of Lorne Craner, President, International Republican Institute,
Hearing of the House International Relations Western Hemisphere
Subcommittee, March 9, 2005
TESTIMONY OF LORNE W. CRANER
PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INSTITUTE
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON
WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS
COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN LATIN AMERICA
MARCH 9, 2005
Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity
to testify today. The topic of today's hearing, The State
of Democracy in Latin America, resonates with those of us
devoted to the advancement of democracy throughout the world.
Chairman Burton, we are appreciative of your commitment to democracy
and human rights everywhere. We very much look forward to your
stewardship of this subcommittee.
A Regional Overview: Latin Americas Democratic Revolution
and Todays Challenge
America has never been more democratic than it is today. In only
two decades, the region has seen dictatorship give way to democracy
and seen citizens, rather than soldiers, become the final arbiters
of political outcomes. As recently as 1977, Freedom House identified
three electoral democracies in Latin America. Now, only Cuba and
Haiti do not meet this standard. As observers and policymakers
express their concern over the state of democracy in the region
today, it is important to note how far Latin America has come
in so short a time. Let us recall Mexicos break with over
seven decades of one-party rule, El Salvadors steady progress
since peace and democracy replaced civil war, and Chiles
ability to boast of not only the regions most successful
economy, but a robust democracy and newfound respect for human
spread of democracy in the region has fostered improved relations
with the United States and increased opportunities for regional
cooperation on critical issues like trade, security, immigration,
and human rights. Todays challenge is to tap into the opportunities
unleashed by the regions democratic opening in order to
improve the human condition of its citizens.
we witness democracys progress in Iraq and Afghanistan,
we are reminded of the significance of allowing citizens to elect
their own leaders in places where they have not done so before.
We are also reminded that this revolutionary act can precipitate
democracy and freedom, but is not an end in itself. For the most
part, Latin Americans enjoy the ability to openly support a particular
political option, to vote, and to engage in a civil society that
allows citizens demands and opinions to be freely vetted.
these accomplishments, Latin Americans are disappointed because
their expectations of democracy have not been met. According to
the Chilean polling firm Latinobarametro, only 29 percent of Latin
Americans are satisfied with the ability of democratic governments
to solve economic, political, and social problems. Remarkably,
that figure is only seven percent in Peru, suggesting that democracy
polls only as favorable as the elected head of state in that country.
The same poll suggests that a large percentage of Latin Americans
would accept an alternative form of government to democracy if
it were to improve their material well-being. These figures are
alarming, but they should not be surprising. In countries where
majorities live in or on the brink of poverty, where job creation
is stagnant, health care and education are elusive, crime is pervasive,
and where disparities between the privileged and the poor are
so pronounced, democracy for many is seen as one competing option
state of democracy in Latin America is a decidedly mixed bag.
Citizens are expressing their skepticism over the relationship
between democracy and their ability to provide an adequate standard
of living for their families. At the same time, a robust and energetic
civil society freely challenges policies and leaders. Political
parties proliferate offering platforms that cross the ideological
spectrum. In many countries in the region, electoral laws are
designed to ensure transparency and competitiveness. Elections
in countries like Guatemala and Peru are referred to by citizens
as fiestas civicas, or civic holidays
- a testimony to the degree to which Latins celebrate their democratic
institutions of democracy, though imperfect, are for the most
part in place in Latin America: elections, political parties,
civil society, a free press - many of the institutions and practices
that groups like the International Republican Institute (IRI)
and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) promote and develop
throughout the globe play a vital role in channeling citizen demands
in the hemisphere. Why then the general disaffection with democracy?
First, democracy is incomplete in the region. The Freedom House
2005 Freedom in the World Report points out that 11 countries
in the region have not achieved sufficient progress in political
rights and civil liberties to be rated free, and among
those that do, only a handful received a perfect score. This democracy
deficit needs to improve so Latin Americans can enjoy all of their
rights and privileges. However, these indicators suggests that
the most compelling and immediate concerns of citizens do not
relate to freedoms or democratic rights- they relate to the failure
of elected leaders to meet the needs of citizens.
IRI in Latin America
is active throughout the region working with political parties
and civil society groups. Our message to political parties is
that the best marketing strategy for a party is not just good
message but good governance. The fundamentals of running an effective
campaign or training party faithful to monitor election sites
are important activities that should be complemented by an equal
commitment to developing capable leaders who understand and articulate
sound policies. IRI is retooling its Latin America program - evolving
it from a focus on developing capacity within parties to compete
in elections to programs designed to develop leaders and organizations
capable of translating the promise of an effective campaign into
effective governance. Parties need to present realistic policy
options into the political marketplace and enjoy the leadership
and expertise to implement policy if elected to serve.
need to mean more to citizens than simply setting up the next
straw man. In the Andes, democratically-elected presidents have
lost legitimacy after only months in power. The ability of sectors
to mobilize for or against a policy or leader has been greater
than the ability of governments to respond. Policy decisions made
under duress to quell mobilized and sometimes violent groups have
left leaders like Perus President Toledo between a rock
and a hard place and forced the resignation of two consecutive
heads of state in Bolivia. Do I do what I know is right
and risk chaos, or do I capitulate to mob rule? In the Andes
today, this question is often posed as a zero sum game.
neglected indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru are
claiming a stake on their political and economic fortunes. Democracy
and economic integration have provided the impetus for a new indigenous
nationalism in the region that seeks to restore political relevance
to long-ignored populations. The rekindled political energy in
the region by its original inhabitants should be seen as a positive
sign. That it manifests itself in sometimes anti-systemic behavior
is troubling. By developing democratic systems capable of responding
to these demands in a meaningful way and educating citizens over
their rights and responsibilities, we can hope to release some
of the pressure that today threatens democracy and stability.
