Democracy promotion needs more resources, imagination, political will

By Maxwell A. Cameron
April 13, 2011

Support for democracy is a central pillar of the Harper government’s policy of re-engagement with the Americas. To this end, the government created a ministerial post responsible for foreign affairs in the Americas in 2008, which Peter Kent held until he was replaced by Diane Ablonczy in a Cabinet shuffle in January.

Minister Kent played an active and constructive role at the Organization of American States, the Western Hemisphere’s main multilateral body. After the June 2009 coup in Honduras, for example, Canada joined the rest of the region in expelling Honduras from the OAS, and Kent later played a role in seeking a resolution to the diplomatic crisis.

The Harper government has also taken less visible steps, such as creating a “hub of democracy” in the region. The Andean Unit for Democratic Governance places civil servants responsible for developing democracy assistance policies in the region, thereby ensuring those policies reflect the complexities and subtleties of reality on the ground, and ensuring a sustained presence in the region.

Funding has been provided to intergovernmental organizations like International IDEA. And the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Glyn Berry Program for Peace and Security puts citizens at the centre of democracy assistance programs.

On the downside, however, Canadian policy has tended to be more in tune with the thinking in Washington than the rest of the region. Canada accepted the victory of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo in Honduras’s December 2009 election, for example. Many other nations of the Americas argued that the elections were not legitimate, and Honduras remains excluded from the OAS to this day. This has not stopped Canada from initiating free trade negotiations with the Lobo government.

When Canada has pursued policies distinct from the United States—like making aid to Bolivia a priority, and avoiding antagonizing the government of Evo Morales—policymakers in the region have not always registered such nuances. Canada and the United States were both excluded from the Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit in 2010, and neither country was offered membership in the newly formed UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations.

Perhaps the biggest obstacles to deeper engagement with the Americas have been domestic. A minority government situation is probably responsible for the lethargy in the government’s democracy agenda. But the Harper government has not moved forward on its policy response to a major statement by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development with respect to democracy assistance. It has not created the Canadian Democracy Promotion Agency that was announced in a throne speech in 2008.

The policy of engagement with Latin American democracies needs an injection of resources, imagination and political will. Canada can regain influence by funding sustained on-the-ground engagement, and by giving a longer leash to Canadian diplomats.

It could promote dialogue with civil society in the region, and fund Canadian non-governmental organizations (like KAIROS and the Canadian Council for International Co-operation) that build bridges with the region.

Finally, Canada could link practitioners and researchers, and use social media to promote dialogue and deliberation in cyberspace.

Canada could also promote democratization at the global as well as local levels. The OAS is a club of states that don’t like to criticize each other. It could be transformed into a more inclusive, deliberative body. The OAS would be more relevant, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the main diplomatic instrument for promoting and defending democracy in the Americas, could be more effective, if legislators and civil society were given a voice to empower the secretary-general to undertake missions in the region to promote democratic innovation and prevent backsliding.

And Canadian foreign policy itself should be democratized. A well-designed, broadly consultative foreign policy review is overdue. There are all sorts of innovations in civil society participation that could serve as models for democratic consultation. Brazil holds participatory policy conferences on a range of public policy issues. They are convened by the executive and generate proposals that can be submitted as bills to the legislature. We could learn from Brazil.

A bold democracy assistance agenda would not be just about making “them” more democratic like “us.” It would be about making the world a more democratic place, Canada included.

Maxwell A. Cameron co-ordinates the Andean Democracy Research Network in the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. With Catherine Hecht, he is the author of Canada’s Engagement with Democracies in the Americas in the October 2008 edition of Canadian Foreign Policy.

Elections Are Not ‘War by Other Means’

by Maxwell A. Cameron
Professor, Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, University of British Columbia

The Mark, April 13 2011

Competition is good. It makes us better, stronger, and more successful. This mantra is widely accepted in business and politics. It enjoys an aura of scientific respectability: Darwin’s survival of the fittest suggests that competition is not only good – it is natural.

But the great evolutionary advantage enjoyed by humans arises from our capacity for co-operation, not competition. Great civilizations have never been built on competition alone. The human capacity for empathy, for social problem-solving, and for moral judgment are the foundation of human progress. Without our ability to imitate, collaborate, learn, and understand one another, we would have developed neither language nor tools, neither art nor, indeed, war.

Yet over and again, our public discourse emphasizes conflict and competition over empathy and co-operation. Tom Flanagan’s claim in a recent commentary in The Globe and Mail that “an election is war by other means” is a good example of this bias. Since all is fair in love and war, why should we worry when politicians attack each other, bend or misrepresent the truth, and present themselves, not their ideas, before the electorate? To think otherwise is high-mindedness, says Flanagan.

