Washington, DC – Daniel W. Fisk, Vice President for Policy and Strategic Planning at IRI, testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs, chaired by Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), at a hearing looking at the state of democracy in the Americas (click here to watch the hearing on C-SPAN.org).
In his comments to the Committee, Fisk highlighted progress in the region and challenges that remain. “The fact is that more citizens are today participating in the political and economic decision-making processes of their respective countries than ever before.
“This is not to argue that ‘democratic perfection’ has descended upon the hemisphere. Rather, it is to note that the acceptance of democratic values and processes are now at the base of citizen expectations throughout the region, regardless of whether individual leaders genuinely support or fully implement such practices.
“There are exceptions and challenges to this general, positive growth of democracy in the Americas. Rampant crime and authoritarian populism are the two most significant challenges.”
In outlining the differences in democratic development in the region, Fisk highlighted the paths Venezuela and Colombia have taken. Commenting on Venezuela, Fisk said, “While Mr. Chavez’s rise 12 years ago represented popular disapproval of government run by wealthy elites, his government has manipulated an independent judicial system, eliminated any sense of a predictable rule of law, and eviscerated the responsibilities of other independent governmental bodies, including the national legislature.”
In contrast, in Colombia the former president stepped down rather than challenge the country’s constitution. “By comparison, there is Colombia, where a popular president, with 80 percent approval – Alvaro Uribe – stepped down when a proposed third term in office was deemed unconstitutional by an independent judicial body. A free, competitive election selected his successor. Democracy is about more than an approval rating; Mr. Uribe understood and respected that.”
In closing, Fisk urged continued American support for democracies in the region. “Many in this hemisphere want our help in the building and strengthening of genuine democratic institutions and practices. Such assistance is not a matter of imposing U.S. structures on Latin America. Each country has to develop its own path. However, as partners in this experiment called democracy, we can respond to those seeking to learn from others’ experiences, and not only from the North American experience.”Top