Democracy and Human Rights at the Century’s End

Ivelaw L. Griffith and Betty Sedoc Dahlberg

We are now close to the end of an exciting and historic decade as well as cen­tury. It is therefore an opportune time for scholars and statesmen, in the Caribbean and elsewhere, to engage in stock-taking—to reflect on the course of prior events, assess conduct, recognize shortcomings, and ac­knowledge successes. Since the end of one decade and century marks the birth of new periods, it is reasonable to expect a little more than retrospec­tion, though; prospective thinking is also in order. This book has engaged in both, although more of the former than the latter.

A central argument of this volume has been the need for attention to both the civil and political and the economic and social parts of the democracy and human rights equations. The scales of achievement lean more to the civil and political side. For example, most Caribbean countries, as indicated in Table 14.1, have high scores for political and civil liberties, and except for Cuba, they are ranked either as free or partly free. However, the situation on the economic and social side is not as salutary.

Particularly troubling is the large number of countries with high food im­port dependency, especially considering the region's huge debt burden. Also problematic are the high proportions of urban populations. Growing urban­ization places a heavy toll on the already taxed social infrastructure and social services. And given economic conditions in the region and the implications of the debt and structural adjustment programs for any appreciable improve­ment of the situation in the near and medium terms, the urbanization fig­ures point to serious future challenges. The chapter in this volume by Dorith

Grant-Wisdom (Chapter 11) provides clear evidence of the impact of struc­tural adjustment on the socioeconomic sphere in Jamaica, but much other analysis is applicable to other countries in the region as well. Yet structural adjustment is not the sole impediment to socioeconomic advancement, as several other chapters have shown.

The Caribbean countries have generally adopted one of two competing development models—the market-consumerist model and the basic-needs model—in order to advance their political economies. Some countries, such as Grenada and Nicaragua, have shifted over rime from one to the other, depending on regime changes. However, with the exception of Cuba,

Caribbean countries are typified by democratic-pluralist regimes and the market-consumerist model. Because the choice of model is linked with the type of political regime and therefore with democracy and human rights, some attention to development models is useful.

In the market-consumerist model, which is allied with democratic-plural­ist regimes, civil and political rights are protected by law and enforced by constitutional guarantees and are supported by norms and international con­ventions on the misuse of power and on human rights and other violations. In this model the emphasis is on individual rights, and the government's re­sponsibility for the quality of life is executed through implementation of so­cial policies. Governments undertake to provide facilities for increased indi­vidual and family consumption, and property is held in high regard by the citizenry. Labor unions and other interest groups serve as protectors and ini­tiators of social and economic rights, and the legitimacy of governments is often evaluated by their responsiveness to issues concerning civil and politi­cal as well as economic and social rights.

As several chapters in this volume have shown, there have been evident changes in levels of welfare protection in most Caribbean countries since the 1960s. Dramatic decreases in foreign exchange earnings during the 1980s and 1990s have contributed to severe gaps between tiny overconsuming middle classes and the majority of citizens. One of the consequences has been the implementation of structural adjustment programs and the pursuit of earnings from drug operations.

A major characteristic of the basic-needs model is the allocation of re­sources to meet the survival needs of the population. The highest priorities are the production and distribution of food, shelter, clothing, health care services, education, and community services. In this system individual con­sumer goods are marginalized in order to accommodate the pursuit of com­munal and collective facilities and resources. Unity and order are promoted as central social and political values, and the political elites reject dissent on their decisionmaking. Group interests are absorbed into a vanguard party. In this system, in which the dynamics of marketplace consumerism are absent, civil and political rights rather than social and economic rights are pursued. In the Caribbean context, only Cuba now follows this model, but Cuba's economic and political delinking from its former allies and backers partly ex­plains the dramatic decline in the level of social and economic provisions there since the late 1980s. Thus it seems that the sharp distinction between the two competing models of development in the region has been eroded.

