Britain’s June 2016 vote to exit the European Union (Brexit) was no isolated incident. The sharply anti-international sentiment in Europe and the U.S. in areas such as trade and multilateralism, the rising tide of xenophobia in Europe and the United States, and the efforts by the Global South to dilute human rights protections and create multilateral and financial institutions parallel to traditional norms and organizations signal that the post–World War II international architecture is being seriously questioned, if not under attack.
How have Latin America and the Caribbean added their voices to this populist, anti-liberal clamor?
This is the second report tracking the human rights and democracy foreign policies of Latin American and Caribbean governments. As with the last, we monitor governments’ votes and activities in different multilateral forums dedicated to promoting human rights, including the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Union of South American Republics (UNASUR), and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
In our last report we cataloged the ways that many states in Latin America and the Caribbean (such as Mexico and Chile) have defended modern international principles such as popular sovereignty and democracy. Yet there was also a contingent of states that actively sought to undermine those norms, internationally and regionally (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, and—at least within the region—Argentina), while Brazil often abstained, intentionally or unintentionally enabling the erosion of liberal norms.
For this report, we broadened our scope to include anti-corruption and election observation. In the 1990s Latin America and the Caribbean led the world in these two areas. Sadly, that has changed. There has been a retrenchment of international and domestic defense of these rights, and a growing coalition of governments openly flaunting regional standards and practices.
Since our first report, there has been an ideological shift in South America, evident in the election of a more liberal president and government in Argentina after 13 years of government under the Peronist Kirchners (husband and wife), the election of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in Peru, and the politicized impeachment of leftist president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and her replacement with the more conservative Michel Temer. At this point it remains unclear whether and how these shifts will manifest themselves in the regional commitment to liberal and democratic norms.
In this report we note that the standards of election observation have deteriorated, largely due to the rise of a new multilateral organization purporting to serve as technical, independent observers, but with none of the guarantees or independent orientation to do so. Venezuela and Nicaragua are pulling back from more professional, credible election observation to serve their own political goals and calling more on these groups.
Similarly, conventions against corruption and the movement toward governmental transparency have stagnated if not regressed. So too have the legal guarantees for civil society in many countries, both in terms of their domestic freedom of operation and their rights to receive support from and collaborate with international organizations. This has occurred not just regionally but globally, as we show on page 4 and page 17.
There is, though, one bright spot. For the first time, the OAS convened a discussion about the state of democracy in Venezuela, thanks to the leadership of Secretary General Luis Almagro. Most important, the discussion went forward with the support of some one-time, anti-liberal states from the Caribbean.