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OAS Ministers Resolve to Strengthen Democracy

Foreign Ministers from the 34 nations of the Organization of American States ended three days of meetings early Wednesday with a resolution to establish a mechanism to strengthen democracy in the Western Hemisphere. The OAS also offered to help Bolivia overcome its political crisis, but said it would not intervene in the internal affairs of the Andean nation.

The OAS foreign ministers agreed to a proposal to monitor the democratic standards and practices of member states, but stopped short of adopting a U.S. proposal that would have called for governments who violate democratic principles to be held accountable by other governments in the hemisphere.

Speaking at the conclusion of the three-day meeting, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega said the meeting fulfilled its mandate of making democracy stronger in the region. "The Declaration of Florida and the resolution on representative democracy makes it very clear that now more than ever the OAS needs to take a more proactive role in promoting and defending human rights and democracy in the Americas," he said.

The original U.S. proposal for possible sanctions on governments who backslide on democratic principles was opposed by a number of OAS member states, most notably by Venezuela. Venezuelan officials said the original proposal would amount to meddling in their internal affairs.

U.S. officials have criticized Venezuela's government, saying President Hugo Chavez is supporting undemocratic trends in his country.

Ambassador John Maisto, the permanent U.S. representative to the OAS, said the adopted proposals

would allow the OAS Secretary General to raise early concerns of undemocratic trends in various member states.

"That same resolution establishes an early warning system for democracies in danger in which the Secretary General can bring to the council's attention those situations, which may lead to action under the Inter-American Democratic Charter," said Mr. Maisto.

In their final declaration, the OAS ministers said that all countries in the region have the right to decide their own political status and economic, social, and cultural development.

The ministers also offered their full cooperation to help Bolivian authorities establish a dialogue to overcome their country's political crisis. But the ministers said any cooperation should not amount to violating the OAS principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of the Andean nation.