We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Election Day Repression and Fraud in Honduras - Crackdown on Peaceful March in SPS

This is another video shot and produced by the Equina Caliente team on the ground in Honduras.

A peaceful march in protest of fraudulent elections in the second largest city in Honduras ended when police dispersed the crowd from the central park twice with tear gas and a water cannon. Thirty-eight were reportedly arrested and several were injured by riot police and tear gas canister impact. While the de facto government declared a record turn-out for the elections, the view from the street in San Pedro Sula differed. Voting centers were quiet and Human Rights organizations reported up to 80% abstention rate. See our other videos for images from the polling stations.

SPS HONDURAS: Dura Represión Policial de Una Marcha Pacifica - Día de las Elecciones

El día de las elecciones 29 Noviembre 2009 en San Pedro Sula el Comando Especial COBRA (COECO) y la policia reprimieron con brutal violencia una marcha pacifica contra el fraude electoral y el regimen de facto. Con bombas lacrimóginas, un cañon de agua y por fin a golpes dispersaron la gente que manifestaba del area del parque central. Poco a poco la gente regresó al parque y la policia lanzó otro ataque. Resultaron 38 detenidos y bastantes heridos.

Low Turnout and Electoral Fraud in Honduras

This is another video shot and produced by Esquina Caliente on the ground in Honduras.

Following the November 29 elections in Honduras, the National Electoral Tribunal has claimed there was a record turnout. For those observing the polling stations, this is clearly a manipulation of the facts. This video shows images of voting centers in San Pedro Sula (the second largest city in Honduras) during peak voting hours. People trickled in and out whereas in past elections lines would extend down the block.

Poca Participación y Fraude Electoral San Pedro Sula, Honduras

El Día de las elecciones en San Pedro Sula los centros de votación se quedaron callados por la gran abstención que fue promovido por el Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular. Aunque los grandes medios de comunicación y los oficiales electorales declararon altos niveles de participación este video demuestra los centros de votación a horas claves y la gran falta de votantes.

The Resistance Marches in El Progreso, Honduras against the Electoral Fraud and the Coup

The Esquina caliente team are currently on the ground in Honduras covering the resistance to the coup and the fraudulent elections held on Nov. 29th. In El Progreso, Honduras on 11/25/2009 the resistance in El Progreso, marched in memory of their martyrs and to denounce the upcoming illegitimate elections. Here is a video we produced to mark the event:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Honduras Resiste

Actualmente los editores de La Esquina Caliente se encuentran en las calles de Honduras donde están acompañando a la resistencia popular contra el golpe de estado. Mañana, el 29 de noviembre, habrán elecciones ilegitimas y habrá un gran boicot popular contra estas mismas elecciones. El equipo de La Esquina sacó un breve documental sobre el golpe de estado, sus martires, y la resistencia que sigue luchando en Honduras.

Aquí encontrarán el documental:

Friday, February 13, 2009

CAYMAN ISLANDS: A Step toward Transparent Democracy

Freedom of Information Law set
Published on Sunday, January 4, 2009

Carole Excell
Freedom of Information (FOI) Coordinator

Dan Duguay
Auditor General

Billy Adam

By Tad Stoner

Pronouncing herself “ready to go”, Freedom of Information (FOI) Coordinator Carole Excell – and 89 Information Managers throughout Government – on Monday morning will usher in the Cayman Islands first guarantee of public access to official records.

First legislated on 31 August 2007, the long-awaited bill enables the public to seek information on any subject from any government entity, and obligates government to respond, usually within one month of the request.

“It takes the member of the public acting on their rights to enforce their right to know,” said Ms Excell. “It’s up to people to make [the law] work.

“It makes the Government more transparent and accountable. Members of the public have the right to access public records and it helps you make decisions. If you want to know how your country runs, you want to participate in that and you care about your country, you need access to information. It enables you to make informed decisions.”

She said the legislation was not limited to Caymanians.

“Everyone who lives here has an interest,” she said. “For example:

Why are you sending your children to one school if you don’t know how it is run or how the others are run?

What are your rights as a tenant?

You need to find out what the rules are, even if there are rules at all, and then demand that there be rules if there are none.”

Commenting on the long-awaited FOI Law, Auditor General Dan Duguay, charged with scrutinising Government value-for-money transactions, said the promulgation of the new law was critical.

“I think it’s a great thing,” he said, “a great thing for the Cayman Islands. My office is all about accountability; that is what we do, and I strongly support this a way for people to get the information they want.”

He said his office was unlikely to need the FOI law because it already had full access to government records.

“We are in the information game, and I have never had any problem getting information myself because that’s what we do. FOI is much more for others; it’s a great thing.”

Social commentator and local activist Billy Adam greeted the new law with a mixture of relief and hope.

“The proof will be in the pudding, to see how much they actually are going to release,” he said, but lauded the efforts of the ruling People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and its political chief, Leader of Government Business Hon Kurt Tibbetts, almost single-handedly responsible for realising the legislation.

“The PPM has got to be congratulated for getting this through,” he said. “They followed through, and kept their campaign promise.

“This ushers in a whole new era of participatory democracy,” he said, referring to a proposal in the draft of the new Cayman Islands constitution to allow ‘people’s referendums’ on a variety of issues. “With the constitutional proposals still to be seen, and in order for people to make informed decisions, it is necessary to have information.”

Mr Adam said that already he had, ahead of today’s activation of the law, filed two FOI requests “with four or five more to go”.

One, he said, would be an enquiry about the lack of operating licences at the new West Bay and Morgan’s Harbour dolphin facilities; another would seek to learn what the Attorney General knew about laws governing operations at the attractions.

“I want to see comments on the new Conservation Law being held up; I want full details on the CITES [the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] information on the capture of the dolphins; and I will ask the Ministry of Planning why we don’t have an overall development plan.

“I will also ask about Vision 2008 and what discussions have taken place in government about it,” he said.

Ms Excell said she expected an initial flurry of requests, and a few administrative “teething problems”, but anticipated it would settle down shortly.

“We will probably get more requests in the first month, and then by, say, the end of January, we’ll see what agencies are getting the most requests. At first, people may not provide sufficient information to enable managers to identify what information they want, and then people may not get the required response in the time frame they expected.”

Historically, she said, the bulk of requests went to ministries of finance and treasury as people sought financial records; to immigration and health departments for personal records; and to the police and departments of the environment – “especially with the dolphins coming in”.

She acknowledged fears that officials could hide behind the law, exploiting the mandated time frames for responding to requests.

“We have to change a culture and sensitise pubic officials, make sure they understand and are making their preparations and doing their record surveys so they know what records they even have. People only started to take this seriously recently,” she said.

Ms Excell said she was poised to file two requests of her own today. “I just want to know how a couple of things work, why they are they way they are,” she said, declining, however, to elaborate.

“What we’re trying to explain is that FOI is for information that they have not already supplied. It’s not about answers on a telephone, but about seeing records on request. It’s more formal and is about government responding within the period of the law – and within the spirit of the law,” she said.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

PERU: Desarrollo Local con Democracia en Santo Domingo




Youth Participate in Salvadoran Electoral Process

The following article co-written by one of our editors currently in El Salvador highlights the role of youth participation in improving the electoral process in that country. - Editor

Youth Demand Transparency as El Salvador Prepares Municipal and Legislative Elections

by Alexandria Soleil and Maggie Von Vogt

On January 18, 2009, El Salvador will hold its sixth municipal and legislative elections since the 1992 signing of the Peace Accords. This year national politicians and international officials are aiming for the most transparent and clean to date, but popular sectors criticize the electoral system and predict that past problems are likely to occur again. A September 2008 poll executed by the University Institute of Public Opinion at Central American University José Simeon Cañas (IUDOP) found that 55% of those surveyed believe there will be fraud in January’s election.

