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Dialogue on Democracy:
Building Bridges Between Latin American and African Democracies

Paula J. Dobriansky
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
 Remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
October 8, 2003

Thank you, Miguel, for that warm introduction. It is a pleasure to be here today and to have the opportunity to share with you an exciting project that we are working on. This project, called the Dialogue on Democracy, has been very well received by many colleagues in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the democracy promotion community. We are hopeful that this dialogue and others like it will add to the momentum that is building to strengthen regional and intra-regional coordination among democratic countries.

The Community of Democracies is the foundation for this initiative. The Community of Democracies -- or CD as it is called -- is a movement which brings together democratic nations from around the globe. These democracies have committed themselves to working together to strengthen their own democratic institutions and to helping other countries in their democratic development. This is a unique forum, as participation is not linked to geography, or religious or ethnic ties. It is not predicated on economic or security interests, or opposition to a specific group or issue. It is based on an affirmative political commitment to building and maintaining democratic institutions. This group is bound by a common commitment to a democratic agenda. They are willing to support the spread of democracy worldwide.

At the UN General Assembly, several foreign ministers, including Secretary Powell, and other senior officials from the Convening Group of the Community of Democracies -- which includes the United States, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Poland, Mali, Portugal, the Czech Republic, South Korea, and India -- committed to working collectively within the UN and other multilateral for a to promote democracy. Collective action can have international impact.

The Community of Democracies first met in Warsaw in 2000 and supported the Warsaw Declaration, a document which detailed those shared principles. In November 2002, the Community of Democracies, comprising over 130 nations, met again in Seoul, South Korea. Out of that meeting came the Seoul Plan of Action, a blueprint for action in six areas -- including responding to threats to democracy, education for democracy, promoting stronger democracies through good governance, strengthening civil society, and coordinating democracy assistance.

The sixth element of this plan was the commitment to promote democracy through regional cooperation. In fact, the Organization of American States’ Inter American Democratic Charter was cited in the Plan as an excellent outcome of regional action.

It is a seminal document, which is a model for other regions, seeking to strengthen their coordinated efforts and respond to threats to democracy in their neighborhood.

This led to our holding a roundtable called “The Dialogue on Democracy.” And it was just that, a dialogue among several democratic countries in our hemisphere and Africa about effective regional cooperation in support of democracy. Ambassador Terence Todman, one of our finest diplomats who has served as Ambassador in Latin America and Africa, proposed the initiative. He understands the enormous value of sharing the experiences and best practices of democrats from both continents.

Consequently, we invited ministers, senior governmental officials, and leading non-governmental representatives from seven African countries and seven Latin American and Caribbean countries for this two-day seminar in Florida. The participating countries were Cape Verde, Mali, Botswana, Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Jamaica, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. We also had representatives from the New Partnership for Africa Development, the African Union, and the Organization for American States, including the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy. We also invited a number of American non-governmental activists who have been a driving force behind the Community of Democracies.

The quality of discussion, and the hunger for such an exchange, were striking. Participants remarked about how they had not been brought together before for such a dialogue.

The roundtable began with two excellent presentations. The first was made by Amb. Humberto de la Calle, former Colombian Vice President and Permanent Representative to the OAS, followed by Amb. Said Djinnit, Africa Union Interim Commissioner for Peace, Security and Political Affairs. Amb. de la Calle gave a frank overview of the challenges faced by countries in our hemisphere and how the OAS has changed over time. He was hopeful but tough about the challenges confronting the OAS and its ability to continue to be relevant in this hemisphere. Likewise, Amb. Djinnit detailed the many documents signed by African nations to promote democracy and respect for human rights, and highlighted the challenges faced in turning those into action.

The opening speakers clearly described the role of regional organizations and the evolution of regional democratic cooperation through the OAS and the AU, thus laying an important foundation for our discussions. In the next session, participants were candid and thoughtful in identifying multiple challenges to promoting democracy, including weak political parties, poverty, exclusion of women from the political process, and low trust in government. Participants grappled with lessons learned over decades of democracy building on both continents.

There is something very powerful about a Mozambican minister, a Ghanaian NGO leader, and Dominican Vice President discussing the paths they’ve taken to bring their countries to their current state. The dialogue was as frank and cordial, as it was hard hitting and pragmatic.

On the first day, we divided into groups of 8-10 people for simulation sessions. Each group had a fictitious scenario of a region in which a country -- we called it Katakana -- was seriously backsliding in its democratic development. Katakana was on the verge of national elections that many predicted would be flawed. Tensions were rising, and civil society activists were calling for help.

