November 8, 2017 - Los Angeles, California

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In the Americas, we have created a community of States that is ground in the shared values of democracy, universal freedoms, human rights and the rule of law.
These three ideas are inextricably intertwined.

Friends, Students, Professors, thank you for welcoming me here today. I would also like to thank Professor Wayne Sandholtz and the organizers of this Public event for the invitation to speak to you.

It truly is an honor to be here speaking on the state of democracy and justice in Latin America.

The rule of law is the protection of the individual rights of people. Human rights do not exist in societies where the rule of law does not exist, and there is no rule of law in societies where human rights are not protected.

In turn, individual citizens must have the full freedom to participate in the decision-making processes that determine the laws that govern them. It is through universal suffrage that citizens are guaranteed the rights and responsibilities at the very heart of democracy. Each idea is dependent on the other.

The worst impediment to development is inequality. And the worst inequality is that which results from the failure to protect rights.

At the OAS we have enshrined these values in our founding documents. Signed “in the name of their peoples”, these agreements outline a series of rights and obligations that guarantee a basic well-being for citizens.

This is why I came to this Organization two and half years ago with the goal of “More Rights for More People”, to build on this solid foundation and help our hemisphere achieve greater peace and prosperity for all.

Democracy and the Organization of American States

The OAS is the oldest regional organization in the world and the first to enshrine the principle of “representative democracy” as an essential element for development in our hemisphere.

From the outset, the OAS has had an undeniable mandate to foster, promote and, when necessary, protect democracy in the region.
Of course, in practice, politics and diplomacy do not always work the way we would like them to and Member States do not always meet their obligations.

Many of our member states suffered under military dictatorships, leading to the suspension of elections and eliminating most guarantees of basic human rights or access tojustice.

Cognizant of the fragility of democracy, in 1991 Member States approved the “Santiago Commitment to Democracy and Human Rights” and shortly after, Resolution 1080.
Resolution 1080 was another first.

It called for specific action from Member States when there was a “sudden interruption of the democratic political institutional process” in an OAS Member State.

Over the next decade, Resolution 1080 was used on four occasions: in Haiti in 1991 after democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a military coup; in Peru in 1992 when then democratically elected Alberto Fujimori unilaterally closed congress; in Guatemala in 1993, when President Jorge Serrano attempted to do the same and lastly in Paraguay in 1996 when Lino Oviedo led an unsuccessful military coup against then President Juan Carlos Wasmosy.

Although, initially conceived as tools to defend against military coups or an external forces, it was readily apparent that threats to democracy could come from within the democratic process.

In 2001, Member States adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is now the veritable constitution of the Americas. The Democratic Charter expanded the authority and responsibility of the OAS to react in situations where the there is a deterioration of case of threats to democracy.

Article 1 of the Democratic Charter enshrines democracy as a right, stating that “The people of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”

Those elected to lead assumed the responsibility to protect these rights. If they do not, they lose the legitimacy to lead.

The Democratic Charter defines the essential elements of representative democracy as respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, rule of law, periodic, free and fair elections based on and universal suffrage, a pluralistic system of political parties, as well as the separation of powers and the independence of branches of government.

Democracy was clearly defined, as were the situations where Member States might cooperate and support one another. It is designed to reinforce the principal of regional solidarity in the international defense of democracy.

Article 20 for example, establishes the authority of “any member state or the Secretary General” to act and outlines a range of measure for possible recourse, empowering the Permanent Council to “take such decisions as it deems appropriate.”

The obligation to the international defense of democracy is created when individual states signed onto these treaties and codifying these principles into law. We have created an international requirement to observe and scrutinize our democracy.

Prior to the tragic case that has unfolded in Venezuela, the Democratic Charter has been invoked seven times, and triggered once in the case of a coup d’état.

In diplomacy, these agreements become our tools and in each of these cases, regional solidarity has been strengthened as all Member States have worked together to support the State in question on its path back to democracy.

The Alteration of the Constitutional and Democratic Order in Venezuela

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the democratic institutions in Venezuela, its rule of law, and semblance of effective governance all be dismantled, piece-by-piece. The tragedy that has unfolded is a clear example of the cost of when democracy fails.

In June of 2016, I executed my responsibility as Secretary General by invoking Article 20 of the Democratic Charter to address the crisis in Venezuela.

