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Regional Experts Debate 21st Century Democracy, the Role of Media, Electoral Systems and Women's Participation

  October 12, 2010

The Latin American Democracy Forum that is being held October 12 to 14 in the Mexican capital opened today with a debate on the state of democracy in the region in the 21st century. Participants in the panel were the Special Advisor to the OAS Secretary General, Dante Caputo; the former President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari; the economist and journalist Teodoro Petkoff; and the UNDP Democratic Governance Cluster Leader, Álvaro Pinto.

In the debate, which was moderated by the Chilean journalist Mónica González, the former Argentine foreign minister Dante Caputo said that "the existence of democratic institutions is indispensable and has as its necessary condition the holding of clean, transparent elections with fair competition, that is, that everyone be in a condition to compete."

The conversation focused on the roots of democracy in the region, and the importance of having electoral institutions and political parties that improve the role of institutions. The evolution of democratic systems and the richness of the political dynamics of the continent with a relevant role by the opposition and broad participation were some of the issues highlighted by the political analysts who met in the event.

In the second panel the presenters spoke about the role of the media and the importance of the media to achieving progress in democratic systems. In this context, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Catalina Botero, spoke about the great challenges facing journalists in the region and asserted that violence, impunity, censorship, exclusion, concentration of property and control of the media are serious problems that affect various countries in the hemisphere and the freedom of those who work in journalism.

Another panel featured the participation of Jaime Abello, Director of the Ibero-American New Journalism Foundation; Raúl Trejo, Researcher at the Institute of Social Research of Mexico; and the journalist José Zepeda. The presenters made reference to the enormous opportunities for social and political transformation that the new technological media represent; these have given a new role to citizens through technological tools, and they addressed also the risks posed by the concentration of power in the media and monopolies.

International professors and experts on the subject of elections were the participants in the panel titled, "Electoral Competency: New Conditions and Challenges in the 21st Century." Manuel Alcántara of the University of Salamanca; José Woldenberg of the Autonomous University of Mexico; Daniel Zavatto, Director of IDEA International; Pablo Gutiérrez, Director of the OAS Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation; and Beatriz Paredes, Chairwoman of the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico talked about citizen participation, electoral processes and the challenges and progress in inclusion.

With respect to the subject of elections, Pablo Gutiérrez spoke about the electoral observation missions and electoral technical cooperation the OAS offers, and he noted that the Inter-American Democratic Charter refers to "the importance of citizen participation, and to a group of indispensable elements, such as: ethics, responsibility and no discrimination, which are inherent to that participation." He also indicated that "many times it happens that in electoral debates we give a connotation to the electoral process as though it were the exclusive manifestation of democracy, and we forget that after the elections it's time for an exercise in pure democracy."

Finally, the participation and role of women in the construction of democracy was the subject that closed the meeting on its first day. In it participated Margarita Elizondo of the IFE; Otilia Lux of Coti, politician and social leader of Guatemala; Epsi Campbell, former presidential candidate of Costa Rica; Carmen Colazo, of the Inter-American Network of Women, Gender Equality and Development; and María Jimena Duzan, Colombian journalist and political scientist.

The Latin American Democracy Forum is the outcome of a joint initiative of the OAS, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico that seeks to provide a space for dialogue and exchange of ideas on political electoral and academic subjects that concern Latin America.

Reference: E-378/10