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a196: Countries Discuss Pressuring Aristide with Democratic Charter (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Countries Discuss Pressuring Aristide with Democratic Charter
By Marcela Sanchez
Monday's attack on Haiti's presidential palace, and particularly the pro-government mob violence that ensued, has some members of the Organization of American States thinking about a pair of firsts: pressuring a democratically elected government to be more democratic, and invoking the three-month-old pact that gives them the ability to do so.  The Inter-American Democratic Charter allows members states to use threats of possible political, financial and trade sanctions against any fellow member whose actions appear to jeopardize democracy in the area. If used to the extreme, the measures could ultimately isolate a member state to a degree that only non-participant member Cuba is now. At a meeting Tuesday of the organization's Friends of Haiti group,  some OAS members seriously discussed invoking the charter as a way to  pressure the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into better  controlling the rage of his supporters. 
The immediate hope, they said, was that such action could prevent further deterioration of constitutional order in the small island nation. Beyond that, they argued, invoking the charter would remind other governments  in the region, particularly Venezuela's, that deep political polarization  can lead to serious threats to democracy. The charter has a well-known birthday: Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, with the era of dictatorships clearly behind them, all 34 OAS members  approved the document. The charter grew in large part from frustration caused by former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who in 1992, in a so-called'self-coup,' dissolved Congress and the judiciary. OAS members felt they could do little about it because Fujimori had been elected  democratically and not installed in a coup d'état. "This is a very important step in the right direction," said Argentine Foreign Minister Adalberto Rodrííguez Giavarini, who would support use of the charter against Haiti. 
The document's provisions allow a single government to initiate action. In an interview on Tuesday, Rodriguez Giavarini could not say which nation or nations might be the ones to launch a process  that could be divisive. Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere. For that reason and others, Caribbean OAS members would likely stand shoulder-to-shoulder against invocation, declared Lionel A. Hurst, ambassador from Antigua and  Barbuda to the OAS. What's more, Hurst argued, invoking the measure against Aristide for  not being democratic enough would be wrong. "You can only be punished for things that you do," Hurst said, "not for things that you fail to do." Haiti signed the charter. At the time, however, Haitian officials felt broadly assured that it could not be invoked against the current government in Port-au-Prince. If it is--an action that could come as early as mid-January, when the OAS Permanent Council meets--the reversal could be  a nightmare come true. One senior State Department official argued just the opposite. "There are Haitians who are saying if we can hold this government accountable to these standards of democracy, that should be good for Haiti and good for pluralism," he said. Many in Washington see the charter as an important first step away  from the old tradition of inaction hidden behind sovereignty concerns. Some say, however, it still requires much stronger language to become a real catalyst for change.
 In general they say the OAS has had a poor track record in ensuring democratic stability in the Americas which has made it necessary for the U.S. to intervene directly and militarily in the past. Venezuela was one government that initially seemed to be one of the strongest opponents of the measure. It now sees the charter as more of a means of persuasion than punishment, and contends that the pact advocates exclusion only as a measure of last resort. "What we wish is for all governments to keep within the democratic texture," said Jorge Valero, Venezuela's ambassador to the OAS. Venezuela is developing a special appreciation for the charter's more traditional role in support of democratically elected governments facing rival forces determined to oust them by undemocratic means. Washington has differed sharply over the years with  Venezuelan  President Hugo Chavez and been particularly intolerant of his rhetoric since the attacks of Sept. 11. Still, U.S. officials often remind opposition  groups there and elsewhere that the charter should not be seen as an open invitation to forcefully remove leaders whose actions they perceive as undemocratic or unconstitutional. Indeed, if that were ever to occur,  the charter likely would compel the United States and all other OAS  members to stand behind a democratically-elected government, no matter how unorthodox or aggravating its leader.