Curiously, Flanagan quotes Aristotle to back up his argument. But Aristotle was a “do the right thing” kind of guy, not a mean-spirited bully. He thought politics was about finding the common good, about doing what was right for one’s self and one’s community. Flanagan should have quoted Machiavelli instead – although I hasten to add that there are even readings of Machiavelli that would suggest the imprudence of the “election is war” mantra.

More to the point, contemporary political science has increasingly moved away from the idea that politics has any natural essence. It is not “like war” or “like nature.” It is what we make of it. If politicians race to the moral bottom, then political life suffers. There is nothing inevitable or natural about this.

Politics requires the exercise of political and moral judgment. An election is not a war by other means. It is a process of selecting leaders on the basis of their capacity to assume responsibility, to know their ethical limits, and to have the empathy to understand and serve the public well. If they can’t exhibit these qualities during an election, they certainly won’t in power.

When we treat politics like war, our adversaries become enemies. They are no longer collaborators as well as competitors in a struggle to serve the common good, but nuisances or worse. They must be crushed or eliminated. This is indeed a step toward war.

Campaigns are not only about selecting leaders. Our deliberative institutions are weakened when we obsessively focus on the horse race among leaders and ignore the platforms they propose to implement. There is nothing particularly high-minded about the expectation that substantive debate occur around an election. We want to know not only who is going to govern us but also how they are going to govern us.

One of the reasons we are in this election campaign is precisely because of the contempt for Parliament exhibited by a government that does not accept that truth in politics matters and that ministerial responsibility is an inherent and indispensable part of our system of government – a government that thinks it is OK to bully top civil servants into submission, punish whistleblowers, and hide from accountability.

Flanagan is right in one respect: Going negative does work. This is why Canadians who are tired of the incivility of politics should speak out. The trend toward attack-style politics is not irreversible. We get the politicians we deserve and, if we think we deserve better, we should express a little more outrage about the tenor of political life.

The last thing we should do is encourage nastiness. We need look no further than Flanagan’s own words to see what happens when we fail to hold ourselves to standards of civil discourse. Not long ago he publicly, albeit fatuously, called for the assassination of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, on national television.

Flanagan’s words brought to mind an observation by political philosopher J.G.A. Pocock. He said that when Shakespeare’s Brutus calls Caesar a tyrant, he “invokes a whole world of reference structures, into which his other words, his intended act, and his verbalized state of consciousness now enter in such a way that it qualifies them all; so that ‘Caesar,’ ‘kill,’ ‘intend,’ and even ‘I’ take on new meanings retrodictively as they enter the world that ‘tyrant’ invokes.”

Pocock went on to make a memorable observation: “Because of the magical quality of speech, the worlds you invoke are likely to appear around you.”

One can only hope that Canadian democracy does not start to appear more like the worlds invoked by the words of Flanagan.

Election in Peru: The Strategy for Humala and Keiko

Elections are all about positioning. There is a basic law in political science called the medium voter theorem: the candidate wins who is located closest to the median voter, provided that the distribution of preferences has a single peak. Most voters in Peru are located in the centre. Invariably, in all recent Peruvian elections, the winning candidates have managed to locate themselves near the median voter.

The two candidates selected for the runoff were Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori. Humala won a lot of votes because he was the only candidate on the center-left (and while the majority is centrist, there are many voters on the left). Keiko benefitted from the fact that the centre-right was divided by three different candidate (what a massive failure of foresight on their part!).

Now, to win the runoff, both candidates must move closer to the centre. That will be the winning strategy, but equally important, it will also define the mandate to govern of the winner.

For more on this, see the excellent report by Robert Kozak:

LIMA, Apr 11, 2011 (Dow Jones Commodities News Select via Comtex) — The two candidates for Peru’s presidency are likely to rush to the center of the political spectrum, attempting to seek allies before a June 5 run off.

The latest official results show left-leaning nationalist Ollanta Humala with 29.3% of the vote and center-right Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori with 22.9%, following Sunday’s general elections.

“For me the issue is whether Humala can move way to the right. He must position himself in the center of the system, and try and keep Keiko far on the right,” said Maxwell Cameron, a political scientist with the University of British Columbia.

“The alternative strategy is to seek to polarize the electorate, but I think that would be unwise,” Cameron, an expert on Peruvian politics, said.

Humala’s pronouncements have raised concerns that any government he led could derail Peru’s spectacular economic growth by imposing an agenda that favors greater state control over the economy.

In 2006, Humala ran on a Socialist platform, but lost to President Alan Garcia. Humala has worked to project more moderate policies since then.

Many Peruvians meanwhile are concerned that any government led by Keiko Fujimori would emulate the corruption-ridden 1990-2000 government led by her jailed father, ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

“The challenge for Mr. Humala is to convince the broader electorate that he has dropped his radical agenda. The challenge for [Keiko] Fujimori is to overcome the divisive gap that her father’s memory still generates in Peru,” said Goldman Sachs economist Eduardo A. Cavallo in a report.