Through four comprehensive reports, I have detailed the humanitarian, social, economic, and democratic collapse in the country. The first report brought the crisis to the attention of the Permanent Council, outlining the “alteration of the constitutional order.” The second states that the country reached a complete “rupture of the democratic order.”

The third report detailed the government strategy of repression and systematic abuses against its citizens. And the fourth details the complete elimination of democracy following the establishment of an illegitimate so-called ‘National Constituent Assembly.’

We have documented the evidence that demonstrates not only the unconstitutional alteration, but the unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order.

In July, I launched a process to facilitate through an impartial and independent panel, the compilation of evidence that provides a reasonable basis for knowing whether crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela, and the identification of their possible perpetrators.

The Regime of Nicolas Maduro has dismantled democracy in Venezuela, plunging its economy into chaos, creating a self-inflicted humanitarian crisis not seen by this hemisphere in decades

Sadly, even though Latin America learned first-hand the harm that comes from persistent dictatorships and violation of human rights during the 20th century, Venezuela has become the region’s dictatorship forged in the first part of the 21st century.

This tragedy is not only a warning for the entire hemisphere. The deterioration of democracy represents a threat to peace and security in the entire hemisphere.

In a region where our democracies have been hard earned, a corrupt, authoritarian Venezuela reopens a door that the people of the Americas fought hard to close.

However, the collapse of Venezuela cannot only be seen as an existential crisis. It presents real and practical dangers that affect us all.

The humanitarian crisis, which has already needlessly killed Venezuelans by the thousands, threatens a migratory crisis beyond the three million citizens that have fled in the past few years. Venezuela’s neighbors are already feeling the strain as desperate people are pouring across the border in search of food, medical assistance and jobs.

The insecurity created by the complete elimination of the rule of law not only creates instability and violence within Venezuela borders, but it allows organized crime to grows unchecked, and in some cases aided by the elements of the Regime, results in the spread of drugs, weapons and other criminal activity throughout the region.

When Maduro’s regime in Venezuela began to lose the support of its population, instead adjusting their policies in service of the people, they chose a more authoritarian route. They took away their democratic rights of the people.

They illegally annulled the constitutionally mandated recall referendum. They politicized the courts to ensure they serve only as a mouthpiece for the consolidation of the Regime’s power. The illegitimately fabricated a so-called “constituent assembly” to overrule the legitimately elected National Assembly.

Through the activation of Plan Zamora, the government has identified any person in opposition to, or even critical of the Regime, as an enemy of the state. Citizens have been detained by the thousands, they are held without trial, they are prosecuted in military courts. They are beaten, abused, and tortured.

The number of political prisoners has reached levels not seen in Venezuela since the military dictatorship of the 1950s. More than 100 civilians were killed in the protests. At least 17 of them were shot in the head.

There is no democracy when words are met with guns.

Venezuela shows us the cost when democracy fails. It shows us the price of corruption, of exclusion, of polarization and the rejection of the people by those chosen to represent them. Venezuela has instead has become a model dictatorship of greed, corruption, violence and impunity.

The Fight against Corruption

Another existential threat to democracy from within the political system, one that poses a central challenge to stability and growth in the region is corruption. Corruption and bad practices are contagious. They are a disease that is easily spread and create a very dangerous precedent.

Corruption not only affects citizens economically but undermines the public trust in the governments elected to serve them. Embedded institutional corruption results in the gradual atrophy of democratic norms.

Across the Americas, political corruption has mobilized citizens to take to the streets to demand transparency and accountability. Political campaigns are being fought, and won to push out corrupt leaders and challenge entrenched elites who prevent any meaningful changes or reforms.

This is a reality in countries as populous as Brazil, to the micro-states of the Caribbean. Corruption has become front and center on the political stage in Central America, and particularly the Northern Triangle.

In 2014, public outrage related to the use of funds during the previous presidential election poured into the streets. In the wake of growing protests, and at the request of the Government of Honduras, that the OAS field a Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, also known as the MACCIH, was established.

Its efforts have already yielded some significant outcomes with international prosecutors, judges and analyst “actively collaborate” in the most emblematic cases of corruption networks in the country.

The MACCIH helped establish a specialized anticorruption jurisdiction in the judiciary, vetting the judges that oversee the corruption cases. Additionally, the Mission recruited and vetted a specialized team in the Public Ministry to investigate and prosecute cases related to corruption.

The political cost of not fighting corruption for democratic regimes has grown much higher in the era of digital globalization, where a photo posted on twitter, or leaked documents, for instance, rapidly catch fire in the virtual world.

