Academics, politicians and analysts from places as near as the Legislative Assembly in San José and as far as DublinCityUniversity in Ireland met here last week to talk about ways to improve democracy, citizen participation and inclusion of minority groups at a conference hosted by the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress last week.
The two-day symposium, entitled “Hacia el Buen Gobierno: tareas aún pendientes” (“Toward Good Governance: Tasks Yet to be Done”), featured speakers such as humanrights activist Martin Luther King III (see separate story) and Norma Quixtan, Guatemala’s Indigenous Women’s Ombudswoman and Peace Secretary.
“I’m very satisfied with the event because we achieved the main objective: producing a real exchange by academics, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), politicians and government officials, to exchange the results of their studies and share opinions,” Arias Foundation Director Luis Alberto Cordero told The Tico Times in an e-mail this week from Bolivia. He added that as a result of the event, the Inter-American Development Bank, which presented its profiles of governability in Guatemala and El Salvador during the conference, has agreed to work with the foundation to complete similar profiles of Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2007.
The event also included the official presentation of the Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez Institute for Social Science Studies, a new and permanent program of the foundation, Cordero said. The institute will promote training and studies in the social sciences.
Costa Rican legislator Fernando Sánchez, during his presentation, called for Latin American countries to move from “minimalist democracy” – in which fledgling democracies form, then cling to, the basic institutions of their new form of government – toward “maximized democracy,” with broad-based citizen participation. In many Latin American nations, support for democracy wavers depending on the performance of the leaders in office at that moment, Sánchez said.
According to Quixtan, the Guatemalan Peace Secretary, part of this process requires educating citizens about their right to participate, something Guatemala, left “without intellectuals, without leaders” by its lengthy civil war, is still struggling to do. Still, recent improvements have been “points of departure after such a long night,” she said.
Carla Morales, the foundation’s Technical Director, spoke about the role of women in the region’s democracies. Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras are the three countries in Central America that have set quotas for the participation of women on party tickets – 40% in Costa Rica, and 30% in Panama and Honduras. Studies show these measures are effective, with Costa Rica and Honduras leading the way in terms of the number of women in the national legislature (38.6% and 24.2%, respectively, with Panama fourth behind Nicaragua).
Training for women to help them break into this male-dominated field is crucial, Morales said.
The Development Bank, the nonprofit Carolina Foundation, which promotes cooperation between Spain and Latin America, and the European-Latin American Governability Network also sponsored the conference. Participants met at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura, west of San José.
For more information on the Arias Foundation, which President Oscar Arias founded with the money from the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize he received during his first term as President (1986-1990), visit www. arias.or.cr.