Thank you for this opportunity for participation of NGOs in this meeting. NGOs can often bring an important perspective that may not be put forth by governments, and we hope to do that.
First, a crucial economic issue: much of the current political unrest and dissatisfaction in the Americas today may be attributed to the region's worst long-term economic failure in modern history. In the 25 years since 1980, income per person in Latin America and the Caribbean has grown by only 12 percent. By comparison, in only 20 years - from 1960-1979 - it grew by 80 percent.1 This terrible stagnation means that a generation and a half has lost out on an opportunity to improve its living standards. Without economic growth, it is also extremely difficult to reduce poverty or inequality. We believe that it is long overdue to acknowledge this long-term economic failure and look for new policies to reverse it.
Second, democracy is on the agenda. The United States government is proposing to alter the Inter-American Democratic Charter so as to have this body evaluate the functioning of democratic institutions in member countries. This seems an unwise and unjustified extension of the Democratic Charter, which could be subject to political manipulation. According to press reports, this effort is directed at the government of Venezuela. But the government of Venezuela has been democratically elected several times. Freedom of the press, speech, and assembly prevail in Venezuela, and compare favorably with prior governments as well as others in the hemisphere. Indeed, the country's most respected and independent human rights organization, PROVEA, criticized the United States this week for misrepresenting the human rights situation in Venezuela, and using it for political purposes.2 It would be better for the United States to resolve its differences with Venezuela though normal diplomatic channels, rather than trying to amend the Inter-American Democratic Charter so that it could be used for political purposes.
Third, the Democratic Charter as it stands now should be implemented. Article 20 of the OAS' Inter-American Democratic Charter provides that: "In the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, any member state or the Secretary General may request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation and to take such decisions as it deems appropriate."
On February 29, 2004 there was a clear "unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime," in Haiti, which was overthrown by armed gangs. Furthermore, the unconstitutional government that took power has committed some of the worst human rights abuses in the hemisphere, with many murders, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of officials and supporters of the elected government.3 This seems to be a very clear case where the Democratic Charter should be invoked, and action taken by this body to protect the human rights of the people of Haiti.
3 See Griffin, Thomas M., Esq. “Haiti: Human Rights Investigation: November 11-21, 2004.” Center for the Study of Human Rights, University of Miami School of Law. 2005.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.