Much has changed in the world since the fall of the Soviet Union and the bridging of the East-West divide once defined by the Cold War. Change has been particularly strong in the recent past in Latin America, where authoritarian governments have given way to democratic rule in many countries.
Yet, a few short years since the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, several Latin nations and their institutions are under threat from new forms of authoritarianism.
The United States wants to help its neighbors preserve and strengthen their democratic institutions so their citizens may see that the democratic foundations they worked so hard for are producing their promised benefits and providing fundamental freedoms.
"Now is the time to go forward with these principles as our foundation and our guide," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That means free elections that produce governments responsive to the needs of their citizens, a free press, protection of minorities and an independent court system. "It means all of the institutional elements that make democracy sustainable," she said.
Though a leader may be elected, democracy is not about individuals, it's about strong institutions. In some nations there are leaders who soon after their election began to undermine constitutional order, the private sector, and the rights of people to be free of harassment and oppression. Elected leaders must respect the rights of those who voted them into office, not to furthering their own positions and power bases. They should use their power to build up the democracy so that democratic development and economic development can go hand in hand.