Thank you. It is an honor to be with you to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter—a collective commitment to democracy without peer in the world. And it is fitting that we celebrate this milestone here in Chile. Just as the world cheered when the miners rose to safety and freedom, we have been inspired by an entire nation rising from dictatorship to enjoy the fruits of democracy, development and human rights.
Ten years ago, on a date tinged with tragedy, we took a hopeful, historic step forward together as a community of shared values. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell remained in Lima on that 11th of September until the OAS General Assembly had adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We all agreed—and I quote—that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”
That obligation neither begins nor ends at the ballot box. All societies must deal with the threat of violence, desperation and extremism. And our best answer—then and now—is to put forward a broad, positive agenda that offers rights, freedoms, security, justice, social inclusion and economic progress for all the people of this hemisphere and the world. The landmark Charter emphasizes the essential link between democracy and social and economic development, as a basis for moving from democratic governments to democratic societies.
Many nations in the Americas have made remarkable progress in giving life to the principles enshrined in the Charter. Democratic governance has quickly become the norm across the Americas. And strengthened democratic institutions have broadened economic opportunity, widened the space available for civic expression and participation, reduced poverty, and better served the basic needs of citizens. Democratic, inclusive development is delivering results for people across our hemisphere.
Peru’s progress is an excellent example of this. I was in Lima yesterday, meeting with the latest in a long list of governments in the hemisphere to enter office through peaceful, democratic alternation of power.
Unfortunately, these successes do not tell the whole story. Our progress together is unmistakable, but it is also incomplete and uneven. As we celebrate our hemisphere's embrace of democracy, we must also renew our shared commitment to do more to deepen and defend it – and we must forge a common path forward that empowers us to do so together.
All of our countries know that the work of democracy is never done. When we stop working to perfect and protect it, democracy erodes. We know that even democratically-elected governments can threaten democracy, if they do not respect its safeguards, institutions, rules, and values.
When opposition leaders face politicized prosecutions and newspapers are intimidated into silence, that undermines democracy before a single vote is cast. When human rights activists are threatened, that makes all citizens less secure. When independent institutions are weakened—when judges are confined to house arrest for handing down decisions that displease those in power—that denies citizens the full benefits of the governments they have chosen. And when economic inequality, corruption and criminal violence go unchecked, day by day, they eat away at citizens’ faith that democracy can deliver for them.
Democratic principles threatened anywhere are a challenge for democracies everywhere. None of us has been perfect, but all of us must speak out, stand firm and act with the clarity of our convictions in defense of democratic principles. The OAS is the right forum for these discussions; the Democratic Charter should be our guide.
When the elected President of Honduras was overthrown in a coup in 2009, we spoke with one resolute voice and the OAS acted. Many countries in the Americas acted. Honduras was suspended from participation in the OAS. We sanctioned key instigators.
Our response was neither easy nor perfect. However, the end result was one that would have been unimaginable just a generation ago. The countries of the Americas refused to accept the rollback of democracy in their midst. With the help of the OAS, legitimate constitutional government was returned to Honduras by the votes of its people, and strengthened by the concrete actions of new leaders who have chosen to face up to the causes and consequences of the coup.
Our work in Honduras underscored that the Americas need a strong regional organization. As Secretary Clinton told the OAS General Assembly last year, “We believe it is possible to build a stronger, more vibrant, more effective OAS that both serves the interests of member states and has the capacity and will to tackle regional challenges and prevent crises before they arise.” Our Democratic Charter provides the framework and the tools to defend and advance these principles together. We encourage the OAS working group that is reviewing the implementation of the Charter to recommend actions we can all take to better safeguard democracy.
All countries need to match rhetorical commitments to democracy with concrete support to the OAS – including its peer review mechanisms, election observation missions, and the independent Inter-American human rights system.
We know that every nation will follow its own path. All—including my own—have our imperfections. We promote democracy, as the Charter says, “with due respect for the principle of nonintervention.” And we approach our relations with the humility that comes from knowing that all nations, without exception, stand to learn from each other. But we also know—as we agreed a decade ago in Lima and as President Obama reiterated in March in Santiago —“there is no substitute for democracy.”
It is the Hemisphere’s own success stories that prove that democracies can and do redress historic wrongs, and that development and democracy go hand in hand. It is the very success of the OAS that proves that regional commitments to democracy do not undermine sovereignty. In fact, they sustain it.
In a generation, the Americas have transformed from an exception to democratic progress to an example of it. As more and more citizens of the Middle East claim their democratic rights, our Charter can serve as an inspirational model for advancing freedom, equality, and prosperity.
Today, we are rightly proud of these accomplishments. But our progress is not guaranteed. We must continue to find new ways to translate our common vision into common action. As we celebrate our past, let us recommit ourselves to building a future that delivers democracy, development and dignity to all the people of the Americas. Thank you.