Pre-election polls showed the two candidates would be even in a run off.

“For Keiko Fujimori to gain the majority she will have to reach out to the anti-Fujimori vote. If Humala wants to have more than the 47% he got in 2006, he will have to move to the center,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University professor of government, on RPP radio Monday.

-By Robert Kozak, Dow Jones Newswires; 51-99927 7269;

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

04-11-11 1304ET

Peru’s general election: Volatile to the end

Fabiola Bazo and Maxwell A. Cameron

From FOCALPoint

When Peruvians gather at the polls on Sunday April 10, 2011, they will choose between 10 candidates for the presidency, and from 13 congressional slates fielding hundreds of candidates to fill 130 legislative seats. Their task will be complicated by the lack of a coherent party system and a large number of candidates. Most of the presidential aspirants are running with candidate-centred electoral vehicles. A second round seems unavoidable.

Photo: © Paolo Aguilar/epa/Corbis
Gana Peru party leader and presidential candidate Ollanta Humala greets supporters during a campaign rally in Lima, Peru, March 24, 2011.

There has been remarkable volatility in Peru’s presidential race over the past three months. Outgoing President Alan García’s Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) lost its presidential candidate Mercedes Araoz in January when she resigned over the composition of the congressional list. Now the once formidable APRA may be reduced to a rump in the legislature. In addition, the two late front-runners have failed to excite voters and have slipped in the polls. Luis Castañeda Lossio (Solidaridad Nacional), the former mayor of Lima who was considered a favourite a year ago, has been dogged by allegations of corruption. The exquisitely timed release of an audit of his administration in mid-March, combined with his poor performance in presidential debates, helped derail his generally ineffective campaign. Alejandro Toledo (Perú Posible), president from 2001-2006, had also quickly moved to the top of the pack, but faltered toward the end of the race. Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011), a member of congress and the daughter of incarcerated ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has been another serious contender throughout the race, but she has had trouble expanding beyond her core base.

Two previously low-profile candidates have managed to pull up from behind with the decline of Toledo and Castañeda: Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. At the end of March, Humala (Gana Perú) took the lead. In 2006, he won the first round of the general election only to be defeated by García in the runoff. This time he has moderated his image and distanced himself from Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez —an association that cost him dearly in that campaign.

Humala has walked a fine line between tapping into the frustrations of those left behind by a decade-long economic boom and trying not to frighten investors. He has worked with advisors from the Brazilian Workers’ Party to cast himself in the mold of successful leader Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Humala has also benefited from the release of confidential cables from the U.S. Embassy in Lima by Wikileaks, which show how cravenly some of his opponents courted Washington’s help to cause his 2006 defeat. With the resignation of Manuel Rodríguez Cuadros (Fuerza Social) in early March, Humala is now the sole candidate to occupy the left of the political spectrum.

Kuczynski (Alianza por el Gran Cambio) has run on his record as former prime minister and minister of finance for the Toledo administration, competing with his ex-boss for credit as the architect of Peru’s current economic model. Kuczynski’s rise has probably contributed to Toledo’s decline. He has relied on a strong web presence, and met with TV celebrities to bolster his well-financed campaign. His good sense of humor when a woman grabbed him between the legs on the campaign trail has humanized him, especially among youth. However, the buzz around Kuczynski may not translate into votes; right-wing candidates in past elections have been limited in the number of votes they can attract beyond certain social groups.

The remaining five candidates, a collection of colourful characters, failed to collectively garner more than one per cent of voter intentions in most polls. With no candidate remotely close to the 50 per cent mark, a runoff seems unavoidable, though it remains hard to predict who will pass into the second round, as differences among candidates fall within the margin of error. The final stretch will be tense, and may hinge on effective campaigning for the substantial undecided vote.

Overall, without coherent parties this election has lacked distinctive programmatic alternatives, and campaigns have emphasized celebrity and spectacle. In part, this is because the candidates, with the exception of Humala, tend to agree on many issues.

However, Peru’s preferential congressional list system encourages this type of candidate-centred competition, with contenders competing against their peers on the same ticket as much as against rival parties. As a result, campaign spending and advertising often reaches a level of intensity that confuses and annoys voters.

The lack of party organization has resulted in a series of extensively publicized problems within internal primaries, and a lack of quality control in the nomination of candidates. Media reports of allegations regarding the sale of nominations and political donations from drug traffickers have contributed to public cynicism.

Notwithstanding the volatility of the electorate, there are a number of relative constants in Peruvian politics. Most voters are pragmatic centrists and have a penchant for turning the tables on the political establishment. The coast, especially Lima, carries a lot of electoral weight, and support in the south and central highlands, when combined with votes in the coast, can create a powerful bloc of voters.

Humala’s ideological stance has the potential to attract voters for the first round, especially since the right-wing vote is split among several candidates. The result of the runoff, however, will depend on how those who voted for losing candidates in the first round decide to vote in the second. This is a big problem for Fujimori, Humala and Kuczynski, who probably have reached their electoral base. Toledo, for his part, would have a good chance of winning if he can make it into the second round.

