- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Democracy in Americas

Democracy in Latin American is losing support because weak governments have failed to improve life for the poor, the head of the Organization of American States warned yesterday.

"Much of the hemisphere is presently mired in economic and political crises that we would not have anticipated as recently as five years ago," said Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the OAS.

"It is clear that support for democracy in Latin America is diminishing," he said. "This is understandable. For the most part, our citizens live in countries that possess weak public institutions and political systems with ineffective social and economic policies."

Mr. Gaviria addressed the OAS at a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the InterAmerican Democratic Charter, adopted in Peru on September 11, 2001, as terrorists were attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"The news of the events reached us just as we were coming together as a hemispheric community to sign this historic and important document," he said. "The attacks did not break our resolve but, rather, strengthened our determination."

Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, the keynote speaker, warned that democracy in Latin America is at a "crossroad" and called on the leaders of the region to support democracy and economic reform.

"We are at a crossroad in the history of this continent, and the difficult situation that several of our countries are experiencing does not allow us to experiment with policies when life and the rights and hopes of our people are at stake," he said.

As he spoke, the news from Latin America was bleak. A labor strike disrupted air traffic in Colombia as workers protested President Alvaro Uribe's budget cuts. A small bomb exploded in the capital of Chile. And the approval rating of Panama's president, Mireya Moscoso, dropped to an all-time low of 40 percent in a public opinion poll, as Panamanians accused her government of corruption.

Mr. Toledo himself continued to fall in popularity after 14 months in office. One recent poll found him at 5 percent, while the disgraced former president, Alberto Fujimori, was at 7 percent, even though he fled to his ancestral homeland of Japan to avoid criminal charges among them accusations he ordered the massacre of suspected guerrillas.

Mr. Toledo, in his remarks yesterday, said the Democratic Charter helped his government overcome the "authoritarian legacy" left by Mr. Fujimori.

He said his government had to deal with the result of "a decade of systematic human rights violations, widespread corruption and the destruction of the rule of law."

Mr. Gaviria praised Mr. Toledo for his "courage and resolve" to return Peru to democracy.

Costa Rica's view

Costa Rican Ambassador Jamie Daremblum yesterday said Central America has devoted itself to fighting corruption and promoting human rights.

In addressing the Organization of American States, he called on the region to establish "favorable and sustainable commercial ties to promote and encourage economic growth" while protecting the environment.

"The time for Central America has come," he said. "We must work for our own development and the development of our families.

"We must build constructive, modern and competitive societies, capable of integrating themselves vigorously in the world economy."

Mr. Daremblum, who also represents Costa Rica at the OAS, added that the "pitfalls of development and growth are still visible."

Nevertheless, he added, the seven countries of Central America "enjoy today open and free democratic systems [that] are committed to accountability, are dedicated to fighting corruption and devoted to upholding human rights."

Taiwan tribute

Taiwan is paying a tribute to the victims of September 11 with a concert tonight at the University of Maryland.

The Formosa Youth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will perform "A Solemn Nocturne," beginning at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office at (202) 895-1850.

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