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Foreign Ministers at the OAS: Inter-American Democratic Charter Does Not Need to Be Modified, but Strengthened, and Improved in Its Application

  September 6, 2011

The tenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is being celebrated in Valparaíso, Chile, with an event in which nearly 15 foreign ministers from the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) are participating, alongside President Sebastián Piñera, ambassadors and other figures from the hemisphere.

The event, being held at the headquarters of the National Congress, includes two round tables in which the challenges and future of democracy in the hemisphere are being debated. The first round table, titled, "Democracy in the Americas: The Challenge of Social Inclusion," was introduced by the former OAS Secretary General and former President of Colombia, César Gaviria, who presented a summary of the history of democracy's evolution in the region and of the commitments and initiatives that led to the adoption of the Charter in september 2011, and he explained how this arose in answer to the democratic reforms that took place in the Americas, after the Cold War and spurred by globalization.

In the dialogue, the foreign ministers and heads of delegation agreed with the idea that the Democratic Charter does not need to be modified, but strengthened, and improved in its application. They referred to the way in which the challenges of social inclusion can be faced in the context of democracy and the progress achieved in terms of representation and the strengthening of democratic governance. “We have moved from being preoccupied with electoral democracy to the legitimate concern for the workings of democracy," asserted the Foreign Minister of Peru, Rafael Roncagliolo.

In terms of inclusion, the representatives alluded to the need to continue working towards closing social gaps and expanding inclusion. “Many countries in the region have a history of slavery and are the descendants of slavery those who suffer most from social exclusion," said the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign of Jamaica, Kenneth Baugh, who also cited challenges such as security and crime and the importance of adopting social inclusion measures to tackle these scourges.

At the meeting, democracy was highlighted as unique value in the region and social inclusion was recognized as an essential part of its contents. "Social inclusion must not only be a social adjustment, but also an investment in such a way that we can achieve the collective benefits of democracy," said the Foreign Minister of Paraguay, Jorge Lara Castro.

In the debate, the delegates highlighted that the benefits of democracy and development also must reach minorities and traditionally marginalized groups such as women, youth, and Afro-descendant and indigenous populations. It is necessary to "renew our commitment with the policies of social inclusion as mechanisms to enhance democracy and guarantee stability in our continent," said the Foreign Minister of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez.

“When we talk about reforming the Charter, it isn't the charter we should seek to modify, but the attitude and the need for the states to fulfill it. Let's focus on strengthening institutions so the Charter may be fulfilled in its totality, through more strict controls," the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Héctor Timerman, insisted, also indicating that "we cannot reform something that we have not yet fulfilled."

The foreign ministers also underlined the role of the OAS in the strengthening and application of the Democratic Charter, recognizing the need to provide the instruments to make it stronger and more effective and in such a way be able to respond to new challenges. In this sense, the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Patricia Espinosa, suggested developing synergies with other international organizations "to be able to support the governments in developing policies that benefit human development."

Similarly, the Foreign Minister of Colombia, María Ángela Holguín, alluded to the idea of working from the OAS to develop concrete and complex indicators to make progress on projects of social inclusion and the fight against poverty. "Let's give the organization momentum, given the dimension of this continental forum," she said.

In the dialogue, several of the foreign ministers placed emphasis on the first article of the Charter, which states that “los pueblos de las Américas tienen derecho a la democracia y sus gobiernos tienen la obligación de promoverla y defenderla." In this context, the Undersecretary of State of the United States, William J. Burns, concluded that “That obligation neither begins nor ends at the ballot boxThat obligation neither begins nor ends at the ballot boxl” and urged all the OAS countires to "to match rhetorical commitments to democracy with concrete support to the OAS – including its peer review mechanisms, election observation missions, and the independent Inter-American human rights system".

At the end of the session, the ministers recognized that citizen participation is an important element for the strengthening of democracy, as was expressed by the Foreign Minister of Honduras upon asserting that citizens must feel that "at the same time that they participate, they are being given the opportunity to integrate."

To close the debate, the Foreign Minister of Chile and event host, Alfredo Moreno, recalled that the Inter-American Democratic Charter is based on the intrinsic values of society and asserted that "democracy is like air, one does not realize what one has until it's lost, and for that reason Chile gives the highest importance to a system of government that it wishes to live and enjoy."

Reference: E-815/11