21st Century Democracy Promotion in the Americas


Objective: The aim of the project is the preparation of a book titled 21st Century Democracy Promotion in the Americas, co-authored with Jorge Heine (Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada). This joint project was kick-started by a Zukunftskolleg Mentorship grant awarded to the applicant two years ago. Originally, we studied the coup d’état in Honduras (June 2009) as an instance showcasing the potentials and limits of regional organizations, in this case the Organization of American States (OAS), as promoters and defenders of democracy. Since then, we decided to put together a book on the broader topic of OAS democracy promotion.

Background and justification: On 11 September 2001 the foreign ministers of the Americas approved the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Over the course of the next decade, Latin America was to enter a highly fruitful and productive period, marked by strong economic growth and democratic stability, one that has signaled a real regional turnaround.

The book 21st Century Democracy Promotion in the Americas examines the promotion and defense of democracy in the Americas, and the role it has played in this veritable regional renaissance. It will take the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a baseline and describe the evolution of the issue over the past decade. We will analyze democratic norms, norm enforcement mechanisms and how they work in practice. Special attention will be paid to the 2009 Honduras coup, the issues raised by it and the debates that surrounded it, as this was the first instance in which a member state was suspended in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The central themes will be three: first, the nature of challenges to democracy in Latin America; second, the role of regional organizations as democracy promoters, and third, the transformation of Inter-American relations.

Structure of the book: The first two chapters will introduce the reader to the debate and highlight why we should care about democracy promotion by regional organizations. Chapters 3 and 4 give background information on the evolution of the OAS democratic paradigm. Chapters 5 and 6 present the core case study material of the book, while chapter 7 and 8 look to the future.

1. Introduction: The introduction offers a short presentation of the argument developed in the book and explains its structure.

2. The Challenges of Regional Democracy Promotion: This chapter will explore the three debates that guide the analysis of the book. Particularly, it will provide the theoretical background to the debate on democracy promotion by regional organizations, a short account of the forms of democracy support that these organizations have developed and a global overview comparing democratic commitments, monitoring and enforcement across different world regions.

3. The Emergence of the OAS Democratic Paradigm: This chapter will provide an overview of the history and development of the concept of democracy in the OAS. It will summarize the emergence of the democracy promotion regime after the end of the Cold War, the related legal and institutional changes of the organization, and the first applications of the provisions in the 1990s in Haiti, Peru, Guatemala, and Paraguay.

4. The Inter-American Democratic Charter: This chapter analyzes the creation and contents of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It makes reference to key moments of change and leadership in the process of its creation and discusses in which respect it built and improved on the promotion of democracy regime of the 1990s.

5. The OAS Democratic Paradigm in Action: Democratic Crises of the 21st Century: This chapter discusses the democratic crises in the Americas after the approval of the Charter and the instances where the Charter was invoked. The chapter will provide a structured-focused comparison of democratic crises analyzing them in line with our three central themes: origin and type of democratic crisis, action taken by the OAS to defend and promote democracy (and, if applicable, action taken by other regional organizations), implications for Inter-American relations. Cases to be dealt with include the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the 2004 presidential resignation in Haiti, the 2005 constitutional crisis in Nicaragua, and repeated institutional crises, presidential resignations and allegations of a coup in Bolivia and Ecuador. We will also look at OAS actions concerning Cuba, the only remaining country in the Western Hemisphere with no free elections.

6. The OAS Democratic Paradigm in Action: The case of Honduras: This chapter reconstructs the events following the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, which questioned the democratic consensus attained in the 1990s and codified in the Charter. The fact that Honduras is one of the poorest and smallest states in the region and the widely shared diagnosis that the forced removal of the president was an illegal and unconstitutional coup would have led us to expect forceful and ultimately successful OAS actions in defense of democracy. But in spite of the initial unanimous repudiation of the coup and the involvement of the OAS in efforts to return to democracy, Zelaya was ultimately not restored to power. The chapter dissects the reasons for this seemingly counterintuitive outcome and considers whether this can be considered a failure of the common defense of democracy regime.

7. The Future of the OAS Democratic Paradigm: This chapter will reflect on the implications of the Honduran crisis for the defense of democracy in the Americas and Inter-American relations. One of the most significant trends in the Americas over the past two decades has been the reestablishment of democracy and the eradication of military coups. The Honduras coup of June 2009 broke that trend and set a dangerous precedent for the Hemisphere. Implications for the Inter-American system include a potential reform of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Suggested changes relate to the Organization’s difficulty in dealing with different variants of authoritarian regression, the possibility of taking action in early stages of a democratic crisis and the concept of democracy that the OAS is supposed to spread. The Honduras imbroglio also underlines the need to rethink Inter-American relations at a time when Latin America is not a central issue in U.S. foreign policy any longer, new regional actors emerge and the launch of new entities like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) partly challenge the role of the OAS in the Americas.

8. Conclusion: This chapter will summarize the achievements and limitations of the OAS in the sphere of democracy promotion and will reflect on potential scenarios for the future of the Inter-American system.

  • Department of Politics and Public Administration
Funding sources
Name Finanzierungstyp Kategorie Project no.
Exzellenzinitiative third-party funds research funding program 916/12
Further information
Period: 01.01.2013 – 31.12.2013