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Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere

While some observers (including The Guardian and The Jerusalem Post) suggest that there is an isolationist tone in recent political actions, the United States has a long history of concern for freedom and democracy throughout the world.

The United States routinely supports democratic institutions and values wherever they are found and speaks out against injustice; it is part of our nation’s political heritage to do so.

The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs recently held a hearing on Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

Representative Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) expressed concern that “We have seen the unraveling of democratic values in several countries over the last decade.”  Smith went on to specify Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Nicaragua as examples of countries in which free speech, free press, and free expression have been curtailed.

Subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon (R-Arizona) spoke of “authoritarianism” cloaked in the rhetoric of democracy. “They have used nationalistic and populistic propaganda to justify the squandering of vast economic resources, stifling free enterprise and free trade to the detriment of their people.”

Former President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe spoke about challenges to democracy across Latin America, with special reference to the importance of infrastructure and of responding to drug-related violence.

Dr. Cynthia J. Arnson, the Director of the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, spoke about the consequences of threats to democracy in Latin America, including economic challenges and increased crime.

Puerto Rico was not mentioned. Yet Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States with no representation in its national government other than a sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives who can only vote in committees faces some of the challenges of a lack of democracy discussed in the subcommittee hearing.

Americans are concerned about the democratic deficit in neighboring countries such as Venezuela. Surely Puerto Rico should be equally a matter of concern.

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