The Miami Herald
June 7, 2001

Democratic charter hits wall as OAS stalls vote


 SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Delegates to the annual meeting of the Organization of American States went home Wednesday after refusing to enact a U.S.-supported
 provision that would allow the OAS to oust a member nation that undergoes a coup or any other ``interruption'' in democracy.

 Known as the democratic charter, the proposed rule would have given the 34-member OAS the muscle to suspend a country that violates democracy through coups, election fraud, human rights violations and the like. But complaints that the OAS rushed the proposal and debate over what constitutes democracy led members to postpone the vote until October.

 If the OAS could not define democracy, some critics argued, how could it defend it?

 "Democracy is not embedded overnight. We have to support the process,'' said Albert R. Ramdin, deputy secretary general of the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, whose 14 nations make up the largest bloc in the OAS. ``CARICOM is completely against sanctions.''


 The OAS was ordered by the region's heads of government to come up with the new rule at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City in April. It was expected to approve it Tuesday at the gathering of foreign ministers and OAS ambassadors in Costa Rica, but when objections arose, the OAS decided instead to review the proposal and enact it at a special meeting this fall.

 The charter is considered critical for the OAS to have the kind of leverage needed to complete its pro-democracy mission. It is particularly relevant for Latin America, a region that for decades was besieged by military dictatorships and coups. In recent years, Ecuador and Paraguay have suffered coup attempts, and rumors swept Guatemala a few months ago that a plot to unseat the president was in the works.


 And while OAS members and activists agree that the charter is essential, they disagree on its details. A coalition of nongovernmental organizations stressed that the
 charter's wording was too open for interpretation.

 "It has to be clarified,'' said Warren Allmand, president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Development in Canada. ``What is the standard of democracy? The way it reads now, they can use this new charter to get their enemies and let off their friends.''


 Venezuela, the proposal's biggest detractor, further argued that the new charter would give the OAS the right to overstep its role by intervening in internal government crises.

 The objections came as a surprise to the United States, a major backer of the Peru-sponsored charter.

 On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Luis J. Lauredo, said he was confident the measure would pass because 24 countries that worked on it were in
 agreement. At a testy news conference, he insisted that there were no objections.

 "The press is more informed than the ambassador of the United States,'' he said. ``There has been no official request to change its language. . . . Anyone who would
 argue that it's ambiguous -- I beg to differ.''

 He and OAS Secretary General César Gaviria stressed that the meaning of democracy was deliberately left open so that violations could be tested on a case-by-case basis.

 "It does not operate as a manual -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on how to implement democracy,'' Lauredo said.

 "It's a body of many norms,'' Gaviria told The Herald. ``Some countries want to think about it twice. In the months ahead, it will be approved. All of the countries have said they want a democratic charter, and I'm certain we will have a democratic charter.''

 Peru's OAS ambassador, Manuel Rodríguez Cuadra, said the proposal would benefit from the delay.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

                                    © 2001