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Former President Jimmy Carter Urges OAS to Defend Democracy in Region


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is urging the Organization of American States to do more to achieve its goals of defending democracy in the Western Hemisphere. Mr. Carter made his remarks Tuesday in a keynote speech at OAS headquarters in Washington.

Former President Carter told OAS delegates that the Western Hemisphere has made tremendous progress in efforts to attain democracy. He cited the economic and democratic reforms implemented by numerous governments in the region in the past two decades.

But the Nobel Laureate said these efforts have not brought about the needed reduction in poverty and inequality, and pointed to the growing gap between rich and poor. He warned that the region's governments must do a better job of meeting the needs of the hemisphere's impoverished millions.

"When people live in grinding poverty, see no hope for improvement for their children, and are not receiving the rights and benefits of citizenship, they will eventually make their grievances known, and it may be in radical and destructive ways," he warned. "Governments and the privileged in each country must make the decision and demonstrate the will to include all citizens in the benefits of society."

The former president also called on the region's governments to respect the rights of all citizens, including the opposition.

"But democracy is much more than elections," noted Mr. Carter. "It is accountable governments; it is the end of impunity for the powerful. It is giving judiciaries independence from political pressures so they can dispense justice with impartiality. It is protecting the rights of minorities, including those who do not vote for the majority party."

Mr. Carter made his remarks as he inaugurated the OAS' Lecture Series of the Americas. In doing so, he urged the region's governments to make the OAS' Inter-American Democratic Charter a "living document," rather than merely empty pieces of paper.

The 34 active members of the OAS approved the charter following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. The charter says the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and that their governments have an obligation to promote it.