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Journal of Democracy 12.4 (2001) 123-136
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The OAS in Peru
A Model for the Future?
Andrew F. Cooper and Thomas Legler
A remarkable story unfolded last year in Peru: The Organization of American States (OAS) played a central role in successfully resolving a crisis sparked by President Alberto Fujimori's efforts to win an unprecedented third term in office. In disputed first-round elections on 9 April 2000, Fujimori won just under 50 percent of the vote, forcing him into a runoff with second-place finisher Alejandro Toledo. As the May 28 runoff approached, however, concerns over electoral fraud led Toledo to withdraw and the OAS to suspend its own electoral-observation mission. The suspect election, which triggered widespread popular protest in Peru, became the main agenda item at the annual General Assembly of the OAS in Windsor, Ontario, at the beginning of June.
Building on a recent trend of defending democracy in the Americas through multilateral means, the OAS General Assembly arrived at a diplomatic compromise. It adopted Resolution 1753, which sent a High-Level Mission led by OAS secretary general César Gaviria and Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy to Peru on June 27-30. 1 Their visit resulted in the establishment of an OAS-facilitated mesa de diálogo (roundtable),where Peruvian government, opposition, and civil society representatives discussed a concrete reform agenda. Despite widespread initial skepticism both in Peru and internationally, this OAS initiative provided a mechanism for important democratic reforms, eased the [End Page 123] transition from Fujimori to an interim government in November 2000, and laid the foundations for a new and successful round of elections on 8 April 2001.
Where once the OAS was widely perceived as an inefficient and ineffective organization, over the past decade it has enhanced its credibility by attempting to implement an inter-American "paradigm of democratic solidarity." 2 Without question, the end of the Cold War and the wave of democratic transitions throughout the Americas have added impetus to the idea that there is a "right to democracy." Moreover, the prin-ciple of collective action to promote and defend democracy has been enshrined in a cluster of inter-American legal documents (including OAS Resolution 1080, which describes measures to be taken in the event of a "sudden or irregular interruption" of democracy in the region), and a number of multilateral responses to previous crises within the Americas have developed a set of concrete tools for action.
Yet the OAS's organizational limitations, rather than its strengths, have continued to dominate attention. The OAS intervention in Haiti in 1991 revealed the difficulty of enforcing economic sanctions. During Paraguay's 1996 crisis, the time the OAS took to respond raised ques-tions, as did its inadequate preventive and monitoring abilities. 3 More generally, the organization has been criticized for its "firefighter approach"--extinguishing threats to democracy after they ignite rather than preventing crises before they flare up. 4 Even with the rise of activist forces in the organization, the overall depth of the OAS member states' commitment to safeguard democracy via collective action remains in doubt. Mirroring the foreign policy disputes found in the region, tension remains between advocates of prodemocracy collective actions and defenders of nonintervention and state sovereignty.
These institutional deficiencies cast a long shadow over the OAS intervention in Peru. While the Peruvian crisis offered an excellent opportunity to extend democratic values through regional-governance institutions, a number of serious constraints had to be overcome. A strong perception lingered concerning the organization's ineffective response to Fujimori's April 1992 autogolpe (self-coup), in which he dismissed the Supreme Court and the national assembly. Although the OAS invoked Resolution 1080, the response amounted to de facto acquiescence as Fujimori ultimately rewrote the Constitution in order to extend presi-dential powers. In 2000, Peru's renewed political crisis presented the [End Page 124] OAS with a difficult predicament: Another weak or ineffective collective intervention could undermine its credibility and encourage future antidemocratic episodes in the region.
Further complicating matters was the ambiguous nature of the situation...