Democracy under fire
A former senior Latin American ambassador in Washington is warning that democratic gains in his region are under threat from drug smugglers, criminal gangs, violent political activists and holdovers from dictatorships.
“Despite moves to greater levels of democracy in the hemisphere, many of the freely elected governments continue to face serious threats from forces that promote their violent removal,” said Odeen Ishmael, who served as Guyana’s ambassador here for 10 years.
“There is a feeling that some sections of Latin America and the Caribbean society are not yet prepared to accept the results of democratic elections. Such forces were beneficiaries of discredited dictatorial regimes, and they abhor losing out to the evolving democracy now being widely practiced.”
Mr. Ishmael, who was the most senior Latin American ambassador in Washington when he was reassigned to Venezuela in November 2003, appealed for U.S. and British assistance to Guyana in its general elections scheduled for next year.
The political opposition in his country refused to accept the results of the 2001 election and turned to violent protests. Mr. Ishmael, in a column written for Latin American newspapers, said his government wants U.S. and British help to “implement preventive measures in case such behavior recurs next year.”
He said his country has suffered from the “politicizing of crime” in which “some criminals wanted for heinous crimes were labeled as ‘freedom fighters’ by certain anti-government politicians.”
Argentina, Chile and Mexico are prosecuting officials from past governments accused of human rights abuses, but many other countries allow officials from former repressive regimes to remain in top government or military positions, Mr. Ishmael said.
“Violence through guerrilla warfare against the government and between rival guerrilla groups continues unabashed in Colombia,” he said. “Much of this is fueled by the cocaine trade, and an end to decades of this violence is not yet in sight.”
“Everywhere in the hemisphere, murder rates have increased rapidly over the past five years. Kidnappings have become frequent, especially in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.
“Actually, most of the rampant crime wave throughout Latin America and the Caribbean is spurred by the expanding drug trade.”
Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell knows that character counts, so he has reassumed his position on the advisory board of the Character Education Partnership.
“Character development is and should continue to be one of our nation’s highest priorities,” Mr. Powell said yesterday. “We live in very troubled times, and what the Character Education Partnership does to develop caring and responsible citizens is essential.”
Sanford N. McDonnell, chairman of the partnership’s National Leadership Council, said the coalition missed Mr. Powell’s “wisdom” after he resigned to serve as secretary of state.
“I am delighted that Colin Powell has agreed to rejoin us,” said Mr. McDonnell, chairman emeritus of the McDonnell Douglas Corp. “We have missed his wisdom and will once again be able to have the benefit of his strong commitment to ethics and character.”
Mr. McDonnell added that when he asked Mr. Powell to rejoin the advisory council, he was reminded of what President Theodore Roosevelt once said.
“‘Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and nations alike,’” he said, quoting the 26th president. “No one understands this better than Colin Powell.”
The Character Education Partnership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of corporations and organizations dedicated to promoting character values in the public schools.
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