Media Center



September 12, 2006 - Washington, DC

Five years ago yesterday, our Ministries of Foreign Affairs, shocked by the terrible news coming from the United States, signed a document that we had been working on for more than a decade. The Inter-American Democratic Charter stemmed from a long process since the Cartagena Protocol [1985], Resolution 1080 of Santiago, Chile [1991], the Declaration of Managua for the Promotion of Democracy and Development, [1993] and the Washington Protocol[1997], until culminating at the Third Summit of the Americas, Quebec 2001, in which our Heads of State and Government decided to accelerate the process and establish it within a year.

But, the Inter-American Democratic Charter came forward into a world very different from the one that existed at the time of its elaboration. September 11, 2001, marked the beginning of a different perspective on global conflict, where terrorism became a main topic for States and peoples to worry about; the multilateral international system would have to overcome serious tensions, and the universally shared purpose of peace between nations was ever more distant. Our countries signed this transcendental document, which was to mark the beginning of a new phase in the history of the hemisphere, far removed from periods of authoritarianism and civil wars, present until most recently, among us, specifically at times when the world reverted back to fundamentalism, crisis, and conflict.

And nevertheless, upon celebrating the five-year anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Charter, in a global context that was undoubtedly worse than the one lived prior to September 11, we can be happy about the important democratic achievements reached.

Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing their longest period of democracy since their independence. In the last year, we have had more democratic elections than at any other time in our history, and we still anticipate other major events in this area during the remainder of the year. We have overcome major crises, within the rules of democracy, and today we can say that our democracies are much more stable than they were just a couple of decades ago, when in many countries, periods of democracy were short and fragile, preceded and followed by long periods authoritarianism.

Nevertheless, we know that what has been achieved cannot be assured. We may not experience the same risks of the past, constitutional interruptions, State coups, and the dangers that threaten our democracies. But, the fact that in the last decade many Presidents have not completed their constitutional mandates is one of the indicators that we still need to be aware of the weaknesses that may threaten our freedoms.

Even though our democracy has taken wide strides in our countries, there are other aspects of democracy where there is less progress, and in some cases, progress is nonexistent. The social arena is not split form the political arena. To a large extent, the fruits of democracy can be measured by social changes. In a region with more than 40 percent of people living in poverty and 88 million indigent persons, where only a few countries have made significant progress, poverty and inequality will remain a test for democracy.

Democracy is not a privilege of the rich; for the poor, it must mean something else: it must be the vehicle for their protection and progress within society. We need to ensure that this instrument is effective in changing the lives of Latin Americans, especially their social conditions.

Let us look at our deficits and know our priorities. The shortcomings of society are the tasks of democracy, because democracy is a form of social organization whose purpose is to create citizenship. Without full political, civil, and social citizenship, we will have an incomplete democracy.

We have lived, throughout the course of five years, crises that have led to the premature termination of democratic governments. In most of these cases, these findings were the result of serious social and political tensions, which occurred by way of resignation or the action of public authorities, and replacements occurred pursuant to the laws in force, although sometimes in a context of extreme tension. In this period, there was only one coup in Venezuela in April 2002, just months after the entry into force of the Charter, which thankfully ended, nevertheless, with the reinstatement of the legitimate government of that country.

In almost all cases, the OAS recognized in an immediate manner the steps that needed to be taken. Only the time it took the Council to agree to reject the military coup in Venezuela deserves criticism, as well as the inability to reach agreements for stronger action to preserve democracy in Haiti, and our inaction against the dissolution of the Supreme Court of Ecuador.

The General Secretariat, through the Secretariat for Political Affairs, has made efforts to assist the OAS and its Member States in the preservation and strengthening of democratic institutions, with special attention to the specific situations that affect or may affect democratic institutions and governance in the hemisphere.

In this way, for example, the OAS has played an integral role in facilitating and negotiating peaceful settlements to political challenges in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and Nicaragua, and it has supported the process for peace in Colombia and has also offered technical assistance and capacity-building stimulated critical for longer term stability within countries.

In this sense, it is worth mentioning the performance of our Electoral Observation missions. Chapter V of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IDC) is dedicated to highlight the role of such Missions, and the Charter recognizes them as instruments of paramount importance to ensure free and fair electoral processes. In Article 23, the Charter states that it is the responsibility of the OAS to ensure the “efficiency and independence” of the Electoral Observation Mission, to be held at the request of the Member State concerned and in an “objective, impartial, and transparent manner and with the appropriate technical expertise." (IDC, Article 24)

We have monitored elections, plebiscites, referendums, and other forms of political participation of the citizenry, promoting positive recognition of political rights, particularly the right to exercise ones rights as a citizen and to elect and be elected in an inclusive and free manner, and in compliance with secrecy of the will of the people.