Two activists from Equipo Mapache (Raccoon Team), a youth independent radio collective, show that young people who participate in the electoral process are conscious and critical of such problems. Sabino and Daniel recounted some of their first-hand experiences in order to illuminate the greater problems facing the electoral system in El Salvador. “There is not democracy in El Salvador. What exists is arbitrariness for the election of certain public officials. It would be much better if a decentralized, citizen-powered organism managed the question of popular will,” said Daniel. While critiquing the system, they also imagine possibilities for the development of a more transparent electoral system that would be more accountable to voters.

Youth Participation

Starting out as a teenager serving lunch and coffee to the people running the polls, later directing mobs of voters to their assigned voting center, and finally serving as a vigilante (active observer) for the FMLN party, Sabino became more involved in El Salvador’s elections each time they were held. “You just go get one of those instruction packets, the electoral code, and even if you’re young and bored you are at least in contact with it,” he said of his experience as a youth on the supportive fringes of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla party.

While he and other Equipo Mapache activists never joined a brigade or became party militants, he found that working through a political party is the primary way in which to participate in Salvadoran electoral politics. “We have never been party militants, but for different reasons we have always been close to, been tied to, the party, to the basic structure of the party…. In that way we have achieved becoming part of the party, part of that experience and part of everything that the elections involve,” said Sabino.

Daniel volunteered as a national observer in the 2006 municipal and legislative elections, working with one of the few non-governmental law organizations within the country that studies and critiques the electoral process. In a system that depends upon political parties to organize and execute the electoral process, the non-partisan view that Daniel found at The Human Rights Institute at the Central American University (El Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la UCA, IDUCA) is key in providing a non-party presence that fosters transparency. Daniel turned his observations in to IDUCA who in turn reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos). This commission is one of many that uses reports from observers to provide Salvadoran electoral and governmental bodies with recommendations to improve the electoral system.

Political Parties in the Electoral Process

The signing of the Peace Accords transitioned the 12 year long armed conflict between leftist guerillas and the US-backed national military to a battle between political parties. Since then, the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and right wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) have been the two main political parties. While ARENA has held the presidency since 1992, the FMLN currently maintains nearly half of the National Assembly and the mayor of the capital city San Salvador.

Many people, like Sabino, become involved in the electoral process due to family party affiliations. Meanwhile, party members and militants are recruited to serve on one of the temporary electoral boards that organize the elections on departmental and municipal levels, or to sit at the table where votes are authorized and counted. These people who dedicate their time and ideology to the party are trained by the party itself to defend party interests leading up to, and on, Election Day.

The political parties in El Salvador are represented in each of the hierarchically ordered bodies of the electoral system. Each body, starting at the national level with the Supreme Electoral Tribune (TSE) and followed by its municipal and departmental entities, is made up of 5 members and their substitutes. Each of the five posts represents one of the political parties that won the majority of votes in the previous election. These professionals coordinate entities that play a role on Election Day, such as the National Police and the Council for the Defense of Human Rights. They also oversee the final counting of ballots, make sure that accurate information is turned in to the TSE, and direct the groups that hand out and receive ballots at the Vote Receiving Table (JRV).

On the national level, the Supreme Electoral Tribune (TSE) is made up of members from the political parties ARENA (right wing), The National Conciliation Party (PCN, right wing), and the FMLN (left wing). The other two members are appointed by the Supreme Court and, during this election cycle, side with the right wing. This 4-1 advantage for the right is just one place where the involvement of political parties does not serve its purpose of balancing their power.

Sabino expresses these concerns. “Really, all the reforms to the electoral code, as is confirmed by the TSE (which is not a non-partisan tribunal, or that is to say, it is composed of parties) …are suspicious.” For example, the TSE ruled to hold the legislative and municipal elections on a separate date from the presidential election even though they were scheduled to occur on the same date. Members of the left have criticized this decision for various reasons; one being that it doubles the resources and energy necessary to hold elections on two dates.

Additionally, Daniel discussed how right wing support for separating election dates is part of its strategy to generate fear of the left wing, “The reform [of separating the two elections] in this moment, I believe, has an influence within their campaign of fear that they have used for a long time… it is easier for them to run a decentralized campaign of fear on a municipal level… and then later generate it during the presidential elections.”

The TSE, with its responsibilities to international and national law, is the ultimate electoral power, but the fact that political parties control it feeds an ongoing sentiment that it is not accountable to the people. Given this, Sabino stresses the responsibility of people working at the polls on Election Day, “For me that means that the role of the people at the JRV is extremely important. The participation of observation, national and international, is very important to try to have the cleanest elections possible.”

Obstacles to Fair Elections

Despite the TSE's ongoing efforts to assure voters, mistrust in the system is apparent in common anecdotes regarding vote buying (with food, transportation to the polls, or cash), false identifications, and the transportation of foreigners or people from other municipalities. Sabino recounted his experience at the table, “People will vote with false identification cards for dead people, as well as bring people from other municipalities, where they would mobilize people from certain municipalities where it was sure you were going to win, and get them to go vote in places where there is more doubt… in this way the party ARENA would bring buses of people where they needed to be stronger.”

Another source of voter mistrust is the TSE’s use of an inaccurate voter registry based on an outdated census, “The electoral registry does not coincide with the census…you will find people in the electoral rolls who died up to 16 years ago,” Sabino stated. The current electoral registry is based on a census held in 1992, which omits immigration statistics and deaths.

Problems at the Vote Receiving Table

Decisions within the various electoral bodies are made upon consensus, though the varying interests of the polarized and competitive parties can make reaching accord an arduous process. This makes volunteering to serve at the table a difficult job for which one should be well trained, but parties with fewer resources (both financial and human), often lack in this preparation. “There are many political parties that tend to omit training and formation for the people who are going to be receiving the voters and carrying out the elections in the moment. In this way it is possible that in these occasions the system itself fails,” Daniel noted. When political parties cannot or do not train their representatives to lawfully carry out the their positions, voters lose their voice in democracy.

For example, as the voting centers close, the volunteers at the table collectively count the votes and hand the marked ballots to that party’s representative. If questions arise as to whether a vote is valid or for whom it is intended, volunteers with less training are less likely to be able to defend a vote for their party.

Daniel suggests legal reinforcement to regulate the electoral system. “There needs to be a legal support among the people who are on the vote-receiving board, because if this support doesn’t exist, or that is to say that interpretation of the law, which is the electoral code, then in some way there is arbitrariness,” that currently allows the most vociferous representative, not necessarily the most lawful, to win debates. With an impartial referee to interpret a marked ballot according to the law, political parties would not have to fight while counting votes.

This role is the one that Daniel played in the past elections, but it is not one that is present in all voting centers. National observers from non-partisan entities at all voting centers may mediate the heavy conflicts between parties on voting day.

Impact of January Elections

The results of the municipal and legislative elections will inevitably impact the presidential race. The party that wins mayoral seats and representative seats in the Legislative Assembly will greatly impact how much of the party platform a new president can put into place. Daniel sees these elections as an opportunity for change. “We don’t think that the FMLN is the salvation, but it could be a vehicle that can bring about changes in this country or that can facilitate the winning of other parties. But this is where the legislative and municipal elections represent the economic oligarchy. The right is fragmented now between economic and political power—the legislative and municipal elections mean much more than before; legislative could be absolute popular power that the people would be able to manage,” he said.

In areas where the FMLN has won seats by a small margin in the past, the right wing hopes that the results of the January elections will influence the presidential elections in their favor. The FMLN mayor of San Salvador Violeta Menjivar won the mayoral seat in the last election by 44 votes. This election season she is facing off against her main rival, ARENA candidate Norman Quijano. According to Sabino, races like this one are what make the January elections in El Salvador so high stake. “It could be a great psychological wound to lose the capital, when you’ve been governing for 3 or 4 periods… and since past elections have been extremely close, this is where the people from ARENA see a little salvation,” he explained.

