The 2021 NED Democracy Award: Honoring Central American Civil Society

October 20, 2021
04:00 pm - 07:00 pm

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About the Event

Across Central America, democracy and its institutions are under duress as authoritarians consolidate power and further destabilize and impoverish citizens. From the co-opting of judiciaries to full-fledged attacks on political opposition and civic actors alike, proponents of democracy are increasingly worried about what the future holds for Central American democracy.

In Nicaragua, seven presidential candidates and two dozen civil society leaders are behind bars or under house arrest as elections approach, while in Honduras the electoral process is multi-party but leaves citizens with few honest options at the polls. In Guatemala and El Salvador, civil society is loudly decrying closing civic space, threats to freedom of expression, and growing human rights violations, along with entrenched impunity for past abuses.

Often at great cost and personal risk, organizations in civil society and the independent media sector work consistently to advance and protect democratic rights and processes, expose the anti-democratic actions of their governments, and chart new paths and ideas for a democratic future. The National Endowment for Democracy is proud to honor the bravery, commitment, and talent of four civil society organizations with the 2021 Democracy Award.

This program highlighted the voices of these inspiring activists and shared analysis from leading regional experts, the U.S. Congress and the Biden Administration.

Keynote Remarks: Ricardo Zúñiga, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs and Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, U.S. Department of State

Panel I: Democracy and Governance in Central America: Defending Civic Space and Independent Media for Democratic Accountability
Moisés Naím, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (moderator)
Antonia Urrejola Noguera, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Santiago Cantón, Inter-American Dialogue
Luis Botello, International Center for Journalists

Panel II: Discussion with 2021 NED Democracy Awardees
Damon Wilson, National Endowment for Democracy (moderator)
Gonzalo Carrión, Nicaragua Nunca Más
Helen Mack, Myrna Mack Foundation
Diego Jacobo, TRACODA
Jennifer Ávila, Contracorriente

Presentation of Democracy Awards by Members of Congress and NED Board:

Senator Tim Kaine

Representative Elise Stefanik

Representative Norma J. Torres

Amb. Kelley Currie


Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca Más is dedicated to preserving historical memory in Nicaragua and seeking justice for victims of the state-led violence unleashed by the Ortega regime in 2018. The organization documents cases of torture and other human rights violations, and engages in national, regional, and international advocacy to promote and protect the rights of victims. It also provides much-needed psychosocial support to victims.

Contracorriente was established during the Indignados (‘Outraged’) protests of 2015 in Honduras. Contracorriente emerged from a need to provide citizens with objective and accurate information on critical issues such as human rights and corruption. Co-founded by two women journalists, Contracorriente provides Hondurans with in-depth coverage on topics not typically covered by the media. The organization has collaborated with other regional digital media outlets and has received increasing recognition as a source of reliable information and analysis.

The Myrna Mack Foundation (MMF) was established in 1993 to fight against impunity and to help build democratic rule of law in Guatemala, following the death of Myrna Elizabeth Mack—murdered by state forces in 1990 for her work to uncover internal displacement during the armed conflict. Since its founding, the foundation has trained civil society and government agencies on democratic governance, political participation, transparency, and citizen security with a comprehensive view on human rights. 

Asociación Transparencia, Contraloría Social y Datos Abiertos (Transparency, Social Oversight, and Open Data Association, or TRACODA) is an organization of young professionals with diverse backgrounds that devote themselves to strengthening democracy and fighting against corruption in public and private spheres. Previously, the group worked on promoting electoral reforms, conducting oversight of the Salvadoran congress, and overseeing selection processes for the Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice magistrates. In 2018, Tracoda created a citizen observatory of the Corte de Cuentas, the country’s fiscal oversight court.


Ricardo Zúñiga is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, he previously served as a Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center Latin America Program, Director of the International Student Management Office at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, and as U.S. Consul General in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Mr. Zúniga was a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council from 2012 to 2015.

Senator Tim Kaine serves as a senator for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and is a member of the Senate Armed Services; Budget; Foreign Relations; and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees. Senator Kaine also serves as an honorary member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Board of Directors.

Representative Norma J. Torres represents California’s 35th Congressional District in the Inland Empire which includes Bloomington, Chino, Fontana, Montclair, Ontario, Pomona, and Rialto. She previously served as a State Senator, Assembly Member, and as a Mayor and Council Member in the City of Pomona. Throughout her career in elected office, she has worked to make government more responsive to the needs of Inland Empire residents.

Representative Elise Stefanik represents New York’s 21st District in the House of Representatives in her second term in office. She is a Member of the Armed Services Committee, the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She currently serves as a member of NED’s Board of Directors

Ambassador Kelley Currie served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and the U.S. Representative at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  Prior to her appointment, she led the Department of State’s Office of Global Criminal Justice (2019) and served under Ambassador Nikki Haley as the United States’ Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council and Alternative Representative to the UN General Assembly (2017-2018). Amb. Currie currently serves as a member of the NED Board of Directors.

