Ten years ago this month, the Organization of American States adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It affirms the central tenet that "the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."
"That obligation," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on a recent trip to Chile, "neither begins nor ends at the ballot box." And the best answer—then and now—is to put forward a broad, positive agenda that offers rights, freedoms, security, justice, social inclusion and economic progress for all the people of this hemisphere and the world. The landmark Charter emphasizes the essential link between democracy and social and economic development, as a basis for moving from democratic governments to democratic societies.
Many countries in the Americas have made remarkable progress toward democratic governance. As a result economic opportunities have expanded, civic expression has grown, and poverty has been reduced.
Unfortunately, this is not the story in every country in our hemisphere. "As we celebrate our hemisphere's embrace of democracy," said Deputy Secretary Burns, "we must also renew our shared commitment to do more to deepen and defend it."
When opposition leaders face politicized prosecutions and newspapers are intimidated into silence, that undermines democracy before a single vote is cast. When human rights activists are threatened, that makes all citizens less secure. When independent institutions are weakened — when judges are confined to house arrest for handing down decisions that displease those in power — that denies citizens the full benefits of the governments they have chosen. And when economic inequality, corruption and criminal violence go unchecked, they eat away at citizens’ faith that democracy can deliver for them.
"Democratic principles threatened anywhere are a challenge for democracies everywhere," said Deputy Secretary Burns. "None of us has been perfect, but all of us must speak out, stand firm and act with the clarity of our convictions in defense of democratic principles. The OAS is the right forum for these discussions," said Deputy Secretary Burns, "the Democratic Charter should be our guide."