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U.S. Builds Democracy With Foreign Help, Election Monitor Says
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington, December 01, 2005 (The Washington File) – Even though promotion of freedom and liberty underlies much of U.S. foreign policy, America does not have a monopoly on the proper way to build democracy abroad, says Jeff Krilla, Africa regional director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), one of several democracy-building nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) funded by the U.S. government.
"Outside help from the United States and other countries can play a critical role in creating the opportunity for democracy that local people seek," said Krilla, who returned recently from an IRI election-monitoring mission to Liberia .
The main question for those who develop U.S. foreign policy, he added, is "how to foster and operationalize [ America 's] principled and … bipartisan commitment to democratization abroad," while taking local customs and traditions into consideration.
Krilla spoke on the topic "Democracy, Values and Rights" at a November 29 luncheon at the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired (DACOR) club in Washington . DACOR’s 3,000 members -- retired U.S. Foreign Service officers and their spouses -- fund a scholarship program that will provide $190,000 to university students in 2006 for the study of foreign affairs.
Since the mid-1980s, when IRI and several other democracy-building NGOs were established by Congress, Krill said, the objective has been "quite simple": to foster the infrastructure of democracy -- a free press, unions, political parties and universities -- that "allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means."
BUILDING DEMOCRACY A GLOBAL CONCERN
But "a critical point to make here," he said, "is that the United States does not have a monopoly on virtue when it comes to assisting people around the world to master the practice of democratic self-government."
According to Krilla, "The people most eager to assist struggling democratic politicians today are not Americans, but the people of recently freed societies" in Eastern Europe , Latin America and Africa .
As an IRI election observer, he said, he has "seen the desire for freedom and faith in democracy in the eyes of voters in Nigeria , in Kenya , Afghanistan , Somaliland and most recently in Liberia ."
Often walking great distances, Krilla said, "these new voters went to their polling stations, some in schools and others in village meeting rooms with mud floors and thatched roofs. They came with hope and determination. They came to exercise the fundamental right of self-determination that is empowering."
To further that end, Krilla said, his organization, as well as other NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Democratic Institute, use foreign expertise and local knowledge in their democracy programs.
Today, said Krilla, "there are young Serbs and Ukrainians working for IRI in Iraq . A Slovakian NGO works with us to host Iraqi NGO leaders for training. A Czech NGO -- the People in Need Foundation -- is a key partner with IRI working on Cuba ."
Within emerging democracies, Krilla explained, IRI works with indigenous groups that promote free media, human rights and "the political participation of women, young people and marginalized regional, religious and ethnic groups."
The goal, he said, is to build up civil institutions through training of local trainers in processes like election monitoring. They, in turn, "can more effectively spread the knowledge of techniques and ideas to their compatriots -- in their own language and in their own towns and villages."
That was the idea, he said, behind U.S. NGO support of Solidarity in Poland , the South African Institute for Race Relations, the Directorio Democratico Cubano, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the Iraqi Foundation for Democracy and Development.
Krilla said American NGOs also have developed a growing number of "skilled partner organizations" among U.S. allies to help emerging nations such as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Britain, the Foundation for Social Analysis and Study in Spain, the Institute for Multiparty Democracy in the Netherlands, and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.
He added that politicians in El Salvador helped IRI "work with parties that have grown out of militias to disarm and reorient themselves toward democratic action." And the government of Quebec in Canada "has been a tremendous source of experience and French-speakers, helping our work in Haiti ."
American NGOs are "fortunate to have these organizations to help us to undertake what is often very challenging work," Krilla concluded.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Democracy.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)