office of the Summit Follow-up - OAS



OEA/Ser.G CE/GCI-117/97
30 October 1997
Original: Spanish

(Document presented by the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, UPD)


1. The democratic ideal

The Organization has played a role in promoting democracy since the time of the first Inter-American meetings. And yet, despite promising initiatives, its progress and development have not been consistent.

The Organization's role in this area, interrupted and diverted by the east-west conflict, has in the past suffered from a somewhat lowered estimation of constitutional and representative government based on consensus and rational discussion. Recognition of democracy as a guiding principle for the American states during that period only reached the level of moral commitment, never that of legal obligation as enshrined in the 1948 Charter.

With the Cold War eclipse behind it, the region is beginning the third wave of democratization, and as it does so, the idea that representative democracy is the only system compatible with the Hemisphere's deepest convictions is regaining currency.

Starting in the last decade, the OAS has made decisive progress toward the consolidation of its democratic role and has become the only multilateral organization in which representative democracy lies at the heart of its nature.

Since the approval of the Protocol of Cartagena de Indias in 1985, numerous and repeated resolutions and declarations have given the Organization the legal and institutional tools it needs to fulfill its mission of defending individual rights and democratic guarantees.

The Santiago Commitment, resolution AG/RES. 1080 (XXI-O/91) on Representative Democracy, and the Washington Protocol (which recently entered into force) form a body of law intended to defend and strengthen democratic institutions in various ways.

The establishment of the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) in 1990, and its structure and initial mandates responded to the need among member states for advice and assistance in preserving or strengthening their political institutions and democratic procedures.

2. The Miami Summit and the Montrouis Declaration

As the Secretary General has often said, the Miami Summit, held in December 1994, was "a historic moment of inter-American solidarity and unity", and a milestone in collective responsibility for defending consolidation of democracy.

A few months later, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of Montrouis, restoring democracy to its central place on the Inter-American regional agenda.

The OAS, recognized in the Summit as the "main hemispheric body for the defense of democratic values and institutions", is committed through this resolution to promote and ensure follow-up on the measures established by the heads of state and government in the Miami Plan of Action.

A reading of the Miami and Montrouis texts makes it clear that democracy must be addressed from the richest, most fundamental perspective, remaining mindful of the new circumstances, modalities and situations surrounding it.

Both documents refer to democracy in its broadest dimension, beyond the narrow concepts often used to define it-such as guarantees against the accession to and maintenance of power by leaders contrary to the will of the majority. It is a concept that cannot be reduced to the elimination of dictatorship or authoritarian regimes of the past, but must embrace as well the autonomy of civil society, the belief in pluralist values, the correction of institutional weaknesses, and vigilance against the threats to democratic governance.


It should be reaffirmed in this document that the new Inter-American agenda resulting from the Miami Summit and ratified at Montrouis is a true reflection of the equation between rules and values, form and content, that democratic order requires in order to survive.

The Miami Plan of Action, therefore, represents a commitment by the heads of state and government to back OAS action in support of democracy by the following means:

— Encouraging exchanges of technology for use in the electoral process, and assisting national electoral agencies at the request of the states concerned.

— Strengthening the ability of the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy to provide assistance, at the request of the states concerned, with such matters as legislative and judicial procedures, government reform (including the administration of justice), technical modernization of legislative bodies, simplification of government regulations, and increased participation by community organizations in local democracy, as well as other institutional changes.

— Promoting opportunities for the exchange of experience between democratic institutions in the member states, particularly between legislative and judicial bodies.

— Promoting understanding, dialogue and political reconciliation at the request of the states concerned.

Lastly, in the introductory part of the section on democracy, the Plan of Action indicates that "the OAS must promote greater efforts towards the promotion of democratic practices and values."

1. Strengthening of the UPD

The Miami and Montrouis mandates made it evident that the Unit had to be strengthened, with a human resource and budgetary structure commensurate with the fundamental priority being given to democracy in the Hemisphere.

