Legal Instruments that Safeguard Democracy in the Americas.

Author:Ramirez, Lautaro M.
Position:Reflections on the Inter-American Democratic Charter

One of the most important topics of concern for governments in the Americas is the protection of democratic systems, especially in places where periods of dictatorship have only recently ended. Currently, there is a heightened national and international awareness that supranational rules and procedures are necessary to keep internal threats to democratic order from leading to situations that repeat the past. The Organization of American States (OAS) took initial steps along these lines by including a "democracy clause" in its Founding Charter in 1951. The clause requires OAS member states to maintain democratic systems as a sine qua non condition for being part of the organization.

In the 1990s, however, Latin American countries decided to address the protection of democratic systems not only at the level of the hemisphere but also at regional and sub-regional levels. So while the OAS passed its Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001 after the approval of various declarations (See table), the truth is that the MERCOSUR bloc for economic integration preceded it by a few years. The Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) was formed in 1991 by founding members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. In 1998, as a response to events in Paraguay two years earlier, it approved the Ushuaia Protocol on Democratic Commitment. Bolivia and Chile also joined MERCOSUR that year and the commitment to democracy became part of the MERCOSUR rules of origin. The Protocol reaffirms the full and effective exercise of democratic institutions as a necessary condition for the development of the integration process and also states that any relationships that might result from agreements between states party would be subject to the protocol rules in case of a rupture in the democratic order.

On September 11, 2001, the OAS approved its Inter-American Democratic Charter, following the mandate that emerged from the Quebec Summit.

A third instrument was approved in Guyana in November 2010 within the framework of the 4th Ordinary Meeting of the Council of Heads of State and Government of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and that was the Additional Protocol to the Constitutive Treaty of UNASUR, which establishes the procedures to be followed in case any of the states party should subvert the democratic order.

In this way, three instruments--two South American and one hemispheric--are safeguarding the democratic systems in states associated with the OAS. The instruments are only applicable, however, in the states that have ratified them.

Situations in which the Instruments can be Applied

The three instruments differ somewhat in their content and in the way in which they seek to safeguard democracy. The Inter-American Democratic Charter specifically recognizes democracy as "a right of the peoples of the Americas," and requires governments to promote and defend democracy. Democracy is recognized as an essential prerequisite for social, political, and economic development. The Ushuaia Protocol also recognizes the...

To continue reading