NIMD’s Latin America Regional Conference took place in Antigua, the old national capital of Guatemala, in May 2010. One topic of discussion was the recent changes in Latin American politics, and the challenges to democracy in the region. Is it time to reinvent Latin American democracy?
About the conference
The main objective of the conference was to stimulate the exchange of experiences from NIMD, partners and country offices within the field of democracy support and to jointly develop and formulate a new regional strategy for Latin America.
Participants included staff from The Hague directly involved with the work in Latin America, the coordinators and other professionals from NIMD’s Guatemala and Ecuador country-offices, and representatives from our partner organization Fundación Boliviana para la Democracia Multipartidaria (Bolivian Foundation for Multiparty Democracy, or fBDM).
In addition, the conference benefitted from the presence and contribution of Vinicio Cerezo, ex-president of Guatemala, Alvaro Garcia, an ex-minister from Chile and current advisor of NIMD in Latin America, and Eduardo Nuñez, a renowned political analyst and the director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Guatemala.
All participants were moved not only by the wish to learn from each other, but also to engage in profound discussions about the objectives of the NIMD programmes in Latin America.
Five years of democracy strengthening
The first day of the conference was focused on looking back and drawing up lessons learned. Through an interactive workshop, experiences from Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and NIMD headquarters were discussed and documented.
Attendees looked back on NIMD’s work in the region in the past five years and identified the main achievements and deficiencies. It was concluded that, although multiparty democracy has been advanced in electoral terms, it risks being perceived as irrelevant as a consequence of the incoherence between what is promised and what is actually realised by many politicians.
On the other hand, in the Andean Region at least, the profound crisis of political representation in the 1990s also created space for the incorporation of other forms of representation and political participation, above and beyond the traditional parties and elected representatives.
Challenges to democracy in Central America
Meanwhile in Central America there is a relatively high level of political stability but, in several cases, democratic institutions have been influenced by organised crime and drugs trafficking, hindering the advance of both democracy and development. The influence of such actors cannot be ignored, as politics is also used as an instrument for their action and profit.
The second day of the conference concentrated on the political scenarios in Latin America and the programmatic needs of the coming five years. The discussions were structured around several themes, including multiparty dialogue and National Agendas, the legitimacy crisis of political parties, technical support for Congresses, gender as a crosscutting issue, communication and democracy and finally security and integration.
Delegates then focused on the identification of priorities and strategies for NIMD in the coming five years. Attention was also paid to the need to strengthen alliances with other international and national institutions, in order to promote harmonisation of the work aimed at strengthening the legal, institutional and cultural aspects of multiparty democracy.
Encouraging young women and men to participate
Discussions on the final day of the conference turned to the political participation of young people, with an exchange of experiences on the work being carried out aimed at increasing political participation amongst young women and men in Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala.
The Bolivian participants in particular were responsible for a touching presentation of their work. The promotion of democratic dialogue among young Bolivian politicians, making use of the democratic dialogue methodology, was considered a useful example for other countries wishing to increase multiparty dialogue by strengthening mutual confidence and openness.
Where to next for democracy?
The conference conclusions were underscored by the recognition that Latin American political parties have lost a great deal of their representativeness, affecting the public perception of their role in deepening democracy. In general, the challenges identified for the coming five years are linked to the need to increase the representativeness and legitimacy of political parties, as well as the acknowledgment that there are other forms of political participation and representation.
While the attendees came up with no obvious or simple answer to this question of whether democracy in Latin America is in need of re-invention., the implications of the dynamic changes taking place in the region will surely underpin NIMD's future programmes. In this sense, the conference was both beneficial and timely.