As is generally true in Peruvian electoral politics, the best bet is to assume volatility to the end.

Fabiola Bazo is an independent consultant and founder of the “Peru Election 2006” blog. Maxwell A. Cameron co-ordinates the Andean Democracy Research Network in the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. The authors are grateful to Steve Levitsky, Cynthia Sanborn and Ann Cameron for comments.

Coalitions and Democracy

What does it say about the state of democracy in Canada when the first salvos in the campaign revolve around how to interpret our constitutional system?

The Prime Minister seems to think that elections in Canada result in a winner, and the winner (whoever gets the most votes) forms the government. In this view, it is not legitimate for the party that wins the most votes to be prevented from forming the government.

But in a parliamentary system, we don’t get to choose the Prime Minister. We choose our member of parliament, and the party that commands the confidence of the House forms the government. The leader of that party becomes the PM.

It behooves our politicians to stop treating coalitions (whether formal or informal) as somehow illegitimate or non-democratic.

After all, unless one of the two major parties forms a majority, we are likely to face either a coalition government of a minority government with ad hoc coalition support.

And since the Harper government was just brought down on the basis of contempt for parliament, it is hard to see how the Conservatives can stay in office short of an outright majority.

Which is, of course, exactly why the Harper government does not like talk of coalitions.

Bolivia: Democracy under Construction

Los Tiempos in Cochabamba reviewed the presentation of “Democracia en la región andina” last month. The launch of the Bolivian edition of the book was held at CESU in the Universidad Mayor de San Simon.

Bolivia: democracia en construcción, ¿atrás o adelante?
Una reseña del libro “Democracia en la región andina”, recientemente presentado en Cochabamba
Por: Oscar E. Jordán Arandia Los Tiempos

¿Cómo se puede evaluar la democracia? ¿Cuáles son los parámetros con los que se logra discernir la solvencia de un sistema democrático? ¿En qué se ha avanzado y dónde peligra el desarrollo de la democracia?

Esas preguntas, con sus perspectivas particulares y sus rasgos generales y comunes, están explicadas en el libro “Democracia en la Región Andina”, una compilación de Maxwell A. Cameron y Juan Pablo Luna en base a estudios específicos del estado de la democracia en los países andinos (desde Venezuela hasta Chile) y publicado por Plural Editores, en colaboración con IDEA International y el Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.

Más de 20 personas han participado en la investigación de los rasgos característicos del estado de la democracia en cada país, en el caso de Bolivia los autores son Moira Suazo, Carlos Toranzo, Agustín Goenaga, Santiago Anria y Maxwell A. Cameron.

Si bien cada país tiene sus propias características, el marco metodológico con el que el libro ha sido trabajado es la clave para poder encontrar —en cada uno— rasgos comunes que permiten visualizar desde un panorama más amplio lo que está pasando en los seis países que componen la región andina.

El marco metodológico parte de tres grandes vertientes: las elecciones, el orden constitucional y ciudadanía y participación.

“Las elecciones no son suficientes para establecer una democracia, pues esta no es solo un sistema para elegir líderes sino un sistema de representación basado en un mínimo consenso político sobre las reglas constitucionales y la plena participación de los ciudadanos” (pag. 514).

Desde esta visión, los autores, en el caso de Bolivia, encuentran en el país una doble perspectiva, o más bien una dualidad extremadamente singular donde se cruzan, por un lado, importantes avances inclusivos pero a la vez peligrosos rasgos de concentración de poder y poca representatividad.

Tal vez el rasgo que más preocupa en la democracia boliviana sea del orden constitucional, el cual se ha debilitado especialmente por la concentración del poder en el Ejecutivo, lo que ha llevado a la inoperancia del tribunal Constitucional, la politización de la Judicatura y el nombramiento directo anticonstitucional de los miembros de la Corte Suprema.

Respecto a la democracia electoral, en Bolivia no se ha perturbado los procesos electorales aunque la concentración del poder es preocupante y afectó al poder legislativo.

En lo que sí parece avanzar la democracia boliviana es la participación ciudadana, especialmente en cuanto a la inclusión de los pueblos indígenas. Sin embargo, aún en este campo la debilidad del sistema democrático se expresa con peligrosidad en la doble capacidad de toma de decisiones por parte del Ejecutivo, el cual por un lado aplica una visión cooperativista horizontal y, por otro, designaciones totalmente verticales. Además, las limitaciones para articular las demandas de todos los sectores sociales ha provocado una clara división entre los municipios rurales y los urbanos así como los políticos —que ahora son autoridades del Gobierno— orgánicos (del MAS) y los invitados (independientes).

