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Tamara Taraciuk: “In the region there is a vacuum of consistent leadership in human rights”

Tamara Taraciuk Broner spent the last 17 years of her life documenting human rights violations in Latin America to Human Rights Watch (HRW). With his work, he toured a region plagued by drug trafficking, violence, corruption, poverty and inequality, where democracies coexist with old dictatorships and new authoritarianisms. Taraciuk Broner began his investigations in Mexico, continued in Venezuela, where he investigated the abuses of Chavismo and the Nicolás Maduro regime, and ended up covering the entire region after the departure of José Miguel Vivanco, when he took over the reins, on an interim basis, of the division for the Americas of the organization. After that journey, he now decided to open a new stage: he left HRW and joined the Inter-American Dialogue team to direct the Peter D. Bell Program on the Rule of Law, from where he will seek to thread solutions to some of the problems he has collected for almost two decades. .

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Faced with what he describes as a “serious democratic setback” in Latin Americaand the progress in recent years of new authoritarian leaders –mentions Nayib Bukele, Andrés Manuel López Obrador or Jair Bolsonaro–, Taraciuk Broner, 44 years old, believes that the main regional challenge is to strengthen democratic institutions to demonstrate that people’s needs can be met without violating the rule of law.

“There is no consensus in the region, unfortunately, that the answer has to be more rule of law, not less,” says Taraciuk Broner in an interview with THE NATION. “There is a consistent leadership vacuum in the region on these issues,” she says.

In Inter-American Dialoguewhere he will replace another Argentine, Santiago Cantón, Taraciuk Broner aspires to “advance with serious and difficult discussions” on how to solve these problems that prevail in the region.

– What outlook do you see for human rights?

– It is evident that there is a serious democratic setback in the region. We have dictatorships, clear, pure and hard, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, but in addition to that I am greatly concerned about leaders who come to power through democratic processes, and once in power turn their backs on fundamental guarantees, the independence of justice, the independent press, the work of civil society. There are different examples. Bolsonaro in Brazil, López Obrador in Mexico, Bukele in El Salvador. There is no ideological question, it is the same authoritarian script. It is a clear pattern of recent times.

– Can we talk about authoritarian democracies?

–I don’t like labels, I think there are different nuances. But I do believe that there are authoritarian leaders who take advantage of democracy to gain power, they gorge themselves on power, and they take advantage of power to remove the fundamental checks and balances that are essential to democracy. It is this unchecked consolidation of power that opens the door to abuse. And an issue that runs through everything is corruption, which flourishes when the independence of the Judiciary is in check. It is the other angle of the balance of human rights in the region, there are increasing levels of insecurity, with gangs, organized crime, drug trafficking, and enormous inequalities with alarming poverty rates. All this has deepened a lot in recent times due to the pandemic. In this context, it is not by chance that we are facing the biggest migration crisis in recent times.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador delivers a speech in the Zócalo square in Mexico City on March 18, 2023. (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP) (RODRIGO ARANGUA /)

–Are people more tolerant of authoritarianism?

I believe that the main challenge we have is to strengthen democratic institutions to demonstrate that within the rule of law it is possible to respond to the legitimate needs and concerns of the people., which has to do with insecurity and social issues. There is no consensus in the region, unfortunately, that the answer has to be more rule of law, not less. It is difficult to find rulers willing to gamble for medium or long-term policies because we are in a constant circle of elections. The short-term is more tempting, and then the next one is fixed. The most important challenge is to generate a social consensus that legal certainty, which prevents concentration and abuse of power, is necessary to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. Not everyone understands that, and it creates a breeding ground for these authoritarian leaders to emerge with answers that seem easy and successful in the short term, but in the long term they crumble the whole edifice.

– Is Bukele a model of this leader?

