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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rice urges OAS to back democracy

OAS secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza greets U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she arrives for the Inaugural Session of the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Sunday.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday night the Organization of American States must act to strengthen weak democracies to protect them against the possibility of a return to authoritarian rule.

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejected the proposal as an attempt by the United States to dominate Latin American countries through the alliance.

Rice, here for a meeting of OAS foreign ministers, said there is a consensus among the 34 OAS nations for a stronger presence in Latin America to deal with various challenges. In a welcoming address to delegates Sunday evening, Rice said the “right to democracy” of Western Hemisphere countries is enshrined in an OAS democratic charter ratified four years ago.

“We must act on this pledge,” she said, citing Bolivia, Ecuador and Haiti as countries where the institutions of democracy are weak and need help.

“Wherever a free society is in retreat, a fear society is on the offensive,” she said. “And the weapon of choice for every authoritarian regime is the organized cruelty of the police state.”

President Bush will address the gathering today. The OAS holds meetings of foreign ministers annually; this year’s is the first held on U.S. soil since 1974.

Chavez, a Bush administration foe whose chief ally is Cuban President Fidel Castro, said in his weekly radio program to his countrymen that he sees Rice’s effort as an intrusion on the sovereignty of Western Hemisphere nations.

But the new OAS secretary-general, Jose Miguel Insulza of Chile, indicated support for Rice’s proposal. He said there is a “persistent danger” of anti-democratic backsliding in the region, adding that OAS nations must cooperate to “reinforce democracy” where it is endangered.