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Latin america democracy strained by poverty

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Posted on Wed, Sep. 08, 2004
U.N.: Latin American Democracy Strained

Associated Press

MEXICO CITY - A failure to significantly reduce poverty and inequality is straining democracies across Latin America, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday.

Democracy has not responded to the aspirations of the poor in Latin America, Annan said as he inaugurated an international seminar on strengthening regional democracy.

There have been some advances - an infant mortality rate that is nearly half what it was 25 years ago as well as increasing education levels and greater equality for women, he said, while asking "But why the mood of self-doubt?"

A report from the U.N. Development Program has found democracies in the region facing a perilous crisis of confidence, as many democratically guided reforms in the region failed to produce anticipated economic benefits.

Development Program Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said the report's troubling findings struck a chord with Mexican lawmakers.

"But in fact there's a certain rottenness at the root," Brown told The Associated Press. "Because of a failure during these years of democracy to reduce inequality, and therefore there's a pent up social and political frustration."

U.N. officials said the good news is that democracy continues to prevail at the ballot box and defuse social pressures in many countries across Latin America.

Recent, hotly contested referendums in Venezuela, which in August voted not to recall President Hugo Chavez, and in Bolivia, which in July voted to export gas, abided by constitutional law, Annan noted.

But extensive polling in Latin America by the U.N. Development Program and interviews with past and present heads of state uncovered a festering discontent and lack of solidarity with democratic institutions.

"While everybody recognizes - 'Well, hats off to democracy' - that it's managed to sustain and mitigate as much conflict as it has and translate it into peaceful resolution, you know that the machine is shaking to the foundation," Brown said.

Annan and Brown appeared in Mexico City on Wednesday with Mexico Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez and President Vicente Fox, who has been an avid advocate of resolving all international conflicts through a strengthened United Nations.

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