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Uribe Tells Congressional Panel ALBA Countries Undermining Democracy in Latin America

Nevertheless, he said, OAS members need to reform and rethink what the role of the organization will be “because it seems that the OAS depends on the whims of dictators and quasi-dictators and not the rules of its own charter.”

In 2001, the General Assembly of the OAS, meeting in Lima, established the “Inter-American Democratic Charter.” Thirty four countries signed the charter into being, proclaiming that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote it and defend it.”

Since then, the organization’s several critics say the OAS has only been inclined to condemn anti-democratic attacks against sitting leaders, while turning a blind eye to political wrongdoing committed by those currently in office. The result, its detractors argue, has been an inconsistent enforcement of its democratic charter among its members.

“The [OAS] has been very strong against what happened in Honduras and Paraguay, but has been very weak regarding what happened in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The [organization] needs to be much more strict in preserving its democratic charter,” Uribe said. “It’s necessary to have political determination because it seems the OAS fears [these] governments.”

Colombia’s peace negotiations with FARC rebels are currently underway in Havana.

The five-point agenda in the peace talks includes rebel participation in politics, an end to the conflict, how to eliminate the drug trade, reparations for victims and agrarian reform -- on which the two sides have come to a partial agreement.

The negotiations began last year but have come under harsh criticism from Uribe, who has accused president Juan Manuel Santos of “cozying up to terrorists.”

“The danger of granting impunity has been clearly demonstrated by recent resurgence of terrorism in Colombia. FARC attacks in the first half of 2012 rose 52 percent compared to the previous year,” Uribe said.

Dr. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, told the subcommittee that it has been difficult to combine the procedural minimum of democracy – free and fair elections – with more substantive dimensions such as adherence to the rule of law in the majority of countries in Latin America.

The absence of some of the essential components of a liberal democracy, along with a concentration of power in the executive branch and inequality before the law, helps explain why political systems have imploded in several Latin American countries, giving rise to populist regimes, she said.

“Most significantly in the Andes, today’s populist regimes are focused on transformational or revolutionary projects that concentrate power in the executive and do not envision ceding power to political opponents,” Arnson said. "Even when leaders enjoy significant popular support (largely as a result of social programs financed by the boom in commodity prices), the institutions and legal frameworks that constrain the unfettered exercise of power have been systematically eroded.”

Arnson said the United States needs to promote democracy, but in a way that does not turn overt American support of the opposition in ALBA countries into “the kiss of death” to their efforts of democratic expansion.