Democracy and development remain at the center of the hemisphere agenda, according to U.S.Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) John Maisto, who during a visit to Costa Rica last week outlined the agenda for “relevant multilateralism.”
In a speech at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José Sept. 28, Maisto, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua, said that the agenda favoring democracy and development is well-developed among nations of the hemisphere who have signed onto the ongoing process in April, 2001, in Quebec, Canada, when 34 presidents and prime ministers of the region signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The charter is a document based on four fundamental pillars, Maisto said: a commitment to representative democracy; prosperity and sustainable development for all citizens; investing in the people, combating poverty, inequality and social exclusion; and providing security to people and the democratic state.
The commitment to democracy enunciated in the charter refers specifically to a set definition for representative democracy which upholds respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, the rule of law, holding periodic, free and fair elections, a pluralistic political system and separation of powers.
“These are non-negotiable, universal human freedoms,” said the bespectacled Maisto, whose manner resembled that of a college professor as much as a diplomat.
Praised by Inter-American Human Rights Institute president Sonia Picado as a “true friend of Latin America,” Maisto has held a number of U.S. State Department positions in Latin American affairs including Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs for the National Security Advisor (now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice), Ambassador to Venezuela, Foreign Policy Advisor at the U.S. Southern Command and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central American Affairs.
The day after his speech at theHuman Rights Court
, Maisto met with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias at his home in the western San José district of Rohrmoser. The two leaders discussed a common desire to see democracy prevail throughout Latin America, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.
In particular, they discussed the future of Cuba in light of President Fidel Castro’s recent health problems and the possibility of his brother Raul taking over governing the country when he dies.
Maisto said that what Cuba needs is “a change over toward a true democracy, not a change of hands from one dictator to another, or from one dictator to a group of dictators.”
Arias and Maisto also conversed about Nicaragua’s upcoming elections in November, which Maisto said will be observed by “a very good OAS team,” along with observers from Europe and other organizations, according to the wire service ACAN-EFE.
“Observation is absolutely key because these elections present an opportunity for Nicaraguans to freely choose their next government in … a democratic environment” and “leave the past and advance toward the modernity of Central America today,”Maisto said.
Maisto remarked on Costa Rica’s ability to be a “leader in the fight for freedom and democracy in the region.” Arias seconded this comment, saying, “As a Costa Rican, I am not going to give up the dream of seeing all the other countries in the region have democracy.”
Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale and U.S. Embassy political affairs advisor David Henifin also attended the Sept. 29 meeting.
Arias said he plans to continue striving toward democracy during the upcoming Forum of Latin American Governments to be held Nov. 4 and 5 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Maisto said that to promote economic opportunity and prosperity, the second pillar of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the nations of the region must address the needs of the 40% of the population that survives on less than $3 a day.
“Democracy has to deliver the goods,” he emphasized during his speech.
The United States is doing its part by doubling aid to Latin America and the Caribbean under the Bush Administration from $862 million in fiscal year 2001 to $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2005, he pointed out.
However, “We see free and fair trade as the principal vehicle for the creation of employment and the struggle against poverty in the region.”Around 85 to 90% of products that enter the United States from Latin America and the Caribbean enter duty free, he said.
The third pillar of the Inter-American Democratic Charter commits countries to “invest in the well-being of people of all social spheres.” To this end, Maisto explained, the Bush Administration has invested approximately $500 million in HIV/AIDS programs in the region. It has also increased the presence of the Peace Corps, sending 1,000 new Peace Corps Volunteers to the region.
In response to the fourth pillar agreed to in Quebec, protection of the democratic state, the OAS sponsored a Special Conference on Security in Mexico in 2003, which provided a practical guide to resolve internal tensions, reduce pressure to buy weapons, promote democratic norms and promote a climate of security in and among the member-states.
However, much work remains to ensure that the Inter-American Democratic Charter is fully implemented, he concluded.