Rice urges promoting democracy in Americas
From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice encouraged members of the Organization of American States on Sunday to prop up feeble democracies, an idea at odds with some South American countries that adhere to nonintervention policies.
Rice's speech welcomed foreign ministers of the 34-nation OAS who are in Florida for a three-day summit with the theme "Delivering the Benefits of Democracy." President Bush will address the group Monday.
Rice, who is chairing the session as U.S. host, said the Bush administration has a "renewed interest" in the Western Hemisphere assembly as a way to promote its global democracy agenda. It is the first time the annual meeting of ministers has taken place on U.S. soil since 1974.
She urged the organization to use its 2001 Democratic Charter to fortify democratically weak nations.
Among the agenda items is a debate of a U.S. proposal to create a mechanism within the body's Democratic Charter to intervene in countries where democracy is in jeopardy.
In the 2001 charter, member nations pledged to protect one another's democracies.
"In places like Bolivia, Ecuador and Haiti, the institutions of democracy have perhaps brittle roots," Rice told the delegates.
"To help democracies in our hemisphere find a path to lasting success, this organization must embrace the legitimate contributions of civil society."
Rice said the Democratic Charter "must become the core of a principled, effective multilateralism for the Americas."
The push to strengthen the organization as a bulwark for democracy comes amid U.S. concern over governments in the region that are democratically elected but do not govern in a democratic manner.
"Governments that fail to meet this crucial standard must be accountable to the OAS," she said.
The group, founded in 1948 to promote and defend democracy, has not been able to resolve a series of crises in the hemisphere.
The body is concerned about political turmoil in Ecuador, where its congress voted unanimously in April to remove President Lucio Gutierrez amid enormous public outcry against him.
Instability lingers in Bolivia, where demonstrators are threatening President Carlos Mesa and calling for a constitutional overhaul.
Rice also will tackle the continuing crisis in Haiti, where political and gang violence persists more than a year after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile.
In addition to reviewing the work of a multinational force led by Brazil, Rice plans to ask Caribbean foreign ministers to support the political process in Haiti before October elections.
Earlier Sunday, Rice told reporters that organization ministers would discuss a way to allow groups such as democratic advocacy organizations and labor unions an opportunity to address the body about threats to democracy in their countries.
The U.S. proposals have met opposition from several countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela, whose leaders see the plan as interfering in their internal affairs.
Several leftist governments in South America, weary of the U.S. tradition of intervention in the region, have made sovereignty and nonintervention the cornerstone of their foreign policies.
But Rice maintained that, as an organization of democracies, the OAS must have a way to address democratic crises in the region.
"This is not a matter of intervening to punish," she said. " It is a matter of intervening to try and sustain the development of democratic institutions across the region."
She noted the OAS previously intervened in Peru, where it sent an envoy in May 2000 following fraudulent elections.
More recently, she said, countries formed a "Friends of Venezuela" group to mediate between the government and the opposition.
While in Florida, Rice is to meet with a variety of civil society representatives, including Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, who met last week with Bush.
The OAS meeting is the first gathering of leaders for the organization's new secretary-general, Jose Miguel Insulza, who has embraced the Bush administration's ideas for strengthening the OAS to more actively promote democracy.
"The OAS must not limit itself to establishing standards," he told the delegates. "In the face of the persistent dangers of backsliding, the cooperation it extends to its members must be broadened, so as to reinforce democracy in the region."