While Latin America has a solid democratic tradition, its benefits have not reached the region's poor, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in Mexico, calling for better leadership to eliminate public doubts about the value of having a vote.
In a speech to the International Seminar on Democracy, Politics and the State, which opened this morning in Mexico City, Mr. Annan warned against the temptation among some - documented in a UN Development Programme (UNDP) survey earlier this year - to turn away from more than two decades of reforms towards democracy.
"The vote has not produced a steady job, a full table, property rights - or, for many indigenous people, even a sense of real participation in the political life of their country," he said, arguing that the popularity of democracy in Latin America will depend on citizens seeing actual material and social benefits from having a vote.
"They must have reason to be confident that their vote will translate into improvements in their daily lives, and enable their societies to build consensus on the reforms that are needed for further democratic progress," he said.
Corruption-free public institutions, investments in education, genuine public participation in decision-making and determined political leadership are critical to fostering not just an electoral democracy but a "citizen's democracy," he said.
In a report released in April, the UNDP found that just 43 per cent of almost 20,000 people polled across Latin America said they fully supported democracy, while 55 per cent said they would support on authoritarian regime if it could "resolve" their economic problems. And, since 2000, four elected presidents in the region have had to leave office before the formal end of their terms because of steep falls in their public support.
But the Secretary-General emphasized that although democracy has not broken down the "barriers of exclusion" - and is even viewed by some as being part of the problem - Latin America needs more democracy, not less. "The great challenges of building democracy, advancing development and promoting security are closely related - and all nations have an interest in working together to meet them."
Later today Mr. Annan will meet the Foreign Affairs Committee of Mexico's Senate, while last night he held talks with President Vicente Fox and Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez. The talks covered many issues, including the state of democracy in Latin America, the fight against HIV/AIDS and Mexico's contribution to multilateralism.