The Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean held a meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on 1-2 April 2016. The agenda centered on two main themes: “Building alliances and coalitions to advance our objectives of sustainable development, fair progress and opportunities for all” and “Improving the electoral systems and processes in the region”. The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), whose leader, Miguel Vargas, is chair of the Committee, hosted the meeting. The opening session included the participation of Danilo Medina, President of the Dominican Republic and candidate for re-election in the fothcoming polls to take place in May.
Opening the meeting, Miguel Vargas thanked the parties of the Socialist International for their presence in Dominican Republic at a very special moment for the country that will be holding general elections on 15 May. For these elections, he explained, the PRD and the PLD signed an agreement last September for a shared government of national unity, an alliance which draws inspiration from the ideals and the vision of their historical leader, José Francisco Peña Gómez. The two largest Dominican progressive political forces have reached an understanding to give the country a majority government that will allow it to develop a broad reform of the State, with measures that will guarantee social inclusion, a substantial improvement of the public services and address the outstanding institutional reforms.
The SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, thanked the hosts of the meeting and recalled his participation, as a witness, in the signing of the agreement for government last September. It’s strength comes from the coherence of shared values and principles of both parties and, at the same time, it is an alliance consistent with Dominican political history. It also reflects the will of political actors that are not restricted by their own benchmarks but instead are able to respond to the needs of the nation and the expectations of its citizens. Luis Ayala expressed confidence in their victory on 15 May and in a government committed to ensuring welfare, justice, inclusion and opportunities for all Dominicans. He shared with the participants the concerns and the work of the International in these times “of big challenges and definitions”. The responses to the challenges for peace, democracy, sustainable development, greater equality, extending solidarity with the plight of refugees and migrants, are today key tasks for the International in the whole world, as it is also in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The President of the Republic and presidential candidate in the forthcoming May elections, Danilo Medina, in his intervention, warmly welcomed the presence of the Socialist International in Santo Domingo. He thanked Miguel Vargas for having signed with him a unity agreement without precedence in the history of the country, in favour of social gains, wellbeing and peace for all Dominicans. In his party’s principles, President Medina said, there are elements that are common to the member parties of the SI in the region, a region that is growing, innovating, lowering the levels of poverty and advancing in guaranteeing social rights within a democratic framework. To face the challenges in education, housing, health, social protection, today it is necessary to build large political majorities that will be able to respond to the social demands of the country, he affirmed. The adequate reply to these demands is not the anti-politics nor the populisms, he said, but a process of building alliances between political forces with common principles and projects, such as the one that now exists in his country.
On the first main theme of the agenda, “Building alliances and coalitions to advance our objectives of sustainable development, fair progress and opportunities for all”, the Committee heard contributions by participants from Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Argentina. In their interventions they recalled that at different historic moments in their respective countries, the progressive parties have known the experience of forming governing coalitions. Many times these alliances were inspired by the search to regain lost democracy or to advance by means of political agreements to overcome situations of violence and conflict. What characterises the current political alliances in the region is that generally these are appearing within a context where there is democracy and peace, and rather than being agreements to overcome situations of crisis, they represent the identification of common political aspirations as a basis upon which to build agreements between parties to ensure the fulfilment of their goals and these are presented to the citizens as shared programmatic proposals. This is a reality that goes beyond the simple electoral agreement and involves the search for common objectives. In their different contributions, the delegates conveyed to the host party, the PRD, their confidence that this policy of alliances will be greatly validated in the coming elections and their wish that the next shared government of national unity succeeds with important achievements in favour of a better life for all Dominicans.
The Committee heard to an intervention by Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, wife of the principal Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, one of the political prisoners in Venezuela detained since more than one year. Her words, she said, were on behalf of all the women and families of prisoners being held for political reasons in her country. She denounced the arbitrary measure of deprivation of freedom that today affects her husband and so many other Venezuelans. She thanked the member parties of the Socialist International for the permanent support given by the organisation to her country and shared with the Committee her wish and hope to see very soon Antonio Ledezma and all the Venezuelan political prisoners released from prison.
The SI President, George Papandreou, expressed that Latin America and the Caribbean are very close to his heart, as he has himself experienced dictatorship and exile. The democracy which has been gained globally, is a system that must be defended and guaranteed wherever and whenever it is under threat, he maintained. In this sense, the policies of alliances have a strong justification when they look to regain democracy. But democracy is also consolidated when political parties that share common principles and projects are moved to act together against inequality and to respond to global challenges such as climate change, sustainable development, or the phenomenon of refugees and migrants, and to formulate common, democratic and responsible proposals, thus lessening the threats of authoritarianism, populism and fundamentalism. George Papandreou spoke of the refugee crisis and the current austerity policies in Europe, adding that the democratic and social model in that continent that in the past served as inspiration for the progressive forces in this part of world, could benefit from observing today’s experiences in this region.
In the debate on the second main theme, “Improving the electoral processes and systems in the region”, the Committee heard contributions from Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina, based on the experiences in their own countries and developments in the institutional and regulatory fields. All participants highlighted the importance of having electoral and party laws that are modern and suited to their own realities. A common factor is the need to have an autonomous electoral body that is impartial, permanent, materially well provided for and not subject in their budgets to a payroll of employees and the appointment of top authorities motivated by the swings of their own electoral contingency. Regarding the use of electronic and technological means for the registration of the electorate, their identification and the voting itself, there were common views that the advances in these matters could be a very important contribution for the legitimacy and efficiency of the processes, but it was also noted that it is insufficient to make the credibility of the citizens during the electoral process solely dependent on them. Other aspects considered and that must be taken into account were the financing of politics, whether this is public, private or mixed, the limitations to campaign expenses and the accountability of candidates. Venezuelan participants, for their part, emphasised the relevance of the role of international electoral observers, the regulation of re-elections and the nature of administrative sanctions to avoid the de-registration of candidates, following the recent experience in their country.
On the last point of the agenda, the delegates spoke of the political situation in their respective countries. Besides that of the Dominican Republic, which was widely explained during the meeting, the Committee heard from the Venezuelan delegates about the latest political developments in their country following the approval in recent days of the Amnesty and Reconciliation Law promoted by the political forces of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) in the Venezuelan National Assembly; from the Brazilian delegate on the situation confronted by the government of President Dilma Rousseff; the delegate of Peru gave an update to the Committee on the electoral prospects in the forthcoming elections to be held in that country; the SI Vice-President and representative of Haiti informed about the challenges faced by the government and the provisional presidency of the Republic with a view to the realisation of elections; the delegate of Chile informed about the state of the advancement of reforms contained in the programme of President Bachelet; the delegation of Costa Rica informed about the current internal work of his party PLN and its future projection; the delegate of Panama referred to the work of his party and the importance that it assigned to the modifications of electoral laws and parties in his country; and the UCR of Argentina shared with the Committee its experience during the first months of coalition government. From Europe, the delegate of the PSOE updated the Committee on the latest advancements and the perspectives that the leader of the party, Pedro Sánchez, finds in his efforts to form a coalition government under the leadership of the socialists in Spain.
Before the closing of the meeting, the SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, updated the Committee on the latest activities of the International and the new and forthcoming initiatives. He referred, among other matters, to the work ahead in the coming months by the Commission established by the International to examine inequality in the world economy and propose specific policies to combat it in the developing world, in emergent economies and the developed countries. At the close of the debates, the Committee approved a resolution on the agreement of shared government in Dominican Republic, another about the situation in Brazil and another on the current political and institutional crisis in Venezuela, and reiterated the appreciation of everyone present for the fraternal hospitality received from its member party in Dominican Republic, the PRD.