Media Center

Press Release


  November 24, 2003

CARTAGENA, Colombia – Two former Presidents of Peru, Alan García and Valentín Paniagua, today discussed some of the challenges facing political parties in the hemisphere, during the third annual meeting of the Inter-American Forum on Political Parties, held under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS).

García, who heads Peru’s Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, said political parties in the region are “completely behind the times” and need to adapt to a globalized information age. Citizens today are better informed, more independent and less interested in formalized ideologies, García said. In this environment, he added, parties need to work more dynamically with civil society and respond more effectively to the concerns of citizens, particularly young people.

For his part, Valentín Paniagua, who heads Acción Popular, said parties need to be more inclusive, adding that most include few women and have an “insignificant” indigenous presence. “We are confronting a crisis of democratic governance – not only of governance, but of representation,” said Paniagua, who called for a political process that is more open to civil society and that seeks consensus rather than confrontation.

More than 100 political leaders from around the hemisphere, representing different ideological leanings, are in Cartagena discussing issues related to political party reform and modernization. The meeting, which was inaugurated last night by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and OAS Secretary General César Gaviria, continues through tomorrow. Participants include more than 30 political party chairs, as well as electoral authorities, academics and representatives of international and non-government organizations.

Although a majority of Latin American citizens believe democracy is the only system that will lead to development, public opinion polls conducted by Latinobarómetro have shown widespread cynicism toward political parties. Martha Lagos, who heads the polling firm, said that in 2003 only 11 percent of citizens polled expressed confidence in parties – far below the percentage of those who had confidence in the Church, television, the armed forces and other institutions.

Manuel Alcántara, Director of the Asociación Lationamericana de Ciencia Política, moderated today’s panel discussion on democratic governance and political parties, in which Luis Ayala, Secretary General of The Socialist International, also participated.

Ayala called for parties to open themselves up to greater civil society participation and called for a renewal, within parties, of the idea of public service – that politicians “are there to serve, not to serve themselves.”

The Executive Coordinator of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, Elizabeth Spehar, said the Inter-American Forum on Political Parties has three main goals: to make the modernization of parties an issue on the public agenda of the OAS member countries, as a step toward strengthening democratic stability; to define paths for improvement of parties and party systems, through a dialogue that includes civil society, academics, the media and other actors; and to generate a space for coordination among multilateral and bilateral institutions that support stronger political parties.

Today’s sessions included an analysis of political reforms in Colombia, as well as discussions of several specific issues related to money and politics: the pros and cons of public financing of campaigns; the cost of television in the campaign process; the challenges of transparency in political financing; and whether money presents an obstacle for women to enter politics.

Reference: E-230/03