The severe economic deprivation in many countries since the mid-1980s has contributed substantially to further imbalances between civil and politi­cal rights and economic and social rights. How should the outcome be eval­uated? According to Zehra Arat, the imbalance may cause political instabil­ity.1 In struggling with socioeconomic crises and in implementing structural adjustment programs, will governments survive austerity measures? How to:

prevent a return to or a movement toward authoritarianism? In the case of Suriname military authoritarianism is seen to have collapsed because of inept, corrupt, excessively repressive abuses of power. No longer valid is the view taken by progressive elements during the 1960s that the only viable alternative to creating a state system capable of articulating the interests of ;workers and peasants is the populist-statist regime.

The Caribbean has been a bastion of electoral democracy, and the situa­tion has improved over recent years with political adaptations in Guyana, ' Haiti, and Suriname, as the case studies on those countries in this volume is demonstrated. On the human rights front, in comparison with other regions, the Caribbean's profile is remarkable, and in the anglophone Carib- ' bean, all the more so. The point has been made that "Freedom House's Comparative Survey of Freedom, an annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, shows that democracy in this subregion has proved to be more effective and durable than in any other in the developing world."2 This fact should not engender complacency among Caribbean human rights activists, governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nor should it mask the reality of numerous outlandish practices and situations in the region, including retention of the death penalty and its increasing use since 1993 in the English-speaking subregion and police bru­tality in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and other places.

Looking forward, it seems that given the present reality in the Caribbean, efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights need to take account of initiatives at the national and international levels, by state and non state ac­tors, both within and outside the realm of politics. Attention needs to be paid to at least four areas of operation: regime politics, institutions, NGOs, and international regimes.

Central to the maintenance of democracy and the respect for human rights, in all their dimensions, is the climate and character of the political en­vironment. An environment in which political elites act as though they are indispensable to the survival of the state or the nation is not conducive to a healthy climate for democracy or human rights, as the experiences of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Haiti reveal. This attitude not only leads to electoral malpractice to retain power, where there is a pretense of having electoral democracy, but it also has resulted in the co-optation of the military or their direct intervention into politics. Moreover, such a situation leads to gross violations of the civil and political rights of opponents of the regime specifically and of members of the body politic generally. Hence transparency and accountability in political rule are critical, not only for elec­tions but for decisionmaking generally.

Political stability is not a guarantee of democracy and the observance of human rights. But it is clear from this study and from cases outside the Caribbean that there are strong links between stability and democracy and between stability and human rights. Stability itself is a function of at least four factors: political legitimacy, political authority, political equality, and po­litical participation. Legitimacy requires that the governing elites be repre­sentative and that their governance be based on a popular mandate. Author­ity obtains in a reciprocal relationship between government and people in which the political elites exercise power and the citizens consent to its use. Equality implies the possession of rights by citizens to participate actively in the political process without regard to distinctions such as race, ideology, gender, social geography, and social class. Participation, finally, involves the ability of citizens to influence the system of political rule through institu­tions such as political parties, unions, the courts, and the media. It is the ab­sence of some or all of these that creates political instability.3

The factor of ethnicity cannot be overlooked in addressing issues of politi­cal stability, particularly in countries such as Guyana, Suriname, the Domini­can Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. In the contemporary political his­tories of these countries, the absence of consociational power-sharing between the major ethnic groups and/or political parties has led to social turbulence and political conflict. As others have shown, token consociation-alism—political pacting of major ethnic parties with one or more splinter parties or other major ethnic groups—does not create political stability. However, a more or less proportional representation in the legislature re­duces chances for polarization in parliament.4 The cases of Guyana and Suri­name show that multiethnic pacting does not guarantee political stability or democracy and human rights. For a government to survive sociocconomic crises and successfully implement austerity measures, a stronger, less vulnera­ble system is required to deal with citizens protesting against social and eco­nomic discrepancies based on both social strata and ethnic division. The ab­sence of power sharing by major ethnic parties may become disastrous for a country. The challenge therefore lies in (re)constructing democracy on the basis of an appropriate political model that is not blocked or interrupted by ethnic politics.

