I’m on my way to the 3rd Geneva Lecture Series, which is hosting Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union.
The Series gathers high-level panelists to discuss contemporary topics. This afternoon, Gorbachev will talk about nuclear disarmament. His venue is highly symbolic. At a time when the world is deeply concerned about Iran’s motives and North Korea’s arsenal, they could not have chosen a better speaker.
Today is the International Day of Peace. Started by the General Assembly in 2002, it is supposed to celebrate peace worldwide. According to the official calendar that lists all the events taking place in the world today to celebrate peace, at least 70% of the events are related to spirituality and to religious activities.
I find it quite ironic that peace is associated with religion when most of the conflicts that are currently taking place have at least a religious component if not a religious background: the civil war in Iraq, the insurgency in Afghanistan, civil war in Somalia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the insurgency in the southern Philippines and many more. I understand that religion and spiritual values can breed tolerance, cultural understanding and open-mindedness. Unfortunately this is not always the case and the most belligerent minds and groups often use religion as a justification for their distinctly unpeaceful agendas.
Wouldn’t it be possible to promote peace without including faith in the package? Couldn’t we establish a true understanding and a peaceful world by using different concepts? The ancient Greeks who invented democracy and laid the foundations for our modern civilization were also confronted with the need to make peace. At the time, peace was established on foundations of social justice, sound legislative processes and economic growth.
This ancient understanding of peace is one that the modern world would do well to keep in mind and it could serve as a useful alternative to spirituality for this International Day of Peace.
Over the past few years a new game has developed in South America: how to stay in power even if your mandate is over. Recently, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed legislation calling for a national referendum on amending the Constitution to allow him to seek office for a third time.
The overall picture is much darker. Out of 18 Latin American countries, only four have had a president that actually respected the term of his mandate: Mexico, Uruguay, Honduras and Guatemala. The last political coup d’état in Honduras took place when former president Manuel Zelaya tried to amend his country’s constitution to stay in office.
According to the Democracy Index of the Economist, only Costa Rica and Uruguay are the only full democracies on the continent. The rest are divided between the categories “Flawed Democracy” and “Authoritarian Regime” with Cuba closing the South American ranking.
Why does no one question the behavior of those seizing power ‘legally,’ but condemn acts such as the last military coup in Honduras? Does seizing power through a legal way, a constitutional referendum, make it more ‘democratic’ than seizing the power by force?
And why do citizens allow this to happen? According to a survey published in 2004, only 53 percent of the South Americans still believe in democracy. Does that mean that in South America, no one dares to fight for a true democracy? If this is the case, history has been proven right: starting a democracy when there is no popular demand will only benefit the elites and is therefore condemned to fail.