If ARENA were to win the capital or other tight races in the local elections, there would be a significant impact on undecided voters. “This (a right wing victory) could mean that many people believe what the right wing proposes, and other people who are in doubt or indecisive, this could impact them… it‘s a little trick by the right to find any mechanism, even if its illogical…they are always trying to put rocks in the road, confusion, doubt, not letting the people decide” Sabino pointed out.

Suggestions for Change

The popular critique of the electoral process that Sabino and Daniel expressed does not come without positive suggestions for reform. The two activists pinpointed specific changes that would correct the flaws they have witnessed. In the short term, the voter registry must be thoroughly reviewed and cleaned of its errors. Also the Supreme Electoral Tribunal must take more responsibility for enforcing the Electoral Code. For example, they should hold political parties accountable for dirty campaigns that attack opposition candidates.

Meanwhile, the electoral code should be reformed to give civil society more influence and participation in the system than political parties. Creating better systems of communication between electoral bodies and the public would build accountability.

In the long-term, political parties should not have control of the TSE, but be controlled by civil society. “It would be much better if a decentralized, citizen organism managed the matter of popular will…The conformation of the JEM (and other electoral organisms) should not be tied to any political party because any political party, independent of its ideology, can manage or handle the will of the community that comes to vote,” expressed Daniel.

Given how currently inextricable political parties are from the structure and execution of electoral processes, this would be possible only through a complete overhaul of the electoral system. Daniel and Sabino believe that although this kind of massive change is not likely in the near future, some of the previous suggestions are steps toward change. As Daniel commented, “This question depends on a trust and a maturity within the democratic process.”

Things have been heating up electorally in El Salvador for months. Even though the Presidential Campaign didn’t officially start until November 14th 2008, evidence of the upcoming elections has been present all over the country since April. Constant party promotion is evident in party fliers, door-to-door party visits, groups of supporters in party colors waving flags at traffic intersections, telephone poles painted party colors, and constant media coverage. In fact, our interview was interrupted multiple times by one group of Democratic Change (CD) brigades driving around the neighborhood blasting the party song. Salvadorans of all political affiliations are waiting to see not only who their new representatives will be, but if the current electoral system can achieve the democracy and transparency that they demand.

Alexandria Soleil is a US-Latin America solidarity activist from Wyoming. She recently graduated from Seattle University with majors in International Studies and Spanish. She currently works with young people in San Salvador. She can be reached at adelantesoleil(at)

Maggie Von Vogt is a Philadelphia-based educator, independent journalist, and social justice organizer who works with Media Mobilizing Project and Labor Justice Radio. She is a recent recipient of the Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant. She is currently living in El Salvador. You can reach her at: maggievonvogt(at)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

FIJI: Municipal Councils - Door to Participatory Democracy

Municipal councils – door to participatory democracy


MUNICIPAL councils have lately come under the close scrutiny of the government. Apart from a state-sponsored review, the councils have been regularly advised by the government to clean up their halls and initiate changes.

Municipal councils are aptly categorised as ‘local government’. They operate much like a national government and with similar rules and procedures as practised by a parliament.

So, councils behave like a mini-government, responsible for their own specific municipalities of local area of jurisdiction.

Women’s rights advocate and coordinator of femLINPACIFIC, Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls says municipal councils “provide a critical entry point” for local participatory-based decision-making and “a tangible entry point for women’s involvement in politics.”

She is spot on. Councils do offer at the local community level a door to participatory democracy and politics, both for municipal citizens and leaders who regularly vie for councillorship.

These local governments also offer aspiring politicians the ideal training ground and experience for participation in the larger, ex-local, arena of politics.

In fact, in many countries including Fiji, local government representatives have gone on to become successful politicians at the national level.

The Local Government Review initiative should consider improve this gate to national politics and representative democracy.

It would be good to encourage more youths and women into local government. Municipal councils need to be refreshed with these groups.

Our municipal councils are always dominated by older men. Some have spent umpteen years holding on to power. They appear not interested in relinquishing their positions to a younger generation or stepping aside to ease the congestion in the corridors of power.

No disrespect to our aging leaders, but the world is changing so fast and we need to catch up. It’s time to pass on the baton of leadership to a younger and dynamic generation that would be better in-tuned to the demands of the 21st century.

Moreover, local government provides opportunity for people to participate in the democratic process.

Eligible voters in municipal elections are better tuned to democratic representation through the experience of regularly voting for their local area politicians.

An interim cabinet decision this week will see a pause in the democratic process in local government. The term of all municipals councils will cease on January 31, 2009 to allow an earlier cabinet decision to extend the Local Government Review initiative.

The interim government will then appoint transitional municipal councils and administrators which will see the adoption of the recommendations of the review.

This is good initiative, all in the name of improving local governance and ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are met.

It would be ideal if the transitional councils and administrators are appointed through the consensus of all these stakeholders. Even if the interim government is reluctant to do this, it should at least be transparent about the appointment process they will undertake.

Hopefully, the interim government and the review committee consider the significance of local government being a breeding ground for participatory democracy and politics.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

NAMIBIA: Regional Councils - Government Launches Decentralization Campaign

Govt Launches Decentralisation Campaign

by Irene Hoaës
01 December 2008

WINDHOEK – The Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development has launched a public participation campaign on decentralisation.

The campaign will be known as “Participate-Influence! Use your Regional Council”.

The decentralisation policy, which was adopted in 1997, seeks to promote participatory democracy and sustainable development for the benefit of all Namibians.

The process is to give regional councils, local authorities and village councils the power, responsibility and funds to plan and administer basic services that affect the day-to-day lives of people in their areas.

What would make the process of service delivery effective is the fact that local authorities are more familiar with local needs and priorities and people at the grassroots, and have easier access to them than is the case with central government.

The ministry’s custodian, Jerry Ekandjo said one of the critical requirements for decentralisation is the participation of citizens in affairs that affect them.

“Citizenry participation has proven to enhance local voices. Hence policymakers are tuned to true aspirations of communities and effectively address needs and priorities,” Ekandjo, who launched the campaign, said.

The minister said while the process itself may be “smooth sailing”, the major challenge lies ahead, which is to bring the broader public into decision-making to facilitate a process whereby citizens have a direct say on decisions affecting them.

“A citizen’s role does not end after the casting of votes. This is only the beginning,” he noted.

Ekandjo said voters are at liberty to exercise their rights to speak and air their views and demand services, as long as demands are reasonable.

In order to implement the decentralisation policy, the ministry has identified the importance of good communication and information strategy.

The ministry, with financial assistance from the French government, conducted and finalised public participation surveys in seven regions and assisted them with developing of strategies to improve public participation between regional councils and their constituents.

Participation surveys are currently being conducted in the remaining six regions.

In order to enhance smooth transmission of the process, the ministry has decided to embark on a national campaign that would support the efforts of the individual regional councils.

For now, regional councils will be the focal point as most of the functions will be delegated to that structure of government.

A similar campaign is earmarked for local authorities in the near future.

The current campaign, which will run from now until March 2009, will cover three themes, namely the changing roles of regional councils, ways to participate in regional council activities and feedback received from the public.

Ekandjo also revealed that the decentralisation process will start in April next year.

The Finish Chargé d’Affaires, Asko Luukkainen, commended government on the initiative, whose main objective is to enhance participatory democracy.

Luukkainen said civil servants have the tendency to assume that people are naturally interested in government decisions and policies.

“From time to time, we should therefore remind ourselves that there is a countless body of research-based counter-evidence to this,” the diplomat reminded the gathering.

Luukkainen said Finnish financial support to the decentralisation process will stop in March next year and focus will shift towards other areas.

“In future Namibia and Finland will focus on promotion of trade, investment and private sector partnerships, institutional cooperation, non-governmental organisation support, various exchange programmes, cooperation with universities as well as between local authorities,” Luukkainen noted.

During the launch, it was revealed that significant progress has been made in policy implementation during the last few years.

Functions such as rural water supply were already gazetted to regional councils in 2007, while other functions such as maintenance, lands management and primary and secondary education are expected to be handed over next year.

