During a remarkable period in the 1990s, Latin American democracy flourished and spread as it never had before. From Argentina to Guatemala, soldiers returned to their barracks, civil wars were quelled, new democratic leaders were elected.
This democratic progress brought Latin America closer to the United States and opened new opportunities for cooperation on issues ranging from fighting poverty and crime to enhancing education and promoting freedom of the press. »Yanqui go home» was replaced by the »spirit of Miami» when the 34 democratic leaders convened in that city in 1994 in the first hemispheric summit in a quarter-century. Only Cuba remained outside this new community of nations.
Tragically, since 2000 democracy has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in many countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is difficult not to assign some blame for this deterioration to President Bush’s failed policies.
hat has gone wrong
• In Argentina, the Bush administration stood aside and watched as the economy spiraled downward and mob violence forced the president from office.
• In Bolivia, Bush encouraged the election of a pro-market, pro-U.S. president and did nothing to help the country when riots shook the capital and the president was forced to flee.
• In Haiti, the Bush team acquiesced in mob violence and a quasi-military coup that ousted a democratically elected, albeit flawed, regime.
In Venezuela, Bush welcomed a new government installed by the generals as the elected president sat in military custody, only to see the president restored to power within hours.
• Even in Cuba, the angry red scar in a sea of democratic blue, we have seen a further deterioration, with widespread arrests of dissidents and human-rights activists.
he ineffective and unprincipled role of the United States in the hemisphere has not gone unnoticed on either side of the border. Polls show that 87 percent of Latin American leaders have a negative image of Bush’s leadership. At home, 69 percent of Hispanic voters believe that Bush has failed to live up to his promises on Latin America.
We must reverse this backslide. We again must become a true beacon for democracy and progress in our hemisphere. Those who dream of planting democracy in the Middle East should not overlook the fragility of democratic institutions in our own neighborhood.
What do do?• Remain neutral in free and democratic elections abroad. When the United States
picks favorite candidates, we weaken the integrity of those political processes — and, as often as not, our support can cause a backlash within a populace hypersensitive to meddling by Uncle Sam, as it did in Bolivia.
• Join with others throughout the hemisphere in insisting that constitutional procedures be followed. We should not countenance mob rule or military force to oust an elected president, even objectionable leaders such as Aristide in Haiti or Chávez in Venezuela.
• Where democracy is in peril, support the forces of peaceful democratic opposition. Those in Venezuela who seek to strengthen democracy through the constitutional process of a referendum deserve our full support. In Cuba, we must support Oswaldo Payá and his brave colleagues on the Varela Project. I have honored principled dissent, civil disobedience and peaceful challenges to authority my entire adult life. Indeed, without dissent we could not have made progress toward civil rights in America, ended the war in Vietnam or defeated apartheid and communism abroad.
At the same time, it is important to develop broad and vocal international support for dissident movements. Doing so will ensure that the international community will shine a bright light on any attempts to suppress dissident activities
Act with others. In Venezuela, the Organization of American States, together with the Carter Center, was able to break a political deadlock without breaking the constitution in a manner that the United States acting alone could not. In Cuba, we and our allies have followed sharply divergent paths. We should be working through the OAS, with our allies and with democratic friends worldwide to put pressure on the Castro regime to release political prisoners, allow room for political opposition and accede to initiatives such as the Varela Project, which will move Cuba toward democracy. And before financial crises once again rock the region, we must reassert our leadership at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to help guide a responsible international reaction.
et me offer two concrete proposals that I will advance as president:
• Establishment of a Council for Democracy, composed of distinguished international leaders who can work with the OAS to resolve crises before constitutional order is threatened and blood is shed. This proposal builds on the success of the Carter Center and the OAS in finding a constitutional path forward in Venezuela.
A tripling of U.S. funds to the National Endowment for Democracy to support its work training and organizing party leaders in Latin America. These funds would assist both traditional and fledgling political parties overseas to practice inclusion at the grass-roots level, enable them to forge stronger ties to poor communities and strengthen democracies by broadening party participation.
The great Cuban patriot Jose Martí wrote, «It is not enough to come to the defense of freedom with epic and intermittent efforts when it is threatened at moments that appear critical. Every moment is critical for the defense of freedom.»
As president, I will be committed to strong and steady support for democratic processes and institutions, to consolidate democracy where it exists, assist democracy where it is in trouble, and promote democracy where it has not yet been established.
U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., is the presumed presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.