In Defense of Democracy in the US and the Caribbean
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(06 January 2022) – I begin with the premise, if American democracy fails, so will democracy in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world. I have been writing about the threats to democracy for quite some time. Earlier on in my life’s experiences, perhaps I was somewhat naive to believe democracy which represents the will of the people cannot fail. Never before now have I experienced the level of fragility of democracy in a place more known for democracy and promotion of the democratic form of government than in the United States of America. I have watched with great sadness the struggles for democracy across the globe. I have watched, sometimes in anger, the oppression of peoples living under non-democratic forms of government. The ideals of American democracy stood as a beacon of hope and aspirations.
I have watched from a distance coups and attempted coups to overthrow legitimately elected governments which triggered conflicts, loss of countless lives, created millions of refugees, and displaced millions from their homes and communities. I have watched with great sadness the suffering of children and the abuse of women in circumstances which though avoidable had the international community collectively had exercised its responsibilities under the provisions of the United Nations Charter – the collective responsibility to protect the vulnerable. I have experienced firsthand the inability of the UN Security Council to act responsibly under these tragic circumstances because of superpower rivalry and the anachronistic veto power each of the five permanent members have over responsible global action.
I have warned in many of my articles published in The Ward Post, over the past five years of the threats to democracy and of the creeping dangers of autocracy in many countries, including in the US and the Caribbean. For the most part, my warnings have been unheeded. The events of January 6, 2021, as the world looked on in total disbelief, American democracy was rocked to its core. Democracy was held in the balance. An attempted coup to deny the will of the majority of American voters in a legitimate democratically held election resulted from the autocratic ambitions of the then incumbent president – Donald Trump.
On the 1st anniversary of the most egregious attack on American democracy in recent history, the legitimate President of the United States, Joseph Biden, Jr., and Vice President Kamala D. Harris both spoke in the Rotunda of the US Capitol building to send the strongest message possible on the threats to democracy and what we the people must do to protect it. I begin with the words of Vice President Harris which apply not only in the American context but in the Caribbean and in every nation, and among all peoples who want to preserve the democratic form of government.
Harris echoed some of what I have been saying when she articulated this message:
“We cannot sit on the sidelines. We must unite in defense of our democracy in order to form a more perfect (nation), establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our prosperity and posterity.”
Harris also shared this truth,
“January 6th reflects the dual nature of democracy — its fragility and its strength. You see, the strength of democracy is the rule of law. The strength of democracy is the principle that everyone should be treated equally, that elections should be free and fair, that corruption should be given no quarter. The strength of democracy is that it empowers the people. And the fragility of democracy is this: that if we are not vigilant, if we do not defend it, democracy simply will not stand; it will falter and fail.”
In August 2021, in one of my articles in The Ward Post, I used these words to send this message to the people of the Caribbean:
“We cannot become complacent. We must always be mindful of the fact democracy is not assured. The people must always hold their governments accountable and reject creeping autocracy which we have become all too familiar with in some countries in the region. … The people across the Caribbean must protect democracy and the freedoms and personal rights it guarantees, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful protest, freedom of religion, access to equal justice under law, and the protection of human rights. In a democratic society all elements of human security can and should be not just a dream but reality.”
I continued to entreat the people of the Caribbean in another article I wrote in The Ward Post, also in August 2021,
“Democracy is built from the ground up, in the neighborhoods and communities to the society at large. And it is the responsibility of governments, civil society, and the private sector to protect democracy and the democratic process. It is the responsibility of the people, individually and collectively, to be vigilant, vocal, and persistent in holding governments and their enablers accountable, and support measures to arrest any trend away from democracy and towards autocracy. We can’t wait until the negative forces of autocracy succeed.”
I will not cease to advance this narrative because the threat to democracy in the US, the Caribbean, and elsewhere is unrelenting. Our advocacy and protection of democracy must be uncompromising and unending.
In societies which fail to adhere to democratic ideals there also exists a moral deficit. Egalitarianism is an enemy to those who are empowered by privileges and social status to maintain power and control. Spoils are few, resources are limited, and those who possess power often resort to oppressive and corrupt practices to retain and maintain the advantages they have.
Equity and inclusion are unfulfilled objectives of our democracies, and the marginalized increase in numbers as their economic and social conditions worsen. The rule of law is not universally applied and corruption creeps in without accountability. Equal justice is delayed and often denied for those who need it the most. Our commitment to protection of democracy for those of us who hold our freedoms sacrosanct must be a mantra as we go forward. We must continue to advocate and work towards normalizing the freedoms we hold sacrosanct, and we must guarantee human rights to all.
I reiterate what I said in one of my previous articles:
“Democracy must not be a top-down process and there are no trickle-down benefits to be derived by the broad population. Democracy is built from the ground up, in the neighborhoods and communities to the society at large. And it is the responsibility of governments, civil society, and the private sector to protect democracy and the democratic process. It is the responsibility of the people, individually and collectively, to be vigilant, vocal, and persistent in holding governments and their enablers accountable, and support measures to arrest any trend away from democracy and towards autocracy. We can’t wait until the negative forces of autocracy succeed.”
The 60th Anniversary of two independent Caribbean nations – Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago – must not be celebrated as merely the age of political independence from the former colonizer. It must be the year of commitment to democratic ideals, the rule of law, good governance, ending the scourge of corruption, guarantee of human security, and the year of guarantee of peace, security, and human rights for all citizens of the Caribbean.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post