HUMAN RIGHTS/LATIN AMERICA
'Gang of 5' betrays Latin American tradition
BY GABRIEL MARCELLA
The presidents of the Americas will meet in Cartagena, Colombia on April
14-15. Never has there been so much need for cooperation in hemispheric
relations, yet never have the divisions been so gaping. Those fissures
divide one set of countries that espouse democracy and human rights and
another that are dismantling those very values.
Nowhere is this clearer than the siege against human rights. A coalition
of governments that are part of ALBA ("dawn" in Spanish; the Bolivarian
Alliance for the Peoples of our America), the brainchild of Hugo Chávez
supported by President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales, Daniel
Ortega, and the Castro regime, voted against the U.N. General Assembly
resolution to condemn the atrocities visited upon the people of Syria by
the murderous government of Bashar Al-Assad. Only seven other countries
voted against the resolution, while 138 voted for it.
The human rights rejectionists have even added to the lexicon of
international affairs — "humanitarian imperialism," the belief that via
mandate from the U.N.Security Council, the international community
should not have assisted Libyans to free themselves from the tender
embrace of Moammar Gadhafi.
In addition, the gang of five is also trying to emasculate one of the
bulwarks of human rights and democratic accountability — the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). They do so because
they are vulnerable to criticism by the world community and their own
people about human rights violations, to include attacks against the
press and neutralizing the judicial systems.
And their defense is the refuge that tyrants have used. It's called
cultural relativism — the notion that they should not be judged by
standards that apply to other nations, that the standards of Latin
America are different and morally superior to those held by powerful
countries. Correa is the most loquacious exponent. He argues that the
IACHR should be weakened because it is an ethnocentric and
neo-colonialist institution of the United States.
This statesman in 2010 told an audience at the University of Illinois
(from which he holds a doctorate in economics): "If we make a mistake in
Latin America, we throw stones at the U.S. Embassy," criticizing the old
Latin American inclination to shift blame for failure to outsiders.
The U.N. vote and the attack on human rights commission is a reversal of
epic proportions. Latin American statesmen have been leaders in
defending human rights. In this regard, the Latin American bloc of 20
nations, the largest one in the United Nations at the time, was very
influential in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights in 1948. Their ideas drew from their historical experience and
other sources on human rights. One was the deep influence of the 16th
century Dominican missionary and champion of the Indians, Bartolomé de
las Casas. In addition, papal encyclicals on human dignity such as Rerum
Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno , had enormous impact on Latin American
human rights philosophy. The evidence coming out in May 1945 about the
Holocaust in the concentration camps shocked consciences.
The principles and provisions that inspired the Universal Declaration
were based on the creative diplomatic work of a remarkable cohort of
statesmen and intellectuals, notably from Cuba, Panama, Ecuador, Chile,
Mexico, and Uruguay. They included scholar diplomat Jorge Carrera
Andrade of Ecuador and other luminaries. Indeed, the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights bears almost verbatim many ideas about human
rights and social justice that first emerged in the American Declaration
of the Rights and Duties of Man, adopted at Bogotá in 1948.
As the presidents gather at Cartagena, they must commit to strengthening
the splendid foundation erected long ago and continue to advance the
unique Latin American contribution to international peace and human dignity.
Gabriel Marcella is adjunct professor at the Army War College. He has
written extensively on Latin American issues.