Colombia, a popular and effective president has the opportunity
to work toward a consensus over the need to combat insurgency
and criminality while promoting human rights and economic growth.
Channeling the aspirations of the Colombian people toward an enduring
political project that goes beyond the figure of an individual
presidency is a challenge and an imperative to which IRI is fully
is at the eye of the storm over the direction of democracy in
Latin America. The debate over what form democracy should ultimately
take in the region has one of its most vocal and influential protagonists
in President Hugo Chavez. Political space needs to be open in
Venezuela and confidence must be restored in that countrys
courts and electoral authorities. The only peaceful and constructive
way to break the impasse in Venezuela and restore civility to
the political discourse is by enabling an open debate through
a healthy and open democratic process.
America perhaps best epitomizes Latin Americas transformation.
A region beset by proxy ideological confrontations and civil war
during the 1970s and 80s, Central America is now peaceful and
democratic. Two former cold war battlegrounds present different
versions of what the future holds for Central America. In Nicaragua,
reformers and democrats are struggling to wrest power away from
corrupt autocrats controlling the two dominant political parties.
President Bolaños continues to confront corruption and
promote economic reform.
El Salvador, consecutive reformist governments have laid the foundation
for a genuine success story - but Salvadorans lack a healthy alternative
to the governing party. While the ARENA has modernized and adjusted
to contemporary reality, the Salvadoran left remains mired in
the ideological battles of the past.
compared to 15 years ago, the situation on the isthmus is dramatically
improved. Peace accords have been implemented, former insurgent
groups now form political parties, and expanded trade opportunities
offer the potential for jobs and enhanced prosperity.
Central America exemplifies the progress that Latin American countries
have made in recent years, Haiti is a reminder that progress toward
democracy is never inevitable. Arturo Valenzuela of Georgetown
University, in a recent Journal of Democracy article calls this
phenomenon interrupted democracy. Today in the Western
Hemisphere, an elected government rules every country except Cuba
institutions are weak, and the personalities that have dominated
national politics have been strong which is a terrible
the near term, Haitis electoral system is the institution
most in need of international support. In each of Haitis
last four elections two in 1995, and one each in 1997 and
2000 political manipulation and poor technical management
caused a breakdown in the electoral system and in turn, led to
contested outcomes. Since 1990, the United States has provided
more than $100 million in technical assistance to Haiti to support
an electoral process that has yet to deliver a free and fair election.
Haitis Provisional Electoral Commission has produced an
electoral calendar detailing each step leading to the local municipal
elections in October, and legislative and presidential elections
in November 2005.
number of us have been critical of the state of democracy in Haiti
these last 10 years. We now have an opportunity and a responsibility
to help Haitians gain a better life, and we will meet that responsibility.
development of a new generation of political parties and leaders
who campaign on issues and not on the strength of personality
is as important as well-administered elections for Haitis
future. IRIs Haiti program is anchored by democratic political
party training and leadership development among women and young
remains a totalitarian state. Indeed, its dictator has recently
announced a series of measures designed to reign in the few vestiges
of freedom on the island. He has gone so far as specifying to
employees at Cubas beach resorts to refrain from interaction
with foreign guests. Castros apartheid-style tyranny is
being challenged by a homegrown democracy movement made up of
courageous dissidents. IRI will continue to express its solidarity
with these leaders who face imprisonment and intimidation for
their efforts to bring liberty to Cuba.
a House hearing held just last week, Cuban dissident, Felix Bonne,
was asked by New Jersey Congressman, Bob Menendez, if he feared
additional persecution for testifying to the Committee. He responded,
from Havana: I am simply a soldier of liberty and democracy.
He added that he is prepared to return to jail to defend
the interests of the Cuban people. We need to be prepared
to support Mr. Bonne and Cubas democrats.
political landscape two years from now is likely to be dramatically
different than what we see today. Over the next two years, Presidential
elections will take place in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela,
Nicaragua, and Mexico. Against this backdrop, the key to IRI's
engagement in the region is to support democrats and strengthen
democratic institutions. IRI emphasizes the need to support the
ability of democratic leaders to achieve objectives spelled out
in campaigns. By helping leaders articulate genuine reforms to
voters, develop consensus, and match expectations with reality,
we have the best chance to assure that Latin Americas democratic
gains made over the past two decades will translate into concrete
improvement to the lives of its people and improved prosperity
and security for all of us.
you Mr. Chairman.
of March 10, 2005, this document was also available online at