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“There is no time to lose” - Democracy must revitalize itself to combat COVID-19 impact

September 15, 2020

More than 160  leaders from Latin America, including 21 former presidents, have signed a joint declaration calling to defend democracy in the region. The document, brought forward by renowned pro-democracy organizations, warns that our cherished civil freedoms are threatened by political actors who could use the crisis to illegitimately tighten their grip on power.

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SANTIAGO, CHILE.- Latin America must act quickly to fortify their democracies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, by reining in emergency executive powers, ensuring postponed elections are held, and combating the social inequality and poverty that have fostered populist and autocratic politicians.

This is the message of a joint declaration by three pro-democracy organizations —International IDEA, the Fundaçao Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and the Fundación Democracia y Desarrollo— to commemorate the International Day of Democracy on September 15. The declaration is titled "Let Us Take Care of Democracy Lest it Fall Victim to the Pandemic", and has the support of more than 160 political leaders, 21 former presidents, 2 Nobel Laureates, and authorities of important organizations in the region, such as the Latin American and Caribbean Parliament (PARLATINO), Transparency International, and the Global Network on Electoral Justice.

Through this declaration, International IDEA and the co-organizing foundations attracted the commitment of several former presidents from the region, starting with the leaders of the organizations that launched this initiative: former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ricardo Lagos; the Secretary-General of International IDEA, Kevin Casas-Zamora, and former President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla.

Latin America has been one of the world’s worst-hit regions from the pandemic, with some of the highest death rates from COVID-19, while widespread lockdowns have contributed to one of the worst economic downturns in decades. Across the region, health and social services have been strained by the pandemic. Millions have fallen into poverty and have lost their jobs.

"At the root of the weaknesses of Latin American societies are the various dimensions of social inequality and the still-high levels of poverty" –the statement reads. "The pandemic has laid bare and intensified these issues, increasing the risk that the region will suffer another lost decade in economic terms and a major setback in social conditions."

It is fundamental that Latin America strengthens its governmental checks and balances, the document says, to ensure that parliaments and courts rein in the extraordinary executive powers used to combat the spread of the virus. "The emergency should not be seen as a carte blanche for weakening checks and balances and accountability. Quite the opposite," the organizations state.

"The pandemic has happened at a time in the 21st century when Latin America was already facing a turbulent social situation, with complex governance," says Dr Daniel Zovatto, International IDEA’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. "The citizenship requesting better life conditions and quality public services. Women have been demanding, with fair reason, more rights. Youth have been demanding positive action on climate change. Due to this, it is not enough to protect democracy; we must also re-think and strengthen it. What is the main message of this letter? That in every crisis there is an opportunity, and this is one that we must seize."

The declaration is part of a global campaign this year to raise awareness about the threat to democracy that the pandemic poses. International IDEA is helping organize "A Call to defend democracy" launched on June 25, 2020 —and it continues with brief video messages from stateswomen and statesmen, policymakers, and democracy activists that will also be published on September 15 through social media.

"This is our appeal, to think, to propose, to bring forward new ideas, and to give impetus to actions for an agenda imposed by current circumstances: not only keeping democracy from falling victim to the pandemic but also moving towards a new-generation democracy. For if one is to govern to shore up and strengthen democracy, we must understand how democracy must evolve along with the citizenry. That is why there is no time to lose", the declaration states.


Read the full text of the declaration: "Let Us Take Care of Democracy Lest it Fall Victim to the Pandemic"

For interview requests, please contact:

Daniel Zovatto, International IDEA Regional Director for Latin America, Mobile: +56 9 6155 2921.

Alistair Scrutton, International IDEA Communications Director, Mobile: +46 707 211098.


Other Resources:

About International IDEA

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization that supports sustainable democracy worldwide. International IDEA contributes to the public debate on democracy and helps in strengthening processes, reforms, institutions, and actors that promote and protect it.

Learn more: International IDEA at a glance

International IDEA has experts all around the world who can comment on specific and diverse subjects and regions. Find an expert.


International IDEA is one of the most trusted global sources of data on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on democracy. Our Global Monitor COVID-19 and Democracy  and our Global overview of COVID-19 impact on elections have been quoted in international media from CNN to The New York Times, The Washington Post and Le Figaro.

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Press contact

Alistair Scrutton
Head of Communications and Knowledge Management
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