It is obvious from the chapters on Guyana, Haiti, and Suriname that al­though electoral democracy and the stability to which it is conducive are both necessary, they are not sufficient for the maintenance of democracy and the enjoyment of human rights. One writer makes the important point that "ending civil conflict, holding relatively free elections, and installing elected civilian regimes [are] not, in and of themselves, sufficient to create demo­cratic systems."5 This brings us to the second of the four factors identified earlier: institutions.

In his chapter on human rights in the Eastern Caribbean (Chapter 8), Francis Alexis highlights an institution whose importance goes beyond the Eastern Caribbean and extends beyond human rights. That institution is the judiciary. The critical role of the judiciary to democracy generally and to human rights specifically needs no elaboration. What does need emphasis, however, is the need to strengthen the judiciary in the Caribbean. In most Caribbean countries the expression "justice delayed is justice denied" comes to life in case backlogs, absence of sufficient judiciary personnel, and inade­quate facilities, among other things. The observation on Jamaica by one legal scholar has regionwide relevance: "Excessive or inordinate delays between the time of arrest and the final disposition of the case has frequently ... ex­tended into several years, and it is not unusual for cases to be finally deter­mined after four or five years."6 Indeed, the chapter on Guyana revealed that cases there have taken as long as ten years from the time of arrest to that of final disposition.

In assessing the functioning of the judiciary in drug-related cases—a re­gionwide dilemma with implications for democracy, as detailed in Chapter 5—one report on the Dominican Republic noted: "The judicial system is outdated, ineffective, and corrupt. Dominican law enforcement attempts to convict traffickers and seize assets are often undermined by long delays, poor preparation by prosecutors, and release of suspects."7 Needless to say, the relevance of this statement is not limited to the counternarcotics area, nor does it reflect the reality only in the Dominican Republic.

Yet the judiciary is not the only institution in need of repair and suste­nance. Though courts need to be independent in order to serve as effective arbiters of justice, they cannot operate in isolation; the nature and operation of police forces and prisons and other criminal justice agencies affect not only the work of the courts but also the quality of justice in general. Beyond the judiciary and these criminal justice institutions, the media, educational institutions, political parries, and labor unions are important pillars of func­tional democracy and human rights observance.

Thus far the factors we have addressed are state-related. It is clear, though, that state entities alone lack the resources to be effective guarantors of democracy and human rights, especially in the economic and social areas. Partnerships therefore become necessary, and NGOs become important to the partnerships. As Robert Maguire explains in Chapter 10, NGOs have been indispensable to the pursuit of democracy and development in Haiti, where the emergence and growth of such organizations have tremendously influenced the environment for democratic development. It must be empha­sized, though, that NGOs are not only critical to situations such as that of Haiti, where democracy is being (re)constructed; they are also invaluable in places where democracy is already thriving and where human rights are very much respected, such as Barbados.

Our focus thus far has been on the domestic or national arena. But as we argued in Chapter 1, and as is made clear in the chapters by Anselm Francis, David Padilla and Elizabeth Houppcrt, W. Marvin Will, Ivelaw Griffith, Robert Maguire, and Betty Sedoc-Dahlberg (Chapters 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, and 12), the pursuit, establishment, and sustenance of democracy and human rights in the Caribbean are not a function solely of domestic level action. In­ternational support for democracy is now generally seen as both necessary and acceptable. Thus there is every expectation that the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Carter Center, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Union, the United States, Britain, the Nether­lands, France, Venezuela, Spain, and other actors outside the Caribbean will continue to take varying degrees of interest in the modus operand! of politi­cal rule in the region and the political and economic quality of life there. The interest taken by these agencies and countries is not always guided by noble democratic ideals, and hence their conduct must also be monitored, even though they may be well intentioned: Good intentions are often not enough.

