Joe Biden has closed the first Democracy Summit, convened by himself, from the country of rhetoric. With a speech that closes two days of discussions on issues such as the fight against authoritarianism and the fight against corruption, the President of the United States, in the absence of the kind of common statements and large announcements that these diplomatic performances usually produce, has contributed many good words and few deeds. His speech has served as the finishing touch to a meeting that ends as it began: involved in controversy due to the lack of specificity in its purposes and the list of 110 countries that were summoned (and, above all, by that of the excluded, China and Russia, among them). The American leader has postponed the results of this inaugural meeting to the celebration of a new appointment, scheduled for next year and for which the one of these days seems to have served as a mere rehearsal.
The president has defended the initiative, however, as “an opportunity to strengthen what unites us.” In the chapter of the events, he explained that the meeting has facilitated the meeting between mayors from all over the world, from Mesa, in Arizona, to Mannheim, in Germany (“they are the ones who are in the first line of defense of democracy ”, He said), as well as the discussion on the protection of press freedom and the sharing of challenges around the protection of women and children.
In an attempt to add substance to the rhetoric, the White House announced Thursday that Biden planned to work with Congress on a budget line of about $ 424 million to support independent media abroad, offer support to human rights organizations and activists and promote the holding of fair elections. It has also made its own an agreement reached in the days prior to the summit between Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Panama to strengthen their institutions and cooperate in the region. “It’s the kind of commitment and collaboration that I hope we see more of in the future. So we can share that progress next year, ”said Biden.
In an idea that has been constantly repeated among the guests (presidents, prime ministers or ambassadors of the convened countries, many of whom participated with a recorded message), the American leader has also stressed the importance of working so that technology is a tool that encourages democracy, rather than hinders it. In this he has coincided with the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, who has intervened at the summit on the day of the 73rd anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights with a defense of the regularization of the digital world to prevent it from inciting populism and to authoritarianism.
Both statements can be read in the context of the recent crisis unleashed on Facebook by the revelations of thousands of documents extracted from the company by former employee Frances Haugen that show, among other things, that the social network preferred to silence opposition groups in Vietnam rather than losing business in a desirable market, which fueled Narendra Modi’s nationalist hatred in India or did not do enough to curb ethnic violence in Ethiopia. Guterres also regretted that these problems have worsened with the pandemic.
The absences from the guest list have re-entered the debate with the intervention of the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, who has defended Bolivia, one of the countries not summoned by Biden whose exclusion has caused the most surprise. Others excluded from the American continent have been Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua or El Salvador. Mexico, for its part, has intervened with its ambassador to the United States, Esteban Moctezuma
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With this meeting, Biden has fulfilled at least one of the tasks that he set himself during the elections that made him president: to stage that democracy “is the definitive challenge of our time,” and, incidentally, to point out the gulf between his rhetoric and that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, whose internal management at times flirted with the authoritarian and who abroad broke down bridges with traditional allies and multilateral organizations and chose dictators from around the world as notorious allies. In his speech today, Biden has admitted that these problems are also an internal matter, and has committed to a defense of the “sacred right to vote freely” in the United States.
On the other hand, the Treasury Department announced on Friday the imposition of sanctions on companies and individuals from China, Myanmar, North Korea and Russia for “abuses” of freedoms and human rights.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.