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1/1/03 - DEMOCRACY IN THE AMERICAS - 2003-01-02


The greatest achievement of the last few decades in the Western Hemisphere is that all but one of the countries – Cuba -- are striving to perfect their democratic governments. As President George W. Bush said, “Freedom is still our best weapon against tyranny and want. In so many places in this hemisphere, liberty has been won. Now,” said President Bush, “the blessings of liberty must be extended to every life.”

But there is ambivalence. A poll taken this past year in Latin America shows that only about half of the respondents think democracy is preferable to any other form of government. However, almost a third said it really doesn’t make much difference, or even that an authoritarian government would be better. Moreover, a large portion of those surveyed say that the military and police are the entities they trust the most.

Ambassador Roger Noriega, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, said that there is a reason why many in the hemisphere still don’t completely trust democracy. Ambassador Noriega said, “It is because most countries in the region are still undergoing a democratic transition.” At the beginning of the transition, he said, “many people may have held unrealistic expectations. Only now are they experiencing the frustrations and daily challenges that come with democracy.”

Democracy is not a spectator sport. Citizens have an obligation to take responsibility for making democratic institutions serve their interests. That includes nurturing political parties that represent public interests and rise above personalities or special interests. Also, judicial systems must be impartial. And government leaders must serve the people they were elected to represent.

The U.S. is committed to supporting democracy. In the past year, the U.S. has funded electoral observer missions and technical assistance in Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Peru. The U.S. funds training and visitor programs aimed at helping journalists do their jobs better. And the U.S. encourages legal systems in Latin America through the newly created Justice Studies Center of the Americas.

“We have a lot of ground to cover yet, as current events in Venezuela and Haiti demonstrate,” said U.S. Ambassador Noriega. “But we’re well along the path and we’re making the journey as a community.”

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