Tangible external support is necessary for the consolidation, and in some cases the construction, of democracy, especially of its social and economic di­mensions. But several donor countries are experiencing donor fatigue and/ or are reevaluating their foreign aid policies. The result is that many of them are reducing foreign aid outlays, a trend that is expected to continue for some time in most cases. This in itself serves to compromise the pursuit of democracy in the region.

International level action should in no way, however, be viewed as a sub­stitute for domestic level actions and initiatives. In this respect an observa­tion by Richard Millett is worthy of full replication:

Prime responsibility for the success of any democratic system rests with national elected authorities. They must deal with problems of corrup­tion, partisan division, inefficiency, lack of accountability, impunity, and rampant insecurity. International assistance for strengthening democrat­ic institutions needs to be enhanced, but political will can never be im­ported. The role of external actors is, and will remain, a necessary but by no means sufficient component of the continued development of more democratic structures in the Americas.8

Although most of the international level actions pertaining to democracy reflect implicit, if not explicit, concern about human rights, reference should also be made to the need for Caribbean states to be active participants in the regional and international regimes that are explicitly concerned with human rights questions. Most Caribbean countries are party to some of the hemi­spheric and international agreements that create human rights regimes con­sidered essential by the international community (see Table 14.2). Yet there arc some countries in the region that have not ratified or acceded to a single human rights instrument. It is perhaps understandable that Cuba, given the nature and outlook of its regime, would be party to only one such instrument.

TABLE 14.2 International Human Rights Covenants: A Caribbean Profile

Country                    ICCPR       ICESCR        ACHR      CTCIDTP      CSR

Antigua-Barbuda                                                                         X                   X

Bahamas                                                                                                                 X

Barbados                                           X              X                     X

Belize                                                                                                       X             X

Cuba                                                                                                                   X

Dominica                                          X             X                  X                                 X

Dominican Republic                          X             X                  X                  S             X

Grenada                                             X              X                    X

Guyana                                              X              X                                         X

Haiti                                                 X                                         X

Jamaica                                             X             X                    X                                X

St. Kitts-Nevis

St. Lucia

St. Vincent and Grenadines                X             X                                                       X

Suriname                                           X             X                     X                                X

Trinidad and Tobago                         X               X                         X

S = signed but not yet ratified

X = party either through ratification, accession, or succession ICCPR = International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) ICESCR = International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966)

CTCIDTP = Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrad­ing Treatment or Punishment (1975) ACHR - American Convention on Human Rights (1969) CSR = Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) Source: Amnesty International Report 1996 (New York: Amnesty International,

However, strangely enough, St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Lucia are party to none;

happily, though, these countries have no major human rights deficiencies.

It is also noteworthy that Antigua-Barbuda, the Bahamas, and Belize are party to neither the American Convention on Human Rights nor the two most important UN human rights covenants: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, So­cial, and Cultural Rights. Countries that are part of regimes do not necessarily have better human rights records, though, for Haiti is party to the Interna­tional Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. However, regime participation is not only testimony to the country's commitment to uphold the rules, norms, and decisions of the regime, but it also permits individuals and groups to seek redress in institu­tions created by regimes, as the chapters by Alexis and by Padilla and Houppert demonstrate. Moreover, regime participation can be beneficial in helping countries to acquire and strengthen their human rights capabilities, through provision of training, technical assistance, and equipment.

In sum, this volume shows that although the Caribbean has several critical democracy and human rights challenges, a strong democracy profile and a fairly decent human rights profile characterize the region. But as one scholar correctly observed, the advent of democracy—or its maintenance, for that matter—does not automatically bring freedom and equality, growth and eq­uity, security and opportunity, and autonomy and accountability.9 Democ­racy and human rights are about much more than mere electoral formalism and power contestation; there are crucial economic and social elements that cannot be overlooked—and the economic crisis in the region constrains ef­forts in the socioeconomic areas. Democracy in the Caribbean is also af­fected by emigration, especially of people with skills and capital, and by the internationalization of crime, notably drug-related crime. It is largely be­cause of this combination of factors that in many places in the region, when it comes to breathing full life into democracy and human rights the spirit might be willing but the body is weak.