democracy when there is not so much poverty, so much misery, and so much ground to be made up.

Our experience in recent years has been very positive. It cannot be denied that America today is much more democratic than 25 years ago and this is an undeniable fact that, at times, we tend to forget when we magnify some of our problems. And I am not referring only to elections. Representatives of civil society are here with us and, in our General Assembly, we receive more than 150 civil society delegations from among the many that exist in Latin America where some countries have more problems than others. But it is encouraging to observe how our region has advanced; how this world has developed over the last 20 years of improved democracy, and how the quality of our electoral systems has improved. We have increasingly complex problems with the financing of elections in our countries; there is a great deal of inequality in the individual’s possibility of access to power, but we have also made progress.

Latin America and the Caribbean are young democracies and, when we speak of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we have to start by explaining it based on our own experience, because it was not just drafted by a few individuals in two or three days; it evolved over a long period in the midst of conditions that were much more difficult that those we have today. And the Declaration of Santiago, which began the process that led to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, was made after the dictatorships in most countries of South America and the civil wars in the countries of Central America had ended. Those two democratizing currents met with the one from the Caribbean, which had also experienced dictatorial episodes although shorter ones, to merge into a series of principles in which we all believe intensely.

Our Democratic Charter is very demanding – as I said this morning – and the first requirement is reflected in what President Konaré mentioned. Article 1 of our Inter-American Democratic Charter states that the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy. It is not a gift, it is not a concession; the people have fought hard for it and continue to fight for it; they want to acquire democracy for themselves; they have a right to it. That right is expressed periodically not only by voting and being elected, but also by the fact that voters and those they elect are representatives of the people, because the democratic way of government does not generate authorities but rather representatives, individuals who have to represent the people; this is enshrined in our Charter.

And, they must represent them in accordance with laws, regulations, the rule of law, under constitutional regimes, with participation. Our Inter-American Democratic Charter adds all this as a basis for the electoral institutional framework, and then refers to another aspect, which is the citizen. The previous social contract, in which the individual handed over part of his freedom to the authority and subordinated himself to it in exchange for security is no longer essential. Today, it is the new social contract that is essential, where the individual gives legitimacy to the government in exchange for fully exercising his citizenship. We want republics of citizens, not self-generated authorities, visionaries, but republics of laws and republics of citizens; that is the purpose of our Charter.

But, of course, this involves problems, as do most issues in this world. We do not have perfect democracies, and I would like to refer to some of the main difficulties that our region faces to respond effectively to the democratic ideals that are incorporated in our Charter and that we will not achieve from one day to the next, but towards which we are advancing.

First, I believe it important to recall that, in recent years, our region has experienced relatively limited growth in general, and in most of the countries. In contrast to other regions of the world – in contrast to what we see in some parts of Asia – Latin America and the Caribbean is the region that experienced the least growth over the last 25 years, and this has caused problems. But we are overcoming them; the last four years have seen good economic growth in Latin America, and it is very encouraging for these democracies to be growing. However, many of our people doubt or are unsure whether this economic growth will last and, more importantly, whether its benefits will touch everyone. Because our second major problem, the most significant, the harshest, and the most distressing, is the problem of poverty and inequality.

This is not a poor continent in the sense mentioned by President Konaré; it is a continent that possesses great wealth and that does not have conditions of extreme underdevelopment. The per capita income of Latin America and the Caribbean is slightly lower than the global average income. We are a continent that is unjust more than it is poor; where we have the highest levels of inequality on this earth; where we have countries in which the poorest sectors of the population, the poorest 20%, take home only 2% of the national income, and where the wealth continues to be accumulated by the few, and where there are very serious problems of poverty and discrimination against minorities that we are also trying to deal with.

Just as we are trying to deal with the problem of violence; not the violence of war because, although there may be a few isolated conflicts, fortunately we have not had any wars, either internally or between countries, for many years. But in the Americas crime-related problems are unequalled in any other region of the world. Consequently, we cannot be proud of our record as regards criminal violence, even though the aggregate statistics – since we have no wars – show that, comparatively, less people in this region suffer violent deaths than in other parts of the planet. But we have the highest rates of murder in the world, and three-quarters of those who are kidnapped in the world have been kidnapped in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Hence, we have serious problems and our democracies must be capable of solving them. And here is where I want to go to the heart of the matter, in my opinion, which relates to many of the things that you will have heard about Latin America and the Caribbean recently; situations of tension, difficulties, conflicts, ideological problems. But what we really have is a major weakness in the institutional framework of our States.

As in the case of most States in the developing world, we have weak States and weak institutions that are frequently required to make considerable efforts to improve the living conditions of the citizenry, but often lack the institutional capacity to do this. When I am asked about instability in Latin America and the risk of democracy regressing, I say that the main risk resides in the following: the people elect and give legitimacy to those who govern them; those who govern them are endowed with legitimacy; they are strong, legitimate, but they are faced with immense problems of poverty, inequality, disease and injustice. And the combination of weak institutions and strong authorities is never a stable combination; it will always be difficult.

