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Is Democracy the Gold Standard System for the Americas?

Democracia, El American

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When we refer to an area such as the Americas, does geography or a set of values have primacy? An argument can be made for both.  Systems of government, however, have increasingly become the primary measure in classifying what binds nations, rather than where they are located on the map. The Americas, as judged by regional accords and practicing doctrines, aligned itself in the modern era with the second factor. The Western Hemisphere made it known, following World War I, that democracy and free societies would be the accepted norm of governance and societal arrangement. 

Europe made this clear when World War II concluded, and the Cold War began. East and West became, not geographic boundaries, but determinants of freedom and totalitarian socialism. Suddenly, being part of the West included countries in the East such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, just to name a few. Western civilization, that fusion of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, incorporated non-Christian nations. Values became the guiding rule. 

The Western Hemisphere has always fallen more within a context of North/South, where the divide were systems of wealth production and distribution and transparency in politics. This has not been accidentally or by chance. The Left in Latin America has crafted a clever idiomatic approach to class warfare strategies. Putting aside linguistic and cultural differences between Anglos and Hispanics (or Latins), the structural formation of regional consolidation was intended to rest on the principle of consensual government. That meant a hemispheric belief that a republican system that exercised democracy was the continent’s choice. 

Numerous political documents were drafted that specified that to be the case. The foundational Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) (1948), the San José Charter (1969), the Viña del Mar Declaration (1996), the Quebec Declaration (2001), and the Inter-American Democratic Charter (2001) are some of the American affirmations that emphasize that democracy and representative governments are the established norm of political operation in the Western Hemisphere. 

Despite this clear commitment to guide state policy across the continent, dictatorships have continually pestered the region. Some, like the Castro-Communist have lasted for over six decades and the Chavez-Castroist for more than two. In dealing with this contrast between theory and practice, there have been two historical and competing doctrines that have been followed. One is the Estrada Doctrine (1930), named after Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Genaro Estrada. This served as the intellectual instrument of praxis that embraced the premise of non-intervention in other countries affairs, accepting non-democratic regimes as legitimate based on their de facto control of power. The Estrada Doctrine delighted dictatorships as geography legitimized political rule, rather than governments that honor human rights.

The competing instrument was morally compelling and agreeing with the OAS purpose of supporting free societies. The Betancourt Doctrine (1959), named after Venezuelan president Romulo Betancourt, established an ethical code of conduct for the governments of the Americas to follow. It supported the position that dictatorships, whether they come from an ideological framework of the Left or the Right, not be recognized or welcomed into the regional community of free republics. Additionally, the Betancourt Doctrine advocated proactive state measures, overt and covert, to help liberate captive nations in the Western Hemisphere. This signified a democratic ethos at its finest.  

Today, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia are clear dictatorships. Chile and Peru are on course to become non-democratic regimes, following the scripted São Paulo Forum dictatorial prototype (1990). Argentina and Mexico are run by governments there are part of the socialist axis of continental despotism, directed by the Castro regime. This Sunday, June 19, Columbia will hold a seminal presidential election. An unfavorable result could tip the scale and leave the American principle of democratic governance in a weakened minority position.

The Marxist candidate, Gustavo Petro should lose the election to the outsider, Rodolfo Hernandez. Fortunately, Colombia has a majority electoral system, which requires a second round, in the absence of an absolute majority. Had there been in place a plurality election model, Colombia would be on its way to communist consolidation. This is how Chile’s Salvador Allende and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega reached power (for Ortega it was the second time). The overarching dilemma here is how can a free republic expose itself to annihilation by allowing an antisystem candidate like Petro to compete for power?

This is a question that the great republican continental leaders that formulated democracy and the values that flow from this exercise of governance as the Americas’ norm, failed to address. Democratic elections were never designed to facilitate the ascension of power to autocrats. It is time for an effective Plan B to be drawn. Perhaps a beefed-up Betancourt Doctrine needs to surface. Smart electoral systems could also help.

Julio M Shiling, political scientist, writer, director of Patria de Martí and The Cuban American Voice, lecturer and media commentator. A native of Cuba, he currently lives in the United States. Twitter: @JulioMShiling // Julio es politólogo, escritor, director de Patria de Martí y The Cuban American Voice. Conferenciante y comentarista en los medios. Natural de Cuba, vive actualmente en EE UU.

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