Progress has also been made towards the development of an inter-governmental fiscal transfer system, which will provide for a transparent, predictable and poverty-sensitive way of allocating funds from central government to regional councils.

ESPAÑA: Las Consultas de Madrazo

Las consultas de Madrazo

El consejero de Vivienda y Asuntos Sociales reivindica durante su viaje a Suiza la participación ciudadana en todos los ámbitos



DV. El consejero de Vivienda y Asuntos Sociales, Javier Madrazo, propuso ayer en Aarau (Suiza) modificar la Constitución y el Estatuto de Autonomía para garantizar la democracia directa y la participación ciudadana de los vascos, aunque él considera que «no cierran la puerta» a esta vía. «Pero si hay quien lo cree, habrá que modificarlos», sentenció.

Madrazo rechazó que se empleen ambas normas y la violencia como «coartadas o excusas» para impedir esta vía política ampliamente practicada en Suiza. El consejero reiteró que «el mejor modo de deslegitimar la violencia de ETA es celebrar una consulta para que la ciudadanía vasca pueda decir a la organización terrorista que desaparezca para siempre».

El titular de Vivienda y Asuntos Sociales reivindicó la participación ciudadana en un sentido amplio, para todos los ámbitos: político, económico, social, medio ambiental y de género. No podía haber elegido otro lugar mejor que Suiza para hacerlo: los helvéticos son llamados cuatro veces al año a referéndum, y nueve de cada diez, según las encuestas, no aceptarían que les privaran de ese derecho.

El próximo día 30, los suizos tienen una nueva cita con las urnas. En la ciudad de Zurich se votarán catorce propuestas de orden local, cantonal y federal. Los ciudadanos podrán decidir, entre otras cuestiones, que los delitos de pornografía infantil no prescriban, flexibilizar la edad de jubilación, la elección libre en la compra de medicamentos o la prolongación del tranvía hasta el zoo.

El consejero considera a la confederación helvética un modelo y un referente, así como un «toque de atención para quienes niegan el derecho de la ciudadanía vasca a la participación política». Para Madrazo, la experiencia suiza demuestra que esta vía «no es una forma de distorsionar la vida pública, sino todo lo contrario: mantiene viva la política de un país».

El Gobierno Vasco, las formaciones políticas y los agentes sociales tienen la «obligación ineludible», según el coordinador general de EB, de mirar a Suiza como modelo «claro y concreto» de que la democracia directa «lejos de dividir, une, y en vez de provocar confrontación, permite avanzar en la convivencia».

En nombre del Departamento de Vivienda y Asuntos Sociales, Madrazo se comprometió a promover y desarrollar formas de democracia directa en su ámbito de actuación y competencia, desde la «convicción profunda» de que esta senda es «el futuro por el que hay que transitar y la única que permitirá superar la brecha existente y cada vez más profunda entre la política y la sociedad».

Labor opositora

En una reciente encuesta encargada por la Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, la gran mayoría de los guipuzcoanos entrevistados confesaron desconocer quién es el diputado general. En Suiza, el interés de los ciudadanos por quien les representa no es mucho mayor, pero en este caso se debe a que el nombre o el color de los cargos públicos tienen menor importancia.

El Centro para la Democracia de Aarau (ZDA), asociado a la universidad de Zurich, destaca que la labor opositora está más en manos de los propios ciudadanos que de los partidos políticos. Así lo demuestra el hecho de que más del 25% de las propuestas de enmienda constitucional realizadas por las instituciones han sido rechazadas por los electores.

En una encuesta elaborada por el sociólogo norteamericano Carod Schmid, el 70% de los suizos señalaron su sistema político como la principal razón para estar orgullosos de su nacionalidad. Madrazo destaca que la democracia directa permite que la sociedad civil helvética sea «activa, viva, comprometida y protagonista de su futuro».

El director del ZDA, Andreas Aauer, aclaró que el modelo suizo es el resultado de un largo y «fascinante» proceso político con raíces en el siglo XIX, por lo que considera «muy difícil transplantarlo a otro país». No obstante, estableció un «punto de comparación» entre la experiencia helvética y la vasca: la democracia directa «civilizó la política» en el país alpino, «muy violenta» hasta el siglo XIX.

Aauer señaló que la democracia directa «es una calle de sentido único». Una vez que se entra, «es imposible volver atrás», subrayó el académico, porque «cuando se deja en manos de los ciudadanos la decisión de las cuestiones importantes, ya no renuncian a ese derecho».

Monday, December 15, 2008

MEXICO: Impulsan Diputados Plebiscito y Referéndum

Impulsan diputados plebiscito y referéndum

Organización Editorial Mexicana
16 de noviembre de 2008

Víctor Godínez / El Sol de México

Ciudad de México.- El presidente de la Comisión de Puntos Constitucionales de la Cámara de Diputados, Raymundo Cárdenas, aseguró que existe consenso entre las tres principales bancadas legislativas para impulsar en el actual periodo de sesiones las figuras del plebiscito y el referéndum.

Reveló que ya se elabora un dictamen de iniciativa de ley para aprobar estas figuras de la democracia.

Por su parte, el diputado panista Eduardo de la Torre Jaramillo dijo que este instituto político accederá a estas reformas.

Raymundo Cárdenas, presidente de la Comisión de Puntos Constitucionales de la Cámara de Diputados, aseveró que existe consenso entre las diferentes bancadas de esta instancia legislativa, a fin de impulsar en el actual periodo de sesiones figuras de democracia directas como el plebiscito y el referendo.

En una reunión de trabajo realizada en el Palacio de San Lázaro, señaló que las tres fuerzas políticas más importantes en el país como son los partidos Acción Nacional (PAN), de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) y Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), han expresado su interés de abordar este tema.

Por tal motivo, reveló que en la Comisión de Puntos Constitucionales se elabora un dictamen de iniciativa de ley para aprobar estas figuras de la democracia.

Por su parte, el diputado panista Eduardo de la Torre Jaramillo dijo que este instituto político accederá a estas reformas, pero antes se deben resolver las diferencias, pues se tienen que estudiar los modelos utilizados en Latinoamérica y ver si son viables para aplicarse en la vida política nacional.

Sobre el particular, dijo que en el PAN se llegó a un consenso interno para estudiar e impulsar estos mecanismos de democracia directa.

A su vez, el diputado Salvador Ruiz Sánchez, del Partido de la Revolución Democrática, recordó que su partido siempre ha mostrado disposición para tratar los temas y proyectos con los que se pueda perfeccionar la democracia.

Sin embargo, negó que al promover el modelo de referendo se impulse al mismo tiempo la reelección electoral, ya que son temas que se tienen que ver por separado.

Recent Exercises in Swiss Direct Democracy

Swiss approve pioneering legal heroin program

By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS – Nov 30, 2008

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved Sunday a move to make permanent the country's pioneering program to give addicts government-authorized heroin.

At the same time, voters rejected a proposal to decriminalize marijuana.

Sixty-eight percent of the 2,264,968 voters casting ballots approved making the heroin program permanent. It has been credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts since it began in 1994.

Some 63.2 percent of voters voted against the marijuana initiative.

On a separate issue, 52 percent of voters approved an initiative to eliminate the statute of limitations on pornographic crimes against children before the age of puberty.

Olivier Borer, 35, a musician from the northern town of Solothurn, said he welcomed the outcome in part because state action was required to help heroin addicts, but he said legalizing marijuana was a bad idea.

"I think it's very important to help these people, but not to facilitate the using of drugs," Borer said. "You can just see in the Netherlands how it's going. People just go there to smoke."

Parliament approved the heroin measure in a revision of Switzerland's narcotics law in March, but conservatives challenged the decision and forced a national referendum under Switzerland's system of direct democracy.

The heroin program has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users shooting up openly in parks that marred Swiss cities in the 1980s and 1990s, supporters say.

The United States and the U.N. narcotics board have criticized the program as potentially fueling drug abuse, but several other governments have started or are considering their own programs modeled on the system.