The supreme challenge of democracy is not just to elect governments, but to give them instruments that enable them to govern; to provide them with institutions or to establish institutions through which the exercise of the government’s power can be permanent and, in function of this, build up these democracies that we want to be not only of origin, but also of exercise. And so that they mean something to the people. Those of us who believe in democracy must work to ensure that it means something in the life of our citizens. Politics is not merely an exercise of ideas; it is not a mere ideological exercise; it must have beneficial results for the people who are governed. And this is not achieved by elections alone; rather, they give rise to certain expectations.

If we examine the surveys on democracy in Latin America over the last two years, we will see that there has been an upsurge in the hopes placed in democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The people believe in democracy; we have had many elections and there is a certain hope in this; but, in addition, they want their situation improved. As never before, they demand of their governments that the democracies in which they live improve their living conditions. And improving those conditions necessarily means dealing with the other aspects of the Inter-American Democratic Charter: the republic of laws, the quality of government, the efficiency of the public service, the problems of corruption, and also the problems that have been mentioned in relation to regional integration.

Latin American began to talk about integration at the same time as Europe, and then the Caribbean countries joined the discussion. A significant effort has been made as regards integration, but it must be acknowledged that we have not achieved our goals in this regard. There is still relatively little trade between us; rather we are very dependent on relations with the developed world, but our access to global markets is limited and we all have basic problems with our economies and our trade. Naturally, there are less of us than there are Africans, but in Latin America and the Caribbean there are six hundred million inhabitants who, if they were integrated, could make a much greater effort. Moreover, we have similarities; we have many more similarities with each other than other countries that have integrated. Clearly, there is much less difference between the inhabitants of the north and south of America than there is between the inhabitants of the north and south of Europe. Nevertheless, we have not made enough progress in the integration processes.

When we examine the reality of our democracies, it must be acknowledged that we have progressed over recent years, but it must also be acknowledged that we have made much more progress in the origin of democracy than in its exercise. Much remains to be done to strengthen our democratic republics. We have an Inter-American Democratic Charter, and I say with all sincerity that I want to increase its usefulness. Many people say that it does not allow us to take action whenever we would like to, but it is not a treaty; no one is absolutely obliged by it. However, it is the principal legal instrument we have, because it enshrines the consensuses of the American world with regard to the essence of democracy. It is fascinating that, suddenly, we are having these discussions among ourselves and everyone is interpreting the Inter-American Democratic Charter, but no one says: “I am not bound by the Charter; it does not affect me.” To the contrary, we say: “I demand this based on the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” This represents significant progress.

We must do three things with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. First, we must use it as an instrument for the promotion of democracy. We are implementing an interesting program of “Democracy Practitioners” that seeks to provide countries with technical assistance to strengthen their state institutions. Second, we must defend our democracy when it is threatened, but we must do this with the greatest prudence, because the Inter-American Democratic Charter has a history and, precisely for this reason, it contains numerous safeguards as to when a country may intervene in the affairs of another, because we have had considerable experience in this regard. Yesterday, I was able to explain to President Konaré that we have some enormous countries from the point of view of wealth and size, and some very small ones; hence, as there are significant inequalities as regards sovereignty and autonomy, these are important issues for our members. This does not mean that we do not have to act resolutely and together when democracy is truly and massively threatened in some countries.

We have an obligation to give special attention to our problems, and this is why so many of our countries are taking part in solving the problems of our much-loved sister Republic of Haiti. We have made progress but we have to continue during this new period we are experiencing.

And, lastly, we must promote and defend democracy, but above all expand it. Expanding democracy means including more citizens; it means dealing with the problems of social citizenship. Social citizenship means not only that each citizen has the right to vote, to express him or herself and to organize, but also to form part of that element that you repeated several times in your intervention, and that I repeat as the leitmotiv of our organization; namely, solidarity.

For us, the expression “social democracy” means the full exercise of solidarity within nations and among nations. We observe with sorrow how, on many occasions, when, at the international level, we refer for example to trade-related issues, to developmental issues, this important element of solidarity seems to get lost. Even the wealthiest nations ask themselves what benefit they will obtain before finding or seeking to negotiate with the poorest ones. Development assistance goals are established on a yearly basis and a few days ago, I read an interminable list of occasions on which the nations of the world had met to say what they will achieve in the next 10, 20, 30 years; invariably, we meet years later and these goals have not been attained.

If we are not capable of promoting this social democracy, this social citizenship, this solidarity, we can compare notes and exchange texts on how we do things in one region or another, but we will not have gone to the heart of our problem, which is the fact that, in this world of marvels, of inventions, of immense progress; in this world of more than six billion inhabitants, there are still more than two billion poor people and a similar number of people who do not have access to drinking water, to drainage, or to any type of latrine.

It is time for all of us, together, to deal with this problem, and the tool has one name: it is the concept of solidarity; solidarity among our peoples to demand a better global distribution of the conditions to which humanity now has access. We must be aware of our history, aware of why we have had our problems, aware of what has caused these problems, and unite to ensure that this century is truly the century of those who have been passed over throughout the previous centuries of our history.

Thank you very much