In this regard, taking into account the budgetary restrictions affecting the general programming of the Organization's activities, it should be noted that the UPD has had a significant increase in external resources and greater allocations in the Regular Fund.

In addition, the Secretary-General's Executive Order No. 95/6 (of 25/7/95) modified the UPD's structure to accommodate the following subject areas:

— electoral technical assistance

— strengthening of democratic institutions

— information and dialogue

— special programs

The UDP's functions relate to the Organization's role, in its broadest sense, as the Hemisphere's political forum, an instrument for solidarity and cooperation, and an agent for generating and exchanging knowledge, information and experience.

2. Electoral bodies and processes

These activities are based on the essential premise that power derives from the consent of the governed, and that no power can be called democratic if it has not been conferred and renewed by free election. In the words of Alain Touraine, "there is no democracy without free election of government by the governed".

Elections, however, are simply the culmination of an electoral process that must be understood in its totality, that is, a system recognizing institutional and normative elements or factors, as they relate to historical, cultural, and demographic variables, which interact and complement one another, thus shaping and affecting the political regime.

In the 1920s, Ortega and Gasset examined the relationship between democracy and the electoral system. Today the modern conception of the state, which seeks efficiency at all levels, is also increasingly marked by strong electoral tribunals or commissions--the essential guardians of electoral conditions most favorable to uncontested election results.

In that regard, the OAS, through the UPD, supports initiatives to strengthen electoral institutions in a manner commensurate with their importance as impartial channels of the popular will. The UPD dedicates its work to the development of a centralized electoral authority responsible for all phases of the electoral process, operating with organizational, juridical, and budgetary autonomy./

The UPD programs include the introduction of technologies to simplify the electoral process. The adoption of modern information processing technologies is clearly essential to an optimum cost/benefit ratio, by ensuring the efficiency, integrity, and security of the process. Technical assistance missions have been carried out in this area to strengthen the civil registration process as the established tool for maintaining and updating voter rolls and statistics indispensable for the implementation of public policies on education, health, and housing, to mention only the most important.

With regard to exchanges of technology in the electoral field, the UPD Program has encouraged and supported horizontal cooperation on several occasions between member countries, which has permitted exchanges of technology and electoral techniques between the Hemisphere's electoral institutions. For 1998, a hemispheric event is being planned with the electoral authorities of the Americas to generate and share knowledge on modern electoral technologies.

In short, the UPD is supporting countries seeking to consolidate their electoral agencies as autonomous, independent bodies and equip them with the needed technology. Their modernization and administrative and technological strengthening is an indispensable prerequisite for making the relationship between citizens and political parties more dynamic and the electoral process freer and more transparent.

Lastly, the UPD, when so requested by member states, organizes electoral observation missions that have contributed significantly to election credibility and neutrality. The objective of these missions is not only to increase the transparency of the electoral process, but also to ensure that they elections are properly conducted. These missions frequently issue recommendations concerning measures that could be taken to improve and strengthen electoral systems and institutions. Since 1989, the OAS has participated in 36 elections in 15 member states.

3. Modernization of the State. Legislative institutions and processes

In various democratic societies in the Hemisphere a crisis in the representative character of the political sectors can be observed. This crisis, however, is not manifesting itself, as it has in other historical periods, in a questioning of the democratic system. In many cases the focus is shifting from the governing class to the framework in which this class operates, particularly the parliaments. This is unquestionably undermining the credibility of fundamental democratic institutions.

Recognizing that legislative assemblies must function properly as an indispensable condition for political stability, the member states have requested UPD support for programs to improve parliamentary oversight, legislative competence, coordination with other branches of government, and mechanisms for staying in tune with popular opinion and the public interest.