This past year, that also marked the conclusion of the fifth year of the implementation of the Charter, there have been 22 elections in the region in the months ranging from late 2005 to late 2006.

During this period, the OAS has sent 16 Electoral Observation missions to 13 of its Member States, with the participation of a large team of international observers and experts on the subject. The EOMs conducted between September 2005 and September 2006 are:

Honduras – Presidential Elections (November 27, 2005)
Venezuela –Parliamentary Elections (December 4, 2005)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines - General Election (December 7, 2005)
Bolivia - General Election (December 18, 2005), Constituent Assembly (July 2, 2006)
Costa Rica - Presidential and Legislative Elections (February 5, 2006)
Nicaragua - Regional Elections of the North and South Atlantic Coast (March 5, 2006)
Colombia - Legislative elections (March 12, 2006) and Presidential Elections (May 28, 2006)
El Salvador - Municipal and Congressional Elections (March 12, 2006)
Peru - Presidential and Legislative Elections (April 9, 2006 and June 4, 2006)
Dominican Republic - Legislative and Municipal Elections (May 16, 2006)
Mexico - Presidential and Legislative Elections (July 2, 2006)
Paraguay - Internal Party Elections and Political Mov. (July 23, 2006)
Guyana - Presidential and Legislative Elections (August 28, 2006)

Currently, there are two observation missions for the Presidential and Legislative Elections in Ecuador and Nicaragua being prepared, which will take place in October and November, respectively, and we expect to organize and carry out four additional missions, without the possibility of several second-round missions.

The presence of the OAS has contributed significantly, not only to the sound development of processes, but also in that some cases, it has been essential to alleviate the prevailing political tension or to support the consolidation of democratic institutions.

However, the main innovation that incorporates the Inter-American Democratic Charter in the development of democracy in the region, is that it goes far beyond conceiving democracy as the simple generation of democratic power, to define the aspects of modern democracy that our Americas are constructing.

The principles on which democracy rests are not only the guarantee against totalitarian governments; they are also an instrument that privileges the collective good over individual interests. This is not only characterized by conducting free and fair elections, but also by the protection of other fundamental freedoms.

This latter aspect is clearly reflected in the contents of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which provides a broad view of the elements that, by consensus, have been identified as essential to a representative democracy. These include respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the possibility and legitimacy of the exercise of power based on rule of law and popular will, the expression of said will through free and fair electoral processes, the validity of the plurality of parties and political groupings, and the separation and independence of public powers.

Other components that the Charter considers fundamental for the exercise of democracy are transparency, probity, and accountability of governments and their actions, freedom of press and freedom of expression, recognition and respect for social rights, the existence of mechanisms that allow for citizen participation in determining their own destiny and, finally, the strengthening of political parties and organizations.

Therefore, when evaluating the progress of democracy in the last five years, it is necessary to review both the progress or regress of the purpose we have had in these areas as part of the work of our Organization.

The operation of our Commission and our Court of Human Rights remains a source of pride for the OAS, and I hope we continue to provide them the support they deserve. I emphasize here the role of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, because the protection of this right, which is not always respected, remains a fundamental aspect of our action.

Within the content of the Inter-American Charter, democratic institutions also occupy a prominent place. This is the case of political parties, for which it is mentioned, that supporting their modernization and strengthening is important. Consistent with this approach and in compliance with other mandates, such as the Plan of Action of the Third Summit of the Americas, we have been carrying out measures aimed at strengthening and modernizing political parties. Our efforts are supported by different institutions and serve as a mechanism for the coming together of parties, social sectors, academics, electoral authorities, media, and institutions of international cooperation.

We are also proud of the work we have done in recent years regarding the design and implementation of an evaluation and cooperation system in relation to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. The speed with which 33 of 34 Member States have ratified this Convention, and with which 28 accepted the Evaluation and Monitoring mechanisms (MESICIC), has allowed us to inform the past Assembly on the progress our countries have made in relation to transparency and corruption. Similarly as important, putting in place mechanisms for cooperation to enable Member Countries that wish to implement the recommendations.

In the coming weeks, I will give a more complete report on all matters relating to the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the General Committee of the Assembly. Meanwhile, I can only say that there are substantive matters where would could possibly and necessarily broaden content, without touching the existing text.

