Latin America and the Caribbean Program Highlights (2007)

After an intense electoral cycle in 2005 and 2006, plus important elections during 2007, the region exhibits a wide variety of political and ideological tendencies, and has witnessed the emergence of new parties and leaders, the inclusion of traditionally excluded sectors, and a wider presence in government of left-leaning parties and leaders.

In 2007, referendums helped shape the political landscape and channel citizens’ preferences. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador instituted a process to redraft the constitution, similar to those which took place in Venezuela in 1999 and in Bolivia in 2006-2007.

Ecuadorians voted overwhelmingly in favor of convening a Constituent Assembly, and later selected assembly representatives in an election that awarded the governing coalition a majority of seats. The resulting draft of the constitution will require approval through yet another referendum. In Bolivia, the deep polarization that has marked Evo Morales’s presidency translated into a constitutional process characterized by confrontation, gridlock, and a draft constitution that is not recognized as legitimate by all parties. The referendum to approve the new constitution, initially scheduled for the end of 2007, could not take place.

In Venezuela, a comprehensive constitutional reform proposed by President Hugo Chavez, which included provisions granting indefinite presidential reelection and enshrining a socialist economy and state, was rejected by a small margin in a December 2007 referendum. In a referendum in October 2007, Costa Rica voted to join the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

Much expectation was generated about Cuba’s future after Fidel Castro transferred power in 2006 to his younger brother Raul, but during 2007, no dramatic changes occurred. There is, however, increasing evidence of internal unease and demands to improve living conditions. Haiti continued its slow path to political and economic recovery. Unfortunately, the needs of the vast majority remain unmet despite large investments from the international community and the efforts of the current government. Urban violence and crime, related to drug trafficking, limited opportunities, impunity, and weak institutions, is a major security threat across the region.

In both Mexico and Paraguay, journalists who denounced drug trafficking were murdered, and criminal gang activity involving youth in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala continues to be a major problem.

One key focus of NED programs is reducing polarization and fostering peaceful means to deal with social and political conflict. In Haiti, RassemblementNational des Citoyens Organisés pour le Développment d’Haïti (RANCODAH), Coordination Nationale des Organisations de Base (CONOB), and Coordination des Comités d’Initiatives de la Commune des Gonaives (CCIGG) run programs in conflict-afflicted communities to facilitate better relations among rival groups and to train elected officials and grassroots leaders on community mediation and conflict resolution.

Instituto Socioambiental – Boliva (ISA-Bolivia) worked to reconcile indigenous and formal municipal administrative structures and to facilitate dialogue and consensus among indigenous people in the highlands. In Venezuela, Libertad Ciudadana improved the capacity of community journalists to establish communication among actors from different ideological perspectives and backgrounds.

Another relevant area of interest is enhancing the governance capacities of elected officials and the oversight abilities of civil society. Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) and Poder Ciudadano strengthened the capacity of community groups in poor areas of Buenos Aires to improve their access to public services and to advocate collectively for their rights and needs. Organizations promoted transparency and accountability of municipal governments and fostered citizen participation and oversight at the local level in:

  • Bolivia (Instituto de Investigación y Capacitación Pedagógica y Social (IIPS), Observancia, and Sayariy),
  • Colombia (Corporación Transparencia por Colombia, Fundación Cívico Social Pro Cartagena (FUNCICAR), and Fundación Corona),
  • Haiti (Centre de Formation et d’Appui au Développement (CEFCAD) and Comité d’Initiative de la 3eme Section du Limbé (CI3SL),
  • Nicaragua (Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Humanísticos (INEH),
  • and Paraguay (Semillas para la Democracia)

Fundación Centroamericana de Desarrollo (FUNCEDE) in Guatemala helped municipal planning offices design and implement public policies that address citizens’ needs. In Peru, Ciudad Nuestra established a mechanism to monitor the performance of Lima’s municipal government and Proética trained regional and local officials to implement anti-corruption programs.

In addition, three programs addressed the specific challenges of municipalities that receive significant revenues from extractive companies:

  • IRI in Bolivia, and
  • Socios Peru and Comisión Diocesana de Servicio Pastoral Social (CODISPAS) in Peru worked to strengthen relations between local communities, elected officials, and representatives of the industries, and to improve the managerial capabilities of elected officials and oversight from civil society.

Another salient program focus is promoting the rights of under-represented groups such as indigenous populations, Afro-Latinos, women, and young people. In Bolivia, Asociación de Consejalas de Bolivia (ACOBOL) identified best practices to encourage women’s participation at the local level; Fundación Vida worked with young indigenous women from Potosí to promote their rights and interact with members of the Constituent Assembly; and NDI provided emerging women leaders with practical political and networking skills. In Colombia, De Justicia undertook the legal defense of the rights of vulnerable populations and Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas advocated for government programs and policies for displaced women and communities.

Programs for Cuba included the Afro-Cuba Alliance to promote discussion about Afro-Cuban issues and Red Feminista Cubana, which worked to advance women’s rights on the island. In Ecuador, Asociación de Mujeres Municipalistas de Ecuador (AMUME) provided technical assistance to municipal councilwomen and other female officials so they could more effectively perform their jobs. In Guatemala, Asociación de Comités de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) trained young leaders to organize indigenous communities and CEMAS worked with youth on issues of leadership, democracy and human rights. Fondation Espoir helped young leaders in Haiti implement programs addressing their communities’ problems.

In Mexico, Centro de Derechos Humanos y Asesoría a Pueblos Indígenas (CEDHAPI) and Servicios para una Educación Alternativa (EDUCA) promoted the rights of indigenous populations in Oaxaca State, while Colectivo de Investigación, Desarrollo y Educación entre Mujeres (CIDEM) worked to encourage women’s participation in the media and improve women’s rights in rural areas. Across the Andean region, organizations promoted the rights, political participation, and institutional capacity of Afro-descendents.

Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean have also concentrated on fostering and strengthening ties between civil society organizations across the region, as well as developing regional perspectives on common issues and challenges.

  • Consorcio Justica contributed to consolidate a Latin American network of civil society organizations promoting democracy.
  • Centro Global para el Desarrollo y la Democracia (CGDD) worked to define a regional agenda to address the problems of inequality, social exclusion and development from a regional and democratic perspective.
  • Comisión Andina de Juristas (CAJ) continued its focus on strengthening the judicial systems in the Andean region.

Overall, NED has supported regional programs aimed at promoting civil society, defending the human rights of the underrepresented and excluded, and strengthening democratic processes and institutions.