Los autores apuntan a que, por el momento, es precipitado dar una especie de sentencia definitiva al estado actual de la democracia en Bolivia, pero lo que sí está claro es que existen fortalezas y debilidades que podrían arrastrarla a un autoritarismo no representativo o empujarlo hacia un sistema inclusivo y participativo. La última palabra está en manos de los ciudadanos y es el tiempo el que se encargará de definir el camino por el que transitará la democracia nacional.

“En conclusión, hoy por hoy, Bolivia puede ser caracterizada como una democracia electoral donde ciertos aspectos de Gobierno representativo han sido modificados o debilitados, mientras que otros aspectos de corte participativo se han visto reforzados. La viabilidad de este nuevo modelo se verá en el futuro pero al menos, hasta la fecha, Bolivia parece haber superado problemas importantes del pasado: gobiernos débiles e inestabilidad política” (pag. 270).

Investigación con metodología propia

Todo comenzó en una reunión en Lima, Perú, en diciembre de 2007, donde autores y editores buscaron elaborar un primer borrador del marco metodológico y teórico para hacer evaluaciones y balances del estado de la democracia en cada uno de los países de la región andina, con la participación de académicos locales, de tal forma que el marco metodológico no fuese algo impuesto desde afuera, abstracto, irrelevante o inaplicable.

En este sentido, el punto de partida fue la metodología de IDEA International (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Asistence) que es muy amplia y flexible y que se ajusta de acuerdo a las constituciones de los países. Empezando con ese marco y como punto de referencia la Carta democrática de la OEA, que tiene una idea general de lo que es la democracia, se inició una serie de debates que aún así, no fueron suficientes para alcanzar los objetivos planteados, es decir iniciar una red de investigación en torno a este tema.

La reunión fue auspiciada por la Fundación Martha Piper de la Universidad Columbia Britanica (UCB) y por el programa Glyn Berry del departamento de Asuntos Exteriores y comercio Internacional de Canadá.

“Esta metodología se propone para servir de plantilla de una investigación realizada bajo la rúbrica de un proyecto piloto sobre el estado de la democracia en la región andina. Las citas primarias para esta discusión incluyen la Carta Democrática Interamericana, el índice electoral PNUD, el marco de evaluación de la democracia de International IDEA y la auditoria de la democracia de Costa Rica” (pag. 513).

Resumen del estado de la democracia en la región andina


Las elecciones son libres, competitivas y justas. Sin embargo, el sistema binominal contribuye a generar un sistema poco competitivo y abierto.

En el orden constitucional, una serie de enclaves autoritarios permanecen en la constitución pese a la independencia de los tres poderes.


El ejercicio de la violencia afecta la participación ciudadana en las elecciones. Si bien existe notable independencia del poder judicial, hay evidencia de interferencia paramilitar en el poder legislativo.

La violación extrema de los derechos civiles incluye desapariciones y homicidios cometidos por agentes estatales.


Si bien se ha recobrado independencia en las autoridades electorales, aún existen deficiencias en el sistema electoral. Hay débil institucionalización del Legislativo y Ejecutivo que produce una tendencia hacia intereses particulares. El gobierno utiliza la mano dura para reprimir movilizaciones y protestas sociales.


Hay una notable ausencia de los partidos políticos.

El poder legislativo se ha inclinado a negociaciones casi secretas en lugar de un ámbito institucional.

El Buen Vivir y la participación indígena han sido consideradas en la nueva Constitución Política del Estado.


El derecho a participar en elecciones ha sido violado, así como la seguridad de los candidatos.

Su orden constitucional es hiperpresidencialista y se ha obstruido la labor de representantes electos en el ámbito subnacional.

La falta de independencia judicial restringe los derechos civiles y políticos.


Hay poca evidencia de fraudes electorales aunque existe persecución de algunas autoridades subnacionales electas que han sido removidas de su cargo. La independencia del poder judicial ha sido afectada, así como la del Tribunal Constitucional.

El modelo de participación social se basa en los movimientos sociales.

Is the NDP a force for change today?

The NDP comes from a tradition of Prairie populism and socialism. It is this history that made the party distinctive. As the Regina Manifesto said: “We aim to replace the present capitalist system, with its inherent injustice and inhumanity, by a social order from which the domination and exploitation of one class by another will be eliminated, in which economic planning will supersede unregulated private enterprise and competition, and in which genuine democratic self-government, based upon economic equality will be possible.” The party took the side of the broad interests of the oppressed, and from that vantage point articulated a vision of an alternative society. The role of organized labour within the party, as well as other grassroots movements, guaranteed that it would be more than a collection of office-seeking politicians.

