New Challenges and Opportunities for Democracy in the Western Hemisphere

Election workers count votes during Chile’s 1988 plebiscite, which ended Pinochet’s dictatorship. Source: Flickr

When I started out as a junior State Department diplomat at the close of the Carter Administration in the dark days of the Cold War, the state of democracy in Latin America was abysmal. Military dictatorship was the norm throughout the region. During my early State Department years I worked to support, sustain, and contribute to the so-called third wave of democracy in the Americas that helped make the Latin America region, as the Economist recently said, “the most democratic region of the developing world,” behind only North America and Western Europe.

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Being Bold for Change in Guatemala

Guatemalan campaign 2015, TODOS political party candidates for Congress on the National List

In 2013, while I was working in partnership with NDI Guatemala, I became interested in encouraging more women to get involved in politics, so I applied for the Andi Parhamovich Fellowship. I proposed a project focused on increasing women's participation as decision-makers in Guatemala - a huge challenge for me considering my background was in the sciences and I was new to politics.

Through my APF project I worked on a training program to prepare female candidates, who defied gender stereotypes, for the legislative elections in 2015, but we never expected a year like that.

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First Action Plan for a Transparent Congress in Colombia

The president of the senate signs the first action plan for a transparent congress Credit: Press Office of the Honorable Senate of the Republic of Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. November 2016.

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On November 30 in Constitution Hall of the Honorable Congress of the Republic of Colombia, an important event took place for the country’s democracy, particularly its legislative institutions. Leaders from the Senate and Chamber of Representatives came together to publicly present the first Open Parliament Action Plan of the Colombian Congress, which lays a series of benchmarks toward making the congress more visible and accessible to citizens. Colombia’s Open Parliament Action Plan is notable regionally and internationally – it is the third such plan developed in Latin America and the sixth in the world.

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One Step at a Time in Haiti

Morning bursts over Port-au-Prince.

Haiti is a country of natural beauty and vast potential, but something is always getting in the way of its progress. As the first independent nation in Latin America, and one of the oldest democracies, Haiti has a proud tradition on which to build. However, in the wake of the world’s only successful slave revolt and its declaration of independence in 1803, nations refused to recognize Haiti’s independence for decades, fearful of encouraging revolt among their own slave populations.

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Youth are driving change in Latin America

Latin Americans discussing youth political participation

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Twelve young Latin American political leaders and activists recently gathered in Guatemala for an NDI-led workshop on youth political participation. Conversations ranged from what motivates youth to get involved in politics, to how sociocultural norms about youth affect their work, and what tactics youth have used to elevate their political voices in their home countries of El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. Amidst widespread myths about youth political apathy, these diverse young activists represent a generation that is motivated to build more inclusive, democratic societies.

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Women Have the Power to Lead Differently

Susana Villarán (right) speaks with Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, at the United Cities and Local Governments World Summit, in Bogota (October 2016).

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"The world is not built or transformed without half of humanity, and because it is so difficult for us as women to achieve power and at the highest level in our cities, our commitment is to transform them," said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, at the United Cities and Local Government World Summit. Our delegation -- composed of women mayors and social leaders convened by the National Democratic Institute -- had the objective to radically deepen the gender perspective and the policies in favor of the rights of women living in cities embodied in the 175 articles of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) approved in Quito by the member states of the United Nations.

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Guatemala’s Progress Toward Reform Still Faces Many Challenges

Plenary session of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala

In late October, I joined a staff delegation of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) in its assessment mission to explore a potential partnership between the U.S. Congress and the Congress of Guatemala, a unicameral body made up of 158 deputies elected for four-year terms. Having spent a good deal of time working to end the Central American wars in the 1980s as a congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, it was my first trip to the region in nearly three decades. I returned to the U.S. hopeful and cautiously optimistic that Guatemala may be turning a corner in its democratic development while still working to overcome the legacy of the brutal civil war that resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims from 1960-1996.

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Supporting Political Processes to Transition Out of Conflict

Presidents of federations of local assembly and council members and the Victims Unit Subdirector for Participation sign a collective reparations plan.

Countries transitioning out of violent conflict are more successful in achieving lasting peace when representative institutions are inclusive and manage reconciliation processes fairly. The end of violent conflict does not guarantee a political voice for former combatants or reintegration into society. By its nature, violence also generates victims, who must be central actors in the development of peace accords, reparations plans and transitional justice systems. In a post-conflict context, the development of transitional democratic political processes is necessary for fostering reconciliation and building peace. In this post – the fifth in NDI's series on resilient democracy – NDI Program Officer Austin Robles examines the peace negotiations and reconciliation process currently underway in Colombia.

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Promoting Democratic Governance of the Security Sector

Members of the Defense and Security Commission of Burkina Faso's National Assembly meet members of the armed forces during an informational visit to a military base in Kaya.

Violence and crime pose serious threats to citizen security. A lack of response to these threats from authorities erodes public trust in government institutions and weakens prospects for stable democracy. Maintaining the peace and ensuring the security of citizens is necessary for a democracy to develop and endure. Likewise, democratic institutions, such as parliaments, media and civil society, help guarantee a focus on citizen interest and public good, especially related to civilian oversight of the security sector. Threats to citizen security are particularly notable in West Africa’s Sahel region and Central America’s Northern Triangle, areas where NDI works to bridge the gap between citizens’ security needs and the state’s ability to meet them.

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International Leaders from Over 100 Countries to Observe Democratic National Convention

Philadelphia skyline at night. Credit: Flickr user Tyler Sprague (CC BY-NC)

Every four years NDI has the honor of hosting the International Leaders Forum (#ILF2016) -- a week-long series of non-partisan events for international leaders organized around the Democratic National Convention. The convention is held by the U.S. Democratic Party to nominate a presidential and vice presidential candidate. The Forum -- held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this year -- carries on NDI’s tradition of bringing together international leaders to experience the convention and to learn about the U.S. political system. Nearly 400 current and former heads of government, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, and leaders of political parties from over 100 countries will participate.

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