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OAS and UNDP Present Report on Political Management of Democracy in Latin America and the Response to the International Economic Crisis

  December 13, 2011

The Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today launched the report "Different Roads of Democracy in Latin America. Lessons Learnt from the Political Approach to the International Economic Crisis," which analyzes the different approaches used by countries in Latin America to meet the economic and social challenges posed by the global financial downturn of recent years.

In his welcoming remarks to the XXXVIII OAS Policy Roundtable, the Secretary General of the hemispheric institution, José Miguel Insulza, explained that the study inquires about the legitimacy of democracy as a political system, as well as the increased state capacity in recent years to manage social demands and at the same time, contribute to the consolidation of a growth cycle.

"Today we can confirm how political variables play a more active role in the process of containment or management of the crisis," he said, and stressed the fact that democratic States in the region "aim at closing the gaps and structural inequalities," a task that determines the stability of the countries.

The head of the hemispheric Organization affirmed that the main issue of the document presented today does not have much to do with the fact that there are different paths, but rather with different points of departure and arrival of the countries to tackle the crisis, which "require a very determined action of democracies." The Secretary General also highlighted the opportunity for analysis in the context of the debate in the framework of the celebration in September of the tenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Heraldo Muñoz, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), highlighted among the report's findings that "today people are not only demanding electoral democracy, but also demand rights, and have the ability to play an active role" in building democracy.

“The benefits of growth are recognized in the region, but there is still a question of the development model, which is not equivalent to economic growth, but is accompanied by the resurgence of an active, vigorous State that is able to play a role in social policies," said Muñoz. "There is a perception that, to face challenges such as inequality, insecurity and violence, we need an active and well-resourced State," he added.

The OAS Secretary of Political Affairs, Victor Rico, said that the document aims to "provide analytical clues that reveal the degree of vulnerability of democracies in the region in terms of links between the economic crisis and the dynamic of political processes, and generate a conceptual framework to support the process of making strategic decisions." He further said that "unlike previous crises, our democracies are better able to cope with the crisis" on this occasion, because there is more institutional and political legitimacy, countries "have gained ground in the State social and institutional spheres launching aggressive and effective social policies."

The OAS high-level official explained that the report identifies three "gaps" for determining the vulnerability of democracies to external economic shocks: the gap between citizen expectations or legitimacy, the gap of institutional management, which points to difference between public policy and its concrete results on the quality of life of citizens, and the gap of social recovery or welfare.

"Besides these, at the current juncture there are tensions that have to do with income inequality among territories in the region and the vulnerability of the middle classes, exposed to greater informality, low health coverage of and educational stagnation," he said.

The Coordinator of the Project Policy Analysis Prospective Scenarios (PAPED) of the UNDP, Antonio Aranibar, explained that Latin American economies came better prepared to respond to the challenges of the global in part crisis due to the recognition of three new premises in the region: that democracies can generate responses to the demands, expectations and needs of its citizens do not generate these demands in a vacuum but in relation to their own environment, and that there are limits to the satisfaction of these demands.

Araníbar added in this sense, that those countries that best sorted the challenges of the sociopolitical and economic recession of 2009 had a number of distinctive features, including "a representative political leadership capable of generating shared horizons of society, having signed broader socio-political arrangements to promote social change, and implemented public policies focused on citizens, focused on the most vulnerable sectors."

The PAPED representative informed that the report concludes that Latin American democracies are now more receptive to external shocks than they were a decade ago, but not all at the same level: the ability of each country to overcome a crisis depends on how large are the structural gaps between the state and their citizens.

Cynthia Arnson, Director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, praised the outstanding contribution that the report makes by focusing on the role of the state. "A strong state is seen as critical to meet the challenges of poverty," she said, and noted that there are still areas where further work is required, especially on ways that power and authority are exercised at various levels in countries that constrain political leaders and impact institutional autonomy.

Kevin Casas, Director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said that "the idea of ​​what Latin America accepts as good governance is something that has become universal," and gave as an example how the region has evolved adopting robust social policies, which "implies an enormous intellectual and political change." Casas noted among the highlights of the report that, although there are different paths among democracies in the region, there are more similarities than disparities, and that there is a reassessment of the role of the State that has brought visible consequences. He closed by saying that discipline and persistence of countries to reform policies were the factors that allowed to have the positive results we have today in regards to the economic crisis.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-1012/11