The marijuana issue was based on a separate citizens' initiative to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana and growing the plant for personal use.

Jo Lang, a Green Party member of parliament from the central city of Zug, said he was disappointed in the failure of the marijuana measure because it means 600,000 people in Switzerland will be treated as criminals because they use cannabis.

"People have died from alcohol and heroin, but not from cannabis," Lang said.

The government, which opposed the marijuana proposal, said it feared that liberalizing cannabis could cause problems with neighboring countries.

"This could lead to a situation where you have some sort of cannabis tourism in Switzerland because something that is illegal in the EU would be legal in Switzerland," government spokesman Oswald Sigg told The Associated Press.

The heroin program is offered in 23 discreet centers across Switzerland that offer a range of support to nearly 1,300 addicts who haven't been helped by other therapies. Under careful supervision, they inject doses of carefully measured to satisfy their cravings but not enough to cause a big high.

The aim is to help the addicts learn how to function in society, with counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.

Sabina Geissbuehler-Strupler of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, which led the campaign against the heroin program, said she was disappointed in the vote.

"That is only damage limitation," she said. "Ninety-five percent of the addicts are not healed from the addiction."

Health insurance pays for the bulk of the program, which costs 26 million Swiss francs ($22 million) a year. All residents in Switzerland are required to have health insurance, with the government paying insurance premiums for those who cannot afford it.

The current Swiss statute of limitations on prosecuting pedophile pornography is 15 years. The initiative will result in a change in the constitution to remove that time limit.

Previously only genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and terrorist acts were defined under Swiss law has being without a statute of limitations.

The government had argued that it will be difficult to put the change into practice, partly because of the legal problems of determining the onset of puberty, which varies with each child. Also, the government said, it will be very difficult to prove such crimes in trials many years after the crimes are committed.

The proponents said in campaign literature that sometimes it only becomes possible years later to build a case against a pedophile when other victims "also finally find the strength to bring charges."

"It must therefore be only up to the victim to decide whether it should be forgotten or prosecuted," the proponents said.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

ESPAÑA: Sobre la Democracia Directa

Democracia directa

21.11.2008 -


Una de las críticas que suele hacerse a la democracia directa es que da lugar a políticas conservadoras. En esta forma de pensar late una profunda desconfianza hacia la voluntad de los ciudadanos y ciudadanas.

Frente a esta idea hay que decir que no es la democracia directa la que da lugar a posiciones conservadoras, sino que es la sociedad la que es conservadora o progresista. Los votos dieron sendos mandatos presidenciales a Bush y Aznar, que nunca han destacado por desarrollar políticas progresistas, y nadie ha puesto en tela de juicio las elecciones.

Lo importante, en la democracia directa, es que los ciudadanos y las ciudadanas debaten y deciden en todos y cada uno de los asuntos que les interesan, no sólo cada cuatro años y no sólo cuando se les pregunta desde el poder.

Javier Madrazo. Cádiz

PARAGUAY: Participatory Democracy Does not Come Easy

Police Repression and Presidential Promises: The Fight for Social Justice in Paraguay

Written by Lorena Rodriguez
Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Despite brutal police violence, on November 6, campesinos celebrated the victorious ending of a three day long mass mobilization. Some five thousands campesinos from all over Paraguay gathered in the capital city of Asuncion to celebrate what constitutes a first victory for the campesino and landless movement in Paraguay.

The crowd’s chants of “el pueblo unido jamás será vencido” [the people united will never be defeated] and “reforma agraria: urgente y necesaria” [agrarian Reform: urgent and necessary] urged recently elected President Fernando Lugo to represent the campesino movement and also denounced the vestiges of corrupt and conservative structure of the Stroessner dictatorship that continues to prevent true and democratic change in Paraguay.

What happened in this small country in South America is an enormous success to be highlighted in the midst of a global economic, energy and food crisis. In a small country that rarely makes it to the headlines in the international media, last week Paraguayans lived the beginning of a promising historic victory after campesinos mobilized for three consecutive days to demand their first truly democratically elected president in over 60 years to represent the needs of the landless Paraguayan campesinos to put an end to criminalization, violence and repression.

Hundreds of trucks, buses and other vehicles arrived in Asuncion last Tuesday from a number of provinces. Decentralized actions like street blockades, demonstrations and protests in front of key institutions and government buildings took place also in other parts of Paraguay. During the celebration at the end of the mobilizations, it felt like the country had returned to April 20th of this year, when Paraguayans celebrated as never before, hoping that finally democracy had come. Even though the Stroessner dictatorship had come to an end in 1989, many, if not the majority in Paraguay, reject the idea that 1989 marked the beginning of democracy, because since then Paraguayans have been living under the rule of the same corrupt leaders in power: the Colorado Party.

Of course, victory never comes easily. On the second day of mobilization, the police in front of the building of the State General Attorney brutally repressed protesters by beating them, spreading tear gas and shooting rubber bullets from very short distances, resulting in sixty people injured, including women and children.

Demands from the Frente Social y Popular (FSP)

The November 4th through 6th mobilization was coordinated by the Social and Popular Front (Frente Social y Popular –FSP). Born after President Lugo’s election, the FSP unites over a hundred organizations, representing small farmers, indigenous peoples, trade unions, women, homeless people, child laborers, students, among other groups, and functions as a “forum to summarize the debates, analyses and proposals of the social sectors and to report them to the government in order to secure a publicly accountable policy which truly works in the interest of the poor and excluded” and a “platform designed to represent the organizations and the social sectors, and to allow them to influence the policies of the new government based on their grassroots demands.” (See past Upside Down World coverage here).

The FSP presented six concrete demands. First and foremost, the urgency for a contingent plan to address social needs in order to tackle the increasing levels of poverty in rural Paraguay. Another major demand was the removal of the State Attorney General and the dismissal of the nine members of the Supreme Court of Justice. The FSP also demanded an end to the criminalization of social and campesino movements, beginning with the liberation of campesino leaders and organizers who have been unjustly imprisoned as a result of arbitrary detentions. Other demands were the promotion of an integral agrarian reform, the recognition and approval by Congress of the thirteen agreements signed with Venezuela and, last but not least, a demand for energy sovereignty through the re-negotiation of the controversial Itaipú treaty, which is a point of tension between Paraguay and the big and powerful neighboring countries of Brazil and Argentina.

The Grassroots and Lugo

Different campesino organizations are divided about the level of support and patience deserved by President Lugo. He owes his electoral victory to a grassroots base that believed in him, and initially found hope in his position as Executive. There are those who will unconditionally support him because they are aware that Lugo is alone in the middle of a political structure that could coalesce anytime to take him out of power to preserve the privileges they have maintained for six decades. The majority of campesinos, however, will not stand passively waiting for Lugo to lead in matters that they have an urgent stake in. Campesinos are aware that without their continued pressure and support, Lugo’s will turn out to be yet another administration that has gained a continuation of the same policies that have protected the private property of large landowners and the profits of international agribusinesses. Campesino communities need Lugo to take immediate action to stop the exponential growth of the agroexport industry, which is currently poisoning entire communities with agro-toxins and benefiting from the ongoing brutal repression of community members during evictions and protests, and to stop the criminalization of the campesino struggle for food and land sovereignty.

Victory of the Campesino Movement

Many times during these last couple of days I head that “democracy started last week in Paraguay,” and as all representative and participative democracies, it will face strong challenges. President Fernando Lugo himself will have to overcome numerous obstacles that will threaten not only his decision-making power, but also his compromise with the broad coalition that allowed his electoral victory, and most importantly, his commitment to a grassroots base that counts on him as their only hope of putting an end to decades of neglect and injustice. The powerful landowners, the majority being soy growing brasiguayos, Brazilians living and working in Paraguay for many years, will not let the campesino victory go unchallenged.

