Declaration on strengthening and defending democracy and its institutions

Meeting of the Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, SICLAC, Caracas, 19-20 July 2002

1. Political democracy is a core value of the Socialist International, as it provides the necessary foundation and framework for ensuring all other fundamental rights and liberties, including economic and social rights.

The Socialist International has been in the forefront in the struggle for democracy throughout the world, and our sustained efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean over the course of decades, against military regimes and all other forms of repression and dictatorial rule, have led to more democratic nations and greater freedoms for the citizens of the region.

The role of social democracy in the victories for democracy and progress in the respect for human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean has served as a model and an inspiration in other parts of the world.

Democratic successes have been achieved because the member parties of our International have connected directly with people's desire to live in liberty, to be sovereign within their own countries. At the same time, they have given them hope during the darkest moments and solidarity to nurture their democratic spirit and growing strength against oppression.

2. The struggle, however, continues today. The tasks now are to defend the gains that have been made, and to strengthen, renew and rejuvenate the institutions of democracy and adapt them to the challenges created by globalisation and the threats of the new millennium.

Among the top priorities in Latin America and the Caribbean is the need to reverse social and economic inequality, by developing policies and programmes, from the local to the global level, through which people, communities and nations are able to bring unemployment, hunger and indigence to an end.

This means rejuvenating the political process, revitalising political parties and other institutions and creating new channels to institutionalise the political participation of people. The aim is to ensure that politics is driven by citizens for the long term, an energetic politics of participation and inclusion that can make markets decrease social imbalances and inequality, and technology work in the service of and for the betterment of everyone.

3. For the Socialist International, democratic governance embraces a wider range of values, is defined in deeper terms and is closer to the aspirations of people for a more just world than any other political movement.

Specific forms of democracy may vary from region to region, from culture to culture, but the democracy we embrace is of a universal nature and requires that a range of fundamental elements be present and protected, starting with the freedom to choose leaders and representatives, through free and fair elections, from among various political options in a pluralistic society.

The practice of democracy also means a clear separation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, firmly rooted in national constitutions, to ensure proper checks and balances between governmental institutions and a balanced, principled exercise of elected authority.

Presidential reelection in Latin America and the Caribbean has been historically damaging for democracy, constituting a source of corruption of governments which have advocated it; in this way our member parties must foster the incorporation of the principle of non-presidential reelection in the constitutions of the countries of the region as a means of maintaining democracy.

Citizens must be able to hold their elected officials accountable not only through the ballot box during periodic elections but through a solid rule of law, rooted in an effective, independent and impartial judiciary, and carried out so that no one can gain impunity through the exertion of political, economic or military power.

The democratic rule of law must guarantee the full rights of individuals, women and men, in practice and in law, as well as the complete respect for the rights of organised minority opinions, whether based on ethnicity, religious belief, language or culture.

Fundamental to democratic governance are the full functioning of political parties, guarantees for free and open expression, through the media, both publicly and privately owned, in public discussion and debate, and in all institutions of society so that no one is denied a voice.

No less important are full guarantees for the right of association in all forms, such as in non-governmental organisations. This includes free trade unions with the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike, as well as the entire range of civic organisations which are testimony to the determination of citizens in the world today to group together to struggle for their rights and to contribute to the improvement of their communities and their nations.

The trends of development in Latin America and the Caribbean today serve to underline the critical need for strengthening and defending democratic governance.

Economic globalisation and new technologies hold the promise for material advance, but the inherent inequality in the course of this process and the accelerating pace of change have put enormous pressure on fragile and, in many of our countries, newly born democratic institutions.

The form in which the globalising process is developing is limiting the scope of the nation state, discrediting its political leadership and diminishing the operation of its own democracy, with the establishment of the working of the market as the supreme criteria above all other values.

Also, the pressures against democracy and the fear this generates among some citizens open the way for anti-democratic elements, echoing the past, who irresponsibly promise easy answers to difficult problems. It is a climate in which insecurity fosters greater violence, when what is urgently needed is the peaceful resolution to destructive conflicts.

It is therefore incumbent upon social democrats in Latin America, the Caribbean and throughout the world to redouble our efforts in support of democratic governance.

This means renewed efforts in defence of individual and collective rights, as well as democratic institutions such as political parties, free and fair elections and an independent media, all of which form the foundation upon which democratic systems are built. It is recommended that these include information on the incorporation of technology in vote-counting, especially those procedures which allow the wishes of the electorate to be verified and which can investigate any evidence of fraud.

The current situation also calls for greater emphasis on economic and social democratisation, in which citizens can participate more fully in the decision-making process at the local, national and global levels, to ensure a greater degree of economic opportunity and social justice necessary for democratic systems to be sustained.

It is equally important to recognise the need to prioritise education as a major aspect in achieving democracies which can guarantee the wellbeing of the majority.

Finally, only social democracy can provide the solidarity needed in such difficult times to help alleviate people's fears and doubts, to give them renewed confidence in the possibilities for the future, a future that can be freer, fairer and more productive as long as everyone can participate democratically in building it.