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OAS Electoral Observations Can Prevent Future Threats to Democracy

In 2018 Latin America faced a number of democratic crises, among them Daniel Ortega’s violent repression of peaceful Nicaraguan protestors and Venezuela’s further fall into humanitarian disaster.

In 2019 the world will grapple with exactly how to confront and combat these situations. A mix of sanctions and aid is the traditional policy recipe. In the case of Venezuela, the United States, Canada and others are now putting increased diplomatic pressure on the Maduro Regime and have formalized support of the young opposition leader, Juan Guidaó1.

But more long-term solutions are needed to combat the crises of tomorrow. Undoubtedly, this involves the overall strengthening of democratic institutions and norms, particularly in places where democracy is already being threatened, but also in places that are traditionally democratic strongholds.

One way to do this is through Electoral Observations Missions. During an interview with GFDD, Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO) at the Organization of American States (OAS), Gerardo de Icaza, explained the utility of such initiatives.

Electoral observation missions, like those of DECO, prevent fraud and guarantee free and fair elections by helping carry out electoral processes at the national or municipal level. Vote counting and keeping polling places safe and free of corruption are among their activities. Such independent missions are particularly important for countries that are developing and do not yet have the technical capacity to ensure free and fair elections.

In the Western Hemisphere, countries possess one of the most formidable electoral observation organizations in the OAS’ DECO. In its more than 50-year history, the regional body has carried out over 240 successful missions in more than 27 countries throughout the region. The organization is extremely transparent, offering complete and easy-to-access reports and data on each of its observations2.

But, many countries in the region do not utilize DECO’s capabilities. Chile, Canada, and Argentina have never had visits from the OAS body. In Venezuela, for instance, there has not been a DECO mission since 2006.

Reacting to disasters like those of Venezuela and Nicaragua are complicated, and as the Venezuela example demonstrates, can potentially worsen an already bad situation. A proactive and simpler way of preventing threats to democracy is to utilize independent electoral observation missions, like those of the OAS.

With more electoral observation missions, Latin America and countries around the world, might experience less democratic and humanitarian crises in years to come.

  1. Wyss, Jim & Camacho, Carlos. “Venezuela now has two presidents. How long will the uncertainty last?” Miami Herald. January 23, 2019. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/venezuela/article224962020.html
  2. “Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation.” OAS. 2019. http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=S-015/16
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Latin America Still Faces an Uphill Battle on Gender Equality

In some ways Latin America has been a trailblazer when it comes to female leadership in politics. Many of the world’s first democratically elected women heads of state were in Latin American nations. In 2014, four females held the highest office in their countries: Michelle Bachelet in Chile; Dilma Rousseff in Brazil; Christina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina and Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica. But, as pointed out by the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the OAS, Rita Hernández Bolaños, the region still has a long way to go before achieving gender equality.

In part due to courageous female leaders, many Latin American countries, starting with Argentina in 1991, implemented gender-based quota laws in the 1990s and 2000s. Today the region boasts some of the highest percentages of female lawmakers in all of the world. In Cuba and Bolivia parliaments are majority female and in Mexico, following recent elections in 2018, just under 50 percent of lawmakers are women1. In the United States, for comparison, just about a quarter of all lawmakers are females2.

But there are signs that the region is moving in the opposite direction. Whereas just five years ago there were four female heads of state, today there are none. In 2018 the region elected six male presidents, many who, like conservative President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, threaten women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

The old machista culture remains pervasive too. According to the World Bank, females in Latin America are seriously underrepresented in the labor force and earn on average 16 percent less than men3. Violence against women is higher in Latin America than anywhere else in the world4.

Women played a big part in the passing of the quota laws that allowed for high numbers of female members of congress today. Female legislators also have proven to be more supportive of bills involving women’s rights and those fighting gender-based violence and femicide5. At the OAS, and throughout all of Latin America, more female leadership is needed to combat issues like gender-based violence and bring the region closer to gender equality.