Moisés Naím is a Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an internationally syndicated columnist, as well as, the host and producer of Efecto Naím, a weekly television program on international affairs that airs throughout the Americas. Naím was the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine for 14 years and is the author of many scholarly articles and more than 10 books on international economics and politics.  Naím has served as Venezuela’s minister of trade and industry, director of Venezuela’s Central Bank, and executive director of the World Bank.

Antonia Urrejola Noguera serves as Commissioner for the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. She has worked as a human rights advisor for the Chilean Presidency, mainly drafting and processing bills about institutions that deal with human rights, children, and sexual diversity. Following the return of democracy in Chile, she worked in the Special Commission for Indigenous Peoples, and later at the Ministry of National Assets and the Ministry of Planning and Cooperation, where she focused on the rights of indigenous peoples. She served as an advisor to the Ministry of the Interior, particularly concerning its Human Rights Program and matters of memory, truth, and justice. She was involved in drafting and processing various bills on national institutions that dealt with human rights, political detention, and torture, among other issues. She has also worked as a consultant for international organizations including the UNDP, the ILO, FLACSO, the JSCA, and the IDB on matters concerning ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the Inter-American Human Rights System, among other topics.

Santiago Cantón is the director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Inter-American Dialogue and an international visiting scholar at American University, Washington College of Law. Previously, he was the secretary of Human Rights of the province of Buenos Aires, the executive director of RFK Partners for Human Rights at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in Washington, DC., and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law School. From 2001 to 2012, he was the executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 1998, he was elected as the first Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the Inter-American System. Previously, he was the director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Democratic Institute and an advisor to former President Carter during the elections in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in 1990.

Luis Botello is the Deputy Vice President of New Initiatives and Impact at the International Center for Journalists, where he helps develop and oversee ICFJ’s investigative reporting initiatives and ICFJ’s monitoring and evaluation systems to maximize program impact around the world. Botello works directly with funders to design new projects and proposals. He worked for 10 years as ICFJ’s Latin American program director and launched ICFJ’s International Journalism Network(IJNet), an online media assistance news service. Under his leadership, ICFJ became the premier journalism organization in Latin America working in more than 20 countries in the region. He conducts a variety of training programs and conferences on digital media, mobile technology, ethics, press freedom and media development.

Damon Wilson is the president and chief executive officer of the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to joining NED, Mr. Wilson was the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, worked at the National Security Council (NSC) as the director for Central, Eastern, and Northern European Affairs from 2004 to 2006, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the NSC from 2007 to 2009, and as the executive secretary and chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Guillermo Gonzalo Carrión Maradiaga received a law degree from the Central American University of Nicaragua (UCA) in 1993 and a Master’s in Public Law with a focus on Constitutional Law from the Catholic University in Chile in 1998. He has 30 years of professional experience, as a defender of human rights and for those who have been victims of abuse of power. For 14 years, he served as the Legal Director of the NGO, Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH). Due to intense repression and the Ortega regime’s criminalization of the organization, he was forced into exile in Costa Rica and has been displaced there since December 2018. In Costa Rica, he joined a group of colleagues who were also former members of CENIDH. There, they continue their work to promote and defend human rights as part of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca Más, where he is now the President.

Helen Beatriz Mack Chang is the President of the Myrna Mack Foundation. She started her fight for justice when her sister, Myrna Mack, was assassinated with impunity. As a result of working to bring perpetrators to justice, State agents were found to be responsible for human rights violations for the first time. Ms. Mack is known both nationally and internationally as an advocate in the fight against impunity in Guatemala, as a supporter for peace, democracy and reconciliation, and for her ideas to transform Guatemala’s justice, defense, and intelligence institutions. For her work in the space of justice and human rights, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize in 1992, considered an alternative Nobel Peace Prize.

Diego Mauricio Jacobo Valladares has served as vice president of the Transparency, Social Oversight and Open Data Association (TRACODA) since 2018. He consults and leads workshops on democracy, transparency, access to public information, use of open data in the public function, and citizen oversight. He has been a co-researcher in publications of the Citizen Observatory to the Court of Accounts, a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), on issues related to auditing and accountability on the use of public funds and the development of evaluation instruments for candidates in second-degree elections. He has also worked as a technical analyst in matters of public finance control and auditing for the drafting of legal reforms for the project “Strengthening the fiscal surveillance entity in El Salvador”, financed by the National Endowment for Democracy; where he also participated in spaces for inter-institutional coordination among public and private entities to generate discussions around reform projects.

Jennifer Ávila is a journalist and founding editor-in-chief of Contracorriente, a digital media outlet in Honduras that publishes in-depth investigative pieces.  Prior to founding the outlet, Ávila spent six years at the Jesuit Radio Progreso as a multimedia and documentary journalist, after receiving her degree from the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Across various formats she has covered the subjects of national resource exploitation and development, human rights topics, dynamics of migration, and political conflict as gender violence. In 2020, she received the Latin American Studies Association Media Award on behalf of the Contracorriente team. In 2021, she was honored with a Special Mention on the Maria Moors Cabot 2021 Edition prize.