AS/COA Online - Ibero-American Summit Puts Democracy and Education Center Stage

Mar del Plata played host to the twentieth Ibero-American Summit over the weekend, where leaders took a stand to reject undemocratic power seizures. In a special declaration, the members agreed to expel any country that fails to follow democratic processes. “There is no Latin American forum in which you can be a member if you do not respect the democratic order,” commented Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman. Leaders in attendance signed on to a final document that focused on boosting education and social inclusion, as well as a series of releases touching on topics ranging from the Falkland Islands controversy to climate change. And, despite news reports wondering whether WikiLeaks about Latin America would cast a shadow over the summit, leaders carried on with business and inked deals on the sidelines.

The 22 members adopted a clause that supports rule of law and civil liberties, and requires a unanimous decision to suspend countries considered in violation of democratic principles. Last year’s ousting of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya may spring to mind as the reason for for the clause’s inclusion, but the cause may have been more recent; in the final declaration, signatories “rejected the coup attempt” during the September 30 police strike in Ecuador that saw President Rafael Correa holed up in a hospital after a tear gas attack. Hemispheric Brief blog draws similarities between the democratic clause and the Organization of American States’ Democratic Charter and posits how the Ibero-American accord may differ from a clause that came out of a December 2 Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) meeting in Guyana. The UNASUR document, still awaiting approval from members’ presidents, considers sanctions such as suspension of trade with and closed borders to countries where illegitimate power seizures take place.

While the first of the 57 points in the Mar del Plata declaration defended democracy, a large portion of the ones that followed focused on how to improve education, particularly in terms of equal access, recognizing schooling as a universal right essential to development. Governments pledged to invest $1 billion in education over the next decade and committed to achieving full literacy by 2015. The declaration’s signature came days after the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published a report noting that just one poor student in the region earned a college degree for every 27 wealthy pupils while only 8.3 percent of Latin Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 completed university. The latest issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on access to education in the Americas.

Leaders at the forum officially condemned British drilling in the Falklands/Malvinas and the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and also paid tribute to recently deceased ex-President of Argentina Nestor Kirchner. Although the November 28 release of U.S. State Department cables by WikiLeaks was a summit topic, attendees chose not to include it as a subject in the final declaration. Buenos Aires Herald connects this fact to the absence of Bolivian and Venezuelan heads of state, who are typically among the more vocal critics of Washington. Read an AS/COA Online guide to WikiLeaks related to U.S. policy in the Americas.

Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo serves as the next Ibero-American Summit host, with Asuncion the site of the twenty-first meeting in October 2011.

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