–Bukele is a great example of that type of leadership. He has been tremendously successful in addressing a very serious problem, gang violence. There is no doubt that the Bukele model has been successful in lowering homicide and extortion rates, a very legitimate claim of the Salvadoran people in the face of serious abuses committed by gangs. But the export of the Bukele model is due not only to that, but also to the effective propaganda machine behind his government. This Hollywood-type communication and through social networks avoids promoting the very serious abuses that are committed with the emergency regime, and that is possible because, before, Bukele managed to break down the elementary checks and balances in the country and the victims have nowhere to turn. As for the attacks on the rule of law, it took Bukele two years to do what Chávez in Venezuela took ten. What is behind it is not a public security policy, but a mafia pact between the government and the gangs, with its back turned to society, and it is not yet known if it is sustainable.

–Bukele is very popular, how do you gain support for the rule of law?

That is the difficulty of this work. It must be recognized that the starting point of Bukele’s success is a legitimate concern of the population and Bukele’s measures must be analyzed in a broader context than last year’s indices. Mostly, what needs to be done is to be able to find a model where there are security policies within a framework of the rule of law that give those results. The challenge is to find alternatives to show that Bukele is not the only thing out there.

Nayib Bukele during a press conference in San Salvador.  (Photo by Jose Cabezas / REUTERS)

Nayib Bukele during a press conference in San Salvador. (Photo by Jose Cabezas / REUTERS)

– Is there a model that achieves results and safeguards the rule of law?

–There is no national model in the region today that is so successful in numbers, so sexy to sell to public opinion and that has so much money in advertising behind it as Bukele’s. I think it is a mistake to set that goal to find an alternative. We must look for options at other levels of government, which are closer to the people, and we have to understand that a democratic alternative may not be so tempting to convince a public opinion that demands answers for yesterday, but it is essential to maintain the fundamental structures of the rule of law that transcend a certain government and are there precisely to protect us all from abuses of power. It remains to be seen who are the Latin American politicians who are willing to gamble for a public policy within the rule of law that is a combination of punitiveness with prevention, which I believe, in the long run, leaves us in a better position to combat the alarming rates of violence in the region.

– Has Argentina ceased to be a regional benchmark in human rights?

-I am concerned about the ideologization of human rights in the foreign policy of this government. It is not a problem to talk to dictators, the question is what to talk to with a Maduro, an Ortega, a Díaz Canel. It is key to apply the same rod to everyone. This is not happening in the case of Argentina, and we see it very little in the region, with the exception of Gabriel Boric in Chile, who has questioned abuses by governments of different ideologies, including the left. Who has moral legitimacy? There is a consistent leadership vacuum in the region on these issues. This creates an opportunity. But one cannot have the moral legitimacy to lead on human rights without a consistent foreign policy, and Argentina today does not. Lula has said that he wants Brazil to return to the world with his presidency, and could play an important role, but he has not fared so well with his unfortunate statements about the war in Ukraine. The Biden government’s rhetoric on issues of democracy and human rights is an abyss in relation to that of former President Trump, but Latin America is not a priority for the United States, except perhaps on immigration issues, and there government policies remain problematic. . If Argentina wants to play that leadership role, it has to measure all governments with the same yardstick in all international arenas.

– What role can the Inter-American Dialogue play?

–The diagnosis of democracy and the rule of law is clear. What I want to do from the Dialogue is to move forward with serious and difficult discussions about how to solve these problems. The Dialogue has a super broad convening power, and has several programs that are key to promoting sustained development in the region. I believe that combining all these factors is essential to find those solutions.

How can you progress on that?

–And there are two transversal initiatives that contribute a lot, one is the initiative on cities, which is designed to face the inability of national governments to respond to the concerns of the people. This has to do with the impact on the day-to-day of the people of the governments that are closest to the citizens, who also enjoy greater confidence. There is an opportunity to find innovative solutions that can counteract the loss of confidence in democracy and institutions. And another fundamental issue is the program of the Dialogue on gender and social inclusion. Beyond these programs, I I have been identifying the problems of democracy, the rule of law and human rights for many years, and that is the role of Human Rights Watch, to put consistent and reliable information on reality on the table, and it is important on a personal level to take the step of working to find and advance solutions to those problems.

By Rafael Mathus Ruiz

Source: Elcomercio

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