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Beyond voting

A quarter of a century ago, democratic governments in Latin America were the exception, not the norm. Today, a large majority of countries in the region enjoy democratic governments. Without a doubt, the political situation has improved but it is too soon to declare the mission fulfilled. According to Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez, archbishop of Tegucigalpa and president of the Foro de Fortalecimiento a la Democracia (Forum to Strengthen Democracy, also known by the Spanish acronomy FDD), “elections are not enough; democracy is a form of life, not just casting a vote."

Cardinal Rodriguez spoke at a conference at the IDB headquarters about governance in Latin America and the democratic lessons learned in Honduras, his native country. He warned against a formal democracy that does not include indigenous people, marginalized sectors of society or women, that is democracy that does not include everyone. "Earlier the coup d'etats were made by the military, but now they could be done by the civil society,” he said.

IDB President Enrique V.Iglesias, referring to the words of Cardinal Rodriguez, said that “it helps us to fulfill our task if the country is well governed."

Challenges

The list of challenges Latin American countries face is not short. Cardinal Rodriguez mentioned some of them: a long-term project for the country, poverty reduction, gender equality, security for people and goods, respect for human rights and an increased level of education.

In Honduras, the FDD was created to face those challenges and help to consolidate the young democracy. FDD’s objectives are "to help the development of the capacities and potential of the country, to help reach a high level of human development not only individually but also collectively, especially in reference to access to education, and enjoy a prolonged and healthful life with dignity.”

FDD owes part of its success to support that goes beyond helping a concrete project to be centered in “facilitating processes that allow for the continuity of public policies.” That helps to create a climate of governance "to deepen the space for dialogue to converge around initiatives that allow the construction of a strategic vision of the country."

As in all complex and long processes, there has not been a lack of difficult moments. Ending some of the political privileges was one of them. Cardinal Rodriguez noted that the immunity that protects members of Parliament had degenerated and “immunity had become impunity." Slowly, that has begun to be a thing of the past. In fact, Honduras is not the only Central American country where a parliamentarian has been judged and condemned by the courts.

Cardinal Rodriguez indicated that the reaction of the political class to the proposal of abolishing parliamentary immunity was positive. Some politicians even said publicly that they will give up that privilege. "Today immunity (in Honduras) has disappeared for all," he concluded, and that paves the way toward a more solid democracy.