Today, the idea of a vision of another social order arising from the injustices of capitalism sounds anachronistic. Worse still, the NDP has become a collection of office-seeking politicians, however well meaning. There are many reasons for this. The most important is simply the fact that capitalism has successfully raised the living standard of enough people to take some of the sting out of exploitation (this was acknowledged a generation after the Regina Manifesto in the Winnipeg Declaration). Equally, the welfare state (for which the NDP can take much credit) has improved the lives of most if not all Canadians. Finally, many of the greatest problems we face as a society are no longer (if they ever were) fundamentally rooted in work and production. Unions increasingly seem more like mere interest groups, while business interests are given priority because of the taxes and jobs they create.

Part of the task of the NDP, if it is to remain a voice of conscience, is to remind us of how tough life is for those who still suffer hard times under our economy; and there is a role of the NDP in challenging the idea that what is good for business is good for society as a whole, especially in this era of inadequately regulated financial speculation.

But the party has a deeper problem: what guarantee do voters have that the NDP is different from any other collection of well-meaning office-seekers? Let me be absolutely blunt: the crass rejection of the carbon tax by Carol James is the clearest possible evidence that the NDP is no longer more than an electoral vehicle for seeking office. Current leadership candidates give us well-meaning rhetoric but few guarantees that the NDP would govern any differently than the Liberals.

The solution seems straightforward enough, but perhaps hard to stomach within the deeply conservative culture that pervades the NDP: the party needs to transform itself from a vehicle for electioneering into a convener and articulator of social movements. The guarantee of a strong environmental policy is strong links to environmentalists. By the same token, the best way to guarantee policies that will serve the broadest possible interests in a range of issues is by convening educators, nurses, students, First Nations, anti-poverty groups, small business owners; and, of course, labour unions are important in that context as well.

I recently visited Bolivia where remarkable political and social changes have been initiated by a government that sees itself as an instrument of social movements. Building on intense conflicts over water and gas, land and indigenous rights, Bolivia’s current leadership has managed to create a new constitution that is an amalgam of indigenous and republican ideals, new forms of democratic government at the local and departmental level, and new ways of governing “by obeying,” as their slogan goes. We could learn a lot from Bolivia.

Bolivia: The Challenge to Institutionalize Change

I was asked to comment on the situation in Bolivia while in La Paz last week. The gist of the interview is that Bolivia is not sliding toward competitive authoritarianism, but it must institutionalize the democratizing political changes that have been introduced in recent years or risk losing them. See below, for those who speak Spanish.

The interview was conducted by Pedro Peralta.

Cameron: “Puede que en Bolivia hayan abusos de poder, pero no autoritarismo”

Pagina Siete, February 20, 2011.

¿Cuál es la lectura que hace del proceso político boliviano ?

Bolivia pasa por un proceso muy profundo de democratización, que implica una serie de cambios políticos, sociales y culturales. Superó una etapa de gran crisis.

El Gobierno del MAS heredó una situación muy complicada y afortunadamente logró dar cierta dirección a los procesos políticos. El principal logro es la Constitución, que sin duda cambia el escenario político en muchas maneras. Obviamente habrá que ver cómo se implementa.

Un proceso de cambios profundos tiene que pasar por un proceso de institucionalización. Ése creo que es el reto principal: cómo institucionalizar los cambios de tal manera que Bolivia salga de ese proceso con un sistema político democrático y participativo.

¿Hasta qué punto es ideal para la democracia la hegemonía que ha logrado el MAS?

La hegemonía nunca es ideal para la democracia porque hablamos de un sistema en el que el pueblo manda. En cualquier sistema democrático deben existir garantías para las minorías.

Cualquier proceso de hegemonización del poder puede erosionar la vitalidad de la vida democrática. Más bien, lo que me llama la atención es que si bien el MAS es el actor político más importante de lejos, a su interior hay muchas tendencias, y en el país hay procesos de cambio a nivel subnacional, hay movimientos de poblaciones indígenas. No todos van a estar de acuerdo con el Gobierno y eso es bueno.

¿Qué es lo que se tiene que hacer ante esta situación?

Un elemento importante en la situación de Bolivia es que en 2005 se cayó el sistema de partidos. Es muy importante construir un sistema de partidos y ahí está la gran obligación de quienes no están de acuerdo con el MAS, de construir partidos alternativos democráticos que se muevan dentro de las reglas del juego, no para ir contra al adversario, porque la competencia democrática no es acabar con el otro, sino para abrir espacios de negociación y de diálogo.

¿La hegemonía del MAS se consolidará o los sectores opositores la remontarán?

Podríamos imaginar varios escenarios: 1) que se mantenga el statu quo, que es poco probable porque los actores políticos ven en esta coyuntura un momento de desequilibrio, 2) que se consolide un sistema democrático de más participación dentro del orden constitucional, respetado por el Gobierno como por la oposición. Esto es lo más deseable, 3) que –como varios analistas de fuera consideran- Bolivia, al igual que Venezuela, estaría rumbo a un sistema autoritario competitivo. Yo no creo que ése sea el caso de Bolivia. 4) que es el colapso del régimen democrático por golpe o algo así, que es poco probable. Yo soy optimista. Creo que es más probable que se irá consolidando un orden constitucional más participativo. No digo que esto va ocurrir con toda garantía, pero es muy posible.

