Sunday, January 30, 2005

Jan 30/05 - On Jimmy Carter's plan to do somemthing about democracy in Latin America...thanks to Andres Oppenheimer

PMBComment: Jimmy Carter’s proposals to the OAS (yes, the building still stands even if the institution is AWOL) are not bad. What is appalling is his utter inability to put a name on the problem. Having observed how Hugo Chavez run circles around him and the hapless Cesar Gaviria, I can only imagine that he is scared stiff of publicly confronting someone who pulled his string at will. PMB

THE OPPENHEIMER REPORT | Carter plan could retire Chávez


Former President Jimmy Carter, who gave his blessing to Venezuelan leftist
leader Hugo Chávez's controversial victory in a recall referendum last year,
has now come up with a proposal that -- if accepted -- could send Chávez
into instant retirement at a Cuban beach resort.

In an address Tuesday to the 34-member Organization of American States
(OAS), Carter called for injecting new life into an inter-American treaty
aimed at preventing democratically elected presidents from seizing all
powers, and becoming de facto dictators. Which is exactly what Chávez seems
to be doing.

''Let us strengthen the charter and not be afraid to use it,'' Carter said,
bolstering the idea we suggested in this column a few weeks ago.
The OAS Democratic Charter was signed in 2001 in the aftermath of former
Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's takeover of Peru's Congress, but it
has rarely been used.

The problem is that it calls for collective diplomatic sanctions against
Fujimori-styled one-shot attacks on the rule of law, but it does little to
address Chávez-styled cases of piecemeal destruction of the democratic

Carter said the current weakness of the treaty stems from its vagueness: It
calls for collective actions against ''unconstitutional interruptions of
democracy,'' without defining what these may be. Breaking new ground, Carter
proposed eight criteria for defining such interruptions. Among them:

• When a government breaks the constitutional system of separation of
• When it systematically violates basic freedoms, including freedom of
• When it arbitrarily fires or replaces members of the judiciary or
electoral bodies.

Under most of these conditions, the United States or any other OAS member
could invoke the Democratic Charter against Chávez at any time.


Chávez recently took over Venezuela's Supreme Court, expanding it from 20 to
32 members, and packed it with loyalists. Before last year's referendum, he
had done the same with Venezuela's top electoral bodies, tilting the
referendum rules in his favor.

And a few weeks ago, Chávez passed a press law that gives the government
wide discretion to clamp down on independent media. He now runs all three
branches of government and can shut down the media at his will.
Will Carter's proposal fly? Unfortunately, the political climate in Latin
could hardly be less conducive to U.S.-led democracy-building
initiatives. Polls show that, in the aftermath of the go-it-alone decision
to start the war with Iraq, an overwhelming number of Latin Americans
believe the Bush administration has lost moral authority to preach respect
for the rule of law.

Meantime, Chávez is gaining influence by selling oil at preferential prices
in the region. And Brazil, Argentina and others seem more interested in
restraining U.S. supremacy than keeping their neighbors from tampering with

Even Mexico, which under President Vicente Fox had made great improvements
in the defense of democracy and human rights, last week convened a
''consultation'' meeting of more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean
countries that is causing alarm in human rights circles.

At the meeting, Mexico proposed creation of a new regional group to
self-police compliance of its members with human rights conventions. The
conference, which was attended and applauded by Cuban officials, was seen by

critics as an attempt to overshadow the OAS Human Rights Commission, an
independent body that has done an excellent job in denouncing abuses by both
rightist and leftist regimes.

Critics say Mexico is trying to court Cuba-friendly Caribbean nations whose
votes it needs to get Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez elected
as head of the OAS.


The Mexico-proposed human rights group would be a joke because it would rely
on government officials -- rather than independent human rights monitors --
to judge their own countries' human rights abuses. It would be like allowing
a suspect to judge his own behavior, critics say.

Patricia Olamendi, Mexico's under-secretary for human rights, denies any
intention to eclipse the OAS Human Rights Commission. She told me that the
new group ''will not be a human rights evaluation group,'' but rather would
be aimed at exchanging experiences, doing workshops to help countries better
comply with international treaties.

My conclusion: Carter's proposal is excellent, and the Bush
administration -- although no fan of Carter's -- should embrace it. But I'm
afraid that, barring a much-needed U.S. fence-mending effort in the region,
the current mood in Latin America will not help push any Washington-backed
pro-democracy initiative