A specter is haunting the Western Hemisphere

A specter is haunting the Western Hemisphere – the specter of democracy.
By Michael Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S.
Department of State
Sometimes-violent protests have recently filled the streets of cities across the Americas.
Some critics once again seek to cast the United States as a convenient foil, using an outdated
Cold War-era ideological framework. The United States may not always agree on policy or
rhetoric, but the United States respects our neighbors; we respect their right to democratic self-
determination. But we share a responsibility that comes with living in this hemisphere of
freedom.
Democratic self-determination demands a commitment to the respect for human rights, the
separation of powers, and the rule of law. When our neighbors are tested, and when
authoritarians subvert the democratic rule of law to retain power or unlawful profit, we as a
community have an obligation to come together and support those who push back through
democratic, constitutional institutions.
This applies in Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro rigged an election by disqualifying his
opponents, censoring the media, and engaging in outright vote fraud in May 2018. While
almost all countries from our hemisphere now recognize the legitimacy of interim President
Juan Guaidó, Venezuela continues to suffer under Maduro’s authoritarian misrule and his
violent repression of the Venezuelan people. As fellow Americans, we all share an obligation
to Venezuela and her people to help them end the tyranny of Maduro and restore democracy
to their country.
This applies in Bolivia, where now-former President Evo Morales tried to subvert the
democratic process. He disregarded constitutional term limits, eroded separation of powers by
filling the judiciary and electoral institutions with his cronies, and then engaged in outright fraud
in an attempt to remain in power. The Bolivian people and institutions rallied in support of their
constitution and against this power grab and Morales abandoned his office and Bolivia. The
people of Bolivia, including many members of the political movement Morales once led to
power, are making progress in the delicate process of returning power to the people. Like in
Venezuela, we stand on the side of our Bolivian neighbors as they build their democratic
futur

However, while we defend the right of assembly, we cannot support blindly the tyranny of
violent street protests in places where legitimate democratic paths of political expression are
available. In such places, peaceful protests afford the people another avenue for expression
and dialogue with their political leaders. Unfortunately, we also have seen spoilers, oftentimes
supported by foreign regimes, violently hijack these protests in a bid to thwart or undo
democratic outcomes.
United States foreign policy is to work with all political leaders who support democracy, rule of
law, and respect for human rights. We respect the rights of our neighbors to find their best
political path forward. But we cannot allow authoritarian overreach — by government or the
street — to fix elections, stifle dialogue, and deny political opposition a voice, regardless of
where these voices fall on the political spectrum. The old Cold War divides between the left
and the right have given way to divides between democrats and their opponents inside and
outside of government.
This U.S. administration has led the way in supporting our family of Western democracies,
pushing for the will of the people to be heard. U.S. policies in the hemisphere are designed to
support the democratic majorities who defend or strive to restore democratic dignity. If we are
committed to democracy in our region, we must help each other find the way back to its
realization. We call on our Western Hemisphere neighbors to unite in support of these shared
goals and make ours truly a hemisphere of hope for the democratic aspirations of our peoples.

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