Media Center



  June 2, 2007

PANAMA CITY, Panama—The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today defended the concept of democracy enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which includes citizen participation, separation of powers, respect for human rights and respect for freedom of expression and of the press among the basic values of an inclusive democracy.

In opening a forum in the Panamanian capital on “The 2005-2006 Electoral Cycle in the Americas: An Evaluation of the OAS General Secretariat,” Insulza talked about the need for a pluralistic system of political parties and political organizations that derives from “a concept of democracy that is much broader and more demanding than simply to say that in this system authorities are elected periodically.”

The Secretary General was accompanied by the President of Panama’s National Assembly, Congressman Elías Castillo, who also participated in the opening ceremony of the forum, taking place in the context of the 37th OAS General Assembly.

In offering an overview of the OAS experience in observing elections in the hemisphere, Insulza noted that in the last 16 years the regional organization has monitored some 130 elections in 22 countries, which has enabled it to identify trends and draw conclusions about the commitment citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean have to democracy. The intensive electoral cycle in 2005 and 2006 showed that while elections sometimes were complex and closely contested, “they were in general well run and widely accepted,” the Secretary General said.

Between November 2005 and December 2006, 16 countries in the hemisphere held elections for president or prime minister, 12 of which were observed by the OAS. The regional organization also observed legislative and municipal elections, as well as referendums, for a total of 17 Electoral Observation Missions with a total of more than 1,000 observers.

Today’s forum addressed two central issues: “The Role of the OAS in Electoral Observation” and “Electoral Processes in the Americas: Some Challenges.” Participants included OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin and U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY). Others included Dante Caputo, OAS Under Secretary for Political Affairs; former Colombian Election Registrar Alma Beatriz Rengifo; and the President of Panama’s Electoral Tribunal, Erasmo Pinilla.

In his keynote address, José Miguel Insulza underscored the democratic progress that has been made in the hemisphere, stating that “for the first time in the Americas, there are elected democracies in all countries that actively participate in the OAS.” Although OAS observations have at times detected deficiencies, Insulza said, “nonetheless the pluses and minuses of our 16 years of experience in electoral observation and in advising our Organization’s member countries on election issues give us a net outcome that is positive.” He added that what is most important, in the final analysis, “is that elections have ended up becoming the only mechanism to handle political differences and they have taken place in a completely normal framework in which the results of the process are respected by majorities.”

Insulza referred to the notion of inclusiveness, which is increasingly important to the countries of the hemisphere, as evident by the effort being made to open political participation to groups that have been insufficiently represented in the past, such as women and indigenous peoples. “We must admit that although there is much that remains to be done in this respect, there has also been a lot of progress,” he said.

The civil registry of citizens is a fundamental step to democratic progress in the hemisphere, Insulza noted. He recalled that in Haiti, the OAS helped to register more than 3.5 million citizens so they could vote in the 2006 presidential elections. In this regard, he said, “one aspect that the recent electoral cycle has shown as deficient in several countries has to do with the incorporation of individuals into the civil registry and the possibility of them obtaining identity documents, which in the majority of countries are obligatory steps for their inclusion in the electoral registry and therefore their ability to exercise the right to vote.”

“When all citizens of the Americas have been included in civil registries, we can say that we have achieved inclusiveness,” Insulza said.

Reference: GA-09-07