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8194: Flawed elections in Haiti and Florida (fwd)

From: radman <resist@best.com>


The Associated Press, Tue 5 Jun 2001

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP)  -- Flawed elections in Haiti, flawed elections in
Florida. Your democracy, my democracy.

The United States is one of the major backers of a bid to enshrine a
definition of democracy that would hold sway on two continents and punish
those who violate it.

Comparing Haiti's manipulated elections to the Florida debacle is extreme.
But in a hemisphere where the differences from one nation to the next can be
just as extreme, the effort to set the concept of democracy in stone has some
leaders worried.

At issue is the proposed Democratic Charter, a document before foreign
ministers and ambassadors gathered in Costa Rica for the annual general
meeting of the 34-nation Organization of American States.

The debate comes late: Leaders of all the OAS members " every country in the
Western hemisphere except Cuba " agreed in April in Quebec City to endorse
the Democratic Charter and told their foreign ministers to do so at the
meeting this week.

The U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Luis J. Lauredo, said foreign ministers have
no choice but to sign on to the charter. But with several nations expressing
concerns, that seemed unlikely to happen before the session's close Tuesday.

In addition to Caribbean countries, those raising questions about the charter
include Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela " where President Hugo Chavez, 
author of
a failed coup in 1992, says representative democracy has led to bloodshed and

The proposed charter defines ``essential elements of representative
democracy'' as ``the holding of free and fair elections as an expression of
popular sovereignty, access to power through constitutional means, a
pluralist system of political parties and respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms.''

In April, OAS presidents and prime ministers ``issued a political declaration
(that) unambiguously defines'' democracy, Lauredo told reporters Monday.
``Who would argue that there is ambiguity about the definition of democracy?
I beg to differ.''

But some human and civil rights groups are calling for more specific
definitions, saying the proposed charter is too vague and could be bent to
serve the will of influential member states.

``What I'm afraid of is, if you don't have a more precise standard and it's
all politically motivated, then you can say Cuba is in violation and must be
punished, but if a country is friendly to the United States, say, then it is
not sanctioned,'' said Warren Allmand, president of the Montreal-based Rights
and Democracy group.

The document " first proposed by Peru and also supported by Canada and Costa
Rica, among others " represents a bid to bolster the underpinnings of
democracy in the Western Hemisphere as the threats against it grow more

In countries once prone to military overthrows, fragile democracies that
emerged and promised a better life are being challenged by disillusioned

Sometimes the threat to democracy comes from elected governments " such 
as in
Venezuela, where Chavez is considering imposing a state of emergency to fight

In the past year there have been attempted coups in Ecuador and Paraguay, a
coup plot in Guatemala, and electoral crises in Peru and Haiti.

The OAS has mediated in all those successfully except Haiti, where there are
signs of a possible breakthrough amid OAS negotiations and the suspension of
millions of aid dollars over manipulated elections.

The vast majority of Caribbean countries have enjoyed some form of
uninterrupted democracy since independence from European colonizers in the

But Alfred R. Ramdin, deputy secretary-general of the Caribbean Community, or
Caricom " which is powerful because its 14 nations make up the largest bloc
in the OAS " stressed that ``Democracy is not embedded overnight. We have to
support the process.''

The question of how to support it is part of the debate over the Democratic
Charter. The document would allow for sanctions against transgressors, an
idea opposed by some.

``Caricom is completely against sanctions,'' Ramdin said.

He said months of frustrating mediation led to Haitian President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's commitment this week to hold new elections.
Aristide's opponents say it's a sign he is desperate for the suspended
financial aid.

Democracy requires education, Ramdin said. He said Haiti, with 80 percent
illiteracy and a two-decade history of dictatorship, cannot be judged by the
same standards as the United States.

Pointing to the controversy over the presidential vote count in Florida last
year, he said that the United States is not immune to challenges to its