Because of budgetary and human resource limitations, and as a means of complementing the technical modernization programs being conducted by organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, these activities have focussed mainly on compiling reliable, systematic information and knowledge on the operations of legislative institutions and the problems they are encountering. Such knowledge can provide a basis for attempts to modernize and/or adapt legislative institutions, as well as to provide training in the legislative function to government officials, politicians, political science professors and students, and journalists. The efforts to generate knowledge and information have included the exchange of experience between legislators in the member states, the publication and dissemination of comparative studies and research, and activities to promote closer relations between academia and the legislative branch. UPD programs have also placed emphasis on the training of legislative advisors and staff and technical advice on specific issues for legislators and parliaments. A significant outcome of this work in recent years has been a network of contacts and relations established between the UPD and various legislatures in the region, regional parliaments, and private and/or academic institutions specialized in studying the legislative branch.

The UPD, in carrying out this Summit mandate, has been making every effort, as the Secretary-General has pointed out, to help legislative bodies become "more representative of the diversity of each nation and better equipped to deliberate on crucial affairs of state".

4. Local democracy, participation of community organizations

The reformulation of economic policies in the region has been accompanied by profound processes of transformation and modernization of the state, with particular emphasis on redefinition of the role and size of government. The new development strategies have required a change from centralized government to the encouragement of civil society and local government participation, to make government and political decision-making more efficient and effective and bring it closer to the immediate needs of the people.

In recent years, countries in the region have undertaken decentralization initiatives as a new approach to implementing public policies. Simultaneously, a more active role for local government has encouraged wider participation, providing new opportunities to bring together the two indispensable players in any democracy: the state and civil society.

The UPD supports the member states in their efforts to promote the decentralization of public administration and to enable local authorities to take on new activities and tackle problems with the resources they need, in every region, province, and municipality. As part of these activities, citizen participation requires the establishment and use of mechanisms to build on the traditional forms of political participation. In essence, this is an effort to give social stakeholders, particularly those currently marginalized, a place in the formulation and execution of public policies at the local level.

The UPD is conducting activities in support of decentralization and the strengthening of local democracy mainly at the Inter-American and subregional level. The role it is playing is to develop and disseminate knowledge and information on decentralization processes, the strengthening of local governments, and the participation of community organizations and other social stakeholders at the local level. The objective is to provide support and additional options for policy formulation in this area, for the benefit of interested member states. Consequently, these activities are focussed mainly at the central government level in support of administrative and judicial policies promoting decentralization, strengthening local governments and broadening participation./

5. Promotion of democratic practices and values

Democracy as a social model must be structured so as to avoid certain inherent risks. Tocqueville saw that the first duty of those who govern society is to "instill democracy...and, if possible, rekindle beliefs."

Authors as diverse as Durkheim, Weber and Pareto have also observed the fundamental role of beliefs in determining a society's ends and the individual and collective means to achieving them.

Clearly, the viability of any democratic political system depends largely on the solidity of its culture, beliefs, and political values. This culture is based on respect for law, and in particular constitutional law, the formation of public opinion and a spirit of compromise, to reconcile dissent with the formation of consensus. The essential practices and values of democracy are, among others, tolerance, participatory solidarity, respect for others, peaceful settlement of disputes, and the exercise of freedom.

As a political system, a form of government, and a way of life, democracy must be preserved. The essential condition for doing so is to promote democratic culture, instilling and institutionalizing clear rules and standards for maintaining it. Accordingly, the UPD and the member states continue to join forces with the understanding that democracy is the result of a long and gradual process of coordination between state and civil society, that the behavior of citizens is a function of their beliefs, and that the core values of civic culture are essential to democratization.

Educational systems play a crucial role in defining and fostering democratic values and practices. But there is very little knowledge and information on how best to transmit those values and practices to the general populace, and in particular our young people. At the same time, it is not simply a matter of public sensitization and education, but also one of introducing and establishing democratic methods and practices within our political systems and institutions.

