The Inter-American Democratic Charter was adopted on September 11, 2001, the very same day of the terrorist attack on US soil.
The Charter establishes that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have the obligation to promote and defend it”. Cuba was the only dictatorship in the region when it was adopted, and twenty years later, Cuba is still a tyranny that expanded its dictatorial system to Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, while trying unsuccessfully to enlist Ecuador. However, it managed the current governments in Argentina, Mexico and Peru to align in support of these dictatorships. Even though the Charter hasn’t been able to prevent the expansion of dictatorships in the Hemisphere, it has served to point them out and to institutionalize democracy. In addition, it can be improved.
According to the international legal framework, a “Charter” is the most important form of a treaty. The Inter-American Democratic Charter is the constitutive treaty on democracy in the Americas, a binding contract for its signatory states, and a law of preferential application in the domestic legal system of each signatory state.
It is not a "Declaration of Principles", nor a pronouncement of "Good Intentions". It’s a Law. Failure to comply with any law demonstrates its validity, produces a negative effect by pointing out the offender, and leads to the application of sanctions.
The normative part of this Charter is very effective because it clearly defines the essential elements of democracy, the fundamentals of exercising it; the strengthening of political parties and organizations, citizens participation, human rights, integral human development and the fight against poverty.
The Charter has also shown that in the Americas there’s no doubt about what a democracy should be, based on essential mandatory elements like “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”
Currently, the Charter allows to:
- Clearly identify dictatorships such as those of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, defining them as outlaw organizations;
- Designate dictators as members of transnational organized crime, instead of considering them as legit political leaders;
- Apply international regulations such as the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime or the Palermo Convention, and promote prosecution of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court;
- Expose the false narrative of dictatorships that pretend to pose as “revolutionary” or “popular” democracies, when in reality violate the essential elements of democracy;
- Institutionalize election monitoring missions in the region.
The weakness of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, though, resides in the handling of crises and the establishment of sanctions.
Article 20 determines that “in the event that an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regimes that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, any member state or the Secretary General may request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake (…) the necessary diplomatic initiatives, including good offices (…). If such diplomatic initiatives prove unsuccessful (…) the Permanent Council shall immediately convene a special session of the General Assembly”.
According to Article 21, “when the special session of the General Assembly determines that there has been an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order (…) the special session shall take the decision to suspend said member state from the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS with the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the member states”.
Both the Permanent Council and the General Assembly are political bodies made up with the representatives of each state of the Americas. For this reason, despite Secretary Luis Almagro's numerous reports on Venezuela’s dictatorship, the red-handed crimes in Nicaragua, and the evidence and denunciations against Bolivia, there are no two-thirds of the votes of the total OAS members to sanction those countries. And even if the votes were there, the suspension by itself is not a real sanction as evidenced by Cuba, suspended since January 31, 1962, and reinstated in June 2009.
In order to avoid and put an end to dictatorships in the Hemisphere, the Inter-American Democratic Charter has to improve its crisis management mechanisms, giving political, civic and social organizations real procedural power to legally denounce violations of the democratic rule in Latin America before the OAS. It also has to enhance sanctions on non-democratic regimes, by banning them from getting credits from international financial institutions.