  1. “Women in national parliaments,” Inter-Parliamentary Union. November 1, 2018. http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
  2. Desilver, Drew. “A record number of women will be serving in the new Congress,” Pew Research Center. December 18, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/12/18/record-number-women-in-congress/
  3. Tavares, Paula & Octaviano Canuto. “No women, no growth: The case for increasing women’s leadership in Latin America,” The World Bank. August 17, 2018. http://blogs.worldbank.org/latinamerica/no-women-no-growth-case-increasing-women-s-leadership-latin-america
  4. “From Commitment to Action: Policies to End Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean. United Nations Development Program. http://www.latinamerica.undp.org/content/dam/rblac/docs/Research%20and%20Publications/Empoderamiento%20de%20la%20Mujer/UNDP-RBLAC-ReportVCMEnglish.pdf
  5. “Latin America has embraced quotas for female political candidates,” The Economist. July 28, 2018. https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2018/07/28/latin-america-has-embraced-quotas-for-female-political-candidates

What is the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Article 20 and Article 21?

In recent times there has been substantial discussion about the Inter-American Democratic Charter, particularly as it relates to the humanitarian and democratic crises now taking place in Venezuela and Nicaragua. In discussion with the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD), Peru’s Permanent Representative to the OAS, Ambassador Ana Rosa Valdivieso, highlighted the importance of the Charter, mentioning that it was adopted in 2001 in Lima, and also discussed Articles 20 and 21 of the agreement.

It’s clear that the document is significant and relates to democracy and human rights, but what exactly is the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Article 20 and Article 21?

According to official oas.org documentation, the Inter-American Democratic Charter is an international document concerning a set of democratic principles and norms that all signees agree to follow. The purpose of the agreement is to strengthen member countries’ commitment to democratic institutions and human rights as well as to promote development and reduce poverty throughout the region1.

The document contains 28 Articles related to OAS electoral observation missions, poverty reduction and female participation in politics, among many other topics concerning human rights and democracy. Articles 20 and 21, specifically mentioned by the Ambassador, are of particular importance. These articles relate to the strengthening and preservation of democracy in the region.

Article 20 establishes that:
“In the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state… The Permanent Council, depending on the situation, may undertake the necessary diplomatic initiatives, including good offices to foster the restoration of democracy.”

If the diplomatic initiatives implemented under Article 20 fail to produce positive results, Article 21 may be introduced which states that the OAS can “take the decision to suspend said member state from the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS”2.

Essentially, Articles 20 and 21 are used as a way to punish and then suspend violators of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

This is why so often Article 20 and 21 are brought up in conversations about Venezuela and Nicaragua. In 2017 OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro suggested that Venezuela could be suspended from the OAS, if presidential elections were not free and fair3. Very recently, on January 11, 2019 Secretary Almagro called on member states to invoke Article 20 of the Charter against Nicaragua for abuses of human rights and democratic principles4. It remains unclear if the OAS member countries will heed either of these calls and suspend Venezuela or Nicaragua from the regional body.

  1. “Tenth Anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” OAS, 2019, http://www.oas.org/en/democratic-charter/
  2. “Inter-American Democratic Charter,” OAS, 2001, http://www.oas.org/en/democratic-charter/pdf/demcharter_en.pdf#page=18
  3. Almagro, Luis. “How Venezuela Can Avoid Suspension From the O.A.S.,” March 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/opinion/how-venezuela-can-avoid-suspension-from-the-oas.html
  4. Associated Press. “OAS Invokes Inter-American Democratic Charter on Nicaragua,” January 11, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/01/11/us/politics/ap-us-oas-nicaragua.html

#GoverningForInclusion: A Women’s inclusion agenda for Better Democracies in the Region

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, PhD
Director, Department of Social Inclusion
Organization of American States
Twitter: @BeticaMunozPogo