The first of these matters is the prompt adoption of our Social Charter, aimed at making Chapter III of the Democratic Charter a reality, in the words of Article 11: “Democracy and economic and social development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.”

A second aspect is to strengthen our battle against all forms of discrimination, to include the prompt completion of our Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, the negotiation of the Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination, the constitution of the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the strengthening of the Inter-American Commission of Women.

We are all aware of what we have accomplished, and we know that it is necessary to defend this, with new and more effective instruments. We enshrine this common awareness of the need for collective defense of democracy in the text of the Charter, which tells us that democracy is a permanent aspect of our hemisphere. A few years ago, when a democracy was fragile, we could only express our concern or our solidarity. Today, it is generally accepted that the problems of a country concern us all, and therefore it follows, in the framework of our agreements, that we act together. This also supposes that we cautiously respect the principle of nonintervention. Every action we take in the framework of the Charter is the product of our consensus and our voluntary acceptance of collective action.
In this regard, I conclude this statement by referring to two aspects in the implementation of the Charter where it is possible to clarify for future implementation.
I recently read a phrase, in a newspaper*, on the implementation issues of the Charter that I quote here: “A large part of the problem of the OAS, in its defense of democracy, is related to the limits of sovereignty that interstate multilateralism places on the actions of the OAS. An example is the principle of invitation only. The OAS must, first, obtain the express consent of the respective government before it can intervene in the defense of democracy.”
What this text says is true: the OAS is and will continue to be an organization for the expression of “state multilateralism” in the Americas. It is true that the sovereignty of States imposes limits on the activities of the OAS in the domestic crisis of countries, as well as in issues between them when they have not granted the OAS authority. But, the full respect of this concept is, in my opinion, essential to the preservation of multilateralism in a hemisphere that consists of sovereign States with unequal powers as is ours. Respect of nonintervention is essential to the preservation of trust and coexistence between us.
This respect for nonintervention does not mean that we cannot make a cautious and permanent observation, of the progress of our democracies, to prevent conflicts and problems that arise within them; nor that we should refrain from assessing the proper performance of the aspects of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in our countries. Our countries freely and sovereignly signed the Democratic Charter, and it is natural that they be interested in assessing their compliance. It befalls on the General Secretariat to conduct such assessments and transmit them to the Permanent Council.
In fulfillment of this obligation, a full report on the situation of human rights and freedom of expression in the region was presented at the last General Assembly in Santo Domingo, as well as the first assessment of compliance with the American Convention on Corruption. Hopefully, over time, through our bodies and action mechanisms, we are able to deliver reports on each of the aspects of the Charter, based on a [peer] review in pairs that allows us to draw conclusions and improve our democratic cooperation.
This type of evaluation is possible and necessary, but I do not think that States are willing to accept general monitoring mechanisms regarding the quality of their democracies, by autonomous entities in which they do not participate.
However, the quote that I read has another aspect to it that I think is worth considering, in regard to the consent of governments. In effect, we have a problem to access that must be recognized and discussed: only the countries with representation in the OAS are able to invoke the Charter. If the Executive Branch of a country carries out actions that would constitute violations of the Charter, it will not apply it to its actions. Therefore, unless the government decides to denounce one of its peers, the General Secretariat must take on the difficult duty of sending a mission without the permission of the Council and then report to one of the Member States, something that it surely only do in extremely serious cases.
A clear case is that of the decision of the Government of Ecuador, in early 2005, to dissolve its Supreme Court of Justice. Certainly, its attitude could be interpreted as a violation of the separation and independence of powers enshrined in the Democratic Charter. But, it would not be the government itself which would accuse Ecuador before the OAS and, as such, only another government or the General Secretariat could take on said responsibility. None of this happened, and the facts lead to a disruption of normality that could perhaps have been avoided.

I think the issue of access to the OAS from other elected democratic bodies, or even of political and social institutions, should be legitimized, even though it is ultimately the States that decide when the situation warrants collective consideration in light of the Democratic Charter. This would lead to the greater vitality of the democratic role of the OAS, without violating the principles of sovereignty and nonintervention.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, the Democratic Charter is, above all, and beyond its provisions and instruments, the expression of a consensus and of a will. The Charter is the will of a joint defense for democracy. Never in our history have we witnessed this will to be so widely present. The Charter says that democracy is a matter for everyone, and that, basically, we all wish that in no place there be a breakdown of democracy and that our action mechanisms work properly within the framework of an organization composed of representatives of sovereign States.