In cooperating with the member states to promote and instill the fundamental values and practices of democracy, the UPD has supported educational institutions in the development of education for democracy programs at the primary, secondary and university levels. It has initiated programs to train young political leaders, and has provided training and support for the encouragement of dialogue and efforts to develop and apply mechanisms for peaceful dispute settlement./

6. Dialogue and political reconciliation

The preservation of peace is a vital objective for democratic regimes, to which the countries of the region and this hemispheric organization are dedicated. Sovereign states, within their respective jurisdictions, define the mechanisms and measures for accomplishing this noble purpose. At the request of the member states, the OAS helps to eliminate factors of disruption and instability in order for democracy to remain, in the words of the Secretary-General, the backbone of structural renewal in the region.

In these efforts to ensure peace, support is increasingly necessary for the readaptation of social relations and the relationship between state and citizen, through the promotion of dialogue and opportunities for discussion, negotiation, and conciliation.

The UPD has supported a number of political reconciliation processes through special programs or missions to help consolidate democratic institutions and preserve peace. This work has been performed in connection with major decisions and actions taken by the political bodies of the organization in defense of democratic order and peace in the Hemisphere. Work has been conducted with several member states in post-conflict situations and/or democratic transition, for example by advising and assisting with follow-up to peace negotiations, the promotion of dialogue, the prevention and settlement of conflict, national reconstruction, reintegration of former combatants, verification and promotion of human rights and strengthening of basic democratic institutions in government and civil society.

The Organization's electoral observation missions, carried out by the UPD, have played an important role in several electoral processes at critical post-conflict moments and periods of democratic transition in countries of the Hemisphere. The active participation of these missions in the fragile context of new or recently renovated electoral systems was important as a means of supporting the electoral institutions, contributing to the transparency of the voting process, deterring anti-democratic practices and raising popular confidence in the elections.

It should also be noted that on several occasions, and at the request of the parties, the Organization's MOEs have served as an informal conduit for dialogue, consensus building and dispute settlement.

7. Exchanges of experience

As mentioned earlier, one of the objectives and working methodologies of the UPD has been to promote exchanges of experience between state democratic institutions. Worthy of mention in this regard are activities in support of legislative bodies and ministries of education on matters of education for democracy, electoral institutions, central agencies responsible for decentralization, and the participation of local and municipal governments in the Hemisphere./ On several occasions, the events have involved both the authorities of these agencies and experts. Efforts were also made to promote exchanges between representatives of government, academia and experts in the fields concerned.


This document has shown that the Miami Plan of Action, reaffirmed by the Montrouis Declaration, set a precise course for the Organization which, as noted earlier was declared the "leading body for the defense of democratic values and institutions".

More recently, as noted by the Secretary-General, OAS's work has given it valuable experience in implementing and following up on summit agreements.

With specific reference to the UPD, we believe the evaluation is positive.

First, we have supported the Hemisphere's electoral and legislative institutions in order to consolidate representative democracy as a primary objective of our organization. A significant contribution is beginning to be made to the processes of decentralization and strengthening of local democracy through regional and sub-regional initiatives and progress in supporting the development of a democratic political culture in the Hemisphere through programs for the promotion of democratic values and practices. The Organization has gained valuable experience in supporting the processes of dialogue and political reconciliation. In that regard, it is attempting to record the experience gained so that it may serve for future activities. With regard to the exchange of experience, several activities have been conducted, bringing together democratic institutions in the Hemisphere and experts on the issues concerned, resulting in important exchanges of knowledge, techniques, and information.

These activities will serve as a basis for providing greater support to the member states in these and other areas. The experience, knowledge and institutional relations that have been developed in accordance with the mandates of the Summit are enabling us to offer more support to the states in terms of information, opportunities for collective discussion of priorities and policies, and the development of initiatives for horizontal cooperation among states.

With that aim, we are joining forces with member states, at their request, to help identify problems and define priorities for each subject area. We are also strengthening the existing ties of cooperation with public and private institutions in order to combine resources and thus ensure timely and effective follow-up in matters related to our specific areas of responsibility.

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