A review of the progress made in terms of inclusion at the regional level suggests that although there is ample consensus on the right to suffrage as a basic political right, as mechanism to redistribute political power and as mediator of socio-economic inequalities, there are still important challenges to the second facet of people’s political rights: the right to be elected. This is specially so for women, who frequently do not compete on a level-playing field. In this regard, the asymmetries that are manifested in the socio-economic realm are replicated in the realm of electoral competition, significantly limiting the possibility of redistribution of political power via elected office. Three key reflections are worth mentioning:

  • On candidate selection processes: Candidate selection for presidential and general elections (for congressional and subnational elections, among others) is one of the most important decisions that a political party makes, as a collegial body. The rules for candidate selection, and the leadership in charge of this, have the potential to promote more equity and political inclusion. This is so because political parties are said to be ‘the gatekeepers’ of political power. Twelve of the 18 countries in Latin America use some institutionalized mechanism for candidate selection. However, political practice shows an important gap between the group of political activities and militants in a party and the group that ends up being nominated for electoral lists. An example that illustrates this disparity directly affects female party militants. According to International IDEA data, whereas women constitute 50% of political party militancy, they barely represent 20% of political party leadership, and a similar percentage in the electoral lists. This is generally so for Latin American political parties unless there are positive discrimination measures in place such as quota or party laws.
  • On the general consensus about the need to create opportunities for women’s inclusion: The existence of quota laws in Latin America reveals another ample consensus, namely, the need to create opportunities for the political inclusion of women and compensate for the obstacles that emerge as a result of other types of inequalities, including socio-economic inequalities. Between 1991 and 2013, fifteen Latin American countries adopted or used quotas[1]. For 2018, the debate in some countries transitioned towards parity. Six countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua) have adopted political parity measures for national elected posts[2]. The risks associated with political inequalities occur both in terms of the electoral offer to the electorate and in electoral competition, as well as in the exercise of power. Women and other groups in situations of vulnerability generally experiment differentiated conditions of access to this power.
  • On the financing of electoral campaigns: The political financing system, and particularly of electoral campaigns, has a direct effect on the capacity of candidates to compete on equal terms. This is generally so given the fact that the asymmetries in the access to campaign resources determine the level of equity in the exercise of the right to be elected. In cases where access is unequal, candidates do not compete on equal conditions. Women generally have less access to financial resources for their political careers and their campaigns and have less access to the networks where these resources can be found. Moreover, parties tend to designate more men for winning districts, under the expectation that they have more chances of winning than female candidates[3], and generally give women less resources. Thus, the need to regulate and reform political financing systems to generate more equity in electoral competition.

Today it is unquestionable that there has been important progress in the region regarding women’s participation in politics. But this progress has not necessarily translated in equivalent representation in political party leadership or in elected office such as congress, where women’s representation, regionally, is still around 22-24%.  The focus of the work needs to continue to be guaranteeing women’s inclusion in political decision-making processes. This helps ensure they can enjoy their rights. This improves the quality of the decisions that emanate from our political systems, and their participation also improves the democracies of the region.

*Opinions are personal. They do not represent the views of the OAS.

[1] Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay (2014), and El Salvador (2013).

[2] Archendi, Nélida and Maria Inés Tula. “Cambios Normativos y Equidad de Género: de las Cuotas a la Paridad en América Latina” in América Latina Hoy, 66, 2014, pp. 47-68.

[3] Ohman, Magnus (2018). Gender-Targeted public Funding for Political Parties. A Comparative Analysis. Stockholm: International IDEA.