¿El autoritarismo es un riesgo latente?

No veo al autoritarismo como un gran peligro. Puede que haya abusos de poder. Efectivamente, un líder puede actuar de una manera autoritaria, pero no creo que Bolivia avance a un régimen autoritario. El mayor riesgo es no poder institucionalizar los cambios que se ha iniciado.

No se debe perder la oportunidad de hacer en Bolivia algo que no ocurrió en otros países de América Latina: lograr la síntesis entre distintas culturas para crear un sistema político que permita la coexistencia de las instituciones liberales y republicanas con procesos de descentralización, de participaron en la política de campesinos e indígenas, y de todos los ciudadanos. Para lograrlo, se debe institucionalizar los cambios.

¿El giro a la izquierda en varios países de la región se va a consolidar o habrá un retroceso?

No hay razón para pensar que este giro a la izquierda es permanente. Puede ser reversible. Pero eso depende mucho del empeño de los gobiernos. Hay que recocer que son muchas izquierdas, no una sola. Una cosa es Chávez y otra cosa es Lula, otra cosa Evo, otra cosa es Daniel Ortega.

Creo que el modelo más atractivo -y quizá el más duradero en continuidad en el poder como de los logros- para las izquierdas de América es el de Lula en Brasil, donde se alcanzó importantes logros en el campo social: mantener el orden macroeconómico estable, gobernar estrictamente con la Constitución y democráticamente, y con mucha participación.

Muchas veces me siento frustrado con la idea de que las alternativas son Chile o Venezuela. No es así. El gran modelo para la izquierda latinoamericana hoy en día es Brasil. Creo que Bolivia también es otro modelo, más propio en una sociedad muy particular.

Pressure Builds to Stop José Figueroa Deportation

A number of students in my course on Latin American politics (Poli 332) last fall were actively involved in the movement to support José Figueroa. One put together this terrific blog on the issue. Another idea the students generated was a “We are José” campaign on the Internet. The movement continues to build momentum, and on January 16 there will be activities in support of José nation-wide. The story has been picked up by CTV news. What follows is an update from the campaign.

People from all walks of life and community-based organizations are joining forces to reverse the deportation order against José Figueroa and his family and are making a call to all to join the WE ARE JOSE campaign. Several initiatives are being organized for the WE ARE JOSE Campaign held across several Canadians cities on January 16th, 2011. Visit for more information.

 WE ARE JOSE supporters believe that the Canadian government’s decision to deport José is a mistake and that this error impacts not only Jose and his family but also puts many Canadians of Salvadorean origin at risk of deportation. The campaign requests that the Canadian government, in particular the Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, respond to the demand to grant José an exemption by January 16th declaring him no threat to national security, in honour of the Salvadorean Peace Agreement and as a reminder to Canadians that our country played a key role in putting an end to El Salvador’s bloody 12-year civil war.

WATCH a documentary made by Simon Fraser University students Sarshar Hosseinnia and Kevin Church about José Figueroa’s case:

Join WE ARE JOSE National Day of support, January 16th

In Ottawa, ON:

Vigil at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin St. (at Lisgar), 4:30pm
Bring candles, lanterns and banners. Guest speakers & artist!

In Langley, BC:

Vigil at Walnut Grove Luthern Church, 5:30pm
20530 88th Avenue, Langley, BC V1M 2Y6
In Toronto, ON: TBA

In Montreal, QC: TBA


1. Offer your endorsement to the WE ARE JOSE campaign, either as a person or organization or both. Send us an email at Don’t forget to FWD this email to all potential supporters.

2. Print and display the WE ARE JOSE logo in a visible place such as your Facebook profile, door step, back of your car, desk top at work, etc… Visit to download it.

3. Watch and Fwd to all your friends the WE ARE JOSE video:

4. Record your video response to the WE ARE JOSE youtube video. You can say who you are and where you are from and why you support WE ARE JOSE. See for instructions.

5. Send an email to the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Vic Toews, at, requesting the reverse of the deportation order. Get a sample letter at .

6. Organize an event of solidarity for Jose and let us know when and where it will be. Recommended events are vigils of support and commemorating the peace agreement. Can include showings of the recently released documentary about José’s case and host a discussion.

MORE ACTIONS of Support visit:

READ more about José’s case at the following blogs and below:

‘Lo que falta en el Perú son partidos políticos.’ Actual fragmentación puede generar un clima de desorden

From El Peruano, 6 January 2011.

Actual fragmentación puede generar un clima de desorden

Canadiense edita libro sobre situación en la región andina

Fidel Gutiérrez M.

