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The Cost of Democracy: Essays on Political Finance in Latin America

On Thursday, 11 February, the book “The Cost of Democracy: Essays on Political Finance in Latin America”was presented in the Hall of Ex-presidents of the Congress of Costa Rica. The event was organized by the President of the Congress, Rafael Ortiz Fábrega, together with International IDEA, and the Inter-American Dialogue.

The speakers were the authors, Daniel Zovatto, International IDEA’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Kevin Casas, Director of Inter-American Dialogue's Peter D Bell Rule of Law Program. Jorge Vargas Cullel, Director of the State of the Nation Program, was the commentator and journalist Vilma Ibarra served as the moderator.

At the event Kevin Casas stated that “because of the way in which state subsidies are disbursed and their varying levels of generosity, private campaign financing remains of vital importance in most countries in the region”.

“In spite of increasing regulatory efforts, very little is known about who finances campaigns in the region. The prevailing opacity has given way to a profuse mythology that identifies private financing of campaigns as being at the root of all sort of political pathologies and mishaps.”

Daniel Zovatto, said that “despite greater regulation of political financing, Latin America offers abundant examples of foreign financing being used in campaigns (it is prohibited in practically all the countries) and of the penetration of resources from organized crime in campaign finance”.

“The involvement of organized crime poses particular risks at the local level,” he said.

Both authors highlighted that “whichever reforms are adopted, the most crucial element is that they be accompanied by resources to implement them rigorously, by the will to review them when they show their inevitable limitations and by the realism to understand that no system of political financing, however sophisticated, is capable of ensuring, by itself, the integrity and transparency of political activity”.

After the presentation, President of the Congress, Rafael Ortiz, asked for the technical assistance of International IDEA (through the authors of the book) in the topic regarding electoral reform and political finance.

Over 80 people were present in the activity, among them there were congressmen and congresswomen, members of the Electoral Tribunal, representatives of International IDEA’s Member States, academics and journalists.

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