September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the United States received a dramatic call to lead the world in defeating terrorism. It is also the day the U.S., along with 33 nations of the Americas, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) committing to the collective promotion and protection of democracy. Through ten years of costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has failed to lead the implementation of the IADC and has stood in the sidelines as democracy has eroded in the Americas. It is time to take action—a peaceful one.
Just minutes after New York City and Washington DC were hit, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave this moving speech in Lima, Peru, at the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly:
"A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has also befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and all those who believe in democracy. [Terrorists] can destroy buildings and kill people—and we will be saddened by this tragedy—but they will never be allowed to kill the spirit of democracy. They cannot destroy our society, nor our belief in the democratic way.
It is important that I remain here for a bit longer in order to be part of the consensus on this new Inter-American Democratic Charter. That is the most important thing I can do before returning to Washington DC.
I hope we can move forward in the order of business to the adoption of the Charter, because I very much want to be here to express the commitment of the United States to democracy in this hemisphere."
Powell’s word on the importance of the IADC and the U.S. commitment to democracy in the face of a massive terrorist attack is not an overstatement. Terrorist organizations are exclusively harbored and sponsored by non-democratic states that deny basic human rights to their citizens. As with the Third Reich’s Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan, it is no coincidence that the U.S. has never had to wage war on a democratic nation. In a world where territories and populations are governed by states, the struggle for peace is first and foremost a struggle for a democratic world comprised of a community of democratic nations.
Here’s where the IADC has a purpose. The IADC is the most ambitious pro-democracy document yet to be approved at an international level. It is the cornerstone of an emerging international law on democracy and represents a groundbreaking step toward the consolidation of democracy and human rights around the world.
You’d never know it, but there’s a pretty big election coming up later this month at the Organization for American States (OAS). On Wednesday, March 3, representatives from the member states of the OAS (35 in total minus Cuba and Honduras) meet in a special session to formally introduce candidates to become the tenth secretary general.
The mission of the OAS, founded more than 60 years ago, is to promote and strengthen representative democracy, development and security, to act as the forum for governments in the hemisphere and to ensure peaceful settlement of disputes.
That’s a pretty tall order.
The current secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, wants to serve for another five-year term and recently said confidently that he would be confirmed on March 24. He needs to get at least 17 votes.
For the last year or so, current and former government officials have been murmuring that Insulza failed to lead the OAS and fulfill its mission. Instead, Insulza sat passively by as the executive powers in
Last Wednesday, to much fanfare, the Organization of American States' (OAS) annual meeting of the hemisphere's foreign ministers issued a resolution calling for a dialogue to readmit Cuba to the region's premier diplomatic body. Despite all the atmospherics, the statement sealed the OAS's irrelevance and the most promising chapter in the regional organization's history.
Both sides in last week's theater are claiming victory. On the pro-Cuba side, the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua wasted no time in sending their foreign ministers to declare the resolution that overturned the 1962 rationale for Cuba's suspension—as a Marxist-Leninist government—as a blow to the U.S.'s embargo policy. In a parallel media blitz, U.S. officials rushed to say that the consensus agreement did not readmit Cuba into the OAS, but only called for dialogue in line with "practices, proposals and policies of the OAS."
The latter is supposedly a reference to the human rights and democracy requirements for membership, set out in a number of OAS documents including the 2001 Inter-American Demoratic Charter—heralded at one time as the greatest achievement of the OAS. Now, unfortunately, it's relegated to an oblique reference. Despite the U.S.'s efforts to put the best face on this, the reality is that the final document failed to include explicit mention of the issues detailed in the charter, such as respect for human rights and democracy—topics that the U.S. had insisted be included.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.