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Year 1 No. 3 September - December 2008

Elections and Democracy in the Americas - José Miguel Insulza

José Miguel Insulza

Secretary General of the OAS



Lawyer of profession, graduate in the Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), and master in Political Science at the University of Michigan.  Was a Professor of Political Theory at the University of Chile and of Political Science at the Catholic University of Chile, until 1973.  To that year, served as Political Advisor of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Director of the Diplomatic Academy of his country. 

Since 1981-1988 at Mexico, was an investigator and Director of the Center of Investigation and Economic Teaching (CIDE), Professor of the Autonomous University of Mexico, of the Latin American University and of the Institute of Diplomatic Studies.  Insulza is an author of numerous publications. 

In Chile has served as Ambassador for the International Cooperation, Director of Multinational Economic Affairs of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the Agency of International Cooperation, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Secretary General of the Presidency, Minister of the Interior and Vice President of the Republic. Insulza has served at the ministerial level for over a decade, the longest continuous period served by a minister in the Chilean history. 

He was elected Secretary General of the OAS on May 2, 2005 and took office on the 26 of the same month, position that he currently holds.

Without holding universal, free, fair, and periodic elections there is no democracy.  It is an irrefutable truth nowadays, but one that for a certain period, half way through last century, even the most progressive people of our region came to doubt, distinguishing between "formal" democracy and "real" democracy. Formal democracy referred to electoral democracy, freedom of expression, fredoom of press, and political parties, things we took for granted.  Real democracy was the one that went to help citizens satisfied their basic needs.

The horrible experiences lived during the last decades of the past Century, during which different types of dictatorships ended up drowning almost every possibility of citizen expression in our continent, showed that there is no such difference between formal and real democracy.  We were taught that democracy is only one, that its first component is free, fair, and competitive elections in a climate of complete freedom and full respect for human rights, and that it is also integrated by freedom of expression, political parties, freedom of press and all those freedoms lost for years, and that took us so long to recover.

I believe that the lesson has been well learned and today all the governments members of the Organization of American States have been chosen through free, secret, well inform, and highly participatory elections.  With the recent elections held during the current year in Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, it is already 28 States which have democratically elected or re-elected their governments in the last three years.  The remaining six would have done so when, in April 2009, the V Summit of the Americas meets.  During these three last years, on the other hand, the region has remained stable and without premature changes of governments, as it happened in the previous decade.

 This had never happened in the history of our region.  The authorities at all levels are elected democratically in America, their mandates are stable and the political differences are solved through popular consultations which results are respected by all.  And at the base of this structure of democratic representation is the simple act of electing, of voting to designate representatives or to decide between options that the authorities have the obligation to submit to citizen consideration.

During his visit to Panama, the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza met with Magistrate President of the TEP. Erasmo Pinilla C.

It is a lot what we have advance, and also a lot what we have left to advance to continue perfecting the electoral systems and processes in our region.  An area in which important achievements are presented but to which one must remain permanently under observation to consolidate the advances, and continue progressing is that of the inclusiveness.  A concept more and more valued in our countries, and which have allowed opening the political space to groups historically represented insufficiently such as women and indigenous groups.   


The theme of competitiveness is also one that should not stop worrying us.  Particularly in relation to three essential aspects: equitable access to mass media, strengthening of control and accountability mechanisms of public and private resources used by the political parties, and the increasing cost of electoral campaigns.  In this respect, article 5 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter should not be forgotten, which calls to "pay special attention to the problems associated with the high cost of election campaigns and the establishment of a balanced and transparent system for the financing" of the activities of the political parties.


Finally, another situation which requires preferential attention is the one that says relation to the material conditions that allow taking to practice the right of universal vote.  This, which has been incorporated into the law in all of our countries, has not always been materialized in an even-tempered manner.  The explanation rests essentially in the still existing differences in some of our countries to incorporate individuals in the civil registry of persons and its consequent possibility to obtain an identity document, which in the majority of the countries is a mandatory step to the incorporation in the electoral registry and therefore, the right to vote.


During the last years the OAS has seek to support solutions to these and other problems by stimulating the strengthening of the electoral systems and institutions, while at the same time trying to contribute to the celebration of transparent and reliable elections by means of its Missions of Electoral Observation (MOE by its Spanish acronym).

José Miguel Insulza talk with Andrés Sosa, International affair advisor of the TEP, on the contents of the Electoral World magasine.

Special attention has been given to the technological and material strengthening of the registration and scrutiny processes and, in particular, to the universalization of the registration of people.  During the last sixteen years, on the other hand, the OAS has observed over one hundred and thirty elections in over twenty countries of the hemisphere, and only during 2007 carried out eight Missions of Electoral Observation (MOE) in six member states, which cause for the mobilization of hundreds of observers and experts in electoral themes.


Our experience from these sixteen years of electoral observation and advise to the countries member of our Organization in electoral matters provide a net positive balance and makes us proclaim with pride that in our region, today, the elections are the only instrument to settle political differences, and that these take place through completely normal processes in which the decision of the majorities is respected.