It is no surprise to see an amplified anti-politics and anti-establishment trend around the world after cases such as Odebrecht, Panama and Paradise Papers came to light.

Public scrutiny for government officials is facilitated with ease by social media and a 24 hour news cycle and therefore much higher than ever before and fighting corruption has become a central challenge to sustain satisfaction and legitimacy of the representative democratic model.

The Rule of Law

The Democratic Charter further defines democracy as “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law”. Without a fair and impartial justice system, no country can deem itself to be truly free and democratic.

In a truly democratic society, there must be adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, clear accountability where government, citizens and private actors are all subject the agreed upon laws. It requires equality before the law, accountability to the law and fairness in its application.

Laws must be clear, just and evenly applied through a process where the laws enacted, administered and enforced are accessible, fair and efficient. It requires an independent judiciary, a requirement to guarantee the separation of powers.

Its application must be accessible, consistent, equal and impartial
In Central America, we have seen a judiciary overwhelmed by the combination of drugs, violence and political corruption. With scarce resources and scant political support, the judiciaries of these countries remain the weakest branch of government. It has been overwhelmed by the transnational problems it has to deal with.

In Venezuela, the Executive has politicized the judiciary to ensure they serve only as a mouthpiece for the consolidation of the Regime’s power. We have also seen preliminary efforts in other countries who have sought to intimidate or co-opt the judiciary in order to maintain power.

The heavy hand of a coercive executive has achieved the ends they sought. In recent years we have witnessed no fewer than four countries in the region overturn constitutionally mandated term limits of the Executive through the judiciary, not by the ballot box.

In other countries, the judiciary has been complicit in investigating and detaining political opposition leaders with the intention of stifling freedom of expression.

The separation and the independence of powers is a hallmark of democracy. Each body: the executive, the legislative, the judiciary has a vital role to play and a different set of voices to represent.

The Colombian Peace Process

One of the positive signs for the consolidation and strengthening of democracy in the region is the cessation of armed political conflict. Colombia is the last country in the region to experience this type of violence and we are hopeful that peace with both the FARC and the ELN can be achieved this year.

Colombia faces elections and a key political transition next year as well as the Government of Colombia begins to implement its plan to reintegrate FARC ex-combatants into civilian life.

Just before Pope Francis’s visit this year, the Government of Colombia and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) signed a 102-day ceasefire. The OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process is supporting the negotiations in Quito and is optimistic that this ceasefire lasts beyond the 2018 election.
Colombia has congressional elections in March of 2018, followed by the first-round presidential elections in May.

The second round, if necessary, will be in June.

These elections will be the first in which the FARC participates as a political party and represent an important step to transition from an insurgencyto a political party that respects the rule of law.

Election Observation in Democracy

The hallmark of the democratic process is the peaceful transition of power making one of the most important elements in a democracy.

Since 1962, the OAS has observed elections in its Member States. We have refined our methodology, providing systematized information in key components of the electoral process, many of which are detailed in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

OAS missions include experts on issues ranging from campaign finance, access to the media and issues related to gender and, if required, indigenous or Afro-descent participation.

In 2018, there are a total of 15 elections expected in Latin America and the Caribbean for 2018. Of those elections, the OAS anticipates observing at least ten of these processes, those in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay.

To date, we have observed elections in 28 of our 35 member states and for the first time in its history, the OAS will observe the upcoming general elections in Brazil.

As we speak, the OAS has currently deployed missions in Nicaragua, where local elections were held in 153 municipalities this past Sunday as well as in Honduras, where general elections are scheduled for November 26.

In Nicaragua, the OAS deployed a Mission comprised of 60 people led by my fellow countryman, Wilfredo Penco who not only assessed the status of the electoral processes but also the financing of political parties and campaigns, electoral justice, and the participation of minorities, among others.

Way forward

Large sectors of society remain excluded from reaping the benefits of democracy and where endemic violence and rising levels of crime affect the security of citizens. In the case of the countries of the Caribbean, reoccurring natural disasters also affect the basic survival of many countries.

That is why we work at the OAS to ensure “more rights, for more people.” This is why democracy, human rights and the rule of law go hand in hand.

Democracy empowers individuals to create rights. Human rights provide a basic standard of well-being, and the rule of law ensures that those rights are well protected.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law, these are all necessary elements of a prosperous and free society. We will continue to defend these principles which are the common values of this hemisphere.

Thank you