Diplomacy in Disguise: The Politics of Sport

By Geovanny Vicente Romero, Guest Blogger

The first Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece in 776 BC uniting male athletes from present-day Iberia (Spain) to the west and the Black Sea region (Turkey) to the east. The games were principally to honor religious beliefs and Zeus, the father of ancient Greek Gods. Today’s Olympic Games unite men and women from all corners of the globe, all faiths, and all walks of life.  World sporting events are seen as great equalizers and a showing of national values, pride, and legacies.  Specific countries and regions cultivate national pastimes such as soccer, cricket, weightlifting, martial arts, among others, while world powers such as the United States of America, China and Russia seek imperial dominance and hegemony over the sports arena. International sporting events, like the Olympic Games and World Cup, offer global platforms for rival countries to unite under unprecedented conditions that can improve fraught relations, expose historical divisions, or foresee future conflicts.

It is worth recalling the Berlin Olympics of 1936, held in Nazi Germany under the auspices of Adolf Hitler, which served as a key turning point for the battered country to rebuild its image following World War I on its rise to global dominance.  The games were also a breeding ground for international spies to collect critical intelligence leading up to the next world war. It was at these Olympic Games that the Fuhrer’s theories of Aryan racial supremacy and the lengths the country would go to further this aim, were laid bare. Germany’s newspaper declared in the strongest terms that Blacks and Jews be banned from the games. Although Germany’s athletes won the most medals that year, Black American sprinter Jesse Owens dominated in track and field.  Interestingly, the Americans pulled their Jewish athletes from the games so as not to embarrass host Germany.  Three years later, in 1939, events in Nazi Germany led to the declaration of World War II.

With the balance of global power shifting in 2018, the world has witnessed sports diplomacy take center stage with the historic opening of talks between North Korea and South Korea.  North Korea’s increasingly bellicose nuclear launches were endangering the world, creating great uncertainty about the safety and security of the South Korea games.  Ultimately, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s desire to be part of the games was greater than his threat to destroy them. Through intense diplomatic talks with China and South Korea, the historic détente with its neighbor, led to North Korea sending 22 athletes to compete in five sports, including fielding a joint women’s hockey team as a unified Korea.  Since the February Olympic Games, talks between the United States of America and North Korea have intensified, and led to the historic Singapore Summit, which for the first time in history, united a sitting U.S. President with his North Korean counterpart.

Just like in ancient times, the Olympic Games were a forum for political discussions and also the cause of political strife.  While the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) has a policy of banning politics at the World Cup, there have been formal complaints of politics interfering with the Serbia-Switzerland game, and intrigue about the curious role that Chechnya has played in this year’s contest. The divisions remaining from former Yugoslovia were evident in the recent World Cup game between Serbia and Switzerland.  Two of Switzerland’s leading players of Albanian descent—linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008—were fined 10,000 Swiss Francs each by FIFA for making hand-gestures of the two-headed Albanian eagle during the game.  For its part, the Serbian team was also fined 54,000 Swiss Francs for its fans’ discriminatory banners, messages, and conduct during the game.  The impassioned Balkans history played out during the Russian World Cup, and this incident was not the only brush with politics at the 2018 event.

Let’s look closer at the linkages between Chechnya and Egypt, which suggest Russia’s bridge-building between Muslim elements of their own and the Islamic world.  Egypt’s national soccer team, led by star Liverpool striker, Mohamed Salah, stayed in the Soviet Republic of Chechnya during their run at the World Cup.  Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov enjoyed several public photos with Salah, and even granted him an honorary citizen of Chechnya.  This politicization of sports is taking its toll with the Egyptian Football quickly silencing rumors that Salah was bothered by the spectacle and will retire following this event.  Should these claims of Salah’s retirement prove true, and are linked to this crass political stunt, there will be deep resentment on the Arab Street, which could negatively affect any Middle East strategy Russia had been laying the groundwork for vis-à-vis Chechnya.

For Ancient Greeks, sporting events offered the opportunity to discuss politics while reveling in athletic competition.  While modern day Olympic Games, World Cups, and other international sports officially are independent of politics, the strong historical currents run through each and every one of these venues, offering the opportunity for redemption, revenge, and revision.

Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development in the Dominican Republic (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst, international consultant and lecturer based in Washington, D.C.  Follow him at @GeovannyVicentR