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October 9, 2013 - Mexico DF

One striking fact about the Latin American Democracy Forum is that more and more people attend this event every year. To be honest, the number of people here today would not have fit in any of the other places where this event has been staged previously. I am grateful to the College of Mexico for making the stage bigger because I think the size of the audience warrants it.

Every year, when we hold this joint event, which more and more institutions are joining, I start with a remark that democracy has grown extraordinarily in the Americas. That is an irrefutable fact. At this forum we will be discussing all the shortcomings and weaknesses of our democracies but, to tell the truth, the region has never seen a period like this one.

That is not simply because we have completely valid electoral systems in place which, by the way, hold clean, transparent elections with a large voter turnout, and their results are acknowledged. And usually something happens that did not use to be the case in the region, which is that the elected government is of a different stripe than the outgoing one. As a result, we have a lot more democratic stability. We were recalling this morning that during my tenure at the OAS, at least, only two governments have not served out their full term: one was in Honduras, because of a coup d’état; the other was in Paraguay, where the president was impeached. By contrast, in the past, more or less one government a year would end their term prematurely.

I also believe that progress has been made in the area of human rights, although of course we still have many difficulties to deal with. I believe that the status of women is still far from what it should be and it continues to be one of our priorities. We have made a series of important strides in recent years, which have featured a number of democratic milestones that are important to underscore.

However, having said that, in spite of the fact that the Americas is one of the world’s two wholly democratic regions—the other being Europe—and despite the fact that we have had years of economic boom, as was recalled several times this morning, our situation certainly appears nothing if not paradoxical. In the Americas there is a sense of dissatisfaction with democracy and a growing demand from many citizens for substantial improvements not only in the way in which democracy works, but also in the results it yields. What I mean is that democracy should be capable of delivering to citizens the living standards that they deserve, what Dante Caputo—whom I should have mentioned before now, giving that he is the father of this whole initiative—terms the “democratic imperative.”

Why is that? I believe that the uncertainty hanging over our democracies today is there because of something of our own making. No one is more to blame for this state of affairs than the governments of the Americas, which, on September 11, 2001, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first article of which declares that “[t]he peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” Next, that same Democratic Charter, far from confining democracy to a purely electoral issue, recognizes—as Dante Caputo pointed out this morning—citizenship as a very broad concept that encompasses the political, human, and social dimensions, and it posits that a democratic government not only has to be elected democratically, but must also govern democratically, with respect for human rights, respect for freedom of expression, effective separation of powers, political plurality, transparency, without discrimination, and so on and so forth.

The Charter then goes on to say that citizens have a right to development, that citizenship includes social citizenship, which goes hand-in-hand with both our democratic and our development efforts. Of course, while this is an area in which we have made progress, it remains a challenge to be overcome. In the Americas there are certainly situations that are incompatible with the concept of democracy: unacceptable levels of inequality, unacceptable levels of violence that have no place in a society that is not at war and where there are not supposed to be conflicts among its citizens. There is still visible dissatisfaction with the level of confrontation and breakdowns in governance that sometimes occurs in our countries thanks to political differences. If there is something that a democratic system demands it is a minimum of consensus among its authorities; it demands that, leaving aside the confrontations that are par for the course in politics, there be a space in which democrats can reach agreement, especially where making important reforms to their societies are concerned.

I do not believe that what we have here is a rejection of politics; the paradox lies precisely in the fact that the more democracy progresses, the more adherents it attracts. The polls show that more citizens in the Americas answer “yes” when asked if they believe that democracy is the best form of government. Nevertheless, there is a rejection; not of politics, but of that inward-looking, self-seeking and confrontational attitude that so often causes us harm.

Camín, that intellectual eminence of this country—whom I first cited many years ago and whose words I have taken as if they were my own—once said, “Politics exists to solve citizens’ problems, not to make ones for them.”

That is why the question of consensus through political dialogue is so important for us; that is why we heartily salute you, Mr. Secretary.

The Pact for Mexico is blazing a trail that other governments in the Americas would do well to follow, and that is why we are here to talk, to discuss matters with each other, to disagree with one another, certainly, but to extract useful conclusions all the same.

“A political idea that cannot be put into practice is of no use.” We have an obligation to engage in practical dialogue on our democracies so that we can improve them day by day.

That is the object of this exercise and I thank you all for being here today.

Thank You