During the brutal repression on November 5th in Asuncion, President Fernando Lugo was traveling from the US to Mexico and arrived only on the evening of the last day of the mobilization without having publicly commented on the committed crimes. Even though he was absent during most of the mobilization and also during previous tense situations in the interior of the country, his meeting last Thursday with leaders from the FSP resulted in the first major victory for the Frente and the diverse and numerous sectors it represents.

As a result of the intense pressure from the successful mobilization and last Wednesday’s meeting between the main campesino leaders and various ministries of Lugo’s administration, the government agreed to establish an emergency and contingency plan for the rural sector and promised to invest in accessibility to food, drinkable water and electricity. Another major success was the government’s commitment to create a National Advisory for Agrarian Reform, which will be supported by the Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Public Health, and Infrastructure, among others. Most importantly, this advisory will be chaired by the National Institution for Rural and Land Developement, the INDERT (Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Rural y de la Tierra), which is responsible for public policies concerning campesinos, especially access to and distribution of land.

The FSP proposed a Social Emergency Plan that promotes the active involvement of a number of state institutions in order to find sustainable and integral solutions and policies that address the root causes of the rural crisis, rather than band-aid or short-term solutions. Among the measures they proposed are: the distribution of seeds to farmers for the purpose of self-sufficiency and land recuperation; access to tools and credit; dialogue rather than repression; recuperation of illegally sold state lands and a return to their right owners through agrarian reform; a participatory budget; a tax to soy and large landholdings; and the careful respect for and enforcement of environmental laws in order to contain the aggressive advance of Genetically Modified soy monocultures which has resulted in deaths, malformations in children, and serious damages to people’s health and the environment due to the abusive use of agrochemicals.

As the National Attorney General refused to resign from his position, there was an agreement for beginning a process of impeachment. The dismissal of the members of not only the State Attorney General but also the members of Supreme Court of Justice is essential for democratic change in Paraguay since these institutions incite the criminalization of social movements through arbitrary detention of campesino leaders and organizers, violent land evictions, and repression during demonstrations and protests. They are not alone, since the local general attorneys in the various departments play their part as accomplices in such injustices in order to protect the property and profits of the large foreign landowners and agribusinesses.

Soy Bean Wars in Paraguay: How Far in the U.S. Backyard?

There is no better example of Washington’s continued policy of interventionism in Latin American democratic changes than the critical situation currently experienced by Bolivia. It is well known that the United States has a long history of masterminding and financially supporting acts of terrorism in foreign soil when the empire’s sees its “national security” (that is, the rights of foreign investors) as under threat.

The opposition’s violent attacks on Bolivia’s vibrant democracy are a terrible reminder of the power that our front yard neighbor still believes to be entitled to have over our sovereignty in the south. The results of this neocolonial agenda visible in the current conflict in Bolivia are also a wake-up call for the state of affairs in a smaller, neighboring country which is rarely in the headlines: Paraguay. Here we can easily point to a thread of U.S. efforts to destabilize the region. We hear little to nothing in the U.S. media about Paraguay, yet for more than 15 years Paraguayan peasant and indigenous communities have been fighting for their lives in of the most unheard of wars: the “soybean wars.” Soybeans in Paraguay are symbolic of the legacy of a U.S.-backed dictatorship and of U.S. economic interests, specifically those of agribusinesses. A convergence of economic and geo-political interests have made Paraguay a strategically significant stronghold for the U.S. in the region.

Paraguay has been a strategic ally in two of profitable wars of the U.S.: the war on terrorism and the war on drugs. In addition, as a member of Mercosur, Paraguay was at one point attractive to the U.S. for advancing the now dead agenda of a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Its biodiversity and wealth in one of the world’s most precious resources, water, also makes Paraguay of special concern to the United States. It takes only a magic combination of terms like ‘land reform’ and ‘justice for the poor’ for Washington to panic in fear of facing another “red threat,” and Chavez’s influence in the region.

Since his election, President Fernando Lugo has shifted sides from left to left of center, placing himself first along the lines of Chavez, Morales and Correa, to a more moderate stand like that of Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez and Chile’s Bachelet. The inconvenient truth is that, despite being the executive, there is little he can do to make changes within a power structure that has been in place for over sixty years. The interests that continue to control the country in order to maintain the status quo, especially those of the large landowners, soy producers and agribusinesses are currently fighting a silent war to overpower the social and grassroots movements of urban homeless (“los sin techo”) and rural landless (“los sin tierra”) peoples in Paraguay.

Rural Violence

Last month Leticia Galeano, a young student and campesina leader with the People’s Agrarian Movement (MAP- Movimiento Agrario y Poupular) in the department of Caaguazu in Paraguay, went on a speaking tour of the United States. In a number of cities throughout the U.S, she shared the story of the ongoing soybean wars in Paraguay, one of land conflict, the impact of fumigations, disparities, criminalization and repression of the social movements, and the struggle for land and food sovereignty, with universities and colleges, communities, grassroots activists, human rights groups, and NGOs. During her time in the US, her campesino organization (MAP), her community as well as other campesino communities in Paraguay, were the target of more violent evictions, repression, and death threats, resulting in many wounded and one death in the province of Alto Paraná.

On October 3rd, Bienvenido Melgarejo, a landless peasant in the district of Mbaracayu, also a member of the Farmers’ Association in Alto Paraná (ASAGRAPA) became another victim of the of the fight for justice and land sovereignty in Paraguay at the hands of soy producers and the federal police. Sadly, the politics of criminalization and the repression of the campesino struggle continue under Lugo’s administration.

Also, in the districts of Vaquería and Yhu, ongoing threats were on the rise as leaders from MAP mobilized against soy expansion by occupying lands illegally held by foreign landowners. Campesino leaders from the MAP have received direct death threats, and were targeted by the governor himself. Such violence corresponds to campesino movements’ increased mobilization since Lugo assumed power in hopes that he will follow through with promises of agrarian reform. Lugo's recent condemnation, during the United Nations General Assembly, of the fumigation of people with agrichemicals, especially children, as "terrorism," has infuriated soy producers and added to their rage against campesinos.

World Witnesses

International allies and partners have been accompanying campesino leaders in their communities due to the current tension and fear that soy producers will keep up with their threats that there will be bloodshed. Earlier this month a small School of Americas Watch delegation from the United States visited Paraguay on a mission to request that President Lugo cease to send Paraguayan military to the commonly known “School of Assassins” (SOA/WHINSEC). During their visit, the delegation also learned about the current social and political climate of Paraguayan by meeting with various leaders from campesino organizations and visiting a number of communities in rural Paraguay to hear first-hand the stories of criminalization and repression of the campesino movement.

This is a crucial time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the social movements in Paraguay as organized civil society groups. A united grassroots movement remains the only hope for President Fernando Lugo to make real change and to maintain his electoral promises. International solidarity is also vital to exert pressure to hold Lugo responsible for the protection of the human rights of the people who have supported him from the beginning.

As campesinos continue to mobilize to express their support and exert pressure on the government to meet their demands, it is important that the world witness these important times in order for real change to happen in Paraguay.

Militarization in Paraguay and Stroessner’s Legacy

It is well known throughout Latin America and around the world that national security for the United States is synonym of securing the interests of the Hill-controlling, powerful transnational corporations through the criminalization of social movements that constitute a threat to the flow of profits from the exploitation of natural resources. Despite the fact that a CRS report released two years ago stated that there was no knowledge of operation cells of Islamic terrorists in the hemisphere, the State Department’s annual Country Reports on terrorism included Latin America in the region due to alleged concerns over terrorist threats, mainly domestic and also pointing at the fact that Latin American countries have been home to international terrorist battlegrounds.

Different from the interventions of the 1980s, at a first glance U.S. interest and role in Paraguay responds to alleged Islamic terrorist networks (activities of Lebanon group Hizballah and the Sunni Muslim Palestinian group Hamas) in the triple frontier (the tri-border area shared by Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil), and to narcotraffic networks and the suppose extension of Colombia’s FARC in Paraguay.

