Today is International Day of Democracy and it is an opportunity to reflect on the values that underpin this concept and its practice, as well as the state of democracy in Puerto Rico and the world. Democratic principles are under siege in many countries in the world, but at the same time, some citizen movements seem to have gained strength and consistency.
In a global scenario of intense political clashes, human rights violations and social insecurity, among other high impact circumstances, democratic principles are even more important. Massive demonstrations, demanding justice and respect for human dignity before several governments unfair policies, emphasize this, marking a before-and-after between passivity and participation.
Democracy is built on inclusion, equal treatment and broad citizen participation in public affairs. It is as much a process and a goal, as the United Nations stress in its statement on this International Day of Democracy, stressing that it is fundamental for peace, sustainable development, and human rights.
It is also a concept closely related to many other unfinished struggles, such as those for the elimination of poverty, the right to adequate food, women's rights, LGBTTQ communities, protection for the elderly, migration and natural resources.
The need to strengthen democratic values is also reflected in frequent devastating natural phenomena, linked to global warming, but at the same time, to harmful practices adopted by some governments, companies, and communities to the detriment of the planet, such as deforestation and lack of planning.
Democracy, however, is not a one-way street, it has detours and breakdowns. Thus, some societies are currently undergoing a process of democratic erosion, or de-democratization, with states weakening or gradually eliminating institutions that sustain democracy. Electoral fraud; limits on freedom of expression and association; threats to the independence of the judicial branch; the executive branch growing in detriment to the legislative branch; and “manufacturing national crisis" as excuses for the suspension of civil rights are some of the visible manifestations of this phenomenon, affecting countries such as Poland, Turkey or Venezuela.
Even in the United States, democracy is being challenged, with questions to the separation of powers and freedom of the press; the lack of transparency in public administration; and the public rhetoric that undermines social peace and the rights of minorities.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is not exempted from this erosion, as social scientists already pointed out in these very op-ed pages. When inequalities grow, social rights are violated, distrust in government institutions grows and our democracy is at risk. It is, therefore, necessary to clear the way for transparency and justice in public administration.
In that sense, this summer´s demonstrations represent one of the most important democratic expressions in our history. By expressing their will, the people –the true basis of the authority of government– rediscovered that democracy is not only about voting every four years but also in the streets when necessary. In other places, such as Hong Kong and France, popular demonstrations have also achieved their economic and social objectives.
Democracy is not an abstract concept. Its presence or absence is lived and experienced day after day. Reaffirming the defense of its principles – the sovereignty of the people, human rights, equality, justice, and peace – is everyone's duty.