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Latin America’s Democratic Recession: Foreign Affairs

Latin America’s Democratic Recession: Foreign Affairs
At a protest in San Salvador, El Salvador, September 2021 Jose Cabezas / Reuters

American democracy was dealt a severe blow on September 11, 2001, but it also achieved a resounding victory throughout the Western Hemisphere that same day. While the rubble at ground zero was still ablaze, all 34 members of the Organization of American States (OAS)—which includes every country in the Americas except Cuba­—came together to sign the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a shared and unprecedented commitment to strengthening democracy and human rights protections throughout the region. “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy,” the charter begins, “and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”

Democratic progress in the Americas had been hard fought and slow won. But at the time the charter was signed, the region seemed headed in the right direction. With the waning of the Cold War, it had ridden the so-called third wave of democratization—and it was now taking its commitment to democracy one step further by pledging to consolidate representative governance and by establishing a blueprint for collective action and mutual assistance in its defense. The Americas were full of nascent democracies brimming with confidence in the inevitable triumph of democracy—and in their capacity to sustain it throughout the region.

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