- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

Supporters of democracy in the Americas did not have much to celebrate yesterday. By failing to take a firm and united stance against the badly flawed election in Peru, the 35 nations in the Organization of American States (OAS) missed an opportunity to underpin the still fledgling democratic forces on the continent.

The United States had originally recommended Wednesday that OAS member countries challenge Peru's election by invoking a special resolution which addresses "an interruption of the democratic political institutional process." Later in the day, the United States withdrew its recommendation for lack of support from other OAS countries. This was quite unfortunate, since the resolution would have encouraged leaders in the Americas to keep future elections above board.

An OAS spokesperson tried to downplay the significance of the U.S. decision to drop its backing for the resolution, and maintained that foreign ministers from OAS countries still have an opportunity to support it when they meet in Windsor, Canada this Sunday through Tuesday. But the U.S. decision to backpedal augurs badly for its future success. Before publicly endorsing the resolution, the White House should have done the necessary groundwork to marshall support. The countries that refused to support it, meanwhile, stand most to blame. They lack the backbone to endorse a necessary resolution at a critical time.

Tensions in Peru began running especially high last week after Alejandro Toledo, challenger to incumbent President Alberto Fujimori, said he would drop out of the race if the election wasn't postponed. The OAS, meanwhile, said it would pull out its observer mission in Peru unless the country pushed back the presidential election at least 10 days to iron out irregularities. After Mr. Fujimori failed to endorse a postponement of the vote, it seemed clear that the country's electoral council, represented by Fujimori backers, wouldn't change the election date. By scoffing at the OAS' recommendation, Peru was headed for a collision with the United States.

During his first two terms, Mr. Fujimori's economic reform program, public works projects and aggressive crackdown on rebels and narco-traffickers transformed his country into a security and economic success story. Now he is steering his country towards ruin.

Although the United States stands to lose a valuable ally in its war on drugs, the White House's decision to support the pro-democratic OAS resolution against Peru was the right one. With narco-terrorists steadily gaining ground in Colombia and Ecuador still reeling from January's coup attempt, Peru has provided a foothold for stability in the region. But the United States must be firm in rebuking Peru's underhanded presidential election.

While the White House had repeatedly turned a blind eye towards some of Mr. Fujimori's more authoritarian tactics, the Peruvian president crossed an inviolable line over the weekend by failing to win the OAS' stamp of approval on the election. The White House is correct in holding election day sacred, but Peru's election fiasco demonstrates that the United States must challenge other affronts to democracy.

Although the White House's support for the resolution against Peru was well-placed, its consensus building efforts clearly fell short. In the future, the administration should step up these efforts. The region must be united in keeping budding dictators at bay.

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