It is under this pretext that through the U.S. Department of State provides Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) through training and equipment to Paraguay, as well as to other Latin American countries to help improve their capabilities in a variety of areas, including airport security management, hostage negotiations, bomb detection and deactivation, and counter-terrorism financing. Since 1997 there has been an increase in assistance to Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay in light of increased U.S. concerns over the mentioned activities in the triple frontier.

For Anti-Terrorism Assistance provided to the Western Hemisphere in Fiscal Year 2007, Paraguay, with $475,000, was only 3rd to Colombia. In fiscal year 2008, the number was reduced to $268,000. Military cooperation, however, increased from FY 2007 to FY 2008, specifically on international military education and training (from 44,000 for FY2007 to an estimate of 190,000 for FY2008 and a request for $350,000 for FY 2009).

Perhaps unintentionally, the justification for funding and “assistance” to Paraguay perfectly explains the true reasoning behind the U.S. interest in Paraguay, that of its private investors: "As a hub for international criminal activity, including drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, counterfeiting, document forgery, trafficking in persons, and intellectual property rights violations, Paraguay continues to be an important partner against transnational crime. According to the Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations in 2009, the United States will focus primarily on improving the following areas: rule of law and good governance; trade and investment; private sector competitiveness."

During the 35 years of dictatorship under Alfredo Stroessner, the U.S. played an accomplice role with the support of the bloody Condor Operation, for which Paraguay became the center of intelligence exchange among the three repressive countries including Chile and Argentina. Today, the U.S. military presence is allegedly humanitarian with a number of exercises in key regions. Military cooperation between the US and Paraguay also comes in the form of the country’s graduates from the School of Americas, where trainees are indoctrinated in “National Security,” the same doctrine that caused for the disappearance and assassination of hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans during the U.S.-backed military dictatorship. Today the excuse is the fight against terrorism. Currently, SOA graduates hold positions of military power (minister of defense, etc) in Paraguay and exercises within the country continue.

There is an indirect link between US exercises and the violence against peasant communities in Paraguay in order to control the territory, or more specifically, to maintain the control of the land, characterized today by the fact that approximately eighty per cent of the land is in the hands of just two percent of the population. According to a study prepared by Serpaj Paraguay (Servicios de Paz y Justicia), the presence of the US Army through SOUTHCOM manifests itself through military exercises and visits to areas where there is a predominant presence of peasant organizations, GM soy monoculture plantations and agrotoxic fumigations.

When one cross-posts data on the number of campesinos that have been killed in the period between 2002 and 2005, the presence of Paraguayan military forces, campesino organizations in a number of key departments (or states), and US military operations in Paraguay in those departments, there are some striking coincidences. In the department of San Pedro for example, there were 4 campesino organizations during that period. At the same time, there was also the highest number of US military operations. Strikingly, the number of deaths also coincides with these numbers being the highest with 18 deaths. During that same period, in Alto Paraná, home to the campesino organization ASAGRAPA and where the most recent assassination took place, there were 7 campesino organizations, 3 U.S. military operations, and 12 deaths. In Caaguazú, home for the district of Vaquería and Yhu where death threats are on the increase, there were 4 campesino organizations, including MAP, and seventeen deaths.

Even though Paraguay is not under a dictatorship per se, a number of social movement leaders in Paraguay have pointed at the fact that the transition to democracy brought no change to the political power structure, as we can see in the ongoing repression to those who dare speak up against the ongoing corruption and impunity of criminalization and repression.

Going after so called “terrorist havens” in allegedly “authoritarian and populist” regimes in order to “defend democracy and the rule of law” is nothing but the violation of people’s sovereignty and the continuation of misguided foreign policy decisions over what ground-up, grassroots, participatory democracy and human rights really mean.

Terrorist networks or terrorizing with fumigations?

Depending on who tells the story, terrorism has a different face. For the most marginalized communities and peoples from the global south it may well be the everyday struggle to have food on the table, to strive for a piece of land or simply to be able to enjoy the basic right to breath a clean air, as it is the case of Paraguay. During her speaking tour, Leticia Galeano shared the unjust story of the slow annihilation of entire communities, either by literally fumigating them to death, or strategically driving farmers out of their land by trapping them into debt, buying them off their land with absolutely unfair and deceitful amounts of money, thus exacerbating migration to urban slums, and the slow ethnocide of a traditional and indigenous rural culture of subsistence family farmers.

Among Leticia’s stories was the case of a family who lost a child only two months old from a case of hydrocephaly, other children with birth defects, premature abortions, numerous cases of cancer, and respiratory, vision and dermatological illnesses as a result of the industrial fumigations with matatodo [kill-all], as farmers call Monsanto’s pesticide cocktail ‘RoundUp.’

The reality behind US military assistance to Paraguay, allegedly humanitarian in character and directed towards funding anti-terrorism programs, is that these are nothing but excuses to maintain a stronghold in a territory that has been under unrestrained control of the agribusiness sector for decades. The three major agribusinesses in Paraguay are U.S. transnational corporations: agribusinss giants Archer Daniel Midland, Bunge and Cargill, and the genetically modified seeds guru Monsanto.

Today, in the midst of a global food and energy crisis, U.S. agribusinesses have made record profits through the expansion of large-scale industrial monoculture production of Monsanto’s genetically modified soy at the expense of local communities, human rights and the environmental. It is no coincidence that the most organized campesinos and indigenous communities in Paraguay have the higher number of killings. With yet another newly elected progressive President, as part of a wave of left and left-of-center leaders throughout Latin America, who promises of land reform, there is a challenge of the corporate-grab and hence a need for support for Paraguayan social movements that continue to confront injustices and impunity.

The Paraguayan struggle for sovereignty of land, food and life itself needs the solidarity of the international community. Too little attention has been paid to the rampant impunity in cases of human rights violations. Sadly, impunity has the tendency to be the rule rather than the exception.

More and more people are challenging the destructive industrialized agricultural model by constructing local and regional alternatives with a vision for food sovereignty worldwide. As momentum grows in the United States around truly local, sustainable and fair food systems, it is also crucial that the north stand in solidarity with movements in the global south that are actively pursuing these same alternatives and confronting the interests that oppose them—often in the face of violence and repression.

As the world sees hope for change in the recent US-elections and the grassroots mobilizes to demand fair and human policies towards Latin America it is crucial to remember the special role the US played in the past and realize the connection with today's ever powerful remains of the Stroessner regime.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

ECUADOR: Alcaldes Hablan Sobre la Participación Ciudadana

Los alcaldes hablan sobre la participación ciudadana

Alcaldes nacionales y extranjeros discutieron ayer, en Guayaquil, sus experiencias locales.


La participación de la ciudadanía en la gestión pública local fue la fórmula que presentaron ayer los panelistas. Lo hicieron durante la sesión de trabajo, en el IX Encuentro Iberoamericano de la Sociedad Civil, en Guayaquil.

Isabel Noboa, presidenta del Encuentro, dio la bienvenida a más de 300 participantes, de los cuales, 150 son extranjeros.

Ahí mencionó la importancia de promover alianzas entre las entidades públicas, las organizaciones de participación ciudadana y los propios empresarios, con miras a combatir la pobreza.

Jaime Nebot, alcalde de Guayaquil, indicó que para lograr una comunidad sana y segura, la administración local debe generar, junto con los empresarios, grandes obras y fomentar el empleo.

Aprovechó para defender las fundaciones municipales y criticó la Ley de Transparencia de Contratación Pública. “Suprimen los dictámenes de la Contraloría General del Estado y permiten contratar a compañías extranjeras sin domiciliarse en el país y entregar anticipos sin garantía”.

También señaló que este año se incrementará un 15% los sueldos del Cabildo y eso incidirá en la distribución del presupuesto para el 2009. El gasto público subirá del 11% al 13%.

Auki Tituaña, alcalde de Cotacachi, explicó su modelo de democracia participativa. Y mencionó la intención de lanzarse a una nueva candidatura, con el auspicio del partido Pachakutik.