Participants were to play the role of neighboring countries, and we challenged them to identify what they would do to help Katakana. They were to make policy recommendations to their president, who was both head of a stable democracy as well as the chair of a regional organization.

When participants returned to the plenary to share their recommendations, the suggested actions were as diverse as the countries around the table. Their ideas included postponing the elections, calling for immediate elections, sending a delegation of elections experts to help, developing high-level emissaries to engage the leadership, and requesting intervention by a regional or international organization. There was, naturally, no right or wrong answer. What was important was that participants discussed the range of options, grappled with the challenges of such a realistic situation, and worked through various options.

On the second day, we again broke into smaller sessions to debate specific elements of democratization. Participants discussed Good Governance and Anti-corruption, Elections and Political Parties, and Civil Society and Culture of Democracy. The sessions were facilitated by democracy experts from the United States Government and American NGO community. Throughout, however, American participants took a back seat.

A highlight of the roundtable was the presentations made by three exceptional leaders. The Prime Minister of Cape Verde, The Honorable Jose Maria Pereira Neves, laid out what one participant called a “blueprint for democratic action.” It was basically a how-to guide of the key elements of building and maintaining a democracy. He said “…the greatest challenge lay(s) in the hands of African elites: the fundamental impetus will certainly be the responsibility of leaders, who, by assuming the values of democracy and ethics in governance, should, in alliances with the more developed world, do everything to serve the cause of human dignity.” Prime Minister Neves called for freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, and a strong civil society. And he called on developed countries to take action, saying that the “…(t)ime has come for international cooperation aid to be directed to rewarding positive experiences of those committed to good governance, in a framework of freedom and democracy.”

We also heard from former Peruvian Prime Minister and President of the Council of Ministers, Dr. Luis Solari de la Fuente. He highlighted Peru’s experience with economic development, and spoke about the importance of respect for human rights. Democratic ideals form the basis for economic growth.

Salvadoran President Francisco Flores gave a moving keynote speech about democratic development in his country. In addition to providing personal testimony about the impact that the war had directly on his family, he also imparted wisdom and inspiration on how a country can overcome tremendous hardship, including poverty, and walk confidently on the path toward democracy. President Flores asserted that “…(t)he reality of development is strikingly simple: the only real wealth of any nation is its people, and the true wealth of the individual is his creativity. Only in freedom can an individual be creative and productive. This is the secret to development. Democracy has been to El Salvador both a life saver and a guarantee of prosperity.”

The outcome of the roundtable was not to gain agreement among participants or to release a major statement but rather to summarize the diverse, concrete ideas shared over the two days. We captured these best practices in a concise one-page summary document which was then shared with all of the participating officials. It is available on our State Department website under the phrase [“Dialogue on Democracy”]. Suggestions included strengthening the implementation of democracy clauses in regional agreements, promoting democratic development through sub-regional organizations, remediating existing laws to eradicate impunity, encouraging democracies that are backsliding or fragile through regional incentives and punitive measures, developing regional monitoring and early warning systems, and initiating formal public education programs on democracy. Participants called for integrating marginalized populations, strengthening political parties, and using highest -- not lowest -- common denominators for peer review mechanisms for democratic action.

This conference was one concrete step toward strengthening democracy. While no one size fits all, there are basic values that are common among countries that share a commitment to democracy. The participation of African and Latin American states in this conference has laid the groundwork for further steps along the same road.

What’s next? We have encouraged the Organization of American States to work to ensure continued engagement and coordination with African states. For example, the OAS’s Democracy Unit could reach out to African embassies here in Washington, invite African officials for visits, and facilitate NGO exchanges. Likewise, African states who participated in the conference could host Latin American and Caribbean officials and NGOs for consultations and exchanges on democracy promotion.

Another opportunity to advance the dialogue on democracy will be at the World Democracy Movement meeting in Durban in February. The World Democracy Movement, like the Dialogue on Democracy, works to build ties among democracy advocates across regions. Of all the units within the Movement, the Africa forum has been the most active and outspoken. Next February’s meeting in Durban would be an ideal venue for African and American democrats to renew and deepen relationships.

The role of the United States in this process is to support the needs and ideas of democrats. We hope that by facilitating cross-regional relationships among countries with a commitment to democracy, we will all benefit. Together, we can bring democratic principles and initiatives to the international arena.

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