El libro Democracia en la región andina: Diversidad y desafíos (IEP, 2010) reúne análisis realizados sobre los sistemas de gobierno vigentes en los países de esta zona del continente. Conversamos con su editor, el canadiense Maxwell A. Cameron, catedrático de la Universidad de Columbia Britanica, de Vancouver, Canadá, y le preguntamos cuál es la percepción que se tiene sobre el Perú.

¿Cómo se describe al Perú en este análisis?
– En relación con los otros países de la región, el sistema electoral está funcionando normalmente. El de Perú es un sistema electoral democrático bastante consolidado. En el aspecto constitucional, obviamente está mucho mejor que hace unos diez años. Si lo comparamos con los años 90, existe ahora un mayor equilibrio de poderes, mayor independencia del Poder Judicial y no es un régimen civil-militar como el de Fujimori.

¿Se ve una verdadera participación ciudadana?
– Por el lado jurídico se tienen todos los mecanismos de participación ciudadana. Eso se ha profundizado y en algunos aspectos hay más participación que antes. Por ejemplo, hay procesos de regionalización y descentralización bastante fuertes. También existe presupuesto participativo en muchos municipios, pero a la vez hubo problemas muy graves por la falta de preocupación en profundizar este aspecto. En Bagua se mostró que muchas veces se hacen planes de inversión sin consultar a las comunidades.

¿El gobierno promueve la participación ciudadana?
– Ha buscado más bien promover las inversiones, negociar TLC y empujar el crecimiento económico, lo cual está muy bien, pero no ha buscado mucho consultar con las comunidades ni promover la participación. Sin embargo ha sido respetuoso de las reglas de juego y mantuvo y profundizó el proceso de descentralización. Entonces, el Perú está caminando bien, pero lo que faltan son partidos políticos. Hay fragmentación del sistema y una gran cantidad de alianzas; todas en torno a candidatos más que a partidos.

¿Eso qué riesgos traería?
– Genera una situación de desorden, en el sentido de que hay mucha volatilidad porque el elector no tiene partidos con etiquetas que representen alternativas programáticas. Más bien lo que representan son candidatos y ofertas de personas, más que programas y propuestas. Además, la fragmentación puede llevar a una situación en la que quien sea elegido no tendrá mayoría en el Congreso, lo que es un problema muy grave, sobre todo en un sistema presidencial, porque carecer de ella puede generar una situación de bloqueo de leyes. Fortalecer el sistema de partidos políticos es un reto importante para la consolidación de la democracia peruana.

¿Esta situación se da también en otros países andinos?
– Los países donde encontramos más inestabilidad son justamente aquellos en los que los partidos están en crisis, como en Ecuador, Bolivia y Venezuela, y en menor grado en Colombia. El viejo sistema del Pacto del Frente Nacional de los años 70 ya no está vigente, pero sin embargo no hay una fragmentación tan grande como en los otros países. En el caso de Venezuela también hubo el Pacto de Punto Fijo entre los años 60 y 90. Eso cayó y dio lugar al chavismo, y ante éste no hay una oposición coherente, sino bastante fragmentada. En el caso de Bolivia, la oposición vino de las regiones, pero tampoco hay una clara y coherente. Justamente es eso lo que permite que surjan líderes más autoritarios que pueden incurrir en abusos políticos.

¿La integración andina es viable o la han superado otros mecanismos regionales?
– Eso no lo hemos tocado en el libro. Al iniciar este proyecto, en 2007, vimos que la región andina era una de las subregiones de mayor preocupación, en el sentido de que existían democracias precarias; pero nos hemos dado cuenta que la situación es mucho más precaria en Centroamérica. Si vemos en general a América Latina, en este momento hay problemas más graves en Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua y El Salvador. Nuestro enfoque ha sido el de la democracia nacional y los regímenes políticos nacionales; no la integración de la subregión.

¿Cuál es el tipo de gobierno predominante actualmente en la región andina?
– Hay democracias en donde las instituciones representativas han sido limitadas, que han buscado fomentar más la participación ciudadana, y hay otros países en los que no hay tanta participación, pero estas instituciones son más fuertes. Los países que buscan más la participación son los que tienen más tendencia de izquierda: Bolivia, Ecuador y Venezuela, aunque no creo que ese sea el mejor termino, porque en el caso de Bolivia, no se está buscando el socialismo. Morales no es tan socialista como sí indigenista. Tampoco el caso de Ecuador. Su gobierno busca fomentar las inversiones y no tiene una línea tan marcadamente a la izquierda.

Modelo efectivo
A juicio de Cameron, un modelo efectivo que Perú podría seguir es el de Brasil; país “en el que se ha profundizado mucho la participación ciudadana”.
“También hay elecciones libres y transparentes, y un orden constitucional bastante sólido”, añade.
Este modelo es, a su juicio, mejor que el vigente en Chile, “que tiene instituciones constitucionales fuertes, pero no tiene presupuesto participativo ni iniciativas ciudadanas”.

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