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Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Democracy pact for Americas
A man celebrates after hearing of the resignation of Alberto Fujimori
Peruvians feel their democracy was hijacked by Fujimori
By BBC South America correspondent Peter Greste in Lima

The Organisation of American States (OAS) has opened a special session of its general assembly to sign a document enshrining democracy across the region.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter compels the OAS to take action against any member state that disrupts its own democratic institutions.


We still face enormous challenges in a series of countries

OAS secretary-general
Critics say it does not go far enough to protect the future of the region's fragile democracies.

But the OAS Secretary-General, Cesar Gaviria, who opened the ceremony, said the democratic charter would provide the instruments to defend the citizens' rights in all the countries of the continent.

Mr Gaviria's opening speech was blunt. He told his audience of diplomats and foreign ministers that they were doing nothing less than enshrining the region's fragile democracies in a protective cloak.

"By adopting this democratic charter, you are putting on notice all of an authoritarian bent that there will be no tolerance towards those who would overthrow governments, seek to subvert the constitutional order or undermine political control."

Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the OAS at a meeting in Washington DC last week
Cesar Gaviria: Described the charter as a "protective cloak"
The new charter was, he said, a significant change from the days when the OAS would stand back and watch would-be dictators chip away at democratic institutions from the inside.

The Peruvians know the problem well. They coined the phrase "disguised dictatorship" to describe the way their former President Alberto Fujimori pulled apart democracy to protect his power.

It was the post-Fujimori government in Peru that came up with the idea of the democratic charter.

It wanted an institutional way of tackling this kind of abuse, should it ever happen again, and Mr Gaviria admitted that there was still every chance that it could.

"Democracy has not yet been established once and for all in the Americas, and we still face enormous challenges in a series of countries," he said.

But the charter may still not be enough. Critics on the fringes of the meeting said the document leaves room for the OAS to wriggle out of action as it has in the past, if it lacks the political will.

See also:

01 Sep 01 | Americas
Central America agrees peace pact
15 Aug 00 | Americas
US seeks to boost regional democracy
06 Jun 00 | Americas
OAS mission for Peru
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