Biden opens his Summit for Democracy with leaders from 110 countries and marked by significant absences

110 countries are invited to the virtual Summit for Democracy. It is an effort by the United States to confront the growing influence of China and Russia. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst (JONATHAN ERNST /)

It is known, the global economic and political system is exhausted. Needs reforms. The concentration of wealth in a few hands and the lack of reaction from the powers is undermining democracy. In fact, the democratic system is in decline worldwide due to growing inequality. The attempted insurrection in the United States Capitol by the followers of Donald Trump was a clear sign of this institutional weakness in the system’s champion country. And it is accompanied by the resurgence of far-right parties that already govern from Eastern Europe to Brazil and could even reach Chile. This, without counting on the self-defined populist regimes of the left like those of Venezuela or Nicaragua and the long-term dictatorships like those of Myanmar or Cuba. Democracy needs a revision, an entrance to the mechanical workshop, a change of parts to make it work again and not leave so many with that rage that is dragging us into the abyss.

A global Pew Research poll reveals that a large majority of citizens support democracy, but an average of 56% in 17 advanced economies say their political systems need major changes or must be completely reformed.

In this context, US President Joe Biden launched the Summit for Democracy, which is held virtually on December 9 and 10. It is designed to begin to address these concerns. With more than 100 video speeches from invited leaders, the summit kicks off what the administration and democracy activists hope will be a year of coordination and reform among democracies, to shore up their reputations at home and in the world. It is an idea that Biden already had before arriving at the White House. The coronavirus pandemic prevented him from doing it with a great meeting of leaders in Washington and the pomp he would have wanted. While there is no pristine agenda on what to look for as a result, deep down what the United States needs is a revitalization of ties with western democracies that isolate and compete with the growing influence of China and Russia. The Atlantic Council, the Washingtonian think tank, announced that one of the results sought could be a global Alliance of Democracies, with a core group of 30 to 40 countries as founding members.

The virtual summit will not be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom the Biden Administration accuses of being authoritarian and does not respect democracy./Tingshu Wang / Reuters.
The virtual summit will not be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom the Biden Administration accuses of being authoritarian and does not respect democracy./Tingshu Wang / Reuters. (TINGSHU WANG /)

In Washington, many agree that it is not the best time to have this type of meeting and that by leaving out important players in the global sphere, the idea of ​​democratic strengthening is already truncated. The decision to invite 110 governments in a discriminatory way reinforces the position that this is an exercise for the United States to show that it still has enormous global influence. In a recent joint opinion piece published in The National Interest, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Washington called the summit “product of the Cold War mentality “ and they warned that “it will fuel ideological confrontation and rupture in the world, creating new ‘dividing lines.”

The international affairs correspondent for the magazine Politico, Nahal Toosi described it this way: “This is the summit of democracy and for democracies. It is about elevating, building and protecting this concept of democracy. But he’s lame. It lacks balance. Turkey was left out, Hungary was left out, Bangladesh was left out, Singapore was left out. For a time, Serbia and Kosovo were left out, but they changed their minds. Some of the decisions were geostrategic: ‘If we are going to invite India and we don’t invite Pakistan, it is going to cause us problems.’ And not everyone was happy about it. Poland was invitedAnd I think that was partly because there was a sense that you have to try to make sure they don’t fall off the undemocratic cliff. “

And her colleague Usha Sahay, one of Politico’s general editors, added in a podcast that “This idea that everyone wants democracy and no one wants autocracy is a very binary view. What the people want is a competent government. So what this administration is trying to say is that we cannot limit ourselves to: ‘Well, we have elections, and therefore we are better.’ We have to show that democracy can work. The pandemic has called into question the competence of many democratic countries, including the United States”.

Gerson Bustillo has been searching since 2012 for food in garbage containers on the streets of Tegucigalpa (Honduras).  Growing inequality is eroding democracy around the world.  EFE / Gustavo Amador
Gerson Bustillo has been searching since 2012 for food in garbage containers on the streets of Tegucigalpa (Honduras). Growing inequality is eroding democracy around the world. EFE / Gustavo Amador (Gustavo Amador /)

Although the Biden Administration originally hoped to hold this first summit before, and in person, its December 9-10 election has some significance. December 9 is the International Day Against Corruption, while December 10 is Human Rights Day. The administration is expected to unveil new sanctions against kleptocrats and human rights violators in those days. Themes that prevail among the initiatives that the White House will bring to the consideration of leaders: The defense against autocracy, the fight against corruption and the promotion of human rights.

On Monday, it unveiled its anti-corruption strategy, which includes measures to combat the use of the US housing market as a venue for money laundering and other illicit acts. The role of technology in promoting or weakening democracy is called to be another important issue. Last week, the administration said one of the summit’s initiatives will be a multilateral effort to impose limits on the export of surveillance and other technology that can be used to target dissidents and undermine human rights. Although it is not very clear how progress or setbacks in this regard will be monitored. One idea that is circulating is the holding of another evaluation summit next year, this time in person. “It is important that the United States and other democracies make real commitments because, otherwise, it will be seen as a public relations exercise and will increase cynicism“Said Michael Abramowitz, president of the democracy watchdog Freedom House.

Legislative Elections 2021 - Alto Calilegua
The democratic system cannot be based on the simple act of voting. According to many of the leaders invited to the Biden summit, serious problems that degrade the system such as corruption, poverty or homelessness need to be tackled. (Pepe Mateos / Alto Calilegua) (pepe mateos /)

From Latin America, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and El Salvador were left uninvited. Something that deepens the existing rift in continental decisions and puts in a bind some countries where Chinese investments are playing a leading role. “Although the rise of authoritarian regimes, such as China, may also play a role in the global crisis of democracy, prioritizing this trend will likely make Latin American governments have more doubts about the entire democracy promotion effort. ”Explains Oliver Stuenkel, from the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) of São Paulo. “If the summit overemphasizes concerns about growing Chinese or Russian influence around the world, skeptics of the summit in the region will quickly describe the meeting as little more than an effort to bolster the US-led alliance against Beijing and Moscow.. No Latin American leader, not even the fervently pro-United States president of Brazil, would be left in a very comfortable position, given the region’s strong economic ties with China. Instead of allowing geopolitics to frame the debate as a struggle between democracies and autocracies, Latin American leaders would prefer to focus on the internal factors of democratic erosion. “

Biden’s great challenge at this summit is to present initiatives that go far beyond rhetoric and that they understand the roots of the global malaise with democracy. Growing inequality is eroding the entire social fabric. Its consequences, corruption, kleptocracy, lack of opportunities for the youngest, poverty and misery, do the rest. On Friday night it will be known if the summit managed to go beyond the statements and addressed integral democracy to preserve it or if the crisis continues its course towards the abyss.


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