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Civil Society at OAS on the Strengthening of a Democratic Culture in the Region

  November 30, 2011

Representatives of civil society today offered the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) their recommendations on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the strengthening of democracy in the region, and other priorities on the countries’ political agendas, during one of the body’s special sessions dedicated to debate contributions by all sectors of society to the strengthening of a democratic culture in the Western Hemisphere.

At the meeting of the Permanent Council held at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, titled, “Promotion and Strengthening of Democracy: Follow-up to the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, praised the “constant efforts” of civil society in the “strengthening and enriching of democracy in the region.” Insulza recalled that currently the hemispheric Organization has registered 387 non-governmental organizations and that in the last decade there have been 115 OAS meetings with civil society.

Secretary General Insulza said the Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes the participation of civil society as “a necessary condition for the effective and full exercise of democracy.” “We have recognized that a strong, active, and vigorous civil society on the one hand needs solid democratic States that have the capacity to integrate or channel their interests and demands, and at the same time we have recognized that the Member States need, in order to forge a democracy, for civil society, its organizations, groups and social movements to clearly deliver their demands and proposals, and to actively participate in the strengthening of our democracy.”

Finally, he noted that the OAS is a unique space for dialogue with the sectors and organizations of civil society. “In no other place do representatives of civil society come and sit next to representatives of the countries to be listened to, to give their opinions and receive replies,” said Secretary General Insulza. “That is the merit of the OAS,” he concluded.

For his part, the Chair of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Guyana to the Organization, Bayney R. Karran, said the Inter-American Democratic Charter is “one of the most advanced international instruments to promote democracy in the Hemisphere and to carry out activities based upon cooperation and solidarity which are necessary to strengthen democratic governance in our respective countries.” He added that the document, signed on September 11, 2001, “establishes measures which guide the collective action of the Member States and the Secretary General when it has been determined that the democratic political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power is at risk in any of our Member States.”

Participants in the special session of the Permanent Council were Luqman Patel of the International Institute for the Development of Citizenship (IIDAC); Marcelo Varela of the Carter Center; Omar García Bolívar of the Inter-American Bar Association (FIA); Victoria Amato of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (RedLad); Joan Andorfer of the Institute for Diplomatic Dialogue in the Americas (IDDA); Salvador Ortega López of “Unidad Industrial Iztapalapa”; and Eva Rodriguez of the International Organization New Acropolis (OINA).

Luqman Patel, of IIDAC, recommended the expansion of democratic spaces for participation by adolescents in symposiums, summits, events and other discussion forums, in direct communication with the Member States of the OAS and with the cooperation of civil society. “The IIDAC reaffirms its unreserved conviction of support for hemispheric integration with the strategic participation of adolescents, and with the hope that they may fully enjoy the values of citizenship and democracy and fundamental human rights, and that they may have the right to be part of the processes that shape their lives today and tomorrow, in the present and future of the Americas,” he said.

Marcelo Varela, of the Carter Center, offered proposals to strengthen the resources at the disposal of the inter-American community to improve the quality of democracy in all countries, including the establishment of preventive mechanisms to avoid the erosion of democracy and the rule of law; to conduct evaluations on the progress and regressions regarding specific elements of democracy as established in the Charter; to establish guidelines for identifying violations to the Charter; and to link the OAS and its efforts with other regional organizations. In this sense, he recognized that the Charter “is one of the most advanced international instruments for promoting and strengthening democracy, as well as one of the most important achievements by the countries of the Hemisphere.”

Omar García Bolívar, of FIA, proposed the development of indicators for measuring crucial aspects of democracy, the possibility of activating preventive mechanisms in the Inter-American Democratic Charter by civil society, and the need to strengthen citizen participation in democracy. “Democracy in the world in general, and in the Americas in particular, requires positive transformation that encompasses the most disadvantaged peoples,” he said. “It is not only about the transformation of the State to the new realities of modernity and globalization, but also, and fundamentally, about mechanisms for solving the most pressing needs of a great majority of citizens,” he added.

Victoria Amato, of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (RedLad), presented a summary of the electoral observation report conducted by RedLad during the presidential elections this year in Nicaragua and urged the OAS to develop its role in the defense of democracy in the region. “We do not propose reforms to the Democratic Charter, but simply insist that the OAS activate the democracy defense and protection mechanisms granted by said document,” she said.

Joan Andorfer, of IDDA, thanked the representatives of the Member States and the OAS for being the only organization in the world that “allows their logo and their information for use by university students and gives access to diplomatic missions anywhere and at any level. “This is innovative and experiential for our students and extremely important to them,” she added, explaining that the organization she represents conducts a “Model OAS” program in which students study resolutions and documents produced by the OAS and its tasks in the Hemisphere.

Salvador Ortega López, of the “Unidad Industrial Iztapalapa,” suggested the implementation of a “Sector Ombudsman” program so that society can better participate and intervene in public policies and pay more attention to public expenditures. Many of the problems in the countries of the region, he said, “have their root in the poor handling of public budgets; nor is there a private surveillance organization to supervise the effective handling of the budgets, or much clarity regarding their handling and application.”

Eva Rodriguez, of the International Organization New Acropolis (OINA), suggested promoting sustainable cultural policies, highlighting democratic values and practices that prepare individuals for citizen life; developing programs that foment dialogue, peaceful coexistence and other central democratic values; strengthening alliances with Civil Society institutions; and favoring financial sustainability in the execution of long-term cultural and educational programs. “We think that the growing misunderstanding between the citizenry and the specialists requires a change of paradigm,” she said. “True culture is not one more area of expertise, but the cement that can unite the experts and the population in overcoming indifferences, misunderstandings and citizen indignation.”

The Member States asserted their commitment to all sectors of society, including civil society, in making progress on the joint work of strengthening democracy in the Hemisphere, improving collaboration between civil stakeholders and the Organization, and facing common challenges. The following delegations took the floor: United States, Guatemala, Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM), Canada, Chile, Panama, Colombia, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Haiti.

The dialogue in the Permanent Council was held in accordance with article 26 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which instructs the OAS to continue promoting democratic principles and practices, taking into account contributions by civil society organizations, as well as the issues, results and recommendations from the meetings held at the OAS in March of 2008 under the title of “Cooperating with Civil Society.”

Today’s special session was part of a series of meetings on the Inter-American Democratic Charter being held by the Permanent Council in different sessions that respond to the mandate issued in resolution 2555 of the 40th OAS General Assembly, held in 2010 in Lima. In its operative paragraph 14, the text instructs the Council to “to organize and carry out a dialogue on the effectiveness of the implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and to submit the results and/or progress of the same during 2011, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its adoption.”

A gallery of photos of the event are available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-985/11