Antanas Mockus, ex alcalde Mayor de Bogotá (Colombia), explicó cómo, a través de la cultura ciudadana, disminuyeron la criminalidad y los accidentes de tránsito y aumentó la tributación.

Antonio Sánchez Díaz de Rivera, diputado federal de México, propuso que partiendo de lo local se creen vínculos entre la sociedad y el manejo público.

NIGERIA: How about People’s Parliament at the Local Government Level?

How about people’s parliament at the local government level?

Thursday, 06 November 2008 00:14 Ebere Onwudiwe

In some emerging democracies such as ours, leaders tend to represent themselves and their cronies. Democracy becomes government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. In representative democracy, which in theory is what we practice in Nigeria today, the people elect their leaders, who are supposed to represent the people’s interests. This system of government is noted for accountability, constituency service and other forms of responsiveness when practiced by the book. But accountability and government responsiveness are hardly the trademarks of Nigeria’s representative democracy.

In our three tier federalism, the local government is possibly the least responsive and accountable even though it is the level that is closest to the people.

This column has argued recently that one way to ensure accountability at the state and local governments is to institute a policy of taxable revenue distributions (“The Alaska Option,” Business Day, 08 October, 2008.) Direct democracy at the local government level is another way of reaching the same goal. Direct democracy is not feasible at the federal or the state tiers, not even the modified version proposed here. But it is entirely feasible at the local government level.

In direct democracy, the people are the parliament. When the Greeks, especially the Athenians, instituted what is considered the origin of modern democracy, it was of this kind. The Athenians gathered at the Pnyx, a structure of concrete slabs, where they debated issues and made decisions. It was the ultimate manifestation of democracy as a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The same practice is to be found in many African villages even today. At the sound of the gong, drum, or some other percussive instrument, the people would gather at the communal meeting place. The village head would state the issues and the people would debate them vigorously, often rancorously. In the end, a consensus usually would emerge.

Sometimes, the consensus is reached through a series of compromises. Other times, someone would have a brainwave and come up with the ultimate solution.

Why can’t we use this democratic tradition of our forefathers to reform our local governments where direct democracy is feasible in a modified form? We will still keep the local councils and chairmen. But in addition, there will be a periodic assembly of the people (representatives of villages and communities under the local government plus any other resident who wants to attend) where today’s council chairman and his councilors will render an account of what they have done, what they are doing, and what they plan to do, plus deliver an account of local government’s funds.
It would be people’s equivalent of what transpires in the British parliament. Periodically, the prime minister appears before the parliament to render an account on a variety of policies and actions. The members of parliament then pepper him with questions.

The sessions, which are televised live, are often raucous and feisty. Sometimes they are jocular or even whimsical. In all renditions, they are an age-long method of keeping the prime minister in check. The mere fact of having a leader account for his actions publicly and in a verifiable manner makes him think twice about straying from the proper and just.

For local governments in Nigeria, the people would constitute the periodic parliament and they would ask the questions. The parliament could be convened four times a year (on a Sunday to maximize attendance) and as necessitated by events.

The sessions would work roughly this way: The council chairman and councilors would render reports that specify the total allocation and revenues received by the council. They would then specify what the funds have been budgeted for or spent on. The expenditure would reflect priorities the people’s parliament had established during the last meeting. A concise and understandable summary of the revenues and expenditures will also be distributed.

The people would then ask pointed questions about any discrepancies between the government’s revenues and expenditures or between the people’s priorities and the projects pursued. They would also ask questions about budget lines or expenditures that seem bloated or unrealistic. Minutes of the meeting will be taken, circulated among the people, and sent to government auditors and the EFCC.

The strongest point about the people’s parliament is that there is strength in numbers. A major reason for the wanton pilfering of government funds is that individuals are afraid to speak out. Brave souls who speak out often suffer major consequences; from occupational reprisals to threats of physical harm. In contrast, the people’s parliament has the advantage of strength in numbers. More people speak out boldly when they are with a crowd, and reprisal against the whole is less practical.

Also, requiring local governments to publicly declare their revenues and expenditures makes possible the informed scrutiny by many people. As the saying goes, if only one person saw a worm, it could turn into a snake; if several people saw it, it couldn’t. Government officials can bribe accountants and auditors, but they cannot bribe all of the people, certainly not all of the time.
Even the EFCC can do its job much better if the people are given the chance to scrutinize their leaders.

ITALIA: Video - La Democrazia Diretta


Sunday, November 30, 2008

REPUBLICA DOMINICANA: Presupuesto Participativa

Buscan consenso presupuesto participativo


Ante el cuestionamiento de definir el Presupuesto Participativo, contestaríamos categóricamente, que no existe una definición única, porque los Presupuestos Participativos varían mucho de un lugar a otro.

Sin embargo, en general, el Presupuesto Participativo es "un mecanismo (o un proceso) Por el cual la población define o contribuye a definir el destino de todo o una parte de los recursos públicos".

Ubiratan de Souza, uno de los primeros responsables del Presupuesto Participativo en Porto Alegre (Brasil) propone una definición más precisa y más teórica que se puede aplicar a la mayoría de los procesos : "El Presupuesto Participativo es un proceso de democracia directa, voluntaria y universal, donde el pueblo puede discutir y decidir sobre el presupuesto y las políticas públicas. El ciudadano no limita su participación al acto de votar para elegir al Ejecutivo o al Parlamento, sino que también decide las prioridades de gastos y controla la gestión del gobierno".

"El Presupuesto Participativo deja de ser un coadyuvante de la política tradicional, para ser protagonista permanente de la gestión pública. Combina la democracia directa con la democracia representativa, una conquista a ser preservada y calificada". De hecho, es una forma de democracia participativa, es decir una combinación de elementos de democracia directa o semi-directa con la democracia representativa.

Esta herramienta de Gestión nace formalmente en 1989 en algunas ciudades brasileñas, particularmente en Porto Alegre. Fuera de Brasil, a partir de 1990, en Montevideo (Uruguay).

Se pueden identificar tres grandes fases en su expansión: la primera (1989-1997) caracterizada por experimentaciones en pocas ciudades; la segunda (1997-2000) por una masificación brasileña, durante la cual más de 130 municipios adoptaron el Presupuesto Participativo; y la tercera (2000 en adelante), por la expansión fuera de Brasil y su diversificación. Actualmente, más de 300 ciudades han adoptado esta modalidad de gestión Pública.

Experiencias de Presupuesto Participativo se dan fundamentalmente en el ámbito de los Municipios. Brasil continúa siendo el principal país en donde ocurren (aproximadamente 80% del total). Los países de la región andina (Perú, Ecuador y más recientemente Bolivia y Colombia) son el segundo gran foco de experiencias.
Sin embargo, se dan también con diferentes niveles de consolidación y en forma puntual, en los demás países de la Región (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, República Dominicana, Nicaragua, El Salvador y México).

En nuestro país se inicia en el Municipio de Villa González en el año 1998, durante la Gestión del Gobierno Local encabezado por el Lic. Víctor José D’Aza, actual Director Ejecutivo de la FEDOMU.

Pero en la tarde de hoy, en esta "media isla ubicada en el mismo trayecto del sol" nos encontramos en el Municipio de Santo Domingo Este, capital de la Provincia de Santo Domingo, donde la transparencia se manifiesta de manera plena, en este acto de rendición de cuentas a sus munícipes, por parte del Lic. Juan de los Santos Sindico de esta demarcación geográfica, de cómo se han invertido los recursos recibidos en las diferentes prioridades del Municipio.

Es de trascendental importancia que no solo en Santo Domingo Este se haga este ejercicio de transparencia de los recursos recibidos, sino que de acuerdo a lo establecido por la Ley No. 176-07 del Distrito Nacional y los Municipios en su artículo No.236